The Middle East Channel

Syria says it has evidence that rebels used chemical weapons

The Syrian government has turned over evidence to Russia that it claims implicates the Syrian opposition in a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21. Russia has criticized a report released by the United Nations Monday after a U.N. investigation into the attacks, calling the report "politicized, preconceived, and one-sided." Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.N. inspectors only investigated the attack in Ghouta and not the sites of three previous incidents. The report confirmed that Sarin gas was used in the attack, but did not assign blame. However, Britain, France, and the United States said the findings confirmed the Assad regime was responsible for the use of chemical weapons, and Human Rights Watch said evidence strongly suggested the government was behind the attack. The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met Tuesday to work on a draft resolution on Syria for the hand over and destruction of the regime's chemical weapons arsenal. Russia reportedly is resisting elements proposed by Britain, France, and the United States that discuss the use of force in event of non-compliance. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded at Syria's Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey killing at least seven people. The attack has come as tensions are heightened a day after Turkey shot down a Syrian helicopter that had crossed into Turkish airspace.


  • Bahrain has detained senior opposition al-Wefaq politician Khalil al-Marzooq, accusing him of instigating anti-government violence, raising fears of an escalating crackdown on dissent.
  • Egyptian police have arrested the Muslim Brotherhood's main English-language spokesman, Gehad el-Haddad, in part of a roundup of thousands of the group's leaders and members.
  • A series of bombings and attacks killed at least 23 people in the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Mosul, and Fallujah Tuesday.
  • A French citizen has died while in Egyptian police custody, detained according to security sources for violating a Cairo curfew and beaten to death by other detainees.

Arguments and Analysis

'Too Little, Too Late' (Scott Williamson, Sada)

"Despite their continued support for July 3 and the crackdown against the Brotherhood, a growing number of liberal activists and secular politicians have started to push back, tentatively, against the resurgence of the police state. When Interim President Adly Mansour appointed military, police, and former ruling party figures as governors on August 13, activists were quick to express their disappointment. Tamarrod and the June 30 Front voiced reservations about the selections, while the spokesperson for the Egyptian Popular Current, a secular movement that opposed Morsi and supported Sisi's intervention, stated that the choices did not ‘bode well' for positive changes in the government.

On August 14, the security forces perpetrated what Human Rights Watch called the ‘most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history' when they violently dispersed pro-Morsi protesters in Cairo. Following the violence, Mohamed ElBaradei, vice president for international relations and the government's most high-profile liberal, resigned. While ElBaradei's resignation was opposed by most of his political allies, who supported the crackdown on the Brotherhood on August 14, the deaths of more than 30 detained protesters in police custody four days later sparked nationwide outrage. Prominent secular political leaders such as Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the Egyptian Popular Current, and Amr Moussa, a former presidential candidate and prominent liberal politician, were joined by Tamarrod and the April 6 Movement in their calls for an investigation."

'Red Lines, Allies and Enemies' (Ray Takeyh, International Herald Tribune)

"While not bombing Syria may not have had a measurable impact on Iran's calculations, it is likely to condition Israel's response to the Islamic Republic's nuclear imbroglio. For Israelis, as with all small powers measuring the reliability of their superpower patron, intentions matter more than capabilities. It is not America's actual military power but its willingness to use that power that impresses its allies. What Israelis have seen of late is a Washington that, faced with a violation of its red line on the use of weapons of mass destruction, embraces a Russian effort at the United Nations Security Council. There are no two entities with less credibility in Jerusalem on the issue of unconventional weapons than Russia and the United Nations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish advisers may yet conclude that any forceful resolution of the Iran crisis requires Israel acting alone. Whatever the probabilities of Israeli bombing Iran's facilities may have been prior to the Syrian crisis, those numbers have only gone up.

The recent Syrian melodrama indicates how little historical assessments penetrate governmental deliberations. The notion that we have to bomb Damascus to impress Tehran is short-sighted and without much analytical underpinning. There may be ample justification for the use of force against a regime that has used chemical weapons against unarmed citizens. Indeed, the tragedy of the Syrian civil war has long called out for a more determined international effort. However, in assessing the effect of the recent crisis one has to conclude that its impact will be felt more in Israel than in Iran."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber


The Middle East Channel

U.N. chemical weapons report seems to implicate the Syrian regime

The United Nations has released a long-awaited report investigating the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital of Damascus. According to the U.N. investigators there was "clear and convincing evidence" that chemical weapons were used "on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties." While the mandate of the investigators did not permit them to determine who carried out the attacks, the evidence largely implicated the Syrian government. In particular, the munitions, identified as surface-to-surface rockets, and launchers, as well as the direction from which the rockets had been launched, points to government culpability. Russia has maintained that the opposition is responsible and Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov said Moscow has "serious grounds" to believe rebel fighters provoked the attack. After talks in Russia, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabrius said there seems to be "no doubt" that the regime was behind the chemical attack, and pushed Russia to support a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria. For the first time publicly, Israel has called for the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Israel's Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren said, "We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren't backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran." Meanwhile, Turkish warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter Turkey that crossed over a mile into its airspace. The Syrian army admitted the incursion saying the aircraft had been monitoring "terrorists" crossing the border. Syria chided Turkey for being "hasty" in attacking the helicopter and accused the Turkish government of trying to escalate tensions.


Arguments and Analysis

'Is Jordan's "Arab Spring" Over?' (Osama Al Sharif, Al-Monitor)

"Jordan's version of the Arab Spring may be over quietly and unceremoniously. Regional upheavals, especially in Syria and Egypt, have dampened Jordanians' appetite for drastic change in their own country. A year ago, tens of anti-government protests would take place, especially on Fridays, across the country. Most were organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, but some were led by the Jordanian Youth Movement, or ‘hirak,' whose slogans often crossed red lines. They called for regime change and accused King Abdullah II of corruption. Many of their leaders are now in prison and some will stand trial in front of the State Security Court (SSC) on charges that range from insulting the king to attempting to overthrow the regime.

But it has been more than three months now since large demonstrations were held in Amman or elsewhere. Last November, when the newly appointed government of Abdullah Ensour floated the price of gasoline and ended state subsidies, thousands took to the streets and the country saw three days of angry demonstrations and clashes with the police. The opposition -- an alliance between the Islamists and the National Reform Front (NRF), which is a coalition of leftist and nationalist groups and parties--threatened to further derail austerity measures. But when the government raised the price of electricity last month nothing happened. It was a sign that neither the Islamists nor the rest of the opposition was able to mobilize the street anymore."

'Libya: Divided they Fail' (Karim Mezran and Lara Talverdian, Atlantic Council)

"Attention in Washington to the one-year anniversary of the Benghazi attack that took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans gives reason to believe that a commitment still exists to assist Libya as it faces grave challenges in trying to achieve the goals of its revolution. For a while, US interest in Libya's success seemed dormant, particularly in the wake of a cacophonous debate in the aftermath of Egypt's coup and the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Yet, Libya remains on the agenda, and the presence of Ambassador Deborah Jones at the US Embassy in Tripoli provides new ways for the administration to ramp-up engagement. The question is: with which Libyan counterparts should the United States work to ensure the effectiveness of its diplomatic and programmatic efforts? The forces seeking to weaken the Libyan state may, in fact, pale in comparison to the threat from its own state institutions. If the fledgling democracy's state institutions do not embrace a spirit of cooperation rather than competition, they will fail to harness the international community's will to assist the country."

--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber