More on MH 17

Everyone knows that Malaysian airliner flight MH 17 that overflew Eastern Ukraine was brought down by a missile. We also know that previously the western Ukrainian forces had been carrying out bombing raids on the Eastern break-away province, and had lost at least one aircraft to ground missiles. Under the circumstances, some may think that it was totally foolhardy to fly over the area, and also Ukraine should have closed its air space to commercial flights. Mistakes happen, and the eastern forces obviously had missile defences.

However, international investigators have filed charges in a Dutch court, alleging four defendants committed murder. One defendant is Igor Girkin, a former FSB colonel, and at the time the Minister for Defence for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. Exactly how he is linked as a murderer is hard to tell at this stage because he would not have been present at the firing of the missile, and apart from the fact he is a rebel in Kyiv’s eyes, his role as Defence Minister does not seem to be that evil. There is no evidence so far he ordered such an aircraft to be brought down. The fact that he was organising a defence against the bombing of civilians brings international justice to an interesting point: what criteria have to be met for a rebellious zone to claim it is self-governing? If people are being bombed, do they have the right to defend themselves? What say you?

The next two defendants were Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov. According to the New York Times article, they worked under Girkin and had been agents of the GRU, which was implicated in interfering with the US election. Talk about guilt by association. The fourth, Leonid Kharchenko is Ukrainian and was apparently a leader of a separatist combat unit. Just maybe he was associated with the event. So far there is no evidence produced that any of these four were anywhere near the missile launch, but of course they may have some evidence and are leaving it for the trial. The basis of Girkin’s charges appears to be that he made a phone call (intercepted) to Russia asking for antiaircraft defence material. If you are a Minister for Defence, and you are being bombed, is that an unreasonable thing to ask for? According to the Dutch prosecutor, they are “just as punishable as the person who committed the crime.” They are also charged with obtaining the missile with the intent to “shoot down a plane”. Well, that is a surprise. Why else would they obtain missiles? Presumably, the Dutch have no missiles, or they would be criminals too.

There is also the question of where the missile came from. Originally, of course, it came from Russia, and it is agreed by all involved that it was a Buk missile. The investigative team said it is “convinced” the missile came from the Russian army’s 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in Kursk. The Russians deny that. They also point out that the outer casing of the missile has been recovered, and the manufacturing number is clearly identifiable. According to the BUK factory, that missile was shipped to Ukraine during the old Soviet Union. It should also be noted the missile is obsolete, and a modern unit of the Russian army would not have them. It is well established that Ukraine had a major arsenal in Eastern Ukraine, so maybe it came from there, but even if Russia supplied arms, then what?

The Dutch prosecutor has also accused Russia of providing no assistance to this case. Apparently, providing shipping details of the missile that does not fit the charges is “of no assistance”. That says something about the nature of the charges. Interestingly, the premier of Malaysia has also denounced the charges, saying “so far, there is no proof, only hearsay”. Malaysia is part of the investigation, and of course it was its aircraft that was brought down.

The case is confused because the Joint Investigative Team is trying to identify two men who were overheard in intercepted communications discussing the movements of a convoy the day before the attack. The team also admits there is no evidence these calls have anything to do with MH 17. This is relevant to the alleged “Russian obstruction”. Apparently, the GRU were supplied with questions demanding to know whether certain people were GRU officers and where they have been moving. I can just see The CIA giving details of who their agents are and what they have been doing.

So where does all this leave us? The current position seems to be that the accused could be linked to arms procurement. Does that make it a crime to supply arms that end up killing civilians? What about those supplying arms to those bombing Yemen? So far, at least 70,000 dead, but the Dutch don’t seem to find that exceptional. If it is a crime to shoot down an airliner, what happened to the US Navy officers that shot down an Iranian civilian aircraft some time ago? The short answer was the US regarded that as an accident, and I am reasonably convinced the US officers taking part in this would not have intended to kill civilians. They made an error, despite being extremely well-trained and having the best equipment available. So why is it not possible that Ukrainian irregulars, with little military training, could not make the same sort of mistake? My view is simple: do not fly over war zones where it is known the defenders are being bombed, and have anti-aircraft missiles. This trial, if it ever takes place, will be simply political. The defendants will be absent, which makes the whole point ridiculous, other than, maybe, to make the Dutch feel good. Then again, maybe that is a benefit.

Smashwords “Read an Ebook Week”

From Sunday, March 3 to Saturday, March 9, Smashwords is running a sale. The ebooks I have there (https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/IanMiller) are all discounted. The three fiction books form a series.

 

Puppeteer (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/69696) is a thriller set  in a future where shortages, government debt, and persistent warfare  are eroding governance. Set in California and Kerguelen, Two pairs of people who are unaware of each others’ existence must combine and succeed in countering a terrorist, or a hundred million people will die and billions of dollars of property will be destroyed.

‘Bot War (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/677836) In which the problems of Puppeteer have not been addressed. The government is still essentially bankrupt, but Islamic terrorists determined for revenge for what happened in their homeland take control of the latest AI war machines.

Troubles (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/174203) The world is recovering from a state of anarchy. There is money to be made, and opposition to kill. Law and order is privatized, and those with money have a huge advantage.

Biofuels An Overview (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454344) Contrary to what many people say, biofuels could make a serious impact on our carbon dioxide emissions (because while the emissions are the same, the carbon originally came from the atmosphere). There are a number of criticisms, and they are valid for many of the proposals, but that is because the easiest options are the least suitable for various reasons, not the least because there is going to be a major need for food. Find out what the better options are, from someone who has worked on the topic for many years.

Science, Lies, War Gases and Similar Agents

Most people will have noticed the news of the recent attack on Syria regarding an alleged chemical attack by Assad on Douma. Forty people were alleged to have been killed. If true, that is terrible, but is it true? In war, truth is seldom clear. The evidence so far has been allegations by the “white helmets”, a group that is essentially a medical recovery team for ISIS and other Wahabbi groups, and hence hardly unbiased, and there have also been images of people standing around and then being hosed down with water. The chemicals started out as “maybe sarin”, but this melded into on report of a mix of hydrogen cyanide and chlorine, and finally, just chlorine. Neither sarin victims nor chlorine victoims would be just standing around, while had it been hydrogen cyanide and chlorine, these two would react together and cancel each other out. If you are going to spread rumours, a little knowledge of chemistry helps.

There was then a rush to judgment before the OPCW inspectors could get there. I have seen claims the inspectors are irrelevant because Assad would have “cleaned up”. Assad, of course, had won Douma and offered the Wahabbis a free bus ride to Idlib, so while he controlled the area, why would he make such an attack? Most of the Wahabbis has left before the attack was alleged to have occurred, so why then? That makes no sense. Daesh, etc, had a motive: get the US to bomb Assad. So, if there were such an attack, it is still unclear who attacked.

So, what would I expect the inspectors to find? First, if forty people died, there will be relatives to say how. Second, if it were sarin, that sticks around long enough that nobody would be too keen on cleaning up, and evidence of the cleaning would be obvious. The nature of the bodies would be obvious too. If it were chlorine, it would leave characteristic damage to bodies, and also to survivors. If you check the records of WW 1, survivors had characteristic symptoms for months, if not forever. So there will be evidence. There will also be the means of delivery. Yes, in principle that could be removed, but there will be evidence of that.

Finally, if it were chlorine, it could even have been an accident. If Daesh were destroying things rather than giving it to Assad before they left, a small explosion near a gas cylinder might have ruptured it. Also, just because there is chlorine somewhere does not mean it is there as a war gas. Chlorine is an excellent agent for removing pathogens from water. Denying Syria chlorine would effectively condemn them to outbreaks of things like cholera.

So, what about the strike? At the time of writing this, truth is in very short supply. The US says no missiles were intercepted, Syria say about 2/3 were. However, the target seemed to be three fairly large buildings, two of which are supposed to be places where chemical weapons are stored, and one was allegedly a centre for chemical weapons research. That raises the question, if the US was so certain they contained chemical weapons, why blow them up? The threat was the chemicals would be released onto the local population, which seems to me to be irresponsible. If they knew there were chemical weapons there, why not insist on inspectors going in long before this sequence started? Note that these places had been inspected five months previously, and no sign of chemical weapons had been found.

The New York Times somehow obtained a video of what was left of the research centre within hours of the strike. Obviously the claim it was struck and effectively destroyed is true. There is rubble everywhere. But standing on the rubble was someone waving something in the air. To me, that does not seem as if there were a lot of chemical weapons there because if sarin, say, was broken open near him, he would be dead.

One of the things that really puzzled me was this. I am a professional chemist, and have spent a certain amount of my time doing organic synthesis, so I know what such a laboratory should look like. None of what I would expect was able to be seen in these pictures. Thus a laboratory to make chemicals for such weapons would need fairly substantial objects to do the syntheses on (minimum – benches), very substantial objects to enclose such sites so as to protect the workers, very large fans etc to remove fumes, large equipment to capture such fumes and neutralize them, various bits of equipment, lots of pipes to move air and water, and as far as water goes, a laboratory that big would need at a minimum a two inch water supply pipe, and when bombs wrecked the building, I would expect the pipes to rupture, so I would expect water flooding out. I would also expect the remains of fires, from the chemicals used. None of that is in the pictures. Now the rubble will bury some of the equipment (but not hide leaky pipes) and assuming the water supply comes from the road, the rubble would bury the only means to turn of that water. The only “contents” of the building I could see was a lot of what looked like office waste. Finally, another surprise: there were no casualties. That, of course, is good and I am not bloodthirsty, but if these buildings were storing chemical weapons, wouldn’t you expect some security guards? Surely Assad would not leave barrels of sarin lying around waiting for someone to steal them? So if there were no casualties, presumably nobody was in the building, and that makes storing chemical weapons more unlikely.

Accordingly, I think it is important to find out what that building really did. I get rather suspicious of claims they “know” that chemical weapons are being made in a building. I recall one such building in Iraq that turned out not to be making chemical weapons, but rather it was reconstituting baby formula. Everybody who makes these mistakes just shrugs their shoulders and moves on. The victims of the attack cannot do that.

A final comment. Assad once had and used chemical weapons, but before the West howls at what an animal he is, recall he was supplied with these chemicals from the West. If you sell him this sort of thing, what do you expect him to do with them? Put them in a museum? The supplier of the weaponry is effectively an accessory to the subsequent crime, in my opinion.

More Bombs for Syria

Now that ISIS is essentially beaten as a state, a number of questions arise, and the last two weeks has brought the need for answers. The first question is, what happened to the ISIS fighters? A number of them were killed, but from what we can make out, a lot of them from Raqqa were allowed out by the US forces in the area and they seemingly went in the direction of Deir ez-Zor, which is on the Euphrates, and nominally has a population over 210,000, although these days, who knows? Deir ez-Zor was surrounded by ISIS for about three years, but it was recently liberated by the Syrian Army on the Western bank of the Euphrates after considerable fighting.

What happened next in this area is unclear. What I think might have happened is that the Syrian army crossed the Euphrates and moved towards what they think is the last bastion of ISIS (and recall a lot of ISIS fighters were permitted to head in this direction) when they were bombed by the US air force, killing about a hundred of them. What we next here is the US claimed the bombing was in self defence. How come an armoured infantry unit was attacking the USAF? Obviously, it wasn’t, so what was happening? Eventually, it became clear that “self defence” without a further explanation was not exactly convincing, so then we find, they were defending “a secret US base.”

That raises more questions. First, if it is that secret, maybe the Syrians did not know it was there, and they were attacking the ISIS or al Qaeda people believed to be there. For the purpose of this essay, al Qaeda refers to whatever it has been rebranded as. al Nusra was effectively al Qaeda, but it too has rebranded itself, seemingly more than once, but it has not changed its terrorist ideology. So did the Syrians actually know? Had the US told the Syrian government they were putting a military camp in their country? Just imagine what the US response would be if it turned out that North Korea had such a camp in the US.

The next question is, what were these US soldiers doing there? The official answer appears to be, “training moderate rebels”. US intervention led to al Qaeda after the US abandoned those who had helped get the Russians out of Afghanistan, and it was instrumental in forming ISIS after it had no idea what to do with the Iraqi army after the GWB invasion. Given that we know ISIS fighters headed in this direction, how do we know the US isn’t simply training and supplying the rebranded version of ISIS? As the week has progressed, the explanations from the Americans has also changed, so it is unclear what the truth really is, other than there is a US base more or less on an oilfield, which in turn is preventing the government of Syria from getting access to the oil.

All of which raises the question, why is this base located there? The answer to that seems ominously familiar: it appears to be located near or on an oil field managed, and maybe part-owned, by Conoco. Was the US action to protect the business interests of an American company against those of the legal government of the country it was in? Also, why has this oilfield been rather untroubled by the terrorism? We know ISIS was gaining most of its funds from selling oil, and most of the Syrian oil comes from this field. So at first sight, ISIS fighters leaving Raqqa and heading towards Deir ez-Zor might indicate that they were to make a last stand there, but from a strategic point, this makes no sense at all because it could never sell the oil. Another possibility is that the fighters were going to merge with the rebranded al Qaeda units, who seemed to have US blessing because they were labeled as “moderate” opposition to al-Assad, so here was a chance to get protection before . . . Before what? My view is, whatever they are thinking, those terrorists are not suddenly going to turn into model citizens working for peace and economic growth. The ugly option is that the US could not care less who it helps as long as it gets rid of Assad.

So, Assad is a bad leader. Maybe he should be prevented from getting his hands on the oil. But then comes the next question: how will Syria be rebuilt? The only real source of potential money to do this is from the oil. Both the Americans and the Russians have carried out extensive bombing to get rid of ISIS, and that may seem to be legitimate, but somebody has to rebuild Syria, and there is no sign whatsoever that the US wants to help do this.

Another event in Syria was the shooting down of a Russian aircraft by a surface to air missile from another rebranded al Qaeda hold-out. Now, where did that come from? We can probably eliminate Russia or China, so that effectively means Israel or the West. The US denied giving such missiles to Syrian opposition forces, and that is almost certainly the truth if we add, “directly”, but what about from places like Saudi Arabia, which buys a lot of sophisticated US military equipment. Interestingly, the Russian air force immediately began bombing heavily the area where the missile came from, without any further response. That suggests that if they know they are there, they are less troubled.

Finally, it is worth noting what the effects of such bombing are. Mosul was “liberated” in July 2017. Right now, approaching seven months later, they are still digging bodies out of the rubble. The bombing has essentially made the city uninhabitable, and many major earthquake zones seem rather impressively sound in comparison, but what happens to the citizens? They are on their own, although they seem to have been given tents. Are those people going to thank the “liberating bombing”, or have we created the next generation of terrorists?

UK Election Fallout and Qatar: what would you do if in charge?

Suppose like me you are an author of fiction. Given the following situations, put yourself in someone’s shoes and ask yourself, what next?

The first event was the rather unfortunate end result of the UK election. What was delivered was what I consider to be the worst possible outcome. The problem is, voters are sucked in by “jam today”, or “I am annoyed about something.” So, what now? First, some background. The national debt of Britain now stands at £ 1.73 trillion, and the interest payment on this debt is about 6% of revenue. That might seem to be reasonably sustainable, but there is the overall issue of Brexit looming. The UK has apparently had a recent surge in GDP, despite the threat of Brexit, but it is not clear that will last, and interest rates will probably grow from their record low. Suppose they double, which is easy from such lows. 6% suddenly turns to 12%, and that is ugly. (The existing loans will stay at their agreed rate, but can you pay them back when they mature? Otherwise you have to borrow at the new rate.) It appears that Jeremy Corbyn was promising a lot of spending, together with an unspecified increase in taxes. My guess is a lot of the youth vote that went to Corbyn thought the rich would pay. The usual problem with that assessment is that while the rich can be made to pay significantly higher taxes, to get the amounts needed to make a significant difference in revenue tax rises have to go a lot deeper. There are just not enough rich to soak. On the other hand, people may well argue they needed more money to go to health, education, or whatever. The question then is, can you pay for what you want?

May was apparently promising austerity. That is hardly attractive, but it was also put forward in a rather clumsy way. Cutting out school lunches is not only hardly a vote winner, but it is also never going to make a huge difference. Putting that up front is a strange way to win an election. It seems that the Tories were so convinced they were going to win that they decided to put up some policies that they knew would be unpopular, so they could say later, “You voted for them.” The two who are believed to have largely written the manifesto have resigned (really, pushed by angry senior Tories) but the question remains, why were they left to write it? Why did the senior Cabinet Ministers not know what was in it, or if they knew, why did they not do something about it? There’s plenty of blame to go around here, folks, nevertheless there are two hard facts: if Britain and the EU cannot manage Brexit properly, there will be severe economic problems, and economic problems seem to be like a very active virus that goes everywhere very quickly. The second is, if debt gets out of hand, the country spends so much on interest repayments that it ends up in the position Greece is now in. Anyone want that?

So, put yourself in some position: what would you do? My opinion is the Tories should realize that Corbyn has no chance currently of forming a government (because he needs every non-Tory vote) and get on doing something that has at least some public appeal. May either has to go, or learn oratory and get some empathy for the others.

The other event is the Arab attempt at isolating Qatar, on the grounds it is financing terrorism. Actually, the Saudis are almost certainly the biggest such supporters. The real reason appears to be either Qatar is friendly with Iran, or alternatively Qatar is the home of al Jazeera, a TV network that tries by and large to report the facts, warts and all. The US position on this is obscure. President Trump has lashed out against Qatar, without any particular evidence, although Qatar is known to have given refuge a number of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. The US is also bombing Assad’s troops in Syria to prevent them getting at fleeing ISIS fighters; it seems that terrorism is being actively supported by the US, which make no strategic sense. At first, it looks as if Qatar could be quickly invaded from Saudi Arabia, but whoever does that would have to be very careful because Qatar houses the biggest local US base in the region, and has 11,000 military personnel there. To add to the complications, Turkey has promised to send troops. Fighting Turkey should mean fighting NATO, although with President Trump nothing automatically follows.

So, imagine you are the leader of Qatar, what would you do? Return the Muslim Brotherhood members to Egypt where they would probably be tortured and/or executed? Promise to stop funding terrorists? (If you really are not, this is easy to keep, but maybe not so easy to convince others that you are keeping it.) Remember, whatever you decide to do, you have to be prepared for whatever consequences follow. Not easy working out what leaders should do, is it? Writing fiction is, of course, easier, because you control what happens next. But if you want that fiction to have some relation with reality, what happens next has to be plausible, so here is your chance to get some practice.

The Killing of Syrian Evacuees, and MOAB

One of the biggest news items the previous week was “the mother of all bombs” was dropped on Afghanistan. My first thought was, how come the children came first? My next thought was, why did the Americans use those words? Suppose they had said, “We dropped an 11 t bomb to break up the ISIS tunnels,” they could have still shown the same footage, but it would not have sounded so arrogant. Since this bomb had to be dropped from a cargo plane, it would presumably only be used on populations that have no significant air defence. The Americans also claimed that they killed thirty-six ISIS fighters and no civilians. Exactly how do they know that? (Sorry, but I persist. I want evidence, or at least some reasonable explanation that evidence has been seen by someone who will tell the truth.) One of the clips showed the ground around where the blast took place, and there was plenty of green there. Explain to me why there were no tribal farmers there?

Another disturbing event occurred at al-Rashideen, in Syria. Busloads of Shia evacuees from Foua and Kefraya permitted to leave the al Qaeda held Idlib province were attacked by what appears to have been a van-bomb. At least a hundred and twenty-six were killed, and more will die, and of those who died, at least sixty-eight were children. You may recall President Trump spreading empathy for the innocent children who died at Khan Sheikhun; silence on this incident, though, and the question is, why? There was also essentially silence from the Western press. Why, after all the fuss made of the sarin event? Particularly since these people were being evacuated under an agreed exchange whereupon rebels were permitted to leave Aleppo in exchange for free passage for them. They were obviously killed by al Qaeda affiliates, so why no bombing of them? Presumably because they are “nice” Muslims. Has he already forgotten 9/11? More to the point, this is a clear indication that you cannot negotiate with such terrorists because they have no honour.

What should be done about Syria? In my opinion, ISIS and the al Qaeda factions should be eliminated. As von Manstein noted, in terms of military strategy the first requirement is to prioritize. It is true that Assad is currently handling his population rather badly, but nobody else seems to have any constructive suggestions as to what should happen. Everyone says, negotiate a peaceful settlement, but it is difficult to do this when the issues are discrete and if, as shown by the example above, one side will not honour the terms of any agreement. If it is one or the other, the absence of middle ground makes compromise near impossible. Neither al Qaeda factions nor ISIS will moderate their extreme views, so I am afraid they must be removed. Assad at least ran a secular government, and in my opinion, he is the only one visible who has any chance of doing that in the future and do it for long enough to be effective, so swallow the dead rat. The best example of what I fear was Saddam Hussein. Nobody would accuse him of being “good”, but nevertheless he ran a secular government, and under his government, there was no al Qaeda of any significance in Iraq. The US deposed him and executed him, and did not attempt to govern, despite the antics of Paul Bremer. Why not? Insufficient troops. The net result was that disgruntled Iraqi soldiers got tangled up with ISIS, and look where we are now. It is better to do nothing about Syria than make it much worse.

Why do I discount the military option? The troops needed for a military occupation depend on what is expected of the occupied population. During the Czech invasion, everybody expected the Czechs to behave, and from memory five divisions comprised the invasion. That would be somewhere between 50,000 – 75,000 men, and probably about another 30,000 support staff. However, they concentrated on “important” sites. I recall that if you stayed out of city squares, or around things like radio stations, the chances of actually seeing Russian troops were very low. You saw them on roads if they were moving, and of course they had bases, but otherwise they were invisible. I even drove essentially across the country and only saw troops using the road to go from A to B. That would not work in a place like Syria, where you have to assume everybody there will hate you. Al Qaeda and ISIS, and their sympathizers will definitely hate you; the Alawites will most likely hate you for overthrowing their man, and that leaves the Kurds and Turkmen, both of whom will fear your leaving with whatever ISIS morphs into remaining. In an occupation where you are hated, you have to remove all the weapons, you have to check all transport, and have frequent checks on people in the open. That is why Israel, which has recognized what occupation means, does what it does in Palestine, and overall, while the Palestinians hate it, it does a good job of occupying. For Syria, I think you would need at least 500,000 soldiers, and preferably about 700,000. Who wants to pay for that? And on top of that, if you want it to succeed, you had also better spend a lot on reconstruction. To make a job of it, it would probably take ten to fifteen years, and initially there would be a lot of body bags because the likes of ISIS will have secreted arms dumps. Not very attractive, is it?

Chemicals over Syria

The news over the past week was dominated by a “chemical attack” in Syria, and the US response. However, there was then a flurry of various theories as to what had happened, the most usual one being that Assad was at it again, using sarin on his own population. So, what do we know, and what theories are consistent with what we know? In my scientific books, I have maintained that for any subset of facts, the smaller that subset the more likely there is that there will be at least one other theory consistent with the facts. What one then does is design experiments to s falsify some of them, so that eventually you end up with just one, and that is most likely to be correct. With human activities that is a little harder to do, and we have to relax somewhat the Royal Society’s motto Nullius in verba, which loosely translated means, take nobody’s word. With something like Syria, you cannot check everything rigorously, but you can look for self-consistency and reliability.

So what do we know? First, a number of people, including children, died in Khan Sheikhun some time on the morning of Tuesday 4th April. Some survivors were taken to hospitals elsewhere. According to US surveillance, one SU 22 took off from Shayrat air base and dropped objects on Khan Sheikhun. That is about all we know. What is most likely to be true? First, the symptoms of the survivors were argued to be consistent with their having experienced sarin, although one of the hospitals reported the symptoms were consistent with sarin, but the clothing showed signs of chlorine, which implies there were two gases present. Strictly speaking, sarin does not give unique symptoms, and a number of other organophosphorus compounds would also give these symptoms, although not so acutely. One such compound might be methylphosphonyl difluoride, the precursor to sarin.

There are also video clips of white helmets as first responders helping the victims. They had no protection. Sarin is a liquid, and it is absorbed thorough skin. Had this been sarin, we would expect those first responders to die. There is a further problem with white helmets; there are also statements on the web that the white helmets, operating only in al Qaeda controlled territory, give preference to militants, and have staged scenes on behalf of al Qaeda. That does not mean they did so here, but it also raises questions as to the reliability of their statements.

Whether there were one or two agents is also important, and this point is not entirely clear. Two agents is more consistent with a dump having been hit. More confusion comes from one report that the town was struck by one rocket. Further, the town is a stronghold of al Qaeda affiliates, who are not necessarily going to tell the truth. Apparently, UN inspectors are trying to piece together what really happened, and in principle, these uncertainties should be clarified. The US intelligence statement states that at least one of the items dropped from the SU 22 was a canister of sarin, but how would they know that? There are also clips showing a shed that has no bomb damage and hence what came in must have been a gas canister. However, there is no evidence anything came in. The makers of such clips refuse to show holes in the roof, and while there is a clip of what looks like an undamaged munition being tested, from the way it is laying, either it was irrelevant or it had been moved.

There are at least three theories circulating for what happened. The first is the most popular: Assad’s air force dropped bombs with chemical weapons. The second is the Russian version: Assad’s air force dropped bombs on a dump of chemical weapons, or material for chemical weapons. The third is that ISIS/al Qaeda did it deliberately to get US involvement. A fourth might be that ISIS/al Qaeda did it accidentally. At this point it is important to determine whether the delivery was by one rocket. If so, the Syrian air force is off the hook, although the Syrian army could have fired it.

One argument against Assad having done it is that it makes no sense for him to have done so. He is gradually winning the war, and President Trump has indicated the US did not want to get involved with Syria. He would know that the US would be really irritated if he did, so why would he? To do so would be just plain stupid, but unfortunately this argument has a flaw: there appears to be no shortage of stupidity in the world.

Another argument against it is he handed over his chemical weapons. The problem then is, how truthful is this? On the other hand, if he had complied, the likes of al Qaeda definitely did not. They, and ISIS, control so much of Syria it is almost certain they would have had control over some such dumps.

Very shortly after, the US navy fired 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat air base. The US says all fifty-nine reached their target; some reports indicate that only 23 struck it. What happened to the others? Here is an example of the fundamental problem: some people are asserting statements that are not true. However, we have not heard anything of where rogue ones struck, so either Assad missed a trick, or the US story is true. Assad also missed another trick here. The US in some reports claims there were chemical weapons at Shayrat. If so, why did they fire weapons that would liberate sarin when it would almost certainly go to the local residential area? They would be doing what Russia asserts Assad did. So what is the outcome?

For me, the most obvious one is we cannot trust any report on this matter so far. Too many politics are involved. On a lesser scale, President Trump showed that he was not going to wait for evidence from the UN inspectors. He was an action man. What did he achieve by doing this? Apparently he damaged at least six Syrian aircraft, although five of them, from the photographs, look not hopelessly damaged but they also look obsolete. Relations with Russia have taken a dive. For me, there are two consequences I fear. The first is, if ISIS has any chemical weapons, now is the time to use them on innocent civilians. That will bring the US in demolishing Assad’s forces. One of the more bizarre aspects of this incident is that the US has entered a civil war (always a bad idea) and is actively supporting both sides. The second is that President Trump has also threatened North Korea. Bombing Assad’s forces is superficially consequence-free (in the long term it is anything but) but bombing North Korea would reset the Korean war. I only hope some real thinking goes on soon.