Chemical Weapons Kill Some 1,300 in Syria; Iran/Hezbollah Involvement Likely
Forces loyal to dictator Bashar Al-Assad reportedly unleashed a deadly chemical weapons attack in East Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus, a strategic gateway to the Syrian capital. Al Jazeera estimates that as many as 1,300 have been killed. The opposition Local Coordinating Committees Syria (LCCS) put the death toll at 1,360 (Hat Tips: “Lima” & “Mike”). Based on my past analyses of the fighting in East Ghouta and appraisals of their involvement in Syrian command and control, I assess as highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) were involved in the attack. If reports are accurate, this is an extraordinary military and geo-political development with grave international consequences.
• First, the staggering death toll alone suggests the use of one or more deadly agents. While by no means a conclusive assessment, I suspect the chief agent deployed was, in order of likelihood, either VX or Sarin. Both are lethal agents, but VX has been called the deadliest chemical agent ever devised by man.
The Homs report ultimately prompted the U.N. to broaden its probe of CW use beyond what the Assad regime called for: a look into a single incident in Khan Al-Assal where the regime alleged that rebels used CW (in my view, the evidence in Al-Assal is thin). The U.N. CW investigative team arrived in Syria on Sunday. Why, you might ask, would Assad order the use of CW with U.N. investigators at his door? Answer: he probably didn’t. Here’s why:
• Second, Assad delegated CW release authority down the chain of command to tactical commanders, and East Ghouta confirms that July 2012 assessment. Another confirmation occurred April 2013 when Assad deployed CW in Jobar, a Damascus suburb. The first use of CW in Close Quarters Battle (CQB), regime forces used CW in Jobar to force the retreat of rebel snipers who had established a “kill box” in the streets.
• Third, regime forces probably deployed more than one agent. Multiple agent use complicates intelligence analysis and medical diagnosis.
• Fourth and most important, it is highly likely that Hezbollah and Sepah Pasdaran (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) discharged the chemical weapons.
→ Tehran calls the shots in Syria, not Damascus. Hezbollah does not furnish “reinforcements” to Assad’s army. Hezbollah and Sepah provide not only the vanguard fighters but also the tactical leadership, clout and CQB know-how that Assad’s army lacks. Case-in-point: Qusayr.
→ In both Jobar and East Ghouta, Hezbollah and Sepah have been engaged tactically for months. In both, chemical weapons have been deployed.
• The Take-Away: In December 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “we are certainly planning to take action” if Assad used chemical weapons. A year ago, President Obama said that by “moving” much less using chemical weapons, Assad would be crossing a “red line.”
We now know that both pledges were meaningless. So does Assad. From Homs to Jobar and now Ghouta, he has made a mockery of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton while heightening his savagery. As we say in the military, “I say again:” Chemical weapons use in Syria is not rare but common, and there is no “red line.”
The stunning foreign policy defeat of both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, however, is a victory for Iran as well. In February, Hojjatoleslam Mehdi Taeb, the cleric in charge of and who is winning Iran’s Shadow War with Washington and the West, said:
The priority is that we keep Syria. If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.
The Shiite militants are keeping Tehran, because in this war, Iran’s frontline can be found in Syria while our’s is no further east than Martha’s Vineyard. We should not be surprised when, from time to time, Iran poisons its frontline with chemical weapons.