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Syria, "Experts" and George Monbiot

By       Message Jonathan Cook       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   3 comments

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Satellite photos of the supposed Syrian nuclear site before and after the Israeli airstrike.
(Image by US Government)
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Investigative journalist Gareth Porter has published two exclusives whose import is far greater than may be immediately apparent. They concern Israel's bombing in 2007 of a supposed nuclear plant secretly built, according to a self-serving US and Israeli narrative, by Syrian leader Bashar Assad.

Although the attack on the "nuclear reactor" occurred a decade ago, there are pressing lessons to be learned for those analyzing current events in Syria.

Porter's research indicates very strongly that the building that was bombed could not have been a nuclear reactor -- and that was clear to experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) even as the story was being promoted uncritically across the western media.

But -- and this is the critical information Porter conveys -- the IAEA failed to disclose the fact that it was certain the building was not a nuclear plant, allowing the fabricated narrative to be spread unchallenged. It abandoned science to bow instead to political expediency.

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The promotion of the bogus story of a nuclear reactor by Israel and key figures in the Bush administration was designed to provide the pretext for an attack on Assad. That, it was hoped, would bring an end to his presidency and drag into the fray the main target -- Iran. The Syrian "nuclear reactor" was supposed to be a re-run of the WMD deception, used in 2003 to oust another enemy of the US and Israel's -- Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

It is noteworthy that the fabricated evidence for a nuclear reactor occurred in 2007, a year after Israel's failure to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon. The 2006 Lebanon war was itself intended to spread to Syria and lead to Assad's overthrow, as I explained in my book Israel and the Clash of Civilisations.

It is important to remember that this Israeli-neocon plot against Syria long predated -- in fact, in many ways prefigured -- the civil war in 2011 that quickly morphed into a proxy war in which the US became a key, if mostly covert, actor.

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The left's Witchfinder General

The relevance of the nuclear reactor deception can be understood in relation to the latest efforts by Guardian columnist George Monbiot (and many others) to discredit prominent figures on the left, including Noam Chomsky and John Pilger, for their caution in making assessments of much more recent events in Syria. Monbiot has attacked them for not joining him in simply assuming that Assad was responsible for a sarin gas attack last April on Khan Sheikhoun, an al-Qaeda stronghold in Idlib province.

Understandably, many on the left have been instinctively wary of rushing to judgment about individual incidents in the Syrian war, and the narratives presented in the western media. The claim that Assad's government used chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun, and earlier in Ghouta, was an obvious boon to those who have spent more than a decade trying to achieve regime change in Syria.

In what has become an ugly habit with Monbiot, and one I have noted before, he has enthusiastically adopted the role of Witchfinder General. Any questioning of evidence, scepticism or simply signs of open-mindedness are enough apparently to justify accusations that one is an Assadist or conspiracy theorist. Giving house room to the doubts of a ballistics expert like Ted Postol of MIT, or an experienced international arms expert like Scott Ritter, or a famous investigative journalist like Seymour Hersh, or a former CIA analyst like Ray McGovern, is apparently proof that one is an atrocity denier or worse.

Inconvenient facts buried

Monbiot's latest attack was launched at a moment when he obviously felt he was on solid ground. A UN agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), issued a report last month concluding that the 100 people killed and 200 injured in Khan Sheikhoun last April were exposed to sarin. Monbiot argues that the proof is now incontrovertible that Assad was responsible -- a position that he, of course, adopted at the outset -- and that all other theories have now been decisively discounted by the OPCW.

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There are reasons to think that Monbiot is seriously misrepresenting the strength of the OPCW's findings, as several commentators have observed. Most notably, Robert Parry, another leading investigative journalist, points out that evidence in the report's annex -- the place where inconvenient facts are often buried -- appears to blow a large hole in the official story.

Parry notes that the time recorded by the UN of the photo of the chemical weapons attack is more than half an hour "after" some 100 victims had already been admitted to five different hospitals, some of them lengthy drives from the alleged impact site.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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