For the night of 29 August 2013
Syria: The Asad government continues to insist that it did not use chemical weapons in the attack on 21 August. It approved an extension of the UN inspection team's visit and requested that it investigate three gas attacks against Syrian soldiers since 21 August.
Lebanon's Daily Star reported on 26 August that at least four Hizballah fighters are receiving treatment in Beirut after coming into contact with chemical agents in Syria, a security source said.
The source said four or five members came into contact with the chemical agents while searching a group of rebel tunnels in the Damascus suburb of Jobar over the weekend. (The attack on 21 August is being called the Jobar incident.)
Last Saturday, Syrian state television said Syrian soldiers found chemical agents in Jobar and that some had suffocated while entering the tunnels
Comment: The three primary questions about the attack remain unanswered.
- What agent was used?
- How was it delivered?
- By whom?
What appeared to be a slam dunk on Tuesday has weakened as more information has emerged about the source of US intelligence and about Syrian rebel chemical warfare capabilities. A lot of information has emerged, but is not receiving mainstream coverage in the US.
The agent. All experts who provided Feedback to NightWatch agreed some kind of chemical incident occurred on 21 August east of Damascus. As for the agent, multiple experts in Feedback claimed it was sarin. An equal number of experts in Feedback disagreed and claimed it was some other agent. Almost all based their judgments on symptoms observed in videos posted by rebels or on second hand reports of medical examinations.
Other videos posted to the web showed bags of chemicals with the label "made in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Factory for Chlorine and Alkalis" that were captured in rebel strongholds. The factory, known as SACHLO, is located in Riyadh and is hiring at this time.
Still other videos showed liquids in canisters that the reporter said were found in rebel tunnels. A third set purported to show a cache of chemical canisters and rockets that had been captured in a rebel bunker that could be fired by an artillery piece.
All the videos are inconclusive. None are dated; the location is never established; and none have a reliable chain of custody. At best they establish that both sides have chemicals, have used chemicals at some time and that more than one agent has been used by one or other side.
The delivery system. The open source information on instrumentality indicates rockets or modified artillery shells. Both sides have rockets that can deliver chemicals. The rebels have posted to the Web that they have such a capability and showed it to Sky News.
The attacker. Concerning the attacker, the mainstream media overwhelming claim that the Syrian government executed the attack. The evidence is not as clear as this assertion implies.
The Syrian government denies responsibility and claims its own forces suffered from a rebel chemical attack. The government is winning the fight and has no obvious motive to undertake action that would invite US military intervention that might affect the momentum of its successes. At least, that is what the Syrian government has said.
The rebels have strong motives to internationalize their fight and to manipulate the US into fighting on behalf of Islamists whose colleagues attacked the US in 2001. Some American officials and experts have asserted that the rebels have no chemical weapons. Not even the rebels say that.
What has not been reported nor evaluated are rebel claims, published by Sky News in July 2013 for example, that they have a sarin chemical weapons program and delivery systems.
So the media tally is the rebels claim they have gas and were gassed. The Government acknowledges that the rebels have gas and admits it has gas, but denies it used it. The Government claims that its gas is under strict control and the US officially has confirmed the Syrian government's claim. Both sides also have rockets that can deliver gas.
No news service has investigated rebel use of gas on 21 August. Nobody has bothered to ask any questions.
The role of Israeli intelligence. Finally, there is the question of the intercepted conversations. They remain classified so no one knows what was said, by whom, in what language, in what context, obtained by what reliable collection system, translated by whom, with what periodicity of collection and with what editing by supervisors. Some reporters claimed the conversations were between low level people. Others claimed a senior civilian official talked directly with a chemical unit military commander. That kind of direct communication is not possible even in the US military.
A further complication is two US sources assert that Israeli intelligence intercepted the conversations and passed the content to NSA. This scenario raises a new set of concerns about the reliability of the channel. Was the information doctored? Do some Israelis have a motive to lie to the US regarding events in Syria?
At this point, there are no answers to the three primary questions based on open source reporting. The findings of the UN investigators most likely will be inconclusive as to who executed the attack, but should help confirm the nature of the agent and the most likely delivery system
Administrative note: Thanks to all who provided Feedback on this issue.
Russia: Interfax quoted a source in the armed forces' general staff as saying Russia has decided to deploy to the eastern Mediterranean a missile cruiser from the Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, and a large anti-submarine ship from the Northern Fleet in the "coming days."
Comment: Earlier this summer, Russian sources stated that the Russian Navy had established a permanent squadron in the Mediterranean Sea of 16 ships. Today's announcement said the two new ships would be part of a routine rotation. That is the language the US uses to increase its naval presence anywhere through overlapping rotation schedules.
This deployment does not necessarily mean the Russians will defend Syria. It does mean the Russians have raised the price and risks of a US attack on Syria.
UK-US-Syria: For the record. The British parliament voted against military action against Syria. The British have fought Muslims and Muslim tribes for nearly 200 years. This generation has had enough of war against Muslims.
End of NightWatch for 29 August.
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