On November 17, Russia vetoed a UN resolution that would extend the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM. The vote came one day after the Russian Federation blocked a US effort to extend the inquiry for one year.
As usual, it triggered accusations from the United States. US Ambassador Nikki Haley was fiery and acrimonious, telling the Security Council that the veto "shows us that Russia has no interest in finding common ground with the rest of this council to save the JIM." "Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime," she said. "It's as simple and sinful as that."
The emotions were expected. Much has been said about the tactics of blaming Russia for each and everything going awry. It serves the purpose to better understand the issue and the reasons behind this particular move of Moscow.
The JIM is a joint investigative body of the UN and the international chemical weapons (CW) watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or OPCW. The Russia’s demand for major changes in the way the JIM operates is at the heart of the dispute. Moscow has been critical of the JIM's findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Shaykhun last April 4.
The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) has released a report accusing Syria's government for a sarin nerve gas attack last April on the town of Khan Shaykhun that killed more than 90 people and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) extremist group for a mustard gas attack at Um Hosh in Aleppo in September 2016. The report says the "leadership panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun," the Syrian village.
The inspectors based their findings on "sufficient credible and reliable evidence" of Syrian aircraft that dropped munitions, the crater that was caused by the impact of the aerial bombing, interviews with victims, and their finding that sarin identified in the samples taken from Khan Shaykhun was most likely been made with a precursor (DF) from the original stockpile of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The conclusions have been made without an inspection team visiting the area! Nobody of those who prepared the report went to see what happened with their own eyes! UN chemical experts should have gone to the place and collected and analyzed the samples. They failed to do it but it did not stop them from coming to definite conclusions! Can such a report be considered as impartial? Certainly not, but the White House rushed to issue a statement blasting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
One does not have to go into details much to see the inconsistencies. Annex II (item 10) of the report states that the sarin incident occurred in Khan Shaykhun between 0630 and 0700 hours local time on 4 April 2017. Item 77 of Annex II states that “several hospitals appeared to have begun admitting casualties of the attack between 0640 and 0645 hours. The Mechanism received the medical records of 247 patients from Khan Shaykhun who had been admitted to various health-care facilities, including survivors and a number of victims who eventually died from exposure to a chemical agent. The admission times noted in the records range from 0600 to 1600 hours. Analysis of the records revealed that in 57 cases, patients had been admitted to five hospitals before the incident (at 0600, 0620 and 0640 hours). In 10 of those cases, patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 125 km away from Khan Shaykhun at 0700 hours, while another 42 patients appear to have been admitted to a hospital 30 km away at 0700 hours.”
So, what the report actually states is that the patients had been admitted to hospitals before the air strike! The irregularity does strike the eye and it’s far from being the only one in the paper.
The video report used as “evidence” is also questioned. According to Theodore A. Postol, a professor emeritus of Science, Technology, and International Security at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the video was showing the three bomb plumes to be blowing to the east, in contradiction of the day’s weather reports and the supposed direction of a separate sarin cloud. That day the wind was going to the west. The location of the three bombing strikes didn’t match up with the supposed damage claimed to have detected from satellite photos of where the bombs purportedly struck. Rather than buildings being leveled by powerful bombs, the photos showed little or no apparent damage.
Al Qaeda (Jabhat al-Nusra) could have easily posted the video from an earlier bombing raid to provide “proof” of the April 4 strike. Actually, nobody knows when and where all the CW attack-related pictures and videos were taken. The UN report mentions White Helmets allegedly helping the victims but the pictures show they wore no gloves or protective equipment. If sarin gas were used, they would have become victims themselves.
The jihadist group had a good reason to stage the attack and blame it on the Syrian government as the Trump administration had announced that the Assad ouster was no longer the priority just a few days before. The US president said he had dropped the “Assad must go” slogan. The video showing the alleged April 4 chemical attack went viral. It could have been an attempt to change the US president’s stance. It worked. On the night of April 6/7, US military delivered a cruise missile strike at Syrian government forces. It’s an open secret that Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) have used CW. Even the New York Times admits that IS has used weapons of mass destruction.
There was no reason for President Assad to use chemical weapons. He was winning the war. The UN-brokered peace talks on Syria were to launch on April 4 – the day of the attack. No way could the Syrian government benefit from the use of CW. After all, the Syria gave up all its chemical weapons in 2013 and there has been no proof it has ever made an attempt to acquire the weapons of mass destruction since then.
The facts mentioned above lead to the conclusion that the JIM offered a decision prepared beforehand without taking the pain to conduct serious investigation. The draft resolution was nothing but an attempt to push through a guilty verdict and ensure that such rulings will be handed down in future when convenient. Evidently, the extension of the JIM mandate unchanged is unacceptable. It would undermine the credibility and standing of the United Nations – something Russia is trying to prevent.