The United States has denounced a new chemical attack by Assad. And it is threatening retaliation. The threat was contained in a note from the State Department revealing an “alleged chlorine attack in north-west Syria on the morning of 19 May 2019.” It was signed by Morgan Ortagus, a terrorist expert and department spokeswoman.
The chemical attack is claimed to have taken place at Idlib, the last stronghold in the hands of the anti-Assad forces, meaning the terrorists of the Syrian branch of al Qaeda (Tahrir al Sham). In recent days they have been hammered in an offensive by Russian-Syrian forces.
The attack is still being investigated, the US note adds. But in breaking the news, the New York Times also commented that, “independent monitoring groups and foreign news organizations have not issued any notable reports of a chemical weapons attack on Sunday.”
In addition, the Times of Israel reports that Rami Abdul Rahman, who heads the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said: “We have no evidence of the attack.”
A significant denial, given that the body has long been active in Syrian regime change. In recent years it has been a sort of oracle for the mainstream narrative on this dirty war.
Moreover, the alleged attack took place on a day that Russian and Syrian weapons were silent, due to the unilateral cease-fire announced started by Moscow and Damascus. (There were subsequent clashes, but they were in defence against attacks carried out by Idlib terrorists.
Heightening the tension
The US move, however unexpected, clearly indicates that Moscow had received some information beforehand about the “chemical trap” being prepared.
This raises the question of the reason for the allegations made by the State Department spokesperson, which are more improvised than in past cases, when they were coordinated with international agencies and organisations. And the reason behind the threat of retaliation, which sounds completely gratuitous.
Moreover, the threat is potentially explosive. The last time the West launched a raid in Syria in response to an alleged chemical attack on Douma (later refuted by the International Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons), it risked a direct clash with Russian forces. War was only avoided by Defence Minister James Mattis’ soft-pedalling. He was later sacked.
It seems likely that the aim is to intensify the critical situation in the region, ravaged by the winds of war blowing from the United States towards Iran and its regional proxies.
Another aim may be to prompt US air forces to target the S-300s that the Russians have given Damascus. These are troubling Israel, as they limit the space for manoeuvres over the Syrian skies, previously wide open to its raids.
Syria and Iran: linked destinies
Whatever lies behind it, it is clear that this is a hoax. And it is increasingly evident that someone is artfully fomenting confusion in order to cause the situation to degenerate and trigger a war that would set the region ablaze.
There is a lot of fake news about the Middle East currently circulating, as reported by Donald Trump himself.
That said, Ortagus’ statement included a reference to Trump’s admonition in recent months warning Russians and Syrians that the United States would not tolerate an attack on Idlib and it would respond (a bizarre alliance between the US and al Qaeda in Syria).
Washington’s note, even if were to be definitely refuted, still has one outcome: it eliminates, at least for now, any space for a possible offensive against Idlib by Damascus. The Syrians had attacked the city thinking that the United States, distracted by the Iran crisis, would turn a blind eye.
Instead, through this move the US is closely linking the fate of Tehran and that of Damascus, on the principle that they stand or fall together.
This paradoxically makes it more difficult for Damascus and Israel to negotiate an agreement on the withdrawal of Iranian militias from Syria, insistently demanded by Netanyahu. These are the contradictions of a strategy relegated to chaos.
Translation from Italian by Audrey Sadleir