From the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman:
The political adviser of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) has claimed that the Syrian opposition is capable of putting together components of chemical weapons and using them if necessary.
Bassam Al-Dada told Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency on Wednesday that the Syrian opposition has the necessary capability and raw materials to produce chemical weapons.
He said if Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad threatens the Syrian opposition fighters with chemical weapons, he should know that “we also possess them.”
Noting that they have the ability to put together components to produce chemical weapons thanks to defected army officers who are experts in this regard, al-Dada added that they won’t use them if the Syrian regime avoids using them. “If we ever use them, we will only hit the regime’s bases and centers,” he stressed.
Last month, Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, warned that extremist groups could use chemical weapons against the Syrian people and blame the government. He said the Syrian government is “genuinely worried” that foreign countries could provide chemical weapons to armed groups “and then claim they had been used by the Syrian government.”
Although the West has shown little desire to intervene in Syria, US President Barack Obama has said the regime’s use of chemical weapons against the opposition fighters would be a “red line” and change his “calculus” about the conflict.
What I’m hearing is that this is being treated as bravado and bluster by the rebels, not something to be taken too seriously – but that alone seems to point to a double standard in attitudes towards the rebels and their regime enemies. Where are the “respect the threat” analyses of the kind we were treated to last month when a couple of intercepts about the Syrian regime possibly moving some chemical weapons materials were blown up into a full-on scary story about how Assad was about to use chemical weapons on his own people? Where is Obama’s warning of that same red line to the rebels?
In related news, a new UN study says it has “identifed 59,648 unique killings” from a statistical analysis of six databases built by Syrian human rights monitors and one from the Syrian government. That’s considerably more dead in the 22 months of conflict than even the most pessimistic count from Syrian opposition groups themselves, which had previously put the number killed at around 40,000. The full study is here, for any statistics wonks. The non-profit which carried out the work, Benetech, is a US-based group of technophiles which in previous studies of other conflicts have often come up with estimates of deaths which were higher than those from other sources.
I can’t help but think we’re seeing a subtle current leading the West towards intervention in Syria. I am not suggesting a massive conspiracy here, although some – especially the R2P faction at State and their supporters at think tanks – are trying to spin and direct opinion towards that intervention. I’m more suggesting that other well-meaning studies and analyses are being fed into a general drift towrds war on Syria with some amount of pushing from folks at State and beyond. Too many people have decided who the black-hats are, and further decided that the West must do something about those black-hats. I’ve a feeling it will end no happier than the similiar partly-directed drift of public opinion towards intervention in Iraq.