It is more than two years since the uprising began in Syria. The uprisings, originally peaceful, which came in the wake of the Arab Spring, later turned into a civil war with rebels being helped with the so called non-lethal weapons from Western countries and weapons supplied by and through Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In the fall-out, some six million people, nearly 30% of the country’s population, have been tragically displaced, while thousands have been killed amid a travesty of human rights violations.
As part of increasing intervention, attention has turned to the issue of outlawed chemical weapons, claimed to have been used by both sides. The US warned in August 2012 that the use of such weapons by the Assad’s Government would be a “red line” and would result in “enormous consequences” if crossed. Similarly, France and the UK warned of severe consequences, with Paris in particular promising a “massive and blistering” response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria. It has been a convenient tool for the West to force a change of Government but is steeped in hypocrisy.
Chemical Weapons Convention was adopted in 1992 and came into force in 1997. Signatories pledge not to use chemical weapons, to halt any trade or production and to destroy their stockpiles within ten years. Yet, around 20,000 tonnes, or some 20% of the main category of chemical weapons still remain. The US and Russia head a list of countries yet to eliminate all their illegal arsenals.
Syria is one of seven states, including Israel, not party to the convention, but party to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use in war. It previously declared that it was appropriate to have some deterrent against Israel’s nuclear weapons. Egypt, which is also not a party, has made a similar stand. The US policy on the use of chemical weapons is also to reserve the right to retaliate. The treaty notably does not include biological warfare.
The West was silent when Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, used chemical weapons against his own people, the Kurds, and against Iran. US gave intelligence information on Iran to Saddam knowing fully well that chemical weapons were being employed. The UN, which had already failed to condemn Iraq’s invasion of Iran, refused to point the finger at the culprit.
The US has also used chemical weapons with no consequences to its use. It dropped massive quantities of white phosphorus during its war with Iraq in Fallujah in November 2004.
According to Human Rights Watch, Israel repeated firing of white phosphorus shells indiscriminately over densely populated areas of Gaza during its military campaign in the same year that has been evidenced as war crimes. No action has was taken against Israel.
The West was happy with the killings in Syria with conventional weapons and the suppression of people by Bashar al-Assad’s Government. However, when the chemical weapons were used in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria last month when hundreds died, the West suddenly woke up and began showing humanitarian concerns. The so called red line was crossed. Deaths of thousands hadn’t mattered. Now, the US, UK and France threatened military action. The timing conveniently detracted from the West refusing to condemn massacres carried out by the Egyptian army after it seized power from the elected Government of President Mohamed Morsi. UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, recalled Parliament but ended with egg on his face when MPs eve rejected a watered-down motion originally aimed to endorse the use of military force. It was understood that the US intended to bomb Syria that weekend without a UN resolution and wanted the UK’s support. Similarly, France wanted military action without going to the UN.
The bombing was going to be pin-prick to weaken al-Assad so that the rebels would get an upper hand to change the direction of the war which currently is in the favour of the Ba’athist Government. The chemical weapon attacks, which the West blamed Syria, was an excuse to give them legitimacy to bomb al-Assad’s army. Weakening him would force al-Assad to capitulate. However, Russia said it had evidence that the rebels had used the chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov said there were “serious grounds” to believe that the chemical attack confirmed by UN inspectors were a “provocation” by the rebels.
However, because of the UK vote Obama wanted a way out of bombing Syria despite France’s support. So he chose to therefore take the issue to Congress, which was in recess until September, to decide whether US should take military action.
Also, US Secretary of State, John Kerry, said at a press conference in London, that if al-Assad handed over chemical weapons within a week, then a strike may be averted. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, responded by saying that Syria was ready to give up its chemical arsenals. Obama claimed that he had first discussed the idea at the G20.
The whole episode of who was responsible for using chemical weapons is disputed as rebels were involved in using of chemical weapons in the past. Then the West did not feel it was important enough to demand action against them. Such has been the hypocrisy by the West.
Some rebels were arrested back in May with the nerve agent. Turkish daily newspapers detailed the arrest of twelve suspects linked to the Reyhanlı bombings on May 11 in which 51 people were killed and 140 injured. The 12 suspected Al-Qa’ida members were arrested in Adana, southern Turkey, and anti-terrorist police seized among other items, 2 kilograms of sarin. UN rights investigator Carla del Ponte said that according to testimony, rebels have been using sarin gas. “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas,” del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, said in an interview with Swiss radio.
The whole issue of Syria conflict shows the lack of concern for the lives of the country’s population by the West. The indirect support to the rebels via Saudi Arabia and Qatar to defeat Syria is aimed at Iran. If Syria goes, Iran will not be able to support the Hizbullah party in Lebanon who are the only bulwark against Israel aggression in the region, in fact, the only group that has stood up to and defeated Israel. The West doesn’t care that some of the groups it is supporting are the very ones they consider as terrorist groups and fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq.
For the West, therefore, the issue regarding the war in Syria is not about concern for human rights. The people of Syria deserve better. They need to be supported to free themselves from the Syrian dictatorship and extremists amongst the opposition.
The only way out seems to be to focus on a Geneva II meeting where all parties to the conflict are invited – including the opposition as well as Iran and Saudi Arabia. The first step is to achieve a ceasefire so that not only chemical weapons can be destroyed but humanitarian help can be given to the civilians who are suffering enormously. And while the door is open, agreement needs to be reached on setting up an interim government from all sides overseen by the UN that will lead to a democratically elected government. But there remains many hurdles including convincing the Syrian opposition to accept the peaceful resolution to the conflict.
War is not the solution and will only lead to thousands more being killed.