Monday, September 9, 2013

A letter to an American friend about the CW attack in Syria

      Few days ago I received a letter from an American priest, a friend of mine who lives in Egypt for many years now asking me about the situation in Syria and the possibility that the Chemical Weapons attack was conducted by a radical Islamic group. After replying him I thought of publishing the two letters on my blog, as it has been a while since I wrote anything at all. So here you have it after some editing.

      The US is so divided on what to do if anything in Syria from "the person in the street, to the US Congress, to Obama and his Cabinet. A US journalist I studied Arabic with 20 years ago who has covered Iraq and I are afraid that it may be radical, rival opposition groups doing this to each other and to Syrians to bring the US into it as a way of getting military aid to bring Assad down. Would this be possible?
      These groups have much more to gain by using chemical weapons than Assad and the military. Assad and the military have all the conventional weapons they need to destroy and kill without using chemical weapons that would bring the US into this. Seriously, many of us do not know whether to support or oppose Obama.
      After the last two years in Egypt, allowing Islamic political parties the chance to govern Egypt, it was a disaster and most of us are happy that the military threw them out so long as there is a chance to elect a better government.
      Seriously, I would really like your view on what is happening in Syria and what you think Obama and the US should do. I am old enough to remember the Hungarian Revolt of 1956 when Eisenhower promised to back the rebels, only to do nothing. The revolt died and the Soviet Union controlled Hungary for another 35 years. God be with you and Syria. Doug

      My answer:
      Hi Doug, You are basing the analysis of the possibility of the radical islamist using chemical weapon to convoke military intervention on some false assumptions in my humble opinion:

      - The first one is that Assad doesn't need it, which is totally not true. In fact his forces have been using it for a long time now. We've documented 11 incidents where they used chemicals before. But it was not to this extent. They usually use small quantities to attack certain critical places where FSA fighters are accomplishing quick and sudden gains. They used it especially in Damascus suburbs, Homs and Aleppo. But as I said they never used it as wide as the last time, they always used the chemical essence in small densities in order to make small and controllable damages; damages with small number of casualties that the west and the civilized world can easily ignore and choose to close his eyes on. In fact the last 2 years’ experience has shown us that Assad forces can destroy and make a wide damage using traditional weapons but they could not control the ground they destroyed without an extra help either by foreign militias like Hezbollah and the Iraqis, or by the use of chemical weapons.

      - The second assumption is that Islamists are one block and the west wants them to come to power as With the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. I believe the Egyptian example shows to which extent the Saudis and Qataris are fighting over influence among Islamists, which is nearly the same in Syria, with only one exception that those who are getting the support of both the Saudis and the Qataris are fighting Assad’s regime. The Qataris (and the Turks as well) are backing the Muslim Brothers, while Saudis are backing other islamist "moderated fractions". And while the Qataris don't mind if their weapons shipments fall in Al-Qaida's hands (Al-Nusra and ISIS), the Saudis are making every possible effort not to allow it. On the other hand you have the extremist salafies who has their own network of financial support through independent businessmen in Arab Gulf countries like Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE, etc...

      - The third assumption is that to conduct such a wide and sequenced attack, Islamists must be controlling the ground in Ghouta where the last chemical attack took place, which is also untrue. Unlike in northern Syria, the armed brigades in Ghouta are still having a national character, they are mostly the locals who chose to carry weapon to fight the tyrant; they are pious Muslims for sure, but not following "islamist" agendas. And when Al-Nusra fighters came to contribute in the fights around Damascus they refused and had to fight them to send them away and convince them that they are not needed in this area. So islamist fractions are not present in the attacked area which has been under regime's offense and siege for the last few months. In this case I cannot understand why the rebels would choose to gas their own kids and families in the same way I couldn't understand the MB accusation of Copts burning their churches!

      Finally we know that the reason behind this attack was a strategic one. The regime, after accomplishing some small victories in Homs and Qusair was trying to do the same near Damascus as fast as he can before accepting to go to Geneva 2, so he launched a wide offense and an extensive shelling campaign. To know the strategic importance of the Ghouta’s battle it is enough to watch the press conference of the Syrian foreign-affairs minister few days after the attack, where he stressed again and again on how important it is for the Syrian army to enter the Ghouta. Our friends in Ghouta were telling us that they didn't even imagine there is a logistic possibility of such shelling (an average of 100 shells per minute). As a counter attack, FSA fighters were having, according to some rumors, a plan to enter a new and critical area nearby called Mazzeh, a residential area of army officers. So taken by surprise, the expectations are that someone in the army hierarchy  took a rushed decision to conduct this chemical attack: to stop the counter attack on one hand, and to enter the eastern ghouta and end the fight their on the other hand. I think they didn't imagine that FSA will hold its position even after a wide chemical attack. They were expecting that this use of CW would allow them to enter very quickly and hide all possible evidence of their crime. By the way the chemical shells came from the same area the artillery was using to shell for the last few days before it happened.

      But one last perplexing question remains "Is the regime really stupid to conduct a chemical attack while UN investigators are in Damascus?" to this one I would answer "Is the regime really stupid to torture the Kids of Deraa while the whole region was witnessing a wave of protests and deep changes?"


  1. Hello Fadi Halisso, I'm from the Netherlands and I'm studying Media, Information and Communication in Amsterdam. At this moment I'm following the course International Journalism. For an assignment I need to write a news report on Syria. Therefore I need to interview a source with authority on what's going on in Syria. I was wondering if I could interview you or send you some questions about Syria? Hope to hear from you soon.

    1. Unfortunately I have. Avery tied schedule. You can send me your question via email: fadi.haliso at

    2. I send my questions to your email. Did you received them?