In an interview with Muslim Press, Dr. Tim Anderson, the author of The Dirty War on Syria, said that a US aggression against Syria would not go unchallenged.
“This is a serious risk of escalation, and one that the US will take seriously,” he added.
Read the full transcript of the interview:
Muslim Press: Is there evidence showing that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib?
Tim Anderson: The initial story - repeated by most western agencies and governments - came from al Qaeda groups in Idlib. That included reports from the supposed sole doctor in the al Qaeda camp, a British man Dr Shajul Islam, who has been deregistered as a doctor in the UK. They show images of children and others dead or dying, consistent with exposure to chemicals. However it is not necessarily consistent with sarin gas, as the supposed health care people are not even using gloves. It is claimed that the chemicals came from a Syrian airstrike. The context does not seem to be that of a town in Idlib, but of fortified areas used by the al Qaeda groups.
A second story come from Russian Ministry of Defence, which suggested Syrian airstrikes on al Qaeda munitions dump may have dispersed chemical weapons which were present in those dumps. We know that such weapons were indeed stored in east Aleppo, by those same groups.
The consistent line of the Syrian government is that they have never used chemical weapons, even against the terrorists, in the entire conflict.
From within Syria comes a third and, in my opinion, more plausible explanation for the injuries and deaths. The al Qaeda groups have been engaged in heavy fighting with the Syrian Army in northern Hama (adjacent to Idlib) in late March they briefly over-ran two towns, Majdal and Khattab, before the Syrian Army took them back It was reported that the armed groups kidnapped about 250 people, as they retreated. This has been a common practice, that in retreat they kill men and kidnap women and children, then use them as bargaining 'chips' most often for prisoner exchanges but also for other purposes. It is widely believed in Syria that those kidnapped people have been murdered for this publicity stunt.
From this last explanation, it has to be said that the ruthless massacre-stunt has to some extent 'worked'; even if it results in no new western attack on Syria. Al Qaeda's interests have gained attention, once again; it could be the first move in a 'Save Idlib' campaign, again using the notorious actors and al Qaeda auxiliaries, the White Helmets.
The truly tragic thing about this is that 'success' for such al Qaeda propaganda means they will be encouraged to do it all again. It is a dreadful, ongoing cycle of heavily promoted 'false flag' massacres, leading to further massacres. That has become one of the defining features of the dirty war on Syria.
MP: Trump, who has previously argued against removing Assad from power, said Wednesday's attack on a rebel-held town in Syria's Idlib province was a "heinous" act that "crossed a lot of lines for me." Do you view this as an important change in America’s policy toward Syrian conflict?
Tim Anderson: Not necessarily. Trump appears a weak leader at this moment. It seems more likely that, as a new president, he is not fully in control of his proxy armies, and has been taken by surprise by this incident. He is making the noises expected of him, without committing to a course of action. If he were to change what appears to have been his policy - of gradually lowering the rhetoric against Syria while seeking some heroic role in the end game - he would face the same problems that Obama faced in August 2013.
MP: Turkish autopsies confirm chemical weapons used in Syria attack that killed scores. What’s your take on this?
Tim Anderson: It is well established that the al Qaeda groups have held, manufactured and used a variety of chemical weapons in east Aleppo as well as in other parts of northern Syria and Iraq. Turkish autopsies might confirm this, but caution must be taken with any such information, as Turkish authorities have been closely supporting the al Qaeda groups.
MP: How would the attack affect Russia and Iran’s stance on the Syrian crisis?
Tim Anderson: If there were some new aggression against Syria it would directly affect Iranian and Russian personnel, while testing Russian air defences in Syria. New US aggression would not go unchallenged. This is a serious risk of escalation, and one that the US will take seriously. Although Russia and the US have not been able to form substantial agreements over the war on Syria, their most systematic form of cooperation has been 'deconfliction', to avoid escalation against each other. US political and military officials may say all sorts of things about their supposed 'options', but they will not ignore the dangers they face from escalation of the conflict.
Tim Anderson has degrees in economics and international politics, and a doctorate on the political economy of economic liberalisation in Australia. His current research interests relate to (i) Development strategy and rights in development, (ii) Melanesian land and livelihoods, and (iii) Economic Integration in Latin America. He is a Senior Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He has studied the Syrian conflict since 2011.