Did Syria use illegal poison gas weapons?

Map by The Independent

Map by The Independent

[Added 9/17/13]  The United Nations report indicates that the Syrian military used sarin gas on civilians.  Click on UN Report Conclusive: Sarin Gas Was Used On a Large Scale, Linked to Syrian Regime for a summary by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.

If I were a dictator trying to put down a rebellion, and the world’s most heavily-armed superpower told me that the one thing that would unleash their attack on me is the use of poison gas, I don’t think I would use poison gas.

And if I did use poison gas, I would use it in a decisive way, that would end the rebellion once and for all.  So I have been skeptical about charges that the Syrian government used poison gas against rebel forces.  But a report by Doctors Without Borders / Medecins Sans Frontieres provides strong circumstantial evidence that thousands of people have symptoms of being victims of poison gas.  [New Scientist magazine published a similar report.  Added 8/30/13.]

I don’t think the rebel forces could have been the ones to use poison gas.  It would have been virtually impossible to cover up.  So while it still doesn’t make sense to me that the Syrian government would use poison gas, my experience of life tells me that people sometimes do things that don’t make sense.

Juan Cole, on his Informed Comment web log, suggested a reason why the Syrian government might have used gas and thought they could get away with it. Or maybe there is some other explanation.  I don’t know.  Neither do Joe Biden or John Kerry.

If gassing of civilians really is the main issue, the best thing is to wait for the report of the UN inspectors in Syria.


Biden: ‘No doubt’ Syria unleashed gas attacks, must pay price from CNN.

Syria: Thousands suffering neurotoxic symptoms treated in hospitals supported by MSF/Doctors Without Borders.  A respected and impartial humanitarian organization said circumstantial evidence suggests that the Syrian government used poison gas.

Kerry signals US intervention in Syria, but to what end? by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.  Cole thinks it is plausible that Assad used poison gas, but also thinks U.S. intervention would accomplish little.

Syria and poison gas: Will we ever confirm what happened? by CBC News.

UN inspectors examine Syria poison gas allegations by Deutsche Welle.

Syria’s darkest day? Opposition blames Assad forces for poison gas attacks by The Independent.

In Rush to Strike Syria, U.S. Tried to Derail U.N. Probe by Gareth Porter for Dissident Voice. [added later]

Operation Tomahawk with cheese by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times [added 8/29/13]

Rush to Western strike on Syria slows, but does not stall by Juan Cole for Informed Comment [added 8/29/13]

Winds and rockets clues in Syrian chemical puzzle by New Scientist.  A respected and impartial publication said circumstantial evidence suggests that the Syrian government used poison gas, but that another possibility is that missiles or artillery hit one or more gas storage facilities.   The latter happened in Iraq in the 1991 U.S. bombing campaign.  [added 8/30/13]

U.S. officials say ‘no smoking gun’ implicating Assad in chemical attack by Mark Hosenball and Patricia Zengerie for Reuters [added 8/30/13]

Syria: Putin rubbishes chemical attack claims by Saptarshi Ray and others in The Guardian. [added 8/31/13]

Syrians in Ghouti Claim Saudi-Supported Rebels Behind Chemical Attack by Yahya Ababden and Dale Gavlack for MintPress News.  [added 8/31/13]


Fiction, Fact… or Scandal? by Tyler Durden of Zero Hedge.  Durden received what purports to be a series of hacked e-mails sent by one Colonel Anthony J. MacDonald about how the Syrian gas attacks were “well staged.”  I don’t know whether they are genuine, but I’m not inclined to dismiss them out of hand as I once would have done.  The pictures I see of gas victims on Google Image searches seem suspiciously unblemished.  [added 9/4/13]

Letter Detailing Syrian Case to Congress Offers More Verifiable Claims than U.S. Case to Date by Brad Friedman for the Brad Blog.  [added 9/11/13]

Al Qaeda’s air force still on stand-by by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  [added 9/11/13]

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5 Responses to “Did Syria use illegal poison gas weapons?”

  1. jigdood Says:

    rebels did


  2. Atticus Says:

    This is a tough spot. On the one hand the US has a good reason to blame the Syrian Government – the do not want to back the Muslim Brotherhood – even though they were democratically elected. Chemical weapons would be the perfect excuse to do something that is in our best interest.

    On the other hand – maybe they did use poison gas. But as you mention in your post – Why?

    I feel like this Syria thing is more a proxy war with Russia than anything else. That’s just a feeling though.


  3. Robert Nielsen Says:

    It seems strange that Assad would use gas, but why would any dictator massacre civilians if they care about PR? Since when did dictators act logically? Don’t they all suffer from hubris? There are reports that gas has been used in smaller attacks before and seeing as that did not lead to intervention Assad probably presumed he could get away with it again.


  4. philebersole Says:

    I think the best comment on the complexities of the situation came from the Wikileaks Party of Australia. Here is the meat of the statement.

    The reported chemical attack in Damascus is a shocking and repugnant reminder of the horror of war. But too many questions remain about what has happened in Damascus, how and by whom this attack was carried out, and what is the most effective response.

    The Syrian government has been aware for some time that such an attack would be against its own strategic interests, since it would likely be used as the pretext for outside forces to topple the regime — it has known this at least since earlier this year when President Barack Obama issued public threats that any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government would be a “red line”.

    The situation in Syria is very complex, so there is only one correct response to this issue: An immediate, independent UN-led investigation into the reported attack to ascertain whether this attack was authorized by the Syrian government, break-away forces, or others.

    Syria is in the grip of a terrible proxy war with many powerful interests involved: the Syrian government; the Muslim Brotherhood; other Sunni Islamic militant organizations; the United States; the United Kingdom; France; Lebanon; Hezbollah; Israel; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; Iran; and Russia—which has one of its few remaining naval bases in Syria. … … Some seek to topple the Syrian government and replace it with one more amenable to their interests, while others seek to maintain the status quo.

    The rest of the statement is about how the Australian government should wait until all the facts are in, and not be drawn into the conflict by the U.S. government.

    Here’s the URL for the complete statement.



  5. No proof about Syrian poison gas, Dutch MPs say | Dear Kitty. Some blog Says:

    […] Did Syria use illegal poison gas weapons? (philebersole.wordpress.com) […]


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