Why Syrian Rebels May Block CW Plan

Exclusive: Ironically, the biggest threat to plans for destroying the Syrian government’s chemical weapons may come from Syrian rebels if they balk at a ceasefire and target UN inspectors removing poison gas canisters, a possibility that the rebels may hope would put a U.S. military strike back on the table, says Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Syrian rebels, already angry over the postponed U.S. military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s government, appear determined to obstruct peace talks and thus may be wielding what amounts to a veto against plans to dismantle Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons, a process that would be fraught with danger if there is no cease-fire.

While it might seem counterintuitive for the rebels to undercut an international plan to eliminate the government’s poison gas, there is logic to the rebels’ position, in that their goal is the overthrow of Assad, not simply removing one category of weapon and indeed one whose primary value may be that it makes a U.S. military intervention against Assad more likely.

Many rebels were ecstatic over the U.S. military threats that followed the disputed Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus because the expected U.S. missile strikes held the potential of not just degrading Assad’s military capabilities but tipping the balance in favor of the rebels, if not leading to the collapse of the regime.

So, the disappointed rebels have shown no indication that they are willing to participate in U.S.-Russian-sponsored peace talks in Geneva that amount to a prerequisite for a successful dismantling of the Syrian government’s CW arsenal. Though the Assad regime has agreed to send negotiators to Geneva, the rebels have balked despite appeals from the United States.

Part of the rebels’ inability to join the talks derives from the fact that thousands of radical jihadists have poured into Syria from around the Middle East bolstering the hard-line and pro-al-Qaeda factions already there meaning that the more moderate rebel groups may no longer have effective control of the movement.

Some of these Sunni extremists are determined not only to oust Assad but to crush the Alawite and Christian communities that have been the backbone of his generally secular regime. Some Sunni extremists have even talked about exterminating the Alawites, who are a branch of Shia Islam and thus are seen as allies of Shiite-ruled Iran.

In other words, the more moderate rebels have become captives to the extremists and thus prospects for peace talks to first get a ceasefire and then work on a more equitable power-sharing arrangement for the majority Sunnis remain dim. The failure of the U.S. mainstream news media to state this reality forthrightly is another complicating factor.

As recently as late July, the U.S. press did report that the rebels were the ones refusing to join peace talks as the insurgents laid down a series of preconditions including that they first must be on the cusp of military victory. But that narrative has been bent in recent weeks by the U.S. news media and various pundits to shift the blame onto Assad.

It is now common in Official Washington for government officials, think tank “experts” and prominent columnists to pontificate about this alternative reality which holds that Assad won’t agree to negotiate. Some have suggested that the U.S. military strike besides punishing Assad for his alleged chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 is needed to drive him to the bargaining table. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Tell Kristof to Stop Lying about Syria.”]

Making the US Side Look Good

This false narrative fits with the preferred view of America as always being on the side of peace and favoring non-violent solutions to problems. To resolve the cognitive dissonance of the U.S. government now shipping arms to the side in a conflict that refuses to engage in peace talks, the answer is to simply revise the storyline by changing what had been acknowledged facts.

These days, when the actual reality is occasionally confronted in the mainstream press or among the talking heads of pundit world, it must be framed as a claim by the Russians or the Syrian government, not something to be believed.

For instance, the New York Times on Thursday attributed an explanation for the lack of peace negotiations to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is quoted as saying that the meeting on chemical weapons “in Geneva would also provide an opportunity to discuss reviving the stalled effort he and [Secretary of State John] Kerry announced in Moscow in May to organize an international conference between Syria’s government and rebel forces aimed at finding a political resolution to the civil war.

“He [Lavrov] said Syria’s government had agreed to attend those talks but the United States and other nations had failed to persuade ‘the irreconcilable Syrian opposition’ to do so.”

However, this point is not simply some claim by a self-interested Russian diplomat. It was reported in real time by New York Times correspondents in the field from May to July. Back then it was acknowledged that Assad had agreed to participate in the Geneva peace talks but that the opposition was refusing to attend.

On July 31, for example, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times reported that “the new conditions, made by the president of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, reflected a significant hardening of his position. He said that the opposition would not negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad or ‘his clique’ and that talks could begin only when the military situation in Syria was positive for rebel forces.”

The opposition has spelled out other preconditions, including the need for the United States to supply the rebels with more sophisticated weapons and a demand that Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies withdraw from Syria. The most recent excuse for the rebels not going to Geneva was the dispute over Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons. But that once-accepted history now appears to be inconvenient for the U.S. government and the mainstream news media. So it is altered or portrayed as uncertain.

Nevertheless, the reality of the rebels continuing to obstruct the peace talks is now reemerging as a threat to the success of any plan for the Syrian government to turn over and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles.

The idea of identifying the locations where the poison gas is stored and sending international inspectors to remove the material for destruction could invite rebel jihadists to launch attacks with the goal of intercepting the chemical weapons for use against government troops or for the extermination of Alawite and Christian communities. There have already been reports from Syria that some rebel units have obtained chemical weapons either from overrunning government bases or from outside sources. I’m told that U.S. intelligence analysts believe there may be some truth to those reports.

The rebels also stand to lose if the plan for destroying the Syrian government’s chemical weapons succeeds because that would eliminate the most likely provocation for the U.S. military to intervene on the side of the rebels.

So, if negotiations over the Syrian government surrendering its stockpiles appear to be making progress, the rebels could exert something of a veto by making it too dangerous for international inspectors to do the job of removing the weapons from secure facilities and moving them by truck or other means to sites where the weapons can be destroyed.

By sabotaging that process and relying on the bias of the U.S. mainstream media to frame the story in a way to put the onus on Assad and the Russians the rebels could put the possibility of a devastating U.S. military strike back on the table.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com). For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

9 comments for “Why Syrian Rebels May Block CW Plan

  1. Erica Stuart
    September 13, 2013 at 00:38

    Mr. Perry a very good point. I wondered if Syria might have lost cotrol of the GAS and the ElQaeda forces did do the striking. Would also explain Putin rush to block consequences.

  2. bobzz
    September 12, 2013 at 21:32

    If we weren’t so hell bent to strike, the solution would be simple. If you guys sabotage the diplomatic effort to remove CW from the field, you are on your own.

  3. rogolf2
    September 12, 2013 at 21:16

    You can count on this being a grand chess match. Watch as the U.S. decides who or what is expendable. The oil line. No. The rebel groups so willing to make the line from Iran to the sea possible. No. Possibly showing support for Assad who says innocently outside forces directed this gas attack. No. What about Israel. America always has been its poodle. Hmm. But no. Putin is privy to Snowdens files and will be telling the U.S. thanks but no thanks. The USA is crumbling and will continue. Obama the stuff on your boots stink so get back on your horse. Left over for sure from that Texas cowboy. The U.S. is Exceptional? Huh. Sell that at home if you can but not here.

    • Nelson Dalton
      September 13, 2013 at 01:52

      The current situation in Syria is yet another indication that Washington is ignoring reality on the ground and again becoming ” ISRAEL`s poodle ” !

      In addition to having a large stockpile of chemical weapons, Israel also
      possesses nuclear weapons,which Israel not only denies but also refuses to
      allow the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities.


      If Israel agreed to dismantling its vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons and
      to a deal enforcing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East – a
      deal Iran and Israel’s Arab neighbors have repeatedly proposed – the
      supposed threats Israel faces in the region would virtually disappear.

      The American public must pressure Congress and Senate for Israel to
      take immediate action and stop escalating the situation in Syria !

      • Peter Loeb
        September 13, 2013 at 04:50

        This is an excellent and insightful comment. The roles of the CIA and
        of the Israeli intelligence services are…”classified”??Which means that
        they are denied the public. The political reasons are obvious.

        The American people (not only “protestors”)—the fathers,mothers,
        friends of the American dead and mained of previous US interventions made
        themselves heard loud and clear. “No more funerals”, said a man at a town hall meeting for a conservative Republican. ( Americans don’t care whaqt happens to anyone else! Only Americans count in the world for us.) But hand it to these tired voices: they made themselves heard!

        US supremacy in foreign affairs is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
        The US can (evidently) no longer dictate (terms, deadlines etc.). Its bluster does not immediately become law. It is humiliated and must act

        Once the US had a “poodle”, Israel. Now the tail is wagging the dog.

        —Peter, Boston

  4. brother doc
    September 12, 2013 at 20:30

    If it happens that the rebels sabotage any turnover of CW, and if in fact they have stockpiles of their own they try to hide, I say we just abandon the whole damn country, let them stew in their own juice, provide humanitarian aid to refugees in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, wherever, and ramp up the embargo of all weapons to all parties. I am very concerned that the MSM in America seem to trust the Russians even less than Assad and have been doing their best to throw cold water on this peace process. Why? What’s wrong with letting diplomacy proceed? Casualties from “punitive” airstrikes are just as dead and just as regrettable as those who were gassed. Hotshot reporters I suppose are looking forward to getting to cover another war, stand in front of shock and awe displays of US missiles over Damascus, vie for Pulitzers by covering the suffering after it happens, etc. For shame. Guess we need to read the Jerusalem Post or check the press releases from Netanyahu to see what really lies behind this media suspicion. I know the Israelis were counting on a US strike and must be feeling very frustrated about now. Are we sure it is not they who are trying to sabotage the process?

  5. Carroll Johnson
    September 12, 2013 at 19:52

    That is easily resolved. Have the UN inspectors guarded by a heavily armed Russian escort. Why not?

    • bahmi
      September 13, 2013 at 06:41

      Who hired the rebels? Who paid the rebels? Who controls the rebels?

      The rebels are a polyglot bunch of scruffies from all over the world. I find it very hard to believe “they” would have any unified and uniform view of this Syrian situation. They work, they get paid, end of the deal. No, I see and smell the US/IDF ratpack involved in generating this smelly “official” report.

      • Frances in California
        September 13, 2013 at 12:59

        Bahmi, in answer to your 3 questions: Mosad; Mosad; Mosad.

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