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White House ‘warning’ of ‘imminent threat of chemical attack in Syria’ is phoney. Here’s why

White House spokesman Sean Spicer holds a press briefing at the White House in Washington January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A few hours ago the German publication Welt published Seymour Hersh’s exposure of the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack.

In this report Hersh says that the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun never happened.  The Jihadis in control of Khan Sheikhoun used the effect of a toxic cloud released by the Syrian bombing of a building which hosted a meeting of important Jihadi leaders in order to claim that there had been a chemical attack.  The attack was however conventional, and the toxic cloud was caused by the release of chemicals stored in the building’s basement.

Hersh also reports that the Russians had informed the US of this bombing raid in advance, and that the US intelligence and defence bureaucracy was aware that there had been no chemical attack.  However they were unable to get the President to accept this.  After seeing television pictures of the aftermath of the attack he became convinced that a chemical attack had taken place and no amount of persuasion by his intelligence and defence officials could dissuade him.

An attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base was accordingly launched, supposedly in retaliation.  However the attack was carefully calibrated to ensure that its effect was minimal and in the event, because of the mis-function of some of the cruise missiles’ guidance systems, it was even less effective than was planned.

A few hours after the publication by Welt of Hersh’s story White House spokesman Sean Spicer rushed out a warning that the US has detected Syrian preparations for a further chemical attack like the one which supposedly happened in April in Khan Sheikhoun.  The warning threatens President Assad and the Syrian government that they will “pay a heavy price” if such an attack takes place.

The State Department knows nothing of this supposed intelligence.  Nor do the US military.  The warning is said to have come from the White House straight out of the blue with no attempt made to coordinate it across the US government.  Note that there have been no supporting comments for the White House’s warning from any senior US officials apart from the US’s ghastly UN ambassador Nikki Haley.  General Mattis, Secretary of State Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster have said nothing in public about it.

Meanwhile there has been no official word in response to Seymour Hersh’s Welt story from the US government, and the story is being ignored by the media in the US and Britain.

Does anyone see a connection?

Frankly the White House ‘warning’ today looks to me like a panicked reaction to Seymour Hersh’s story.  In typical fashion Donald Trump is responding to a story which casts his actions following the Khan Sheikhoun attack in a bad light by doubling down and making wild threats that he is about to do the same thing all over again.

Meanwhile the Russians are furious, President Assad is visiting Russia’s Khmeimim air base in a public Russian show of support for him, and the rest of the US government – apart from Nikki Haley, who longs for more pictures of herself “standing up to the Russians” – are baffled.

What all this means is that almost certainly no US attack on Syrian forces is being planned.  The media is mistaking a blundering attempt at news management for a real threat.

Unfortunately that does not mean that a US attack on Syria will not take place.  The risk with making wild threats of the kind the White House has just made is that there are any number of dangerous people in Syria who will seize on them and try to make them a reality.  The risk of another staged ‘chemical attack’ intended to put pressure Trump to act on his ‘warning’ is now very real.

It is to be hoped that cooler heads within the US government – Mattis, Tillerson and McMaster first and foremost – will be warning the President of this, and telling him to cool down.

What do you think?

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