Posts Tagged ‘nerve gas’

Israel conducted April 9 strike on Syrian airbase: NYT quotes Israeli military source — The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel

April 16, 2018


JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel maintained its official silence on Monday over its possible involvement in an April 9 air strike on a Syrian airbase after the New York Times quoted an unnamed Israeli military source as saying Israel had carried out the raid.

Syria and its main ally Russia blamed Israel for the attack, near the city of Homs, which followed reports of a poison gas attack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the rebel-held town of Douma.

Israel, which has often struck Syrian army locations during its neighbor’s seven-year civil war, has neither confirmed nor denied mounting the raid. But Israeli officials said the Tiyas air base was being used by troops from Iran and that Israel would not accept such a presence in Syria of its arch foe.

Iran’s Tansim news agency said seven Iranian military personnel had been killed in the attack, which contributed to a sharp escalation of tensions between the West and Russia.

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Damage at the T4 base in Syria afer the israeli raid.

“(The Tiyas strike) was the first time we attacked live Iranian targets — both facilities and people,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman quoted the Israeli military source as saying.

Friedman described the seven Iranians killed as members of the Qods Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps that oversees operations abroad, and one of them as a commander of a drone unit.

Asked about the claim of Israeli responsibility cited in the New York Times article, which was published on Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: “There is no comment at this time.”

While acknowledging that it has carried out scores of strikes in Syria against suspect Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, Israel generally does not comment on specific missions.

The attack on Tiyas came days before the United States, Britain and France launched 105 missiles targeting what Washington said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack.

Assad has denied using chemical weapons.

Israeli soldiers taking part in a training session last week in the Golan Heights.CreditJalaa Marey/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Despite the Israeli source’s comment to the New York Times that the killing of Iranians at Tiyas was unprecedented for Israeli missions in Syria, a 2015 air strike there that Hezbollah blamed on Israel killed an Iranian general along with several of the Lebanese guerrillas.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones

See also:

The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel



What Did Israel Attack in Syria: Air Force Compound Under Exclusive Iranian Control

April 11, 2018

The base, known as T4, is home to Russian and Syrian contingents; Israel assesses that Tehran’s activity is known to Assad but that he doesn’t halt it despite the risk to his forces

The Syrian airbase near Homs that sustained an airstrike Monday night is where Iran is trying to set up a large air force compound under its exclusive control.

Syria, Iran and Russia all blamed Israel for the strike, which killed at least four advisors from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force. Arab media reports said one was a colonel with a senior position in the Revolutionary Guards’ drone operation in Syria. The Lebanese television station Al-Manar, which is affiliated with Hezbollah, reported seven Iranians killed, and the true number could be even greater.

 Image result for T4 air base, after israel attack, hangar, photos, April 2018

In addition to the Revolutionary Guards, the large base, known as T4, hosts contingents of the Syrian and Russian air forces. The Iranians, who operate independently, are relatively far away from the Russians; they control the base’s western and northern sides. That’s apparently why Russia’s statements specified that the airstrike hit the western side of the base.

TwitterPicture of the targeted Iranian base in Syria, according to Iranian media.
Picture of the targeted Iranian base in Syria, according to Iranian media.Fars News Agency

On February 10, after an Iranian drone was downed inside Israeli territory, the Israeli air force bombed the drone’s command post, located at T4. According to foreign media reports, that strike also killed some Iranians, though that time, Iran itself didn’t announce the deaths.

Both strikes, coupled with a series of international media reports quoting “Western intelligence officials,” reveal that Iran is trying to establish a large-scale drone program in Syria as part of its effort to expand its military presence there.

But alongside Russia’s protests to Israel over the fact that it views both strikes as endangering its personnel, there is also apparently some tension between Russia and Iran. American intelligence sources say that Iran even moved its people from T4 to a Syrian airbase near Palmyra, far away from the area where Russia operates, for several weeks. It’s possible that the Russians threatened to stop arms shipments from Iran to Damascus if Iran didn’t do so.

>> Israel is now directly confronting Iran in Syria | Analysis 

Nevertheless, Iran recently returned to T4 and continues to deploy its Revolutionary Guards elsewhere in central Syria, including near the Damascus international airport. Israel believes all this has been done with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s knowledge, and that he hasn’t tried to dissuade the Iranians from such activities, even though they put his own forces at risk.

The T-4 base, near Palmyra, that was attacked.
The T-4 base, near Palmyra, that was attacked.Google / DigitalGlobe

Israel doesn’t yet have concrete evidence that Assad’s forces used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians in rebel-held Douma, near Damascus, last weekend, but it assigns high credibility to the claims that there was a chemical attack and that Assad’s forces were responsible for it. There were reportedly two attacks at the site, one using chlorine and one using a nerve gas, possibly sarin.

An analysis of footage of the dead and wounded shows clearly that some were hit by nerve gas. Israel doesn’t believe the Syrian, Russian and Iranian claim that the rebels forged evidence of the attack, while the chance that the rebels themselves accidently used chemical weapons against civilians in an area under their control seems very slim.

Maintaining and using such weapons is relatively difficult, and the rebels in that area – the northern and eastern suburbs of Damascus – aren’t known to have such capabilities. In contrast, an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement denouncing the use of chemical weapons said the Assad regime recently resumed making such weapons.

The Syrian army has almost finished conquering the rebel enclaves in this area. The Syrians, backed by heavy Russian aerial bombardments, have mounted massive assaults on rebel-held neighborhoods to pressure them into signing surrender agreements.

>>Top Israeli defense officials push for offensive approach in Syria against Iran  Russia’ tough rhetoric shows that Israel is losing its leeway with the Kremlin | Analysis 

But for the first time in years, the Syrians aren’t noticeably relying on Shi’ite militias affiliated with Iran. Some of those militias have been assigned other tasks, including maintaining control of areas that have already been captured, like the northern city of Aleppo.

In contrast, Hezbollah’s elite units, including its Radwan commando force, are sent into battle whenever the Syrian effort runs into trouble. They are also assigned to protect assets vital to the regime in Damascus and the Alawite region in northwestern Syria. Hezbollah has a limited presence in southern Syria as well, and Israel suspects this is part of Iran’s future plans to create military friction with Israel along the border in the Golan Heights.

Israeli military forces in northern Golan Heights.
Israeli military forces in northern Golan Heights. Gil Eliahu

After they finish the fight in northern and eastern Damascus, Assad’s forces are expected to turn on the last major pocket of resistance near the capital: the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in southern Damascus. The Islamic State still maintains an active presence in this area.

Later, regime forces are expected to mount a major offensive in southern Syria – in Daraa, near the Jordanian border, and probably also in the Syrian part of the Golan, near Israel’s border. Israel’s assumption is that the regime will make every effort to regain effective control of most of the Syrian Golan, and that its offensive, backed by Russia and Iran, will continue.

It’s the Russians, says chemist who uncovered existence of ‘Novichok’ — ‘”Look what happened to Skripal. The same could happen to you.'”

March 14, 2018


© AFP / by Catherine TRIOMPHE | Russian chemist Vil Mirzayanov first uncovered in the 1990s the existence of the nerve gas used to attack a former Russian spy in Britain

PRINCETON (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – The Russian chemist who first revealed the existence of “Novichok” nerve agents says only the Russians can be behind the weapon’s use in Britain against a former spy and his daughter.Vil Mirzayanov, 83, came to the United States in 1995 after 30 years of working for the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, or GNIIOKhT.

It was he who in the early 1990s revealed the existence of that class of ultra-powerful nerve agents.

He did so first in the Russian media as it opened up with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and later, with chemical formulas at hand, in his book “State Secrets,” published in 2007.

Former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. Britain says it is “highly likely” that Moscow was to blame for the nerve agent attack.

Mirzayanov, speaking at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, said he is convinced Russia carried it out as a way of intimidating opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

“Only the Russians” developed this class of nerve agents, said the chemist. “They kept it and are still keeping it in secrecy.”

The only other possibility, he said, would be that someone used the formulas in his book to make such a weapon.

– ‘Dangerous for the Kremlin’ –

He said that the Russians could argue that maybe someone had synthesized them “and they could make me guilty!”

This is the first time the nerve agents, which took 15 years to develop and were tested on animals, have been used to kill somebody, Mirzayanov said.

Why now? Mirzayanov said he believes the Kremlin wants to intimidate people, such as enemies of Putin.

For instance, he hypothesized, suppose someone leaves Russia with material that would compromise President Donald Trump in the US probe into whether his 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia in its alleged drive to help him beat Hillary Clinton.

“It’s very dangerous for the Kremlin because it is a plot against America,” said the chemist. “So they threaten this person, and they say, ‘look what happened to Skripal. The same could happen to you.'”

Mirzayanov said Skripal could no longer cause Russia any problems but the Kremlin could have killed him anyway, and in a cruel fashion, just to intimidate potential opponents.

– No cure –

An attack with Novichok agents, which are 10 times stronger than VX, is excruciating and has no cure, he added.

He said half a gram is enough to kill a person who weighs 50 kilos (110 pounds).

Someone exposed to it first has their vision go blurry, and if no antidote is applied are then hit with violent convulsions and can no longer breathe.

“I have seen the effect on animals — rabbits, dogs. It is awful,” he said.

Even if they do not die, Skripal and his daughter will suffer for the rest of their lives, he predicted.

The nerve agents are easy to administer because they are binary, meaning they result from the mix of two substances which on their own are harmless.

So these two parts can be transported with no risk, then blended to make the weapon in a spray gun.

Mirzayanov said that as awful as it has been, the attack in Britain might lead to something good: the UK and other Western countries insisting on Novichok agents being registered in the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as he has been urging for more than 20 years.

Had these weapons been placed under control the Salisbury attack might not have happened, he said.

Now that Mirzayanov is speaking openly about Novichok, his friends on Facebook and elsewhere are urging him to be careful, lest the Russians seek reprisal against him.

“But I have lived for quite a long time. They cannot stop me. I will work until the end to have Novichok placed under international control,” he said.

by Catherine TRIOMPHE

Russian blockade of Syrian chemical attacks probe prevents chemical weapons watchdog of UN from bringing international criminals to account

November 25, 2017
“Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable…”


Syrians flee following a reported government airstrike in Hamouria, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (AFP/file)

THE HAGUE: The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said Friday that Russia’s veto of UN Security Council resolutions to extend the mandate of an investigation team that lays blame for chemical attacks in Syria “creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community.”

The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, set up by the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) expired earlier this month after the Syrian government’s staunch ally Russia blocked efforts to extend its mandate.

© AFP/File / by Maria PANINA | This Syrian child was among the victims of a suspected sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4, which a UN report has blamed on the regime of Bashar al-Assad

Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

The JIM also accused Daesh of using mustard gas in 2015 and again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu lamented the end of the JIM.
“It is unfortunate that the mandate of this mechanism is not extended and clearly that creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community,” he told The Associated Press.
Members of the OPCW’s Executive Council were scheduled to meet later Friday to debate their response to the report.
A draft decision put forward by the US, Colombia, Estonia and Saudi Arabia is expected to be discussed.
It calls for the council to demand that the Syrian government immediately stop using chemical weapons and to express “its strong conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” according to a copy of the draft text seen by The Associated Press.
Executive Council decisions are generally adopted by consensus, but with the US and its allies at loggerheads with Russia and its supporters, it is likely to be put to a vote.
Russia and Iran also filed a draft decision for the council earlier this month calling for a “full scale, professional, and high quality investigation” in Khan Sheikhoun, including a site visit.
“There are serious differences of view on the issues that are being discussed because it’s somehow the extension of the conflict which is still underway in Syria,” Uzumcu said.
The OPCW has a fact-finding mission, which works to confirm allegations of chemical attacks in Syria, but does not apportion blame.
Uzumcu said that there are allegations of more than 80 different uses of chemicals as weapons over the last two years.
“The list is long,” he said.
Uzumcu said that mission will continue, including a visit to Damascus soon to look into Syrian government claims of attacks by fighters.
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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Syria: Russia blocks extension of chemical attacks probe

November 17, 2017

BBC News

Men receive treatment after a gas attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun
Image captionA nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April killed more than 80 people. Reuters photo

Russia has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have extended an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

It is the 10th time Moscow has used its veto powers at the UN in support of its ally since the conflict began.

US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, accused Russia of undermining the organisation’s ability to deter future chemical attacks.

The Russian ambassador dismissed the criticism.

The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) was set up in 2015 to identify perpetrators of chemical attacks. It is the only official mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Moscow strongly criticised the inquiry when it blamed the Syrian government for a deadly nerve agent attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. Syria denies using banned chemical weapons.

Mrs Haley described the latest Russian veto as “a deep blow”.

“Russia has killed the investigative mechanism which has overwhelming support of this council,” she said.

“By eliminating our ability to identify the attackers, Russia has undermined our ability to deter future attacks.”

What is the Joint Investigative Mechanism?

  • Created in 2015 with unanimous backing from the UN Security Council and renewed in 2016 for another year
  • Involves the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
  • Has previously concluded that Syrian government forces used chlorine as a weapon at least three times between 2014 and 2015
  • It has also found that Islamic State militants used sulphur mustard in one attack.

The Security Council rejected a Russian-drafted resolution to extend the inquiry but with changes to membership of the panel. The draft also called for the panel’s findings on Khan Sheikhoun to be put aside.

Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said it was Western countries who had sabotaged the inquiry.

“Some council members refused to support our draft and now they have full responsibility for terminating the JIM,” he said.

“This just proves again that the anti-Damascus fever is the only real priority for them and that they have manipulated the JIM for their own purposes.”

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks against a Russian resolution at the UN in New York, November 16, 2017
US ambassador Nikki Haley accused Russia of undermining efforts to stop chemical attacks. Reuters photo

Japan later tabled a draft resolution that would extend the JIM for another 30 days, as opposed to the one-year extension in the US-written draft blocked by Russia. The council was due to vote on the new resolution later on Friday.

Russia, the UK, China, France and the US all have veto powers at the Security Council.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April left more than 80 people dead and prompted the US to launch missile strikes on a Syrian airbase.

Last month a UN Human Rights Council inquiry concluded a Syrian air force jet was responsible, dismissing statements from Russia that the jet had dropped conventional munitions that struck a rebel chemical weapons depot.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the incident in Khan Sheikhoun was a “fabrication”.

Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the suspected chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun

Tillerson says Russia either complicit or incompetent in Syria chemical weapons deal

April 7, 2017
Tillerson rebukes Russia as failing to meet Syria deal
© Getty

Published April 07, 2017

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson charged Thursday that Russia was either complicit or incompetent in its role overseeing Syria’s supposed removal of chemical weapons, on the heels of a U.S. strike on an Assad airfield in response to a deadly chemical attack.

Tillerson, speaking with reporters, said the U.S. has a high level of confidence the attack earlier this week was carried out by Assad regime aircraft and involved sarin nerve gas.

He indicated this flies in the face of agreements the Syrian government made to surrender chemical weapons under the supervision of the Russia government.

“Clearly Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment,” Tillerson said. “Either Russia has been complicit or simply incompetent on delivering its end of that agreement.”

The comments reflect an increasingly tough tone toward Russia in recent days from the Trump administration. Earlier Thursday, Tillerson said Russia should “consider carefully” its support for the Assad regime.

Tillerson added that the response from the airstrikes has been “overwhelmingly supportive.”

Russia, aside from its ongoing support for the Assad government, was a key part of the agreement struck by the Obama administration in 2013 for Syria to dispose of its chemical weapons. The agreement helped avert any military confrontation between the U.S. and the Assad government at the time.


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Tillerson rebukes Russia as failing to meet Syria deal


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says Russia has not honored its years-old agreement to remove chemical weapons from Syria.

“Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment,” Tillerson told reporters Thursday after President Trump ordered a missile strike in response to a chemical attack allegedly launched by the Syrian government.

“Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement,” the secretary added.

The deal in question was brokered by the U.S. and Russia in 2013 after then-President Obama backed away from a plan to take military action against Syrian President Bahsar Assad’s for reportedly using chemical weapons against the rebels trying to overthrow his government.

Under the agreement, Syria would turn over its chemical weapons to be destroyed. But Syria has reportedly carried out several chemical attacks in the past few weeks.

On Tuesday, a chemical bomb hit a rebel-held area of Syria, killing dozens, including children. It prompted Trump to respond by launching cruise missiles at the base where the attack originated.

The comments were Tillerson’s toughest rebuke of Russia to date.

Questions about Tillerson’s ties to Moscow and President Vladimir Putin during his time as chief executive of Exxon Mobil dominated his confirmation hearings. Tillerson in the past received Russia’s Order of Friendship award, the highest honor its government gives to foreigners.



John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. AP photo


Kerry and Lavrov.


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White Helmet rescue workers try to find children buried in the wrechage of Aleppos by Russian and Syrian Bombing — after the Obama Adminstration withdrew from the Middle East.





John KerrySecretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at The U.S. Department of State. CREDIT: 2016 GETTY IMAGES/2016 GETTY IMAGES


Trump launches military strike against Syria — “President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line”

April 7, 2017

Updated 12:17 AM ET, Fri April 7, 2017

(CNN) The United States launched a military strike Thursday on a Syrian government target in response to their chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians earlier in the week.

On President Donald Trump’s orders, US warships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian government airbase where the warplanes that carried out the chemical attacks were based, US officials said.
The strike is the first direct military action the US has taken against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s six-year civil war and represent a substantial escalation of the US’ military campaign in the region, which could be interpreted by the Syrian government as an act of war.
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“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the air field in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” Trump said during short remarks to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, where he ordered the strike just hours earlier. “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”
He added: “There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council. Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically.”

Shift in policy


Trump’s decision marked a dramatic shift in his position on whether the US should take military action against the Syrian President’s regime — which Trump opposed during his campaign for president — and came after the President was visibly and publicly moved by the images of this week’s chemical weapons attack.
US warships launch cruise missiles at Syria 00:33
The strike took place at 8:40 p.m. ET (3:40 a.m. local time), when there would be minimal activity at the base, and targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and “the things that make the airfield operate,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters. The missiles were launched from warships in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian Government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Briefing reporters late Thursday night, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the strike did not represent a “change in our policy or our posture in Syria,” even though the Thursday night strike marked the first time the US had decided to take military action against the Syrian government.
“There has been no change in that status,” he said. “It does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line … and cross the line in the most heinous of ways.”
Tillerson said the administration felt the strike was “proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical attack.”
The US military also showed reporters Thursday night an image of the radar track of a Syrian airplane leaving the airfield and flying to the chemical strike area Tuesday. A second image of bomb damage craters at the airbase was also shown to reporters at the Pentagon.
Tillerson said the US has a “very high level of confidence” that the Syrian regime carried out at least three attacks in recent weeks — including on Tuesday — using Sarin and nerve gas.
The strikes represented not only an escalation of the US role in Syria, but could have a ripple effect on the US’ relations with the Syrian regime’s powerful backer, Russia.
Russians were present at the base the US struck Thursday night, a US defense official said, though the role of those Russians was not immediately known.
Tillerson confirmed that the US military contacted their Russian counterparts about the attack ahead of time, in accordance with deconfliction policies between the US and Russia over military activities in Syria.

Congressional reaction


Lawmakers generally supported Trump’s decision to strike back against Assad Thursday night, but cautioned the President against unilaterally starting a war without first consulting Congress.
A pair of defense hawks — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — who have frequently been critical of Trump, roundly praised his decision Thursday night.
“Acting on the orders of their commander-in-chief, they have sent an important message the United States will no longer stand idly by as Assad, aided and abetted by Putin’s Russia, slaughters innocent Syrians with chemical weapons and barrel bombs,” McCain and Graham said in a joint statement.

Rubio: Russia should be embarrassed, ashamed

Rubio: Russia should be embarrassed, ashamed 01:16
But Sen. Rand Paul called on Trump to consult on Congress.
“While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” Paul said. “The President needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate.”
The US began launching airstrikes in Syria in September 2014 under President Barack Obama as part of its coalition campaign against ISIS, but has only targeted the terrorist group and not Syrian government forces.

The order


Trump met with his national security team before his dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Mar-a-Lago Thursday, where he made the decision to pull the trigger on the biggest military action of his presidency, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said.
He sat through dinner with Xi as the action was under way.
The decision came two days after he was “immediately notified” of the chemical attack in Syria and asked his team to determine who was responsible. After it became clear Assad was responsible, Trump asked his team to develop options — and settled on one Thursday after “a meeting of considerable length and far-reaching discussion,” McMaster told reporters.
Defense Secretary James Mattis has been updating Trump about the missile strikes in Syria following his dinner with Xi, according to a US official.
Mattis, Tillerson and McMaster were with Trump at Mar-a-Lago at the time. Vice President Mike Pence remained in Washington, where he returned to the White House after dinner.
Trump’s order to strike the Syrian government targets came a day after he said the chemical attacks — whose grisly effects were broadcast worldwide where videos captured in the immediate aftermath — “crossed a lot of lines for me” and said he felt a “responsibility” to respond.

Tillerson: No doubt Assad is responsible

Tillerson: No doubt Assad is responsible 01:39
“I will tell you it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump said.
“When you kill innocent children — innocent babies — babies — little babies with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines. Beyond a red line, many, many lines,” Trump said.

‘Red line’


Trump’s decision to launch the strikes, the most significant military action of his young presidency, came nearly four years after the US first concluded that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons in Syria.
The Obama administration concluded that Syria had violated the “red line” Obama had set a year earlier in discussing the use of chemical weapons, but ultimately decided against military action against Syria in favor of a Russian-brokered deal to extricate the country’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Trump at the time said the US should “stay the hell out of Syria” and urged Obama on Twitter to “not attack Syria” in the wake of the 2013 chemical attack.
“There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day,” he tweeted in September 2013.
Trump repeatedly criticized Obama during his presidential campaign for not acting on his “red line” threat, but the real estate mogul also argued against deepening the US’ military involvement in Syria, particularly as it related to Assad.
Trump argued last May in a TV interview that he would “go after ISIS big league,” but said he did not support targeting Assad’s regime, arguing the US has “bigger problems than Assad.”
Syria’s six-year civil war has claimed the lives of at least 400,000, according to a United Nations estimate released a year ago. More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country and more than 6 million more have been displaced internally, according to UN agencies.

2016 rhetoric

But guided by his “America First” ideology and rejection of the US’ propensity for “nation-building,” Trump did not argue in favor of stepped-up US intervention during his campaign for president.
Instead, he signaled the opposite: He argued that the US should remain laser-focused on defeating ISIS and vowed to try and partner with Russia, which has heartily backed Assad’s regime, in order to defeat ISIS and bring the conflict to an end.
Those views appeared steeped in his longstanding criticism of the Iraq War, which he called a “stupid” decision, lamenting the billions of dollars funneled toward that war effort instead of on domestic programs, like infrastructure spending.
While Trump rejected the isolationist label some placed on him during the campaign, he made clear that his preference was for limiting the US footprint around the world and refocusing US foreign policy around core national security interests.

In The Power Vacuum Between Iraq and Syria. Islamic State Takes Root

August 12, 2014

BEIRUT Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:58am EDT

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

A militant Islamist fighter uses a mobile to film his fellow fighters taking part in a military parade along the streets of Syria’s northern Raqqa province June 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

(Reuters) – Ridiculed at first, the new power which has seized a third of Iraq and triggered the first American air strikes since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011 – has carved itself a powerful and possibly lasting presence in the Middle East.

The bombing of fighters of the Sunni Islamic State is unlikely to turn around Iraq and its fragmented condition has given the self-proclaimed caliphate the opportunity to establish a hub of jihadism in the heart of the Arab world.

To confront the Islamic State storming through the villages of eastern Syria and western Iraq, an international coalition sanctioned by the United Nations would need to be set up, analysts in and outside the Gulf region said.

The jihadist army, whose ambition for a cross-border caliphate between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers was not initially taken seriously by their opponents, is now brimming with confidence, emboldened by blood and treasure.

The warriors of the new caliphate are exploiting sectarian and tribal faultlines in Arab society, petrifying communities into submission and exploiting the reluctance of Washington and the West to intervene more robustly in the civil war in Syria.

Unlike Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, which set its sights on destroying the West, the Islamic State has territorial goals, aims to set up social structures and rages against the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 between Britain and France that split the Ottoman empire and carved borders across the Arab lands.

President Barack Obama’s decision to step back into the Iraq quagmire nearly three years after withdrawing U.S. troops, with limited air strikes in the past few days against the Islamic State, arises in part because of inertia over Syria.

A failure to arm the mainstream, mostly Sunni, rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s authoritarian rule opened space for the Islamic State, which has now surged back into a broken Iraq, raising its black flag in town after town, the analysts said.

Almost a year ago, in a last-minute change of mind, Obama decided against bombing Assad amid accusations of nerve gas attacks on rebel enclaves. That decision, many believe, has proved costly both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq.

It reinvigorated Assad, helped in the quashing of Syria’s moderate rebels and empowered the militant Islamists who became a recruiting magnet for disenchanted Sunnis in Syria and Iraq.



Well financed and armed, IS insurgents have captured large swathes of territory in a summer offensive, as the Iraqi army – and now Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the self-governing north – have crumbled in the face of its onslaught, massacring Shi’ites and minority Christians and Yazidis as they advance.

The military campaign has been accompanied by a social media blitz showing crucifixions, beheadings and other atrocities. To many, the business of the Islamic State is killing infidels, and it is better at it that any of its forerunners including al Qaeda, which has renounced its offshoot as too brutal.

Interspersed with footage of executions, and the marking out of local minorities for extermination, the message is that the Islamic State does not just preach; it acts mercilessly against its catalog of enemies.

Using captured territory in north and eastern Syria, nearly 35 percent of the country, as its rear base, the IS is now attacking northeastward into Iraqi Kurdistan and even west across the border of Lebanon.

Its rapid advances are made possible by the disintegration of Syria and Iraq, alienation of Sunni communities willing to ally even with IS to resist governments they see as under the thumb of Shi’ite Muslims and their sponsor in Iran, and Sunni rage at U.S. and Western policy in the Middle East.

“If you have tens of thousands of people who are willing to fight under its banner, that by itself tells you that the state system itself is really almost in tatters,” says Fawaz Gerges, head of the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics.

Obama justified his air strikes as humanitarian, to protect tens of thousands of refugees from the Yazidi community threatened with genocide, and defensive – to thwart any IS advance on Arbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government where U.S. diplomats and special forces might be at risk.

But as Washington starts provisioning poorly armed Peshmerga forces policing a 1,000-km (600-mile) border against the new caliphate, the strategic stakes are becoming clearer. The United States hopes to revitalize the Peshmerga, whose name means those who confront death but who were driven back by the IS onslaught.

The United States has also lined up behind Haidar al-Abadi, a new Iraqi premier to replace its former ally Nuri al-Maliki – spurned by his Iranian backers and most of his own party as a liability whose sectarian policies helped drive Iraq’s Sunni minority into the jihadist camp. The political struggle exposed the treacherous political quicksand Obama now faces.

Dr Hisham al-Hashimi, a Baghdad-based researcher into Iraq’s and the region’s armed groups, said the Islamic State has found ways to compensate for its initial lack of manpower, estimated by most analysts at between 10,000 and 15,000 fighters before its rapid advance from Syria into Iraq.

It may be overstretched by its sudden conquest of vast territory but has learned to use fear as a strategic weapon. “The more it terrorizes the people of those areas, the longer it can stay” in control, Hashimi said. “The caliphate exists and is growing now, in an environment where (Sunni opinion) rejects the central government, be that in Iraq or in Syria”.



In Syria, more than three years of thwarted rebellion against Assad, built around the ruling family’s minority Alawite sect, a heterodox offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, has given the militants a base in the east and north and a following among the brutalized Sunni majority.

In Iraq, the increasingly sectarian rule of Maliki caused anger in the Sunni minority, which held power until the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 deposed Saddam Hussein.

The IS is well-resourced, with young volunteers, cash to buy weapons and pay wages, plus an arsenal of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons it captured from the Iraqi army in June, when it overran the mainly Sunni cities of Mosul and Tikrit.

Aside from funding from sympathizers in the Gulf and tens of millions raised from theft, extortion and kidnapping, the Islamic State has oil. “In eastern Syria IS controls 50 of the 52 oil wells, while in the north and northwest of Iraq there are now 20 oil wells under the control of IS,” Hashimi said.

Many experts cautioned against comparing IS with its predecessor, the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq run by Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, which was at the heart of the anti-American insurgency and the Sunni-Shi’ite sectarian blood-letting of 2005-08. Sunni tribes finally rebelled against it.

“These are not just barbarians who came here to steal what they could and then leave,” Hashimi says. “They are now fighting to establish a state, while Zarqawi fought to topple the central government – there is a big difference.”

The new caliphate declared by its Iraqi leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is filling the vacuum of imploding states and, unlike al Qaeda, are establishing a real social base, says Gerges.

“The al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden was a borderless, transnational movement which has never been able to find a social base. The reason to take the IS … seriously is because they are like a social epidemic, feeding on sectarian tensions and the social and ideological faultlines in Arab societies,” Gerges said, adding that Syria’s Nusra Front other militant Islamists were following a similar pattern.

“The phenomenon of the Islamic State is a manifestation of the weakening and dismantling of the Arab state as we know it.”



Gerges also called the militants’ spectacular brutality – the crucifixions, stoning of women and now, according to Iraqi ministers, the burying alive of women and children from the Yazidi minority – all publicized over the Internet, as “a strategic choice”.

IS has an extraordinary ability to multiply its numbers by recruiting and indoctrinating volunteers, feeding them their radical brand of Islam and training them militarily.

Mohsen Sazegara, one of the founders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who is now a U.S.-based dissident, said the emergence of the Islamic State was a reaction by Sunni factions to Maliki and his anti-Sunni policies, which were defended by the Guards.

Maliki, Sazegara said, squandered the inheritance of the Sahwa, the U.S.-funded militia drawn from among the country’s Sunni Muslim tribes who were a driving force in fighting al Qaeda predecessors to IS in Iraq after 2006.

The U.S. decision to hand over responsibility for the Sahwa to the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi government in 2009 was a mistake, which alienated them and drove many to join IS ranks.

“U.S. General (David) Petraeus used the tribes in Iraq to fight the al Qaeda predecessors to IS. But Maliki upset the tribes. The hardline pro-Shi’ite policy of Iran and Maliki and those around him led to this Sunni extremism. Islamic State is one manifestation of that,” Sazegara said.

The success of the Islamic State has created a dilemma for all the Muslim neighbors and beyond from Saudi Arabia to Libya.

Riyadh, which until now has seen non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran as ultimately posing the greater threat, is worried that the Islamic State’s territorial gains will radicalize Saudis who may eventually target their own government.

The conservative Sunni kingdom was so concerned by the Islamic State’s advance in June and July that it moved tens of thousands of troops to the border with Iraq. Yet, Saudi officials say they do not believe the Islamic State is capable of posing any military threat to the mighty Saudi armed forces.

By contrast, they regard Iran and its Shi’ite allies across the region as posing a far more sustained and dangerous threat to the kingdom’s position in the Arab and Islamic world.


Since the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated rule, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have not accepted the rise to power of the Shi’ite majority in Iraq.

Saudi Arabia has a strategic rivalry with Iran over the control of the Gulf but its Wahhabi version of Sunni Orthodoxy has always depicted Shi’ites as heretics and this has a huge resonance inside the kingdom and across the Gulf.

Beyond any strategic rivalry the royal family is careful about contradicting the Wahhabi clerical establishment that underpins the monarchy.

The Islamic State’s victories against an Iraqi army run by a Shi’ite government, and against ethnic Kurdish forces seen as having encroached on Arab territory, have engendered a degree of sympathy and admiration among some Saudis, the analysts said.

“The Islamic State’s propaganda is that they are fighting the Shi’ites. This is the reason why sometimes some people have sympathy with them. But this sympathy is not substantial. It is only among those who are very extremist,” said Mohsen al-Awaji, a reformist Saudi Islamist scholar. “We are very much afraid for our young people, who may believe in this propaganda.”

However, most analysts agree that token U.S. air strikes are unlikely to turn the tide. It will be very hard for Washington to succeed unless the new Iraqi government radically addresses Sunni grievances by granting them a real share in power and persuading Sunni tribes to set up a new Sahwa to fight the IS.

Otherwise, the Islamic State will further expand and grow in numbers as it seizes more territory. For the moment, it is the militants who are pulling in the recruits. Video footage of long lines of young men waiting outside IS recruiting offices in Syrian and Iraqi towns shows their popularity.

A Syrian living in an area of Islamic State control near Raqqa, the movement’s power base in Syria, said the group has carried out beheadings, levied the “jizya” tax on non-Muslims and settled foreign fighters in homes confiscated from minorities, former government officers and other people.

But despite that, it has still won a degree of respect among locals by, for example, curbing crime using its own version of law of and order. For youths without work, salaries offered by the Islamic State are one of the few sources of income.

The movement seems keen to sow its ideals among the young; one video distributed by the Islamic State features a preacher called Abdallah al-Belgiki – “The Belgian” – who says he traveled from Belgium to the caliphate with his young son.

Against a background of black jihadist flags, he asks the child, aged about 8, whether he would like to go home: “No,” he replies. “I want to stay in the Islamic State … I want to be a jihadi to fight the infidels and the infidels of Europe.”

At an IS training camp for boys, one fighter tells the camera: “This generation of children is the generation of the caliphate, this is the generation that will fight the Americans and their allies, the apostates and the infidels.”

“The true ideology has been planted in these children.”

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Salman Raheem, Isra Abdulhadi and Michael Georgy in Baghdad, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut, Angus McDowall in Riyadh, Editing by Peter Millership)

Israel says Syria used chemical arms, probably nerve gas

April 23, 2013
A general view shows Khan al-Assal area near the northern city of Aleppo, near the site where forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad say was Tuesday's chemical weapon attack March 23, 2013. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

A general view shows Khan al-Assal area near the northern city of Aleppo, near the site where forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad say was Tuesday’s chemical weapon attack March   23, 2013. REUTERS/George Ourfalian

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Syrian government forces have used chemical weapons – probably nerve gas – in their fight against rebels trying to force out President Bashar al-Assad, the Israeli military’s top intelligence analyst said on Tuesday.

Brigadier-General Itai Brun made the comments at a Tel Aviv security conference a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on a visit to Israel that U.S. intelligence agencies were still assessing whether such weapons had been employed.

Brig. Gen. Itay Brun, head of the IDF Military Intelligence research section, at a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee hearing at the Knesset on Tuesday (photo credit: Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)


Brig. Gen. Itay Brun, head of the IDF Military Intelligence research section, at a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee hearing at the Knesset on Tuesday photo credit: Noam Moskowitz

U.S. President Barack Obama has called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” for the United States that would trigger unspecified U.S. action.

“To the best of our understanding, there was use of lethal chemical weapons. Which chemical weapons? Probably sarin,” Brun said in the most definitive Israeli statement on the issue to date.

Photos of victims showing foam coming out of their mouths and contracted pupils were signs deadly gas had been used, he said.

Forces loyal to Assad were behind the attacks on “armed (rebels) on a number of occasions in the past few months, including the most reported incident on March 19”, Brun said.

The Syrian government and rebels last month accused each other of launching a chemical attack near the northern city of Aleppo.

On Monday, Hagel said the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would be a “game changer” and the United States and Israel “have options for all contingencies”.

Hagel met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday, a day after flying in an Israeli military helicopter over the occupied Golan Heights on the edge of the fighting in Syria that has entered its third year.

“This is a difficult and dangerous time, this is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever,” Hagel, in remarks to reporters before his talks with Netanyahu, said about the United States and Israel.


Discussions between Syria and the United Nations on a U.N. investigation of possible use of chemical weapons have been at an impasse due to the Syrian government’s refusal to let the inspectors visit anywhere but Aleppo, diplomats and U.N. officials said last week.

U.N. diplomats said Britain and France had provided Ban’s office with what they believed to be strong evidence that chemical weapons also had been used in the city of Homs.

Israel, which has advanced intelligence capabilities that it shares with its Western allies, has voiced concerned that parts of Syria’s chemical arsenal would end up in the hands of jihadi fighters or the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, with which it waged a 2006 war.

Israel leaders have cautioned they will not allow that to happen. In an attack it has not formally confirmed, Israeli planes bombed an arms convoy in Syria in February, destroying anti-aircraft weapons destined for Hezbollah.

Brun, who was speaking at the annual security conference of The Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said Israel’s military was studying a number of future scenarios facing Syria.

“More likely, as time goes by, are the scenarios of chaos and anarchy, or that of (Syria) breaking up into cantons. These pose major challenges for Israel. The chance of a different central government still exists, but it is growing less likely with time,” Brun said.

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and David Alexander; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

Evidence of Nerve Gas Use In Syrian Civil War

April 17, 2013

By MOHAMMED SERGIE, Syria Deeply | ABC News 

After completing his prayers around 1 a.m. on April 13, Yasser fell asleep with his wife, two young children, and sister, who all shared a bed in a modest home in Sheikh Maqsood, the Kurdish-majority frontline neighborhood of Aleppo.

“I heard something explode on the roof. I thought it was a shell and called my brother for help,” Yasser said. His eldest son, 1.5-years-old, started mumbling and was soon hyperventilating. Yasser’s infant, only 4 months old, was also struggling.

“I knew then that there were chemicals in the air and I told everyone to get out. I screamed for help and saw my neighbors come in,” Yasser said, recounting the horror he experienced while recuperating at a hospital in Afrin, north of Aleppo.

He hasn’t been told that his wife and children are dead, as his doctors don’t think he can handle the shock in his fragile state.

President Barack Obama says the U.S. is investigating whether chemical weapons have been deployed in Syria, but he’s “deeply skeptical” of claims by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime that rebel forces were behind such an attack.

Opponents of the Assad regime have accused the military of using unknown chemical weapons in rebel controlled territories, such as in Homs, Damascus and Aleppo. The Syrian government said rebels deployed a chlorine-based agent in Aleppo last month, and formally requested that the U.N. send observers to investigate, but it hasn’t granted permission for the team to enter.

Given that the Obama administration has repeatedly stated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be considered a “game changer,” confirmation that these weapons have been deployed could significantly alter the course of Syria’s war.

Dr. Hassan, the director of the hospital in Afrin who did not want his full name used, said he didn’t have evidence about who was responsible for the attack in Sheikh Maqsood or what kind of chemical was released. But he said the symptoms and treatment clearly indicate that chemical agents caused the deaths of a woman and two children, and injured more than a dozen people. Medical personnel involved refused to give their last names, citing fear of retaliation.

Patients exhibited hyper-salivation, increased secretions, eye pain, muscle spasms and seizures, and loss of consciousness, Dr. Hassan said. Volunteers who helped rescue Yasser’s family and medical staff who came in contact with the victims all exhibited the same symptoms.

Roughly 1,500 doses of atropine were used to counter the poison, exhausting the local supplies in Afrin. A group of Syrian doctors and activists who run Bihar Relief Organization provided an additional 2,000 units to the hospital in Afrin. The haphazard response portends catastrophe if chemicals weapons are used in a larger scale.

“We are very pleased that the injured responded to the treatment,” Dr. Hassan said, adding that they were all likely to survive.

A man prays at the grave of a Free Syrian Army fighter at a cemetery at al-Karak al-Sharqi in Deraa March 30, 2013. Picture taken March 30, 2013. REUTERS/Thaer Abdallah




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Hamish de Bretton-Gordon OBE, a chemical weapons expert and the founder and COO of London-based SecureBio, said, “Atropine is the antidote to nerve agent poisoning, so it’s used widely [to treat poisoning] in the U.K., and the U.S. It’s the recognized antidote.”

“The British Foreign Security William Hague mentioned in the House of Commons on Monday that they had very strong evidence that chemical weapons were being used in Syria. On Sunday, we saw a number of reports that those three people were killed in Aleppo. We were sent a load of photos, a load of stuff. The symptoms that were described would be similar to nerve agent poisoning, and the use of atropine would have been an effective method to treat these people.”

He said that though certainty was impossible, the likely answer was that improvised chemical weapons had been used, and that they are possibly being used by both sides — “by the regime to show that the opposition are using chemical weapons, and by the opposition to show that the regime is using them. Obviously if the regime is using them, then a red line is crossed and things are changed.”

Improvised chemical weapons are a term for chemical phosphates, a key component to pesticides that have the same biological structure as nerve agents. “I think that a lot of these events have been organic phosphates or pesticides which have been blown up,” de Bretton-Gordon said, adding that “thousands” of people die around the world from these each year.

In addition, “there’s been a lot of reporting of a chemical called CL 17, which is basic domestic chlorine being used and being blown up. It gives off similar symptoms to mustard gas poisoning…

“You can get on the internet and quite easily figure out how to make these improvised chemicals. But until we get people on the ground and get some proper testing, we’re not going to get answers. The U.N. is sitting on the ground in Cyprus waiting to get visas. I don’t see Assad giving them visas at this stage. And so either than smuggling samples out, it’s hard to get a surefire reading,” de Bretton-Gordon said.

A Kurdish journalist who filmed the aftermath of the attack in Aftrin was also recuperating at the hospital. He said there were two canisters in the house, one plastic and the other metal, with valves used to deploy the gas. He said residents in the area say they heard a helicopter earlier that night, but none of the survivors confirmed the presence of a helicopter immediately prior to the strike.

Yasser’s neighbors – who, like Yasser, are Arabs living in a Kurdish neighborhood – were the first to respond, and they described smelling a sharp, bitter odor that stung their eyes when they entered the home. One of the men tried to carry the baby, but collapsed once he reached him.

Other survivors described a similar odor. Medical staff said the chemicals from the victims caused some symptoms among nurses and doctors hours after the initial exposure.

The two children died shortly after the attack. Their mother survived for a few hours, but her heart stopped at the hospital in Afrin, according to Turki, an anesthesiology technician. The staff resuscitated her and tried to transport her to Atme, Idlib, to hook her up to a respirator there, because the sole device was occupied in Afrin, but she didn’t survive the journey.

One of the last moments that Yasser remembers before losing consciousness was getting dizzy and falling to the ground. “I saw my wife nearby; I crawled over to her and hugged her. Then I woke up in Afrin.”

His neighbors told him that the house was intact, that the bomb was just gas and didn’t cause much damage. “I wish my whole house was destroyed rather than have to deal with this smell,” Yasser said. “I just want to know that my wife and children are fine.”