WaPo Claims Israel Preemptively Struck Would-Be Syrian Sarin Plants in 2020, 2021 on Scant Evidence
© Airman 1st Class Kyle CopeAn Israeli air force F-15I Ra'am taxis down the runway during Blue Flag 2019 at Uvda Air Base, Israel, November 4, 2019. The U.S. and Israel have a strong and enduring military-to-military partnership built on trust and developed over decades of cooperation.
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has carried out two airstrikes targeting Syrian government facilities over the last two years, which it believed frustrated the potential restarting of that country’s sarin nerve agent production. However, their most important piece of evidence was by no means a smoking gun.
The attacks killed seven, including Syrian Col. Ayham Ismail, posthumously promoted to brigadier general.
“Whether the attacks were fully successful in disrupting Syria’s plans is unclear. Israeli officials intended the strikes to be preemptive, knocking out the country’s production capabilities before actual weapons could be made, the two Western intelligence officials said. Any effort to bomb an existing stockpile of nerve agents risks unleashing plumes of lethal gases that can spread to nearby towns and villages,” the Post wrote.
The intelligence officials who spoke with the Washington, DC-based paper said the key piece of intelligence was the Syrian government buying “a large quantity” of tricalcium phosphate. While, as the paper notes, the chemical can be used to produce another chemical, phosphorus trichloride, which is used in the production of sarin, tricalcium phosphate has numerous other sundry uses as well, including as an additive to keep table salt from caking together and as a tissue replacement for repairing bony defects when a bone graft isn’t an option.
Phosphorus trichloride can also be combined with sulfuric acid to produce single superphosphate fertilizer, or with phosphoric acid to produce triple superphosphate fertilizer, both of which are potent tools for increasing the crop yields of farmers’ fields.
As it happens, the end of civil war for much of the Syrian Arab Republic has meant the return of agriculture and the rebuilding of its industrial support facilities, including the country’s only chemical fertilizer production facility, located in Homs, the Russian government-supported rebuilding of which finished in December 2019. Restarting of the factory means the country’s substantial phosphate reserves can once again be used to produce its own chemical fertilizers and even export them abroad.
“Syria’s procurement of this chemical, even through black-market channels, is not indicative of a nefarious purpose,” Greg Koblentz, an associate professor and biodefense expert at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, told the Washington Post.
However, he added that the allegations seemed more credible in the case of Syria because of past claims against it by Western intelligence agencies and Western-backed nongovernmental organizations inside Syria.
Western Intel: Never Right on WMDs
US and Israeli intelligence has been notoriously unreliable, especially when it comes to alleged weapons programs. The famous case of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, claims of the imminent use of which underpinned the 2003 invasion of Iraq and overthrow of Hussein by the US and UK, hangs in memory. So do Israel’s regular claims ever since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was agreed to in 2015 that Iran was secretly violating its terms and building a nuclear weapon that would be ready in just a few months’ time.
In both cases, the intelligence was proven wrong. In Syria as well, the US and Israel have accused Assad’s government of chemical weapons attacks against rebel forces numerous times since the civil war began in 2011, despite proof the incident were manufactured by the White Helmets, a group created in conjunction with the US and UK and presented in Western media as humanitarian angels of mercy, but who in reality cooperate closely with al-Qaeda* and its related radical Islamist groups in carrying out atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities in Syria.
© AP Photo / Alfonso PerezA marine officer of the Cape Ray, a ship equipped to neutralize Syrian chemicals, shows a chemical protection suit to reporters
A marine officer of the Cape Ray, a ship equipped to neutralize Syrian chemicals, shows a chemical protection suit to reporters
© AP Photo / Alfonso Perez
In order to avoid a threatened US assault in 2013, Assad agreed to turn over his entire stock of chemical weapons for destruction, some 1,300 tons of binary sarin and VX nerve agents, which the US and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) verified were incinerated on a special disposal ship.
Assad signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, also known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CW), in October 2013. The OPCW was created to oversee compliance with the treaty.
The US, it should be noted, only destroyed its own substantial stocks of VX and sarin weapons in 2009 and 2020, respectively. Its stores of mustard gas were only destroyed this past September, and Kentucky’s Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant noted in October that just one-third of its chemical weapons stocks have been eliminated. In other words, Syria is more compliant with the CWC than the US is.
However, Western media continued to cite White Helmet reports that chlorine gas, which is easier to produce than nerve agents, was being used by the Syrian Arab Army against Syrian rebels, even though neither small-scale use of chemical weapons nor violating the US-UK-France “red line” by using chemical weapons make any strategic sense, especially as the tide of war turned in Damascus’ favor.
After one incident in 2018 in which the White Helmets claimed chlorine was used to attack rebels in Douma, killing between 40 and 50 people, the OPCW investigated, but its report concealed evidence that undermined the claims, and a whistleblower who revealed the concealment was maligned by its director general, Fernando Aris, who prepared the report.