I support the view that every effort should be made to uphold the ban on the use of chemical weapons-though I recall a complete failure to act over Israel's use of white phosphorus in Gaza. It was surely right to go to the Security Council after the chemical weapons attack in Damascus seven days ago. Expert inspectors were then sent to review the evidence. Now, before the inspectors have had time to complete their work and report, we are told it is to be a cruise missile attack by the end of the week. This is horribly reminiscent of the rush to war in Iraq before Hans Blix could complete his work.
It is notable that the Finnish Institute for Verification of the Chemical Weapons Convention said after the Damascus attack, that it did not look like military strength toxins because otherwise those who help the injured would have had to wear protective clothing. Other experts have said that sarin gas is not difficult to manufacture. It is also significant that in recent months, the Syrian regime has made advances in the fighting and the opposition has lost ground. This is a strange time for the regime to use chemical weapons but a good time for the opposition to claim this if they can persuade the West to take action and therefore weaken the regime's military capability. We must also be clear that there are some very nasty, Al Qaeda linked elements now fighting on the opposition side in Syria who have been accused of atrocities and warcrimes.
Already 100,000 Syrians have died in this war and two million have become refugees. Sending cruise missiles will not end it and if the regime were to fall, chemical weapons could get into the hands of Al Qaeda. The best way forward is to go back to the plan to work with the Russians for an end to the fighting and a political transition as advocated by Kofi Annan when he was the UN special representative at the beginning of the conflict. This is the only way to bring relief to the people of Syria and leave a stable country in place. There were plans such a conference in Geneva some months back and it is not true that it is impossible to work with the Russians as it was them who persuaded the regime to let in the inspectors just recently.
I can see no proper reason for this sudden rush to military action. It is notable that the intelligence implicating the regime in the use of chemical weapons comes from Israel, which like Syria, has not signed up to the Chemical Weapons Convention. We know that the Netanyahu government favours a military attack on Iran and seems very likely that they would favour a Western attack on the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis.
I am not one for conspiracy theories but this rush to a military strike is very fishy. Surely the right way forward is to wait for the inspectors report and consider a response to the use of chemical weapons much more carefully. I do not think we should ignore this use of chemical weapons but think we should base our strategy on hard evidence and give more consideration to our response. A cruise missile attack is likely to weaken the regime, perpetuate the Civil War and spread further disorder at great cost to the people of the region and the wider world.
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