We’re on the brink of war ...and no­body has no­ticed

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Comment - Peter Hitchens Read Peter’s blog at hitchens­blog.mailon­sun­day.co.uk and fol­low him on Twit­ter @clarkem­icah

ARE we on the brink of a new war? It looks very much like it. Will it be jus­ti­fied? I do not think so. Can we stop it? It is worth a try. Al­most ev­ery­one missed an amaz­ing and wor­ry­ing mo­ment in Par­lia­ment last week, when For­eign Of­fice Min­is­ter Alis­tair Burt gave us a glimpse of the Govern­ment’s think­ing. They will go to war with­out wait­ing for the facts to be checked, and with­out re­call­ing Par­lia­ment.

In a very brief de­bate about the war in Syria, he was asked about plans – now be­ing openly dis­cussed at high lev­els in Wash­ing­ton – for a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack on Da­m­as­cus.

This will be in re­sponse to a sup­posed atroc­ity that has yet to take place but about which the Amer­i­cans openly say they al­ready have ev­i­dence – prob­a­bly an al­leged poi­son gas at­tack, in which we will see heart­break­ing but un­ver­i­fied film of dead or dy­ing chil­dren, from pro­pa­ganda sources, and claims of mul­ti­ple deaths from un­trace­able ‘eye­wit­nesses’.

In my view, these claims are very sim­i­lar to the claims of ‘Weapons of Mass De­struc­tion’ (WMD) in Iraq, used to bam­boo­zle the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can peo­ple into that cat­a­strophic war; and also to the claims of mass rape and mas­sacre, equally un­proven, which were the ex­cuse for David Cameron’s dis­as­trous at­tack on Libya.

These two wars to­gether cre­ated the great march of mi­grants from Asia and Africa into Europe, which is trans­form­ing the con­ti­nent – and also led to the re­birth of Is­lamist ter­ror. Yet those re­spon­si­ble do not learn, and con­tinue to take us for fools.

I have checked sev­eral of the Syr­ian poi­son gas claims in the past, by read­ing care­fully the re­ports of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons (OPCW). Here are the two most im­por­tant: the OPCW never even went to the site of the al­leged gas at­tack in Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, which was the pre­text for a spec­tac­u­lar Amer­i­can cruise mis­sile at­tack on Syria.

I also found that there was no re­li­able cus­tody chain for the sam­ples sup­pos­edly taken from this site.

This is vi­tal for the de­tailed foren­sic work that alone can dis­cover what hap­pened and who is to blame.

How im­por­tant is this? Ask the OPCW. In April 2013, the OPCW’s then spokesman, Michael Luhan, said quite clearly: ‘The OPCW would never get in­volved in test­ing sam­ples that our own in­spec­tors don’t gather in the field be­cause we need to main­tain chain of cus­tody of sam­ples from the field to the lab to en­sure their in­tegrity.’

So un­der its own rules the OPCW did not meet the con­di­tions for a re­li­able in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But that didn’t stop the war­mon­gers. The gov­ern­ments that wanted to at­tack Syria any­way re­sponded by turn­ing to an­other or­gan­i­sa­tion. This also didn’t go to the site. But it took more or less the same ev­i­dence and con­cluded from it that the As­sad govern­ment in Syria had used poi­son gas.

Next came the sup­posed gas at­tack on Douma, near Da­m­as­cus, on April 7, 2018. This was also fol­lowed by US bomb­ing of Syria, this time as­sisted by us and the French.

It was widely claimed at the time that organophos­pho­rus (sarin) and chlo­rine gas weapons had been used. In fact, the claims were so widely pub­li­cised that I know of one MP (and for­mer Min­is­ter) who last week wrongly told a con­stituent there is ‘con­clu­sive ev­i­dence’ that the Syr­ian state used poi­son gas, and that Rus­sia and Syria blocked ac­cess to the site.

If such a per­son can be so wrong, what hope is there for a wise de­ci­sion by our Govern­ment?

In fact, the OPCW re­port from Douma (this time they ac­tu­ally got to the site) con­cluded that ‘no organophos­pho­rus nerve agents or their degra­da­tion prod­ucts were de­tected’.

The OPCW is still look­ing into claims that chlo­rine was used, but it also made it clear that Rus­sia and Syria did not block ac­cess to the scene. The UN Depart­ment of Safety and Se­cu­rity ac­cepted a de­lay was nec­es­sary be­cause it sim­ply was not safe to visit.

THE OPCW’s care­ful Douma re­port, barely men­tioned in Western me­dia, was ob­vi­ously in­con­ve­nient to those who want a new at­tack on Syria. So, yet again, there’s a ri­val re­port, by peo­ple who did not ac­tu­ally go to Douma. Even so they claim to have a ‘vast body of ev­i­dence’ the Syr­ian govern­ment used poi­son gas there.

Well, the Mid­dle East is as much of an un­ex­ploded bomb to­day as Europe was in 1914. Saudi Ara­bia hates Iran, and Iran loathes the Saudis right back. Syria, which the West plans to bomb heav­ily in the next few weeks, is the close ally of Iran. Be­hind the Saudis stand the USA, Bri­tain and France. Be­hind the Ira­ni­ans stand the Rus­sians and perhaps China.

I can­not see what pos­si­ble in­ter­est Bri­tain has in get­ting in­volved in such a dan­ger­ous mess, which could land us in the worst and most wide­spread war for decades.

Be­fore we join any such ac­tion, we must wait for real hard ev­i­dence. Par­lia­ment, now on hol­i­day for a whole month, must be re­called. I’d sug­gest MPs do a bit of home­work on the is­sue, too. Or we will all pay.

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