Last week’s report of a chemical weapon attack in Syria’s Aleppo Province sparked an array of calls to action, with most nations and politicians insisting it vindicated whatever position they had before, despite many points of uncertainty about it. The incident is coming into sharper focus now, however.
The attack, intelligence sources appear to agree, was launched by rebel fighters and not government forces. Since the victims were overwhelmingly the Syrian military, this was not a huge shock, but is important to reiterate.
The other interesting aspect is that it was not a “proper” chemical weapon, at least from preliminary investigations. The evidence suggests that the strike used a lachrymatory agent, not a nerve agent, and that the deaths were caused by suffocating on chlorine-based gas that was injected into a warhead.
In some ways, this is a distinction without a difference, as the use of suffocating gas, regardless of how it kills people, is a serious war crime under international law. The important factor, however, is that it is not the sort of weapon Syria has in its arsenal, rather it is a lower-tech solution.
This is perhaps even scarier, because it suggests the jihadist factions in the rebel movement, which are being tapped as the likely origin of this strike, have developed the capability to making crude, but lethal, chemical agent devices of their own. If this sort of warfare is to become a regular part of the rebel arsenal, the death toll could be catastrophic, and might encourage the Syrian military to respond in kind with their own chemical weapons.
Incredibly, even though all the evidence now points to the headline “Syria uses chemical weapons” being wrong on two fronts, House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers (R – MI) is still insisting that the incident is an excuse for the US to attack Syria and install the rebels.