More than 100 people were injured as a result of a chemical attack in Aleppo on Nov. 24. The Syrian government asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to send a fact-finding mission to the city. Evidently the rebels were responsible. The West’s reaction has been surprising. Unlike in previous instances, the West has stayed mum instead of creating an uproar after the attacks and blaming Syria without any sort of thorough investigation to prove its guilt.
When rebel-controlled areas came under chemical attacks, Western leaders raised a hue and cry, but they more or less shrugged it off when civilians living in Aleppo’s government-controlled areas became the targets — shot by 120-mm mortars firing chlorine-filled rounds. The shelling came from Idlib — the province where the remaining rebels are based. There is no way the Syrian government troops could have been the perpetrators. Nobody would believe a story claiming that they attacked their own forces so deep behind their own lines. Russia and Syria are proud of the fact they have established peace in Aleppo, and they have no interest in disturbing it.
Neither the US nor its comrades-in-arms — the UK and France — is launching missile and air attacks to strike rebel-held positions in Idlib. And no one is rushing toward international podiums to do any finger-pointing. No statements have been issued from either Washington or Brussels as of Nov. 27. The silence is deafening.
Only French President Macron has announced that his country is condemning the use of chemical weapons in general and in the Syrian city of Aleppo in particular. Some time ago, Paris was vigorously advocating for the West’s intervention in Syria. It joined the US military actions against Syrian government forces. French special forces operate side-by-side with their American counterparts there. The French president has always expressed his indignation and condemnation of the Syrian government for the things it has not done. This time he failed to castigate the radicals in Idlib for the crime they really did commit.
It was Russian forces who attacked the terrorist positions from where mortars were firing chemical rounds, according to intelligence sources. The Russian Air Force prevented another chemical attack in order to protect civilians. Russian and Syrian medical personnel saved human lives by rapidly coming to their aid. Syria and Russia joined efforts in an investigation to produce proof that it was Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham militants (the former Jabhat al-Nusra) who perpetrated this war crime.
Russia had warned that the White Helmets were preparing to stage such an attack while freely operating in the terrorist-controlled areas. They had been painted in the West as human-rights defenders until their group was exposed as terrorist collaborators. Interestingly, the group had always operated in areas controlled by the extremists, never in zones held by the so-called “moderate opposition.”
But the question is — why were the Russian warnings ignored? Another question — what will the OPCW do after it has acquired new powers to hand down verdicts about who is to blame? Russian experts are already there investigating and producing tangible results, while that global watchdog is not sure if it is safe enough for a team to be sent to Aleppo! Even if it goes in, it’ll have lost too much time to be able to conduct an effective investigation. The way to do it is to arrive on the scene quickly and gather evidence. It has not done this. Will it cooperate with the Russian military as it should? After all, Russia has hard evidence it can produce, otherwise it would not have attacked Idlib and breached the ceasefire accord. It protected the civilians in Aleppo knowing perfectly it would have to justify its actions.
In any event, the chemical attack in Aleppo is an acid test that will demonstrate the OPCW’s ability to beef up its credibility as an international body empowered with the authority to assign blame. The inspectors did not travel to Syria’s Shayrat air base to conduct an inspection after the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack last year, nor did they go to see with their own eyes what really happened in Douma, where a chemical attack took place in April. It’ll have to behave more responsibly this time, even if its own safety is not guaranteed.
The idea behind the attack was to provoke a clash between Turkey, which is responsible for the situation in Idlib, and the Russian-backed Syrian government that is defending Aleppo. But those plans fell apart when they were exposed by Russian intelligence. The attack was not unexpected. And there was one other thing that was exposed as a result — the duplicity of the West.