The China Sea is quiet, but Syria’s nuclear clock is ticking

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

DESPITE reports of some Filipino fishermen being fired at in the Spratlys and a Philippine Air Force plane carrying Defense Secretary DelfinLorenzana and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Eduardo Ano being challenged by Chinese authorities while over Philippine airspace, the South China Sea will have to yield to Syria for now as the most dangerous place in the world. The Syrian civil war has been raging for the past seven years. Nearly half a million people have been killed. But tension could rise between Russia and the United States after the April 6 US missile strike.

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With Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the US opposes the regime of Bashar al-Assad and wants it out. Russia on the other hand supports Assad, together with Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah, based in Lebanon. In September 2015, Russia launched a bombing campaign against terrorist groups in Syria, including ISIL and other groups supported by Western governments. It also deployed military advisers. At the United Nations Security Council, where the political campaign against Assad is unrelenting, Russia has vetoed eight Western-backed resolutions on Syria, while China has vetoed six.

On April 6, while Trump and Xi were having dinner at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, the US struck against Syria’s Shayrat airbase, using 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Western sources said the strike destroyed 20 percent of Syria’s operational military aircraft, and rendered the airbase unusable for the refueling and rearming of aircraft. Trump informed Xi about the attack only towards the end of dinner, but to his credit, Xi maintained his composure and stayed for the second day, concluding a number of agreements for continuing dialogue on a broad range of issues.

Justifying the missile strike

The US justified the strike as a swift retaliatory response to a chemical attack allegedly launched by the Syrian government on April 4 on the rebel-held town of KanSheikhoun, 30 miles south of the city of Idlib, in which more than 80 civilians were killed. But there was no proof that the Syrian forces perpetrated the attack and not a single American life was lost in it. Therefore, the US could not claim it struck Syria in self-defense. Syria, Russia, Iran and a number of security experts have condemned the missile strike as illegal, without any authority from the UN or the US Congress.

Syria and Russia claim the deadly gas had come from a rebel-held chemical storage plant that was hit during the fighting. An independent paper written by a nuclear weapons expert says that based on the evidence the lethal gas could not have come from a plane. Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the chemical attack and demanded an independent UN probe to determine who was responsible. This seems the only way to arrive at the truth, based on the evidence.

Last Wednesday in Moscow, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for five hours and with President Vladimir for two hours in an effort to breathe new life into American-Russian relations, which Prime MInister Dmitri Medvedev said were “completely ruined” by the missile strike.

Tillerson had to forego a NATO meeting in Brussels in order to meet with Putin. But although he had developed close personal ties with the Russian President when he was CEO of Exxon Mobil and even received a “friendship award” from him, an article in Politico magazine revealed that he had to cool his heels for hours before Putin received him.

Repairing damaged ties

Tillerson told the press: “There’s a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.” For his part, Putin told Mir TV, Russia’s most popular TV channel, that “trust at the working level, especially at the military level, hasn’t gotten better; rather it’s deteriorated.”

At the Tillerson-Lavrov press conference, the two foreign ministers firmly held on to their respective positions. Tillerson said the chemical attack was planned and executed by the Syrian forces, and “we’re confident of that.” But he offered no evidence of Syria’s role, which makes one wonder, if the US has the evidence why are they not presenting it? Tillerson then suggested a negotiated solution to the fate of Assad which, to Putin, is solely for the Syrian people to decide. “It’s important that Assad’s departure is done in an orderly way so that certain interests and constituencies that he represents feel they have been represented at the negotiating table for a political solution,” Tillerson said.

Lavrov on the other hand insisted there was no proof that the Syrian forces did it; that the US missile strike was illegal and should not be repeated; that an independent investigation on the alleged chemical attack should be conducted; that the information about the rebels having their own stockpile of chemical weapons was coming not from distant sources but from the very site where the gas was used. Lavrov added that the US was not striking at non-IS terrorist groups, like Al Nusra Front, because they might prove useful in triggering a “Plan B” against Assad.

Trump had been looking forward to improved US-Russia relations even before he became President. But this was a highly unpopular position to the neocons and neo-liberals on both sides of the Atlantic, and it tended to validate the dossier reportedly compiled by former British MI-6 agent Michael Steele that Russia’s cyber warriors had helped Trump become President. Until Trump attacked Syria, many thought him guilty as charged; by attacking Syria and risking direct confrontation with Russia he gained a measure of credibility from his attackers. But even the British government had to confess their investigation into Russia’s alleged role in Trump’s election had produced no result.

A palace coup vs Trump?

One German-American scholar, speaking last week in New York, suggested that what has been portrayed as a chemical attack by Syrian forces at Idlib was nothing but a false flag, and that Trump’s swift punitive response was the result of manipulation by the entire neocon and neoliberal establishment. “What happened is a de facto coup d’etat inside the US, after the false flag operation in Syria,” said Helga ZeppLarouche, founder and chair of Schilleter Institute, in her keynote to the US-China Cooperation forum on the Belt and Road initiative. “The coup is a British intelligence operation, which poses the greatest danger to Trump,” she said.

Trump’s campaign promise to improve relations with Russia, defeat IS and end the policy of regime change and interventionist wars (the color revolutions) represented a threat to “the British empire,” Zepp La Rouche said, and had to be junked. She explained that “the British Empire” was not to be mistaken for Teresa May’s Britain after Brexit. “What happened was that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Britain and the neocons in the United States set up a unipolar world” based on Anglo-American interests, and they came up with such things as “The Right to Protect,” “Humanitarian intervention,” Regime Change (the color revolution) against any government that would not submit.” After Trump’s election, the British paper The Spectator said he will not stay long in office, he will be removed, either by assassination, impeachment or a coup d’etat, she noted.

Speaking from London

In support of her thesis, Zepp La Rouche recalled that on March 30, both Tillerson and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said ousting Assad was no longer an option for the US; that the US top priority was now to fight terrorism and IS. The next day, Defense Secretary James Mattis, in a press conference in London with British Defense Minister Michael Fallon, praised the British role worldwide and threatened Russia, saying they were responsible for manipulating the elections in the US and Europe.
The chronology that follows is all taken from Zepp La Rouche’s speech:

The same day, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who in December had already called for a joint military attack on Syria, admitted that British investigations of alleged Russian interference in the US elections had produced no result.

Early morning of April 4, Trump got his daily intelligence brief on the chemical attack on Idlib province. It said the Syrian government had carried out the attack. As proof, photos and videos showed a person dying apparently from chemical poisoning. The photos and videos were supplied by an organization called White Helmets, founded by a retired British military officer (James Le Mesurier) funded by the British defense ministry and the US State Department.

In the next two days, the National Security Council met in Washington, D.C. The House intelligence committee chair, Rep. Devin Nunes, California’s 22nd congressional district, recused himself from the House investigation into two narratives: one, that Russia helped Trump to become President; two, that the Deep State in the US had been leaking classified information about Americans being spied on. Nunes had received proof involving cooperation with British intelligence.This provoked an adverse response from the Committee of Responsibility and Ethics, which turned out to be financed entirely by the British.

On April 5, Stephen Bannon, Trump’s campaign advisor, known for his open opposition to an attack on Syria, was removed from his post in the National Security Council.

Guess who’s in control?

On April 6, while cruise missiles struck Syria and President Xi dined with Trump, British defense minister Fallon was saying in London that he was in constant communication with the US on all levels—before the strike, after the strike, discussing the options.

Security experts, including Scott Ritter, the senior chemical weapons inspector who was among the first to declare there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the Bush invasion, have challenged the US claim about Syria’s role in the gas poisoning. MIT Prof. Ted Postol, a prominent nuclear weapons expert who in 2013 proved that the rebels were using chemical weapons, has refuted the White House paper on the Idlib gas poisoning by showing, with the help of Google Earth material and photos, that the chemical gas coming out of pipes on the ground could not have been dropped from a plane.

ZeppLarouche pointed out that in 2013, Syria agreed, with Russia’s help, to dismantle its entire inventory of chemical weapons. However, only eight production areas were destroyed because two were in areas controlled by the rebels. The Syrian ambassador to the UN has since sent 80 letters to the UN Security Council giving them the data on where the rebels were using the chemical weapons, apparently without result.

“Why would Assad, who is presently—with Russia’s help—winning the battle on all fronts, risk his position by using chemical weapons on a target that has no military value whatsoever?” Zepp La Rouche asked.

No ultimatums

Boris Johnson has proposed that Russia be given an ultimatum to abandon Assad. But there was no sign of that in Tillerson’s conversation with Lavrov or Putin. In Manila, on board the Russian missile cruiser Varyag docked on Pier 15 on Friday evening, Russian ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev told me, “there are no ultimatums.”

Quoting the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Zepp La Rouche warned that 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons in the US and Russia are now on the ready, any miscalculation could lead to a nuclear conflagration. “The clock is ticking, and it is now two and a half minutes to midnight,” she said. However,Zepp La Rouche quotes a federal judge in Germany as saying that in case of a US-Russia confrontation, the US cannot oblige its NATO allies to come to its defense under the NATO treaty because the US would not be fighting an aggressor.

fstatad@gmail.com

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1 Comment

  1. Moshe Weintraub MDPhD on

    It is good to read a voice of reason here. In Europe and the US, the mainstream media is going cracy about false allegations, regime change, not only in Syria.
    What you wrote has already been well stated and documented. greetings