Yes, I think Assad did it

It was the regime.

I’ve been hearing about an analysis from Yossef Bodansky, reportedly alluded to by Rush Limbaugh today, in which Bodansky suggests that U.S.-backed rebels were actually behind the chemical attack in east Damascus on 21 August. (Warning: you may not be able to bring the link up on the first try.  The avalanche of clicks from Rush’s listeners seems to have the site hammered at the moment.)

I don’t believe the rebels did this (which doesn’t mean I mistake any of them for the Green Mountain Boys or the Bluecoats at Bunker Hill.  It just means I don’t think they conducted this attack).  The character of the attack continues to finger the Assad regime, a theme developed by France’s recently released national intelligence estimate.  If you don’t have the means to read it in French or run translation software on it, Foreign Policy has a pretty good write-up.

Here are the key points from the French assessment – which, as noted at Foreign Policy, is more detailed and offers more justification than anything the U.S. government has released:

1.  The concentration and power of the attack, as evident in its effects on hundreds of victims, indicate it was launched by the regime, which (a) can concentrate the firepower, and (b) has the expertise for the most sophisticated deployment of chemical weapons; i.e., pre-mixed, at the precise point of weapon use.

 2.  French intel assesses that the regime used the weapons as part of a larger attack on rebel-held areas of east Damascus, which occurred in the hours surrounding the chemical attack.  The larger attack is described on a general timeline between 3:00 and 6:00 AM local on 21 August.

3.  French analysts suspect that Assad’s position in the capital was not as solid as media reporting has suggested in recent weeks.  (This point is expressed with less detail and less apparent confidence.)

4.  French analysts assess that Assad’s forces mounted a major bombing campaign in the aftermath of the chemical attack in order to cover the evidence remaining from the attack.  (This would not be a wasted effort.  Chemical residue would degrade, and interact with the carbon released from conventional attacks, in such a way that proving its use through the lingering presence of toxins could become difficult to impossible, with sufficient “laundering.”)

Collateral points on Assad’s chemical weapons program

Two additional points are worth making about the French assessment.  One, the emphasis on the relative sophistication of the regime versus the rebels, when it comes to chemical weapons use, is valid and important.  The regime’s forces have mastered the most effective methods of chemical-weapons deployment, including deployment in the final, mixed state at the point of “launch.”

Doing this requires virtually instantaneous weapons use after mixing, for example, and self-protection for the deployment team.  This level of mastery is what is required to synchronize a large-scale attack with a conventional attack, and have it be effective on the scale seen with the 21 August attack, in which nearly 1,500 victims are reported to have perished directly from the toxic effects of the chemicals.

Outside of a closed, air-controlled environment (like the subway system in which the Japanese terrorists of Aum Shinrikyo loosed sarin in 1995), such mass-scale effects are by no means automatic with chemical use.  It takes a tremendous, carefully delivered concentration of the toxin to kill that many people in a non-enclosed area.

Compare such a level of expertise and technology with the crude, binary deployment device depicted in this video of a rebel chemical weapons launch.  Other chemical-capable weaponry in the rebels’ arsenal – e.g., Katyusha rockets – endows them with no more than the level of capability suggested by this video of the jerry-rigged howitzer.  I don’t doubt the rebels have chemical-capable weapons and materials, but I do doubt very much that they could bring off the 21 August attack, on the scale and with the precise coordination it required.

(The French analysts point out, moreover, that the conventional attacks surrounding the chemical attack could only have been mounted and synchronized from firing positions held by Assad’s forces.)

The other point from the French assessment is found at the end of the general discussion of Assad’s chemical weapons program (at the bottom of page 4 of the PDF document):

Des activités observées depuis plusieurs années sur des sites d’essais syriens témoignent que de nouveaux modes de dispersion sont à l’étude. Notamment, depuis le début du conflit, nos renseignements confirment une utilisation par le régime de munitions transportant de plus faibles volumes d’agents chimiques, adaptées à un usage tactique, plus ciblé et localisé.

This translates roughly as follows (my translation):

Activities observed for several years at Syrian test sites indicate that new methods of [chemical] dispersion are being studied.  Notably, since the beginning of the conflict, our intelligence confirms a use by the regime of munitions carrying smaller amounts of chemical agents, adapted for a tactical, more targeted and localized application.

This is noteworthy for two reasons.  One, it is an indication of serious intent by the regime to be able to use chemical weapons effectively in the civil war, and particularly on very small numbers of humans – which would increase the options for combat application.

Two, however, it tends to corroborate a pattern suggested by reports of possible napalm use by the regime, also in August.  Napalm is not a chemical weapon per se; it is an incendiary weapon.  But using it deliberately on humans is a war crime.

On 27 August, Reuters reported the possible use of napalm on a group of boys in Aleppo, an attack allegedly perpetrated by Assad’s forces.  A video circulated shortly thereafter appears to be of effects from the attack in this report.

The especially noteworthy aspect of this attack is its extremely small scope – contained within a schoolyard – which is not characteristic of napalm use.  (The ghastly effects on the people in the video are consistent with napalm, however, as is the damage in the schoolyard.)  According to eyewitnesses, the incendiary device was deployed from a fighter aircraft, which went back and forth overhead, apparently looking for a target.  Deployment from a fighter would rule out perpetration by the rebels.

The French assessment that Assad has been developing smaller-scale applications for chemical weapons suggests a parallel with a regime attempt to develop smaller-scale applications for napalm.  The data points, in concert, are at the least very interesting.

Signs continue to point to Assad

We may note, getting back to Yossef Bodansky’s theory about the rebels, that if they indeed were plotting a “war-changing” campaign on 13-14 August, and if an unprecedented distribution of rebel weapons began on 21 August, those facts would certainly serve to explain Assad’s sudden urge to consolidate his control of Damascus, including wiping out rebel positions in east Damascus as quickly and ruthlessly as possible.  What Bodansky may actually have done is offer the best explanation so far of why Assad would want to use chemical weapons on 21 August.

That said, it helps if we understand the intemperate, conspiratorialist tone of the website at which the Bodansky post appears:  Global Research,  featuring the hysterical writings of authors like Rick Rozoff (“Stop NATO”), Gilad Atzmon (whom we encountered at the wildly anti-Semitic website Veterans News Now), and 9/11 Truther Michel Chossudovksy.  Global Research starts with the perspective that the U.S. and NATO are bad for the world; its writers’ analyses tend to go downhill from there.  Whatever the merits of Bodansky’s alleged facts – and he has sometimes had useful, corroborated facts in the past – this gathering of intellects is not where you want to hang your analytical hat.

Meanwhile, in addition to U.S., British, and French intelligence, German intelligence has also concluded that Assad mounted the chemical attack.

None of this means that the U.S. response, especially under today’s fiscally- and readiness-constrained conditions, needs to be a strike on Syria, either way-limited, moderately-limited, delayed-limited, less-limited, or limited-but-not-limited-to-limited.

But we need to keep things straight and argue only from valid, supportable premises.  In the case of the 21 August attack, arguments that the rebels must have mounted a false flag operation lack a good foundation.  Western intelligence agencies are concluding that Assad’s forces mounted this attack because the evidence is strong that they did.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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15 thoughts on “Yes, I think Assad did it”

  1. J.E. – Thank you for contributing a bit of sanity to the blogo-sphere. As you point out, the fact may not dictate a particular policy, but I still have a small hope that U.S. public political deliberations can avoid running off the road entirely to the land of Haliburton and black helicopters.

  2. Are you convinced that the blue rockety thing the rebels are firing contain chemical munitions? Brown Moses seems to believe they are conventional, filled with fertilizer-based DIY explosives.

    He goes on to say:

    “I’m assuming the use of the gas cylinder is the only (rather weak) piece of evidence that this is a chemical weapon, especially when the only times this munition has been pictured being loaded it with a fill that’s fertilizer based explosive, as seen in this promotional video for the Hell Cannon. […]”

  3. Reports are many people were killed sleeping on rooftops (as is common in the Middle East) before the artillery barrage. If accurate, the weapons needed would have to be sophisticated and disperse in the air and not on impact. This means they would need proximity fuses and some disbursing system, not just a shell filled with chemicals. This points to the Syrians with help from a sophisticated supplier –e.g., Russians or from some European source

  4. Sort of makes the stomach churn doesn’t it?

    1. The Establishment GOP have now demonstrated beyond any doubt that they are morons. Polticial saps… useful idiots… tax collectors for the welfare state run by the Democrats…

    a. If they think that the Dems would support any Republican president under the same circumstances if the roles were reversed, then they are smoking serious amounts of spice laced hashish …
    b. If they think that this is necessary because Assad used chemical weapons then they are simple minded… If he used them on Tel Aviv I’d bet that Oboingo would be avoiding this whole thing like the plague…
    c. There is no reason and no money for this. We have low stockpiles of everything. We have units that don’t even have gas to train. We have pilots who sit in ready rooms talking about flying, or from what I have heard, actually renting light planes at their own expense to at least keep current in something.

    2. All this is going to do is tick off the potentially uninvolved Syrian populous against us.. I tire of Madman McCain… if you remember from ages and sites past… Johnny Mac is not my favorite… he’s a self-important, hot headed, stupidly stubborn, contrary man… His contrariness is completely arbitrary and only there to suit his particular needs. He’s a foul mouthed privileged bully boy whose touch with sanity is fleeing quickly.

    3. The remnant of the National Defense Republicans are not thinking this through. If they did they’d back off because they are getting badly used… They have been at “war” so long that they are paranoid as speed freaks. They see booga bears under every rock, and monsters behind every curtain. It is time for them to come off of their war high, and avoid Pickett’s charges, and center attacks at Cold Harbor. Bloody mindedness is not an admirable trait.

    4. That the House GOP “leadership” (They couldn’t lead a cheer on the winning side of a football game.) has caved, and Speaker Weepy is making supportive speeches of Oboingo (who’d have two knives buried in Boner’s back if the shoe was on the other foot) and doing the kow tow to the Regime just tells me that they have something on him… and he needs to be replaced…

    All in all this has to be the biggest foreign policy fiasco of the 21st century. At least the Keystone Cops were funny. This is tragic and dangerous.

    No Syria strike… it’s not our business… Get over the chemical weapons bugga boo, they’re just weapons like any other weapons… They kill people; innocent and not so innocent.

    This is flat out nuts… and the insanity is spreading.


  5. Enough

    Regardless of who decided to marinate whom in chemicals…

    Where have our security interests and troops been threatened?
    That is the sole criteria for our involvement in this situation.

    Has the flow of crude oil been interrupted?

    Has any party involved attacked the United States, our allies, or vassals? Well, al-Qaeda did as far as I know. What’s the friggin deal here? Why are our elites insisting we effectively support al-Qaeda in Syria,. Give me a friggin logical answer!

    Explain where American interests are threatened by Assad defeating al-Qaeda in Syria please.

    1. I haven’t a clue.. and frankly I don’t think that they do either. The Establishment just does what its told. They probably got some promise of some sort or another. Like Oboingo’s promises are worth the ether they are written on..

      As to anything else on the why scale… the only common thread… The Muslim Brotherhood. What it wants, the Regime does, and there is enough grease there to bring along a fair number of both sides of the aisle of the political class.

      Follow the money… follow the money..

  6. Perhaps the weight of the evidence points to Assad, but some of the factors are ambiguous. The bombing campaign, for instance, would be equally logical if Assad had used no chemical weapons, and instead relied on conventional bombs and artillery.

    There are reports of rebels previously having over-run Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. Perhaps the rebels had chemical weapons, but not the means of launching them against Assad forces with the desired effect.

    And even if the evidence were there to prove Syrian guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, does it support an act of war BY THE US when we were not attacked, and when the UN and other international organizations with more direct interest in the matter have failed and refused to act?

  7. Excellent analysis. Also, I noticed that Putin is starting to leave open the possibility that Russia might support a UN resolution, yet another delaying tactic or a a sign that even his patrons think that Assad’s days are numbered?

  8. We have no business in Syria, Iran is the problem. I don’t think this is a secret. There are no good guys in Syria. Today’s comrade/terrorist is tomorrows enemy/terrorists.
    Sultan Knish hits the nail on the head on his blog today.
    Iran is the problem. Decapitate the leadership in Iran with horribly violent, overwhelming military violence. Any ship that ties up at an Iranian port to deliver or take on gas or oil products is a sunken ship. Print death cards for the top 100 Revolutionary guards leaders and follow up. Ruthless trials and executions for anyone that deserves to be ruthlessly tried and executed. When the rats flee the country, have Mossad follow up.Free the general population from their own stupidity and bad choices.
    Find moderate people and help rebuild the country. Forget about Democracy, just get Iran back in the middle of the road.
    On a much more serious note, I will alleviate your concerns, JE, about the re-introduction of full linebacker sets at OU when you publish your next football follies.

  9. One of the world’s last remaining Aramaic speaking Christian towns, Maaloula, is currently under assault north of Damascus.

    Yes, al-Qaeda is leading the siege. Can’t confirm this part, reportedly many Chechens among the “rebel” contingent..

  10. jgets, you ask that we write our representatives in DC to ask that they vote against intervention in Syria. Should I ask my Senator to simply cast a vote? Ed Markey, as you now surely know, voted “present” in committee. A yea or nay vote would be a big step for Senator Unremarkeyble. What a pathetic coward.

    walt reed, you say that the problem is Iran. That is why I supported intervening in Syria in the early stages – to knock off Assad and deal Iran a terrible blow. Now that we’re at this stage of the game, thanks much to Obama’s dithering incompetence, I too think we should stay out of it. Aside though from things being too out of hand in Syria for US intervention to have any positive impact, I oppose intervention for another reason; our Commander-In-Chief’s aforementioned incompetence. I don’t want to have anything to do with America getting into a war (no matter the degree) with Obama as President. He’s a dreadful CinC.

    I’m curious if there is any reader of this blog is in favor of attacking Syria.

    1. RE- according to the polls I’ve seen hardly anyone in the USA is in favor of attacking Syria.

      This is probably one of the most unifying moments in our history.

      It shouldn’t be betrayed by a very small group of people that believes it knows what’s best for us, in spite of us.

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