This week there's been a lot of discussion about an article written by veteran journalist Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh which claims the Syrian opposition in Damascus were behind the chemical attacks in Damascus on August 21st after an accident with Saudi supplied chemical weapons.
I've asked a number of chemical weapons specialists for their opinion on the claims made in the article.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is the Former Commander of UK CBRN Forces and COO of SecureBio.
I’m sure the Saudis would not do this without any training or support, protective equipment etc – I can’t in my wildest dreams believe they would do it anyway – they are still very close to US, who [US] even in the ‘Blackest ‘of operations are very very unlikely to go this far.
I think highly unlikely that a few ‘gas bottles’ would kill 1400 plus people over a wide area of Ghouta.
I’m pretty certain the UK and US Intel is on the money.
The rebels could possibly have small amounts of CW. But the attack in Gouta last week was probably via 20 or so rockets (Kerry’s statement) and this is way beyond what is inferred here – mixing precursors etc – Sarin degrades very quickly in its attack form – the ratio of casualties are similar to Halabja and what you would expect from a well planned and prepared attack, beyond the rebels in my opinion. Al Nousra allegedly had some Sarin in Turkey in April 13 (I think) but it turned out to be anti-freeze.
Gwyn Winfield works for specialist magazine CBRNe World.
The contention is a Saudi Prince decided to topple Assad, got(made?) chemical agent from Saudi (somewhere else?), and then shipped it to the Ghouta front, stored it in tunnels, where it was damaged by the barrage and the agent released.
The big question is why? Why did he ship pressurised containers? Why did he transport them to an area where they might get damaged?
If they aren't in munitions then the odds are that there is going to be an old fashioned line dispersal - where you wait for the wind to blow it towards the enemy. This is the worst of all chemical releases, the wind frequently changes direction and blows the agent back into friendly forces - which is sub optimal! If he was going to decant it into a different delivery system why ship it to the front lines?
Where is this agent supposed to have come from? Why risk escalating the conflict, especially when Assad has more agent and better protection and training?
The Saudi Prince thing seems feasible, but the addition of the chemical agent seems bolted on to add veracity.
Steve Johnson is Lead for Explosive and Hazardous Forensics at Cranfield university
Hmm. There's a lot to follow up. Key though is that Saudi have never been seen as a possessor of chemical wapons so where would they get it? It wraps the plausible (Saudi support for opposition and wrangling with Russia) around the slightly harder to gauge (chemical weapons provided by ....)
How plausible is the tunnel accident scenario? It depends but certainly less simple than the rocket scenario.
Dan Kaszeta, a US Army Chemical Corps veteran, provides some very detailed answers on sarin.
1. Article is very thin on facts. It's assertions and a few quotes.
2. Assad's forces far more trained and equipped for CW defence.
3. Saudis are many things, but they are also very politically astute. Can't envisage a scenario where they'd want to get caught out with CW.
4. Flies in the face of the material evidence you've been painstakingly collating.
5. We've seen no actual footage or other indicators of rebel CW use.
6. All my various concerns about the need for whoever did the attack to operate in a manner so as not to kill their own troops... Rebels are far poorer equipped to not kill themselves playing around with chemical munitions.
7. Where, according to this theory, did the Saudis get the stuff? Does this imply that SA has a CW program under everyone's noses and that the Saudi military, which is lousy with foreign advisors and contractors has CW without word leaking out?
Despite my cynicism and skepticism, I do think the regime or it's proxies did the bad deeds last week. I just think we need to prove it better. The current lack of clarity and rush to judgement serves no useful public policy end and leaves a vacuum where other theories can thrive.
More interviews and details about Syria and chemical weapons can be found here, and collected details of the August 21st attacks can be found here.
You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org