In a recent piece in The Independent, he seeks to defend Assad's chemical murder of over a thousand Syrians by implying that the opposition gassed it own people in the vain hope that Obama would do what he said. This is exactly the Assad Regime's view of the attack but Robert Fisk embellishes it with new information from the Russians which he appears to accept uncritically:
information is now circulating in the city that Russia's new "evidence" about the attack includes the dates of export of the specific rockets used and – more importantly – the countries to which they were originally sold. They were apparently manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1967 and sold by Moscow to three Arab countries, Yemen, Egypt and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. These details cannot be verified in documents,The first thing that should be said about the Russia's new "evidence" is that Russia should have given it to the UN inspectors before they left Damascus at the end of August and in any case, it should have gotten it to them before they issued their report 16 September 2013. To wait until after the UN has issued a report that comes as close to pointing the finger at Assad as they could without actually violating their agreement with the Syrian government not to point the finger, to wait until after the damning report has been issued and them run to the media screaming about "new evidence" is already suspect.
There is no doubt that Syria has a substantial chemical weapons armoury. Nor that Syrian stockpiles contain large amounts of sarin gas 122mm missiles. But if the Russians have indeed been able to identify the specific missile markings on fragments found in Ghouta – and if these are from munitions never exported to Syria – the Assad regime will boast its innocence has been proven.
In a country – indeed a world – where propaganda is more influential than truth, discovering the origin of the chemicals that suffocated so many Syrians a month ago is an investigation fraught with journalistic perils.
This is what we know about the specific rockets used based on the UN report and the HRW report on the chemical attack. But before we get to that we should remember that for days after the attack, the Russian's claimed that no rockets at all had been used. In fact, they claimed there had been no chemical weapons attack at all and the videos that showed an attack were fake. RT even made the claim, on the day of the attack, that the Assad regime was in control of East Ghouta:
Finally, the region reported to be the site of the poison gas attack by Assad forces, Eastern Ghouta, was re-secured from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra jihadist terrorists, by Government troops in May as part of a major series of rollback victories against the insurgent forces and is not currently a scene of any major resistance to Assad forces.This is so wrong that it challenges the creditability of any later statement by Russia excusing the attack. This is what the Stratfor Global Intelligence Group said about the disposition of forces in East Ghouta in a report they issued on 17 June 2013:
"Syrian loyalist forces are also on the offensive in Damascus and in the south. Having mostly isolated the sizable rebel pocket in the Eastern Ghouta region with the seizure of Otaiba, loyalist forces continue their efforts to reduce the rebel pocket, though they have yet to make much headway."And the HRW report notes:
the areas in Ghouta where the alleged chemical attacks occurred were shelled by Syrian government forces prior to and after August 21So we can see that this first Russian report was made out of whole cloth and was one of those imaginary Assad victories that have so many claiming that he doesn't need to use CW because he is already winning without them.
Contrary to the Russian report, East Ghouta is being held by the Free Syrian Army not al Nusra, and contrary to the Russian report, it was not captured by Assad in May and it remains unconquered still, even after months of bombardment and even the CW attack.
When that story could no longer cut the
According to the HRW report, which has the most details on the rockets use. Only two types of rockets have been associated with the attack by all investigators. One is an M14 140mm rocket that can carry 2.2 kilograms of sarin and is of Russian manufacture, The other is rather unique design seen only in Syria and seen used only by the Syrian government. It has a much larger payload. It can carry 60 litres of sarin and has a rather unique shape with a 330mm warhead and a 122mm body. The blogger Brown Moses has extensively documented this second type which the UN identifies as a 330mm rocket and Fisk and some others refer to as a 122mm rocket.
Fisk may be confused on this distinction himself because his big "scoop" has to do with the M14, 140mm rockets produced in Plant No. 179 in Russia but he doesn't name them. He then goes on to say that the Syrian government has plenty of the 122mm rockets, but nobody says those rockets came from Russia, they appear to be Syrian made. Then he mucks up the question even further by talking about "the origins of the chemical." This just sows confusion because the article and this controversy is about the origins of the rockets and not the chemicals they carried and nobody that knows anything about chemical warfare would think that the rockets were shipped (in 1967) pre-filled with sarin.
The way Robert Fisk plays fast and loose with the facts, and tries to shift the ground in a way the reader might not notice indicates that he really does believe that "propaganda is more influential than truth."
According to the HRW report, they were able to document 8 of the 330mm sarin gas rockets hitting East Ghouta and seven of the M14, 140mm rockets, hitting West Ghouta. There may be a few unidentified rocket strikes but these 15 are the only ones investigators have documented. Robert Fisk also says "just seven missiles" were of the Russian type.
The Fisk revelations concern only these seven rockets and both the UN report and the HRW report only identify the serial number on one of the rockets. Somehow the Russians are claiming to have information on the dates of export and countries of export of at least three of the rockets, which implies they have the serial nos. of at least three of these rockets which is more than the UN knows. Did Russia have its own investigators on the ground, independent of the UN's? If so when? Fisk speculates "if the Russians have indeed been able to identify the specific missile markings on fragments found in Ghouta" which does sound like they have found new "evidence" not in the UN report.
This is what I find most unbelievable about the Fisk report: He says the Russians claim that "the specific rockets used" were "sold by Moscow to three Arab countries, Yemen, Egypt and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya." The implication is that if they weren't sold to Syria, they must have been acquired and used by the opposition.
If the Russians are trying to say that they never shipped this specific type of rocket to Syria, that is contradicted by other sources, including HRW, which reported:
The 140mm rocket is documented in standard reference materials as being present in the Syrian government’s weapons arsenal. Designed in the 1950s, the Soviet Union transferred 200 BM-14 launchers,the most common launcher for 140mm rockets made by the Soviet Union, to Syria in 1967-1969, presumably along with stockpiles of ammunition including 140mm rockets, according to the database on arms transfers maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).Fisk doesn't say that the M14 rockets, which Russia produced in vast quantities over many decades, were sold only to Arab countries and only three of those. If he is using the King's English as I understand it, he is saying that those seven rockets were acquired by the rebels from three different countries, and that is what I find hard to believe.
The way it was written, we are being led to think the rebels got the CW rockets from "Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya," but it actually says they came from all three and if we are talking serial nos. and export documents they should know exactly which countries they sold to, not a range of countries.
Assuming the opposition wanted to acquire M14 CW rockets, seven is not a large number, wouldn't they be able to get those from one source with greater security and less trouble? Instead according to the Russians according to Fisk, they judiciously acquired a couple of rockets from every country Russia ever exported them too, and also got the 8 330mm rockets, used only by the Regime from some place else. Now that's incredible!
Assuming some the M14 rockets that landed in Ghouta were sold to "Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya," we then have to assume he held out on the international community when he "gave up" WMD, including delivery systems, in the last decade. Isn't it more likely that when disposing of his CW, he sold or otherwise transferred some of those rockets to Syria. After all, Qaddafi and Assad there as close as thieves. Assad sent Qaddafi weapons to fight his opposition in 2011.
It has also been noted by Jonathan B. Tucker [War of Nerves, Pantheon Books, New York, 2006] That Egypt provided Syria with a small number of chemical weapons and delivery systems in the lead-up to the Yom Kippur War in 1973. So if the Russian/Fisk report that the M14 rockets used in this chemical attack came from Russia via three Arab countries, it is more likely that they were acquired by the Syrian government over time in arms trade with them than covertly by the opposition from three different countries in the last year or so. This possibility doesn't seem to have occurred to Fisk, but then he has taken the road to Damascus.
Of course Robert Fisk gives himself an out saying "These details cannot be verified in documents," which begs the question: Why did he rush to print on the word of the Russians alone.
See also: More on ex-journalist Robert Fisk's defense of Assad