Russia Pushes Story Attempting To Blame Chemical Weapons Attack On Syrian Rebels

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A report that the chemical weapons used in Syria came from the rebels has been making the rounds, but is it true?

Late last week, an explosive story hit the news wires. Titled “EXCLUSIVE: Syrians In Ghouta Claim Saudi-Supplied Rebels Behind Chemical Attack,” its publishers, a new news outlet named Mint Press News, claimed that Associated Press Reporter Dale Gavlak along with their own reporter, Yahya Ababneh, had interviewed rebel leaders who admitted that the chemical weapons were their own. This was later amended, stating that Dale Gaylak instead has freelanced for the AP, and did not cover this story, only assisting Yahya Ababneh in research.

The story spread like wildfire. The claim was made that the rebels were being given Sarin gas by the Saudi’s in order to destabilize Syria. This sounded credible as the Saudi’s had, for months, been building pressure for the United States to topple Assad. The center of this effort, former ambassador to the US, and now head of the Saudi intelligence agency, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The Saudi’s have offered sweetheart deals to Russia while also threatening the Winter Olympics with a mafia-like extortion racket. They really want to topple the Syrian regime.

The problem for this reporter, however, began with the claim that the rebels had used Sarin gas. Already, I had interviewed someone with close ties to the humanitarian effort in Syria, a doctor who was familiar with chemical attacks. Rather than Sarin, the report given pointed to a completely different chemical agent, Tabun, a nerve agent with significantly lower rates of fatalities compared to other chemical agents. This would explain in part why there were such a high number of survivors. Tabun was last used during the Iran-Iraq war, alongside Sarin. Unlike Sarin, which is naturally a gas, Tabun is naturally a liquid, but can be turned into an aerosol for inhalation. Sarin kills within minutes, while Tabun is a far slower, more lingering danger. During the Iran-Iraq war, the two are used together due to their complementary methods of action, a cocktail mixture of agents designed to maximize their effect. However, the final word on what chemical was used, and who used it, is not due until the United Nations releases their findings.

Doing further digging, the earlier mentioned discrepancy over the reporter came clear. Since the initial release, Mint Press News has edited the article, making clear that the piece was written by Yahya Ababneh and not Dale Gavlak. Even more concerning, this appears to have been the sole piece ever written by Yahya Ababneh for the Mint Press News. Mr. Ababnah had previously written for other news agencies, ones which had praised the 9/11 attacks. The question comes, why would the leadership of the Syrian opposition speak to a journalist which worked for news agencies tied to propaganda, now working for a Minnesota news company which only came into existence less than 2 years ago?

Now, it is quite plausible for the Saudis to supply the rebels with weapons, given the bad blood between the Syrian regime and the House of Saud. Saudi Arabia had already been found to be applying pressure on Jordan to allow the rebels to operate out of its territory, a move which would inflame the conflict and potentially spread to Syria’s neighbor to the south. But would they introduce chemical weapons in to such a scenario? And if so, why this particular chemical weapon?

More plausible, should the weapons have been used by either side, their more likely source would be the stolen store of chemical weapons from Saddam Hussein. His regime already had developed the nerve agent cocktail which would fit the profile put forth. It is known that his storage facilities and factories for chemical weapons were looted following the US invasion. It is not a difficult jump to imagine those winding up in Syria, and available to either side of the conflict.

Chemical weapons are a nasty business. It is not difficult to have an accident with them, which is what made the Mint Press News piece sound plausible. Giving it even more credibility is the presence of Al Qaeda linked groups among the Syrian rebels. Making matters worse, the main source of funding for these Al Qaeda fighters turns out to be Saudi Arabia. The evidence is circumstantial, but it does look bad for Saudi Arabia in this case.

But now, there is the other question which is not being asked. What about Mint Press News itself? When it was founded in late 2011, it came out with a bang, going on a hiring spree across the media landscape. What was puzzling was simply how were they able to do it? The companies founder worked for a local NBC affiliate, being known for wearing traditional Islamic garb on-air, yet somehow she burst onto the international scene, with apparent access to large reserves of money to support this start-up. They are a near mystery, with no indications as to who is actually financing them. Yet, their new voice was given a boost by Russia’s nationally owned and operated news broadcaster, Voice of Russia. This all sounds a little too convenient.

Without a reliable second source, the information given by Mint Press News cannot be trusted at this time. It is well within the realm of possibility that they might have been fed information by a government agency, possibly from Syria, in order to undermine the support for the rebels. It does seem a tad too convenient, that a startup news group were to gain such a sensational story, one which so cleverly pushes a tale which implicates not only the Syrian rebels, but a government which has long stood against the Syrian regime. The Syrian government, facing the potential threat of missile strikes, may have chosen to plant such a story in a desperate attempt to save themselves. If this is the case, then Mint Press becomes a gullible patsy for a much larger organization, taking the fall when the deception is revealed. A shame, considering Mint Press is a new organization which has a bright future ahead of them.

The best answer to tell us what happened in Syria is to wait until the UN inspectors deliver their report, expected within the next three weeks. With Congress not due to return for another week, and with that return being an abbreviated schedule, it is quite possible that the debate will still be ongoing by the time of the UN report. For one, the Presidents move, to rely upon Congress to act, is in effect forcing us to wait. After all, this Congress has been one of the least productive in history. I know if I was under pressure to attack a foreign nation, using the tools available already, such as missile and drone strikes. After all, Congress did not approve drones over Pakistan, yet the United States engages in regular strikes against targets within that country. If the president wanted to attack Syria, he could do so right this instant. Instead, he gives that responsibility to Congress, a congress which cannot pass even the highway bill without problems. Who needs roads anyways?

The situation in Syria is deteriorating quickly, the accusations are flying, and the reality is being lost in the noise. As it stands right now, we cannot act blindly trusting our own intelligence. We did that with Iraq, and it has cost us dearly in a toll of brave men and women, both American and Iraqi. By making Congress act, with Congress’ inability to act not in question, we now are to have the time needed to let the inspectors deliver their report to the United Nations. And once that information is in, then it is the time to make the decision, a step taken by Great Britain, where Parliament voted to hold off on any actions until after the inspectors deliver their report.

Were chemical weapons used? And if so, who is behind the use of such a horrific deed? Those questions remain unanswered for now. What we do know is that the answers are coming from a group tasked with giving us those answers. And, if the United States wants to resume its traditional role as a world leader, rather than the global bully, it is time we waited for those answers.

The Syrian civil war is only called such because it has not yet spread beyond the borders of the middle eastern nation. Properly, it is a proxy fight for various other nations in the region, primarily the three 800lbs gorillas of the Middle East: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey. This news report claiming the Saudi’s are behind the chemical weapons attacks is an attempt by someone to push this war over the border, to turn it into a more regional conflict. Should that happen, should they succeed, then it really will not matter which side launched their weapons of mass destruction first.

All that will matter is who is left.

 

Assistance in writing this story provided by AI’s own T. Steelman