A Great Example Of How Not To Write About Chemical Weapons And Arms In Syria
This article has been produced by Brown Moses and is reproduced here with his permission being deemed by the editorial staff to be a most excellent analysis of some recent 'CW' videos:\"When I started this blog one of the rules I set myself was only to publish information I was sure was correct, and if I was unclear on a point I would make that clear in the post. In the case of arms identification I feel it's very important to be 100% sure about what you are posting, especially when so many people read and share what you are writing. Unfortunately it seems for some people writing about arms in Syria all you have to do is take a few videos and work up a story without having any real understanding of what you are looking at, with this latest article by Theodore and Walid Shoebat for Frontpagemag.com being one of the worst examples I've seen so far in this conflict.Please click on the title to go to the full article...
This article has been produced by Brown Moses and is reproduced here with his permission being deemed by the editorial staff to be a most excellent analysis of some recent 'CW' videos:
\"When I started this blog one of the rules I set myself was only to publish information I was sure was correct, and if I was unclear on a point I would make that clear in the post. In the case of arms identification I feel it's very important to be 100% sure about what you are posting, especially when so many people read and share what you are writing. Unfortunately it seems for some people writing about arms in Syria all you have to do is take a few videos and work up a story without having any real understanding of what you are looking at, with this latest article by Theodore and Walid Shoebat for Frontpagemag.com being one of the worst examples I've seen so far in this conflict.
The article starts by reminding the reader of their earlier \"scoop\", where they \"revealed that the Syrian rebels had in their hands potent chemical weapons and were testing them on rabbits\". This video did the rounds a few months ago, and shows a man with the flags and various paraphernalia of the Free Syrian Army with a collection of chemicals, making various threats to the Syrian governments and various minorities, and then poisoning a rabbit with an unidentified gas. The video was originally posted on a channel that wasn't established as being used by any activists or armed groups in Syria, and is of questionable authenticity. Additionally many of the chemicals seemed more likely to be explosive precursors – The Syrian government have leant on this video repeatedly as 'proof’ including suggesting its proof of Turkish collusion. Theodore and Walid Shoebat seem convinced this is the work of the Syrian opposition, despite the lack of evidence to support that theory.
This attitude to the quality of evidence they are working with is reflected in their new article, where they claim:
“We have captured clips that were never translated (until now) showing rebels revealing heavy arsenals including weapons of mass destruction that contain chemical agents.”
Then they start their analysis by not unreasonably questioning the accuracy of claims made by an activist in this following video:
They ask, \"How can an FSA reporter film an exploded chemical rocket at a close distance and remain alive?\", a claim made by the man filming the smoke. My answer would be that the average Syrian doesn't know anything about chemical weapons, and this is very likely a thermite based ZAB incendiary bomblet ZAB incendiary bomblet or a cartridge from a ZAB 100-105 incendiary bomb burning off, both of which are used widely in the conflict. But again, it's a fair question to ask, even if the authors seem unaware of the possible answers.
They follow this question by stating the following video shows the Syrian rebels have captured a \"substantial amount of scud missiles\"
The video has been helpfully translated by the authors but it should always be remembered that, as demonstrated in the previous video, the people filming the videos don't always know what they are talking about. Anyone seriously investigating the use of arms in Syria should be writing about what they see, not what the people in the videos are saying they see.
Rather than being Scud missiles, as the authors of the article claim, we're actually see a variety of surface-to-air missiles, with this shot showing a clear example of a S-75 Dvina:
This reference image clearly shows the distinct fin arrangement on the S-75 Dvina, quite unlike anything seen on any type of Scud missile:
Next the authors take a look at a video of a Scud launch, stating \"And just when you think that these rebels are too primitive to figure out how to fire these missiles, here is a video of them actually launching one\":
While in this case it's an actual Scud missile, when it was originally posted on Youtube by Syrian activists it was claimed this was a clip taken from the Syrian army, and there was a great deal of debate about its authenticity, with a number of people claiming this was from an earlier military training exercise. Of course, there's no way to know the exact origins of this video, but equally no one could claim with 100% certainty that this is the Syrian opposition launching the missile. You certainly wouldn't use it as the basis of making such a serious claim about the Syrian opposition's capabilities.
The article then goes on to repeat various claims made by the Syrian government and military about the latest alleged chemical attack in Khan al-Assal, with the latest claims being that the Syrian opposition fired a DIY rocket from Al-bab to Khan al-Assal, loaded with saline solution suspended \"CL17, a type of chlorine that can be found at your local swimming pool\". This would require the following to be true:
- The Syrian opposition has developed a rocket with a range of 40km+
- That rocket is accurate enough to hit a target at that distance
- It carries enough saline solution suspended chlorine to kill 26 people, and injure dozens more
- The rocket is capable of dispersing that liquid in such a way that it can cause those many injuries
Now if you look at the history of chlorine being used in recent conflicts the one series of events that stands out are the chlorine bombings in Iraq from 2006 onwards. One thing to note about these attacks were they were all ground based attacks, a variety of IEDs and VBIEDs, and only in the largest examples were there the same number of injuries and death seen with the Khan al-Assal attack. These attacks used massive amount of chlorine gas with explosives, with many deaths coming from the initial explosion rather than chlorine gas. So it would seem that to produce the amount of injuries and deaths seen at Khan al-Assal a massive amount of chlorine would have to be delivered, far greater than could have been delivered by a DIY rocket, especially if it's the chlorine is suspended in liquid. Which equally, even handed analysis, doesn’t discount someone trying to put that payload in, it just wouldn’t be effective – see the Iraq 'chemical fill’ rocket videos of 2007:
It's fair to say that the claims made about the Khan al-Assal attack are highly questionable, and will no doubt face great scrutiny by people who specialise in the area of rocketry and chemical weapons, but I think it's fair to say the authors themselves are not experts in these areas, nor have they spoken to experts in these areas. One thing I have been following closely are the various DIY weapons used in Syria, and looking at the DIY rockets I've seen used, most of which are about a meter or two long, and would have trouble going 4km, let along 40km, I would be stunned if they had suddenly developed an accurate rocket capable of reaching a distance of 40km, especially one that was able to carry a warhead large enough to cause the deaths and injures seen in Khan al-Assal. I'm happy for anyone to prove me wrong on that point, and if they can I'll dedicate a new post to this amazing new development in DIY rocketry in Syria.
In conclusion we have a selection of videos that don't support anything the authors claim, along with a few theories on the Khan al-Assal attack that don't really seem to be based on much more than claims made by the Syrian government and a extremely limited understanding of the DIY weapons used by the Syrian opposition and chlorine based weapons, not really something I would personally feel that proud about putting online for the world to read.
The original blog post can be seen here
The author can be contacted @brown_moses or by email here