Irrespective of whether Russia and the United States become “certain” of the identity of who used chemical weapons recently in the town of Khan al-Asal near Aleppo, the incident marks the beginning of a new, “chemical” phase in the political and military struggle underway in Syria.
United States President Barack Obama, who is visiting the region, promoted his trip beforehand as being empty of any new initiative for the peace process. However, he said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “game changer.” The fact that American officials still say that there is no evidence of the use of chemical weapons hints that Washington remains unready to respond to such a development. Most likely, the US will divert its attention from what happened because Obama has “nothing new” when it comes to the Syria crisis and continues to act as a bystander, as he watches the escalation of fighting in Syria. The experience indicates that Obama has no problem with reneging on his commitment, which he announced a month ago, that the use of chemical weapons constituted a red line. He did exactly the same thing four years earlier, when he promised that a Palestinian state would be established in a year’s time; he then dropped his condition that Israel halt the construction of settlements before the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
The uproar on the part of Russia and the US, about the use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal remaining unconfirmed should mean that we can believe the Syrian regime's accusing the opposition of being responsible for using the weapons. This is despite the fact that Washington ruled this unlikely, while Moscow backtracked, based on statements by its deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, about this accusation, as it called for an investigation due to the lack of conclusive evidence. But if we remove this assumption, however, there are many logical excuses for seeing this as one of the big lies promoted by the Syrian regime, which it has excelled in peddling since the beginning of the uprising broke out in Deraa. The regime kills and destroys and commits massacres, and accuses its rivals of being responsible. Several simple questions make it impossible to believe that the opposition was responsible. If the latter had the ability to use chemical weapons, why not launch them at the barracks of the Fourth Division of the Republican Guards, or barracks of the regular army, or a concentration of troops that are fighting the rebels? Or what about the airports, which are used by regime aircraft to bomb towns and areas that the Free Syrian Army has managed to liberate?
If the rebels have chemical weapons, why didn’t they target the Presidential Palace, or the headquarters of the Defense Ministry, which news reports have said have been targeted by the rebels for the last two weeks by mortars, instead of the town of Khan al-Asal, where they have been fighting the Syrian army and the paramilitary “shabbiha”?
If these questions are insufficient to doubt the regime’s accusations against the rebels, experts say that the use of chemical weapons in bombing require specialists, because the gases that are carried by the warheads must be prepared by mixing two types of gases, in order to render them into Sarin and other gases before the weapons are launched. Does the armed opposition have these kinds of specialists?
However, the hypothesis that the regime launched a rocket carrying chemical materials on Khan al-Asal, which appears closer to the truth, involves questions and suppositions of another kind, which have little to do with the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s attempt to involve the international community in a quest for an independent investigative committee. The use of chemical weapons comes as a response to a number of measures that have put the regime in a more embarrassing position it found itself in prior to Russian-American negotiations, which ended with Washington’s flexibility vis-à-vis Moscow’s request to assign priority to dialogue and a political solution.
The regime needed to respond to the announcement by Britain and France that they were headed toward giving new weapons to the FSA, and America’s turning a blind eye toward such a move. It also needed to respond to the flow of weapons and fighters from Jordan to Deraa, as a prelude toward the opposition’s waging a more powerful battle for the capital. Also, it had to respond to the appointment of Ghassan Hito as the prime minister of a provisional government by the opposition, as a prelude to a political-diplomatic offensive to occupy Syria’s seat at the Arab league and the United Nations, and administer liberated areas, beginning with the north of the country. Finally, it was a response to the noose tightening around the regime financially, as there are reports that European measures to deal with the crisis in Cyprus will harm the funds that are being held by some Cypriot-Russian banks.
Can the Assad regime use chemical weapons without the knowledge of Russia, whose leaders have declared that these weapons are under control? If it took place with Russian approval, to send a particular message, what is this message, as a part of the international struggle inside Syria, and over Syria?
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.