By Simon Schofield – Senior Fellow.
23rd August 2013, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Issue 3, No. 9.
If the Assad regime were not responsible for the attack on Ghouta, why did it take so long for them to allow UN inspectors to the site? Why did they continue to shell the area, likely destroying large amounts of evidence which could have exonerated them?
The Assad regime was behind the stomach-churning nerve agent attack on Ghouta. This is not conjecture. This is not a probability. This just simply is.
Occam’s Razor is the notion that the simplest solution to a conundrum is nearly always the correct one. In applying this to Syria, we should consider that the Assad regime produced the chemical weapons as the strongest option available to them to counter the Israeli nuclear arsenal. We should then examine where the munitions are stored: concentrated in ‘two or three locations… under control of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, itself reporting directly to the President.’ Israeli intelligence suggests that not only was it Assad’s regime that fired the chemical munitions on the suburbs of Eastern Damascus, but that the regiment firing them was led by Assad’s own brother, Maher al-Assad.
American intelligence detected activity at the compounds known to house Assad’s chemical weapons, shortly before the attack on Wednesday which killed at least 1,000 people, with rebels claiming it was as high as 1,300.
Whilst I’m not a barbaric dictator, or a professional psychologist qualified to comment on Assad’s motivation, there are clearly several things likely to drive the decision to use chemical weapons and several benefits to be reaped in doing so.
Firstly, there is the basic strategic gain made. Ghouta is an agricultural suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus. It is rebel held and killing a large number of rebels and supporters is an end in itself.
Beyond the primary strategic gains, there are the signalling effects had by such a powerful display. In one fell swoop this act has shifted the psychological momentum in the conflict Assad’s way: it pleased the Iranians and Hezbollah who have been demanding that he stamp his authority on the rebels and shown outsiders what could happen if they dare intervene to put an end to the butchery.
Additionally, one should ponder the strategic concept of ‘escalation dominance’. Essentially what this means is ratcheting up violence to levels you know your opponent cannot reach in an attempt to dominate their psyche, show them the consequences of persisting in their opposition and shatter their morale. This concept is most often used to describe China’s actions with Taiwan, who do not have a nuclear arsenal, but it is equally valid here. Precisely because the rebels do not have chemical weapons is why this tactic is so effective against them.
So it is clear that Assad using chemical weapons has its advantages for him, voiding the claim that he would have no good reason to use them.
Additionally, there is not a single shred of evidence that the rebels have chemical weapons. I do not doubt that several factions within the rebel movement, particularly the al Qaeda associated al Nusra Front, would use chemical weapons given the opportunity. But this opportunity has not been granted. It is not possible to prove the negative that the rebels have chemical weapons, but that burden of proof lies with those asserting that they do. As Brown Moses notes, the munitions used in Ghouta appear locally made and of a quality not available to the rebels, who have been using improvised artillery shells made out of propane gas tanks.
The final thing worth noting is that if Assad and his murderous regime were not responsible for the attack on Ghouta, then why did it take so long for them to allow UN inspectors to the site? Why did they continue to shell the area, likely destroying large amounts of evidence which could have exonerated them? Given that the munitions used are locally made, why did Assad not declare any thefts as soon as possible, in order to avoid the finger of blame that is being pointed at him now? Surely if Assad was not guilty of these crimes he would have made it much easier than he has for this fact to be independently established, as this alone would have permanently killed off any Western taste for intervention.
Those who say Assad is not guilty offer no evidence to support their spurious claims. They are, at best, simply muddying the waters at this point because they disagree with intervention. These people should have the intellectual honesty and integrity to argue their case based on the facts that presently exist. The governments of the US, UK, France, Germany, Israel, Sweden and Turkey are all convinced that there is no doubt of Assad’s guilt. It is time to intervene.
Simon Schofield is contactable at:
Please cite this article as:
Schofield, S. (2013) ‘Occam’s Razor, or the Obvious Case of Assad Gassing his People’. Human Security Centre, Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Issue 3, No. 9.