It is difficult to overstate the dangers posed by the latest escalation of tensions in Syria over the alleged gas attack in the Syrian town of Douma. The tensions are not eased by the inflammatory rhetoric emanating from the White House, with the usual echoes of support from American allies such as France and Australia.
The reports of a gas attack came from the Al Qaeda linked White Helmets, a dubious group funded by the United States and the United Kingdom. They have the invariable ability to come up with yet another alleged atrocity at precisely the time when the situation is looking bad for the various terrorist groups seeking to overthrow the Syrian government.
The White Helmets first appeared in 2013. They were founded and trained by a former British Army officer James Le Mesurier. They masquerade as a civil defence organisation. In fact, their main role is to create a series of largely fake videos to serve as propaganda. The object is to create the conditions that would encourage greater military action against the Syrian government and its allies by the United States. Hence their periodic prominence when the United States gives any signal, however weak and unreliable, that it might abandon its role in Syria.
Before this latest incident, the White Helmets created a media furore over an alleged Sarin gas attack in the Syrian town of Kahn Sheikhoun. This led to President Trump ordering a barrage of missiles to be fired at the Syrian air base of Al Shayrat. Notwithstanding the number of missiles fired, damage was minimal and casualties were light.
A highly regarded chemical weapons expert, Theodore Postol of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, produced a series of reports that conclusively debunked the White Helmet’s version of events. The mainstream media ignored his reports.
We see a similar pattern emerging with the alleged Douma attacks. Again the source is the White Helmets. A preliminary investigation by Russian analysts indicated that there was no evidence that there had ever been an attack.
The OPCW have been invited to send an investigative team to conduct further analysis. The day the OPCW inspectors work due to arrive in Syria, the US, UK and France launched a missile attack. The targets appeared to be Syrian airfields and buildings that were alleged to be where chemicals were either stored or illicitly used for chemical weapons manufacture.
The Syrian defence system, using primarily Russian weaponry, prevented any of the missiles from reaching military targets. Some of the alleged chemical storage buildings were hit. If they had in fact been chemical weapons facilities, there that would in all probability have caused a toxic cloud, killing and injuring many more persons then were killed in the original alleged Syrian government attack.
The careful avoidance of any targets where Russians might have been killed, and the essentially valueless nature of the missile attack from a military point of view, strongly suggests that this attack was intended to serve a political rather than a military purpose. This view is reinforced by the political posturing of Trump, May and Macron that was clearly designed for domestic consumption.
The Russian findings prior to the attack, and the absence of evidence that an attack even took place, have been ignored. The western media are almost unanimous in treating the alleged Syrian chemical attack as a given fact, and echoing the chorus that the Assad government must be “punished.” The Iranians and Russians, as allies of Syria, are similarly held responsible.
It is not difficult to see the parallels with the alleged poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England. There is a similar rush to judgement; a similar absence of anything resembling proof of what was done, by whom and with what; and absurd rhetoric against the Russian government.
A further parallel between Skripal and Douma is the absence of any plausible motive for why the Russian and Syrian governments respectively would engage in such reckless behaviour, which would inevitably be linked back to them.
In the Skripal case, President Putin was heading to an easy and convincing re- election, and about to host the World Cup football finals.
In Syria, the terrorists have effectively being routed with only pockets of resistance remaining. They cling to their diminishing territory only with the active assistance of the US led so-called coalition. That territory happens to be Syria’s main oil fields and the strategic highway that links Syria with Iran via Iraq.
The other aspect of the latest actions by the Americans and their allies is that their actions are directly contrary to international law. It bears repeating because the message is either willfully misunderstood or ignored by the politicians of those countries who have chosen to ally themselves with the Americans.
The UN Charter enjoins all nations not to threaten others and to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. It prohibits military action against another state other than when (a) authorised by the Security Council; or (b) in self-defence under article 51 of the Charter, itself a severely limited option.
Manifestly, neither situation applies here. There is no concept known to international law of “punishing” a sovereign government, regardless of how it behaves. Even if it were possible to “punish” a nation for its alleged transgressions, then ordinary principles of law would require that their guilt must first be proved. Here, the exact opposite has been applied: sentence first, evidence later.
The other significant difference with the present crisis compared to the previous ones is that the Russians have repeatedly and explicitly made it clear that any such attack upon Syria would be met with retaliation, not only against the missiles, but also their source. That necessarily includes aircraft and their sea or land bases, submarines or any land based missile source. That these warnings had an effect on the nature of the missile attack is again obvious. The western media have studiously avoided drawing attention to this fact and discussing its implications.
Trump’s Twitter responses to the Russian warnings and his bombastic claims after the attacks were over have further demonstrated either his tenuous grasp of reality or that he is saying one thing but doing something else that is prudent. The dangers associated with an ill-considered and illegal military action by the United States and its allies were further underlined by the explicit support being given to Russia by China. Addressing the Baoa Forum in Hainan, Southern China earlier in April, President Xi said:
”The cold war and zero sum mentality looks out of place in today’s world. Arrogance and only focusing on one’s own interests will get nowhere.”
This was followed by an article in the Global Times; an English language outlet that reliably reflects Chinese government thinking, warning Trump to “act prudently to avoid serious consequences in Syria.” It went on to say “if forcible actions were taken (in Syria) there would be no justice at all, and they would only reflect Washington’s political hegemony and military arrogance.”
Both the Skripal and Douma matters are linked. They both represented desperate attempts by the Anglo Americans and their allies to hold back and thwart the tectonic shifts occurring in the Eurasian geopolitical scene. The question of whether or not the Americans and their allies, including Australia, would accept China’s advice to “think twice before deciding to attack Syria,” has been answered in the negative.
Russia and China will certainly retaliate for the US coalition’s latest display of arrogance, hubris and disregard for international law. The response will not necessarily be military, although some action against US military assets within Syria cannot be ruled out.
Although Russian military technology is certainly superior to that of the US S and its allies, that superiority cannot be exercised pre-emptively without risking catastrophic consequences. The more likely response will be economic, utilizing the enormous power of the Chinese economy to bring about long overdue changes to the American dominated unipolar world there has wrought so much death and destruction since 1945.
In that sense, 2018 is likely to be a watershed year. In retrospect, Skripal and Douma will be seen as markers along the road to a multipolar world.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”