Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. – The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
It is now two minutes to midnight. – The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
At the time of this blogpost being written, the US has not initiated a military response in Syria. As at midnight of 12 April, a little blue marble called Planet Earth is still in one piece…
The latest alleged poison gas attack in Syria has brought the planet closer to the unimaginable: a full-scale military confrontation between the United States and the Russian Federation.
There has been no independent verification of the alleged attack. There has been zero evidence as to who launched the chemical attack – if it happened at all. Video of the supposed event has not been verified by independent sources;
As international tensions rose, and the racket of rattling sabres reverberated globally, our own Foreign Affairs Minister, Winston Peters stood as a lone voice of reason, calling for an impartial investigation;
“ New Zealand calls for an independent investigation into the attack by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and for the perpetrators to be held to account. We call on the parties to the conflict in eastern Ghouta to urgently allow OPCW inspectors access to the area.
We also call on the international supporters of the Syrian Government to work to uphold the cessation of hostilities promised in UN Security Council Resolution 2401 and to prevent further attacks of this nature.”
At the U.N. Security Council, Trump-appointed US Ambassador, Nikki Haley spoke with language that was far from diplomatic and unambiguously hostile to the Assad regime;
“ We are on the edge of a dangerous precipice. The great evil of chemical weapons use that once unified the world in opposition is on the verge of becoming the new normal. The international community must not let this happen.
Only a monster does this. Only a monster targets civilians, and then ensures that there are no ambulances to transfer the wounded. No hospitals to save their lives. No doctors or medicine to ease their pain. I could hold up pictures of all this killing and suffering for the Council to see, but what would be the point? The monster who was responsible for these attacks has no conscience to be shocked by pictures of dead children
Russia and Iran have military advisers at the Assad regime’s airfields and operations centers. Russian officials are on the ground helping direct the regime’s ‘starve and surrender’ campaigns, and Iranian allied forces do much of the dirty work. When the Syrian military pummels civilians, they rely on the military hardware given by Russia. Russia could stop this senseless slaughter, if it wanted. But it stands with the Assad regime and supports it without hesitation.
The United States is determined to see that the monster who dropped chemical weapons on the Syrian people held to account.”
US ally, Britain, voiced it’s support for a US sponsored resolution at the UN Security Council, couched in unashamedly critical terms. UK Ambassador, Karen Pierce, said;
“ Russia’s credibility as a member of the council is now in question. We will not stand idly by and watch Russia continue to undermine global norms which have ensured all our security, including Russia’s, for decades. As a [permanent council] member, the United Kingdom will stand up for international peace and security. It is our moral duty.”
France’s Ambassador, François Delattre, was also condemnatory;
“ Allowing people to use chemical weapons allows the genie of weapons of mass destruction out of the bottle, and weapons of mass destruction pose an existential threat to all us.”
Russia’s UN Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, described a proposed US resolution as a prelude to a Western strike on Syria;
“ I would once again ask you, once again beseech you, to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing for Syria.”
“ If you take the decision to carry out an illegal military adventure – and we do hope that you will come to your senses – then you will have to bear responsibility for it yourselves.”
Memories of a US sponsored resolution in the United Nations Security Council – and subsequently used as a pretext to invade Iraq in 2003 – were most likely still fresh in the minds of Russian leaders.
Blaming his predecessor’s refusal to bomb Syria, raised this Twitter comment from Trump’s not-too-distant past;
As Trump threatened Syria with a “big price to pay”, the Russians issued their own clear warning that any attack would elicit a military response against US missiles – and the “platforms” from which they were launched.
After Trump’s “big price to pay” tweets, Chairman of the State Duma’s Defense Committee, Colonel General Vladimir Shamanov warned the West;
“ The double standard policy has overstepped all possible boundaries. At this point, the [pro-Putin parliamentary majority] United Russia party must responsibly state that we are going to take all political and diplomatic measures, and also military measures if such need arises. Not a single unlawful action will be left without response.”
Shamanov’s reputation from his tour of duty in Chechniya suggests he is not a person to be trifled with;
As Gennady Troshev, another Russian commander in Chechnya, wrote in his book My War, Shamanov “was too hot-tempered and direct in his relations with the Chechen population” [preferring] “to choose the shortest way to victory (…) [which] resulted in numerous casualties among Russian soldiers.”
Aslambek Aslakhanov, a retired MVD general who was Vladimir Putin’s advisor on Chechnya, called Shamanov a “butcher” and a “one-man curse on the Chechen people”: “Chechens talk about Shamanov like a plague that has descended on their heads, a disease like AIDS. He is drowning in blood. He cynically believes that all Chechens – men and women, even children – are bandits.”
On the same day, following a request from Russian and Syrian governments, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was invited into Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack;
“ Today, the OPCW Technical Secretariat has requested the Syrian Arab Republic to make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment. This has coincided with a request from the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. The team is preparing to deploy to Syria shortly.”
Whether or not the OPCW is permitted to carry out its mandated duty to investigate the alleged attack in Douma remains to be seen. If Damascus is indeed innocent of perpetrating such an attack – or even that such an attack ever happened at all – it would be in Bashar al-Assad’s and Russia’s interests to facilitate the investigation.
According to Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, Eastern Ghouta has been “almost-fully liberated” from rebels. There should be no reason why an OPCW investigative group should be prevented from scouring the area, looking for relevant evidence.
Zasypkin also repeated Shamanov’s dire warning to the West – this time with greater clarity. And with an added threat of retaliation;
“ If there is a US missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down US rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles.”
US ‘rockets’ – Tomahawk cruise missiles – are usually launched from American naval warships in the region. Zasypkin was giving a crystal clear warning that not only would US cruise missiles be shot down – but US warships would be attacked.
Not since Israel attacked the USS Liberty in 1967 has an American warship been deliberately targetted by another sovereign state in the Middle East. In that instance, the premeditated attack was covered up by both Israeli and US governments.
A direct attack on a US warship by Russian forces would have predictably catastrophic consequences.
Seemingly oblivious to the spiralling madness, Trump, ‘upped the ante’ with more bellicosity;
Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 have the planet’s two greatest military powers faced off – perhaps the closest that we as a species ever came to World War Three. Thankfully, there were saner men in both the Kremlin and White House at the time.
Fiftysix years later, the planet may have to rely on the wits of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to avert the Last World War.
Russia has surprising support from one segment of the US establishment: Fox News. Around 9/10 April, Fox News’ host/commentator, Tucker Carlson, questioned and excoriated Washington’s rush-to-judgement and chilling sabre-rattling. Carlson seemed to be one of the few Establishment media voices urging restraint.
Carlson also questioned why Syria had been “convicted” of the alleged chemical attack without any evidence. He was scathing;
“ All the geniuses tell us that Assad killed those children, but do they really know that? Of course they don’t really know that. They’re making it up. They have no real idea what happened.
Actually both sides in the Syrian civil war possess chemical weapons.”
Carlson also pointed out that Syrian government forces were actually already winning in Eastern Ghouta. As late as 4 April Trump stated publicly that he wanted all US forces out of Syria;
“ I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. It’s time.”
Four days later – “gas attack” hits the global headlines. Trump was ‘forced’ to change his mind;
Carlson asked pointed questions;
“ How would it benefit Assad using chlorine gas last weekend? Well, it wouldn’t. Assad’s forces had been winning the war in Syria. The [Trump] Administration just announced its plans to pull American troops out of Syria, having vanquished ISIS. That’s good news for Assad. And about the only thing he could do to reverse it and to hurt himself would be to use poison gas against children. ‘Well he did it anyway!’ they tell us, ‘He’s that evil!’. Please. Keep in mind this is the same story they told us last April!
At the time this show asked what seemed like the obvious question, ‘Are we really sure that Assad did that?’. It seemed wierdly timed and counter-productive to him.”
Carlson was referring to the previous so-called sarin-gas attack at Khan Shaykhun, in the Idlib Governorate, in April last year. This blogger also questioned that veracity of assigning responsibility to the Assad regime;
Which suggests that the only other ‘player’ in the Syrian civil war capable of deploying chemical weapons would be a sovereign state.
If not rebels, who?
In a June 2013 story, the BBC reported on who was supplying the myriad ‘players’ in the Syrian conflict. One of the arms traffickers in the region was Saudi Arabia;
In late 2012, Riyadh is said to have financed the purchase of “thousands of rifles and hundreds of machine guns”, rocket and grenade launchers and ammunition for the FSA from a Croatian-controlled stockpile of Yugoslav weapons.
These were reportedly flown – including by Royal Saudi Air Force C-130 transporters – to Jordan and Turkey and smuggled into Syria.
Note the link: Croatian-controlled stockpile
Follow the link and it leads to a February 2013 story in the New York Times, which stated;
Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons from Croatia and quietly funneled them to anti-government fighters in Syria in a drive to break the bloody stalemate that has allowed President Bashar al-Assad to cling to power, according to American and Western officials familiar with the purchases.
The weapons began reaching rebels in December via shipments shuttled through Jordan, officials said, and have been a factor in the rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Mr. Assad.
So, what sort of weapons was Croatia selling on the open market? Interrogate Google with the parameters ‘Yugoslavia Croatia chemical weapons’. It offers this April 1999 story in the UK Guardian;
After months of prevarication, Nato launches a ground war against Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in Kosovo. But no sooner do British and US troops begin to move in and threaten Serb army units than Milosevic unleashes his secret weapons sarin nerve gas and BZ, a psychochemical incapacitant.
According to former Yugoslav chemical weapons officers, Milosevic’s arsenal is far larger than previously thought. Besides sarin and BZ, it includes the blister agent sulphur mustard and the choking agent phosgene. And it is thanks to scientists in Britain and the US that he could use them on Nato troops.
In total, the Serb army may have as many as 5,800 122mm sarin-filled shells and 1,000 mustard gas shells, say these sources. In addition, Serbia is also known to have been developing a multiple rocket delivery system for sarin and a bomb capable of delivering 20 litres of the nerve gas to the battlefield.
Even the Pentagon, which is sceptical about Croatian estimates of the numbers of chemical shells and rockets in the Serb arsenal, accepts that Milosevic inherited from the JNA a programme capable of producing a deadly 3,000 rockets filled with sarin and 100 shells filled with mustard gas.
Although the Pentagon says it has no evidence that Serbia has continued to manufacture and test chemical weapons since the break-up of the Yugoslavia federation, officials told the New York Times they were ‘concerned’ about the stockpiles.
The Pentagon would be right to be “‘concerned’ about the stockpiles“. Where would they end up?
There is no proof that amongst the weapons purchased from Croatia there was included chemical weapons such as sarin gas. But the facts are clear;
Former-Yugoslavia developed massive quantities of poison gas weapons, including sarin gas
After the break-up of Yugoslavia, Croatia sold plane-loads of weapons to Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia supports rebel forces in Syria
Sarin gas was used in the gas attack on Khan Shaykhun
It is all circumstantial, of course. But it seems plausible that Saudi Arabian military/intelligence agents could have transported sarin gas shells/rockets to Idlib Governorate where, under close supervision, they were launched against a defenceless city.
The plan was simple; to provoke a politically unsophisticated, naive, and impressionable Donald Trump into military retaliation by blaming the attack on the Syrian regime.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which supports rebel groups fighting the Assad regime, and is engaged in a conflict with Iran to gain regional supremacy, has declared that it will join any retaliatory action that the United States takes against the Syrian government;
Make no mistake: it would benefit Saudi Arabia if the US re-engaged in the Syrian civil-war and launched a crippling strike against the Assad regime.
Saudi Arabia – engaged in a proxy war with it’s regional rival, Iran.
Saudi Arabia – which purchased plane-loads of weapons from Croatia, which once belonged to the defunct Jugoslav National Army, and which may have included stockpiles of sarin gas.
As Fox News’ Carlson Tucker rightly pointed out; there is zero evidence that the so-called “gas attack” was carried out by Assad’s forces. There was no rational reason for Assad to consent to such an attack – he was winning the civil war anyway.
And drawing the US back into the Syrian conflict would benefit: Saudi Arabia.
Mr Trump – you are being ‘played’.
Let’s hope someone in the White House can explain this to the buffoon sitting at the Oval Office desk. Preferably before Planet Earth is incinerated.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Editor’s Note
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: 2018 Doomsday Clock Statement., Science and Security Board
Wikipedia: Vladimir Shamanov
Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons: OPCW Will Deploy Fact-Finding Mission to Douma, Syria
New York Times: Mattis Expresses Caution on Imminent Strike Against Syria
New York Times: As Trump Seeks Way Out of Syria, New Attack Pulls Him Back In
The Guardian: UK link to Serb poison gas
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