Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 5, 2020

The Grayzone and the facts of the Ltamenah gas attacks

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 6:26 pm

Aaron Maté and Max Blumenthal

As a rule of thumb, the Syrian dictatorship’s chemical attacks only become a cause célèbre when there is a significant loss of life. For the better part of 8 years, Assad has dropped barrel bombs on hospitals, fired missiles into working-class tenements, starved rebel supporters into submission and generally pursued what are commonly understood as war crimes. It is only when chemical weapons are used, and, more importantly, result in a significant loss of life that American presidents get on their high horse.

The first incident occurred on August 21, 2013 in Eastern Ghouta when up to 1,729 poor people opposed to the dictatorship died from a sarin gas attack. This incident set the pattern for Assad’s apologists that continues to this day. People such as Seymour Hersh, Theodore Postol, David Bromwich, Robert Parry, Patrick L. Smith and Tariq Ali all came to Assad’s rescue, arguing that he had no motive to use sarin gas. There was a cruder battalion following these distinguished gentlemen who emphasized the “false flag” narrative, which made the case that the rebels gassed their own supporters in order to give Obama an excuse to implement “regime change”. Names like Vanessa Beeley, Eva Bartlett, and David Icke come to mind. Despite Obama bending over backwards to allow the “normal” war crimes to continue, this crowd was always on the lookout for the next incident that would allow them to posture as peace activists over the dead bodies of Syrian civilians.

The next incident occurred on April 4, 2017 in the town of Khan Shaykhun, this time when Donald Trump was in the White House. Once again it was a sarin gas attack that left 89 dead and more than 541 injured. Once again, the false flag brigades went to work, acting as if Trump’s retaliatory strike on a Syria airbase were the opening round of WWIII. In reality, the dictatorship only got a slap on the wrist. The missiles that Donald Trump fired on Shayrat air force base 3 days later had little impact. To start with, the runway was not damaged—something that was never even part of the plans—and jets and helicopters took off a few hours afterward. According to Wikipedia, even the Russian defense ministry said that the “combat effectiveness” of the attack was “extremely low” and that only 23 missiles out of 59 fired hit the base, destroying six aircraft. It did not know where the other 36 landed. Russian television news, citing a Syrian source at the airfield, said that nine planes were destroyed by the strike but that they were inoperative at the time.

Probably the most widely covered attack took place in Douma on April 7, 2018. This time it was chlorine gas that cost the lives of 40-50 people huddled in the lower floors of a tenement. Since chlorine is heavier than air, it descends downward with devastating effects. This was not the first chlorine gas attack in Douma. There were three earlier attacks that made lots of people sick but without any deaths. Indeed, there have been hundreds of chlorine gas attacks in Syria that might have killed a few people but nothing that would prompt the White House to act. In my view, Trump had to retaliate once again in Syria to “save face”. After he bombed a couple of buildings, people like Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal made it sound like Trump was LBJ escalating the war in Vietnam. Somehow, Trump’s decision to cut off all support for the rebels that year must have escaped them.

On April 8 this year, the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) released a report that concluded that the dictatorship had used both sarin and chlorine gas in Ltamenah on three different occasions in 2017, just around the time that Khan Shaykhun was attacked. Frankly, I don’t remember having much of a reaction at the time since this was one of those “low-keyed” affairs that only left 60 people hospitalized. Sure, a doctor did die from a chlorine bomb that fell through the roof of his hospital but that’s hardly something to write home about.

Leave it to Grayzone to push the “false flag” conspiracy bullshit once again, this time relying on an OPCW whistleblower who, despite his CV, seems to be an even bigger idiot than Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté, who prefaced his attack on the findings.

Like all these people from Tariq Ali to Vanessa Beeley, the whistleblower cast doubt on the dictatorship’s culpability since it was winning the war:

They didn’t use sarin during the desperate times when they had their backs to the wall and were close to being overrun by opposition groups; but for some reason chose a time when they were back in control.

Somehow the whistleblower must have forgotten that Assad used sarin gas in Eastern Ghouta in 2013, when he was on the ropes. And, then again, this asshole probably is sure that the jihadi were ready to kill 1,729 of their supporters on the gamble that Obama would intervene. I remember during the Vietnam War when the NLF was accused of using its soldiers as cannon-fodder because “Oriental” people did not put the same value in human life as us civilized Westerners. Some things don’t change when it comes to what Edward Said called “Orientalism”.

Next, he questions the efficacy of the attack since Assad “did this by supposedly dropping a couple of sarin bombs on fields; agricultural lands in the middle of nowhere.” Is this guy for real? In the middle of nowhere? WTF?

The OPCW puts the attack into context. Contrary to the whistleblower, this was a hotly contested area:

The Idlib Governorate (together with parts of Hama Governorate, north of Hama city) was effectively under the control of a number of rival factions, rather than a single group, since it fell to armed groups in 2015 and throughout 2017. The area was regarded as the front line between the territories controlled by the authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic to the south and the land to the north, and known generally as the “Greater Idlib Region”. The strategically vital M5 highway goes from Aleppo in the north, southwards through Saraqib just outside of Idlib, Khan Shaykhun to Hama city, then onto Homs city, the capital Damascus, and all the way to the border with Jordan.

Specialists in military operations consulted by the IIT concur that controlling the M5 highway is an important objective for military operations in the area as it connects major cities including Damascus, Homs, Hama, and Aleppo. When the Syrian Government recaptured eastern Aleppo city in late 2016, the highway’s strategic value further increased. Since at least 2012, there have been reports that villages and cities along the M5 highway were constant targets for conventional air strikes, as well as (more sporadically) chemical weapon attacks.

For Christ’s sake, even the Russian media understood the importance of the M5 highway in 2017. This is from the Interfax News Agency in Moscow, dated September 13, 2017:

The national reconciliation committee in the Syrian province of Rif Dimashq met with the opposition to discuss the unblocking of the M5 highway linking the country’s northern and southern regions, the Russian center for reconciliation of opposing sides in Syria told Interfax.

“In the Rif Dimashq province, the national reconciliation committee held a meeting attended by representatives from the armed opposition group Jaysh al-Islam to discuss how to open the section of the M5 road [between] Harasta al-Basal [and] Muhayam al-Vafedin,” the center said.

Like the other whistleblowers, but even more explicitly, he describes the chemical attacks, at least the two days in which sarin was used, as a “false flag”:

This, if intended to support the assertion that Syrian sarin was implicated, or that staging by the use of “spiking” chemicals was unlikely, is bordering on ludicrous. What possible reason could there be for the staging organizers, supporters (or advisors) to provide anything other than chemical samples carefully prepared by using the same precursors and sarin synthesis pathway as the well-known Syrian method? That chemistry has for many years been no secret; it is universally known and (apart from the use of hexamine as the acid scavenger) one of the “standard” ways of making sarin. That immediately defeats the “chemical marker” argument presented by the IIT. It is quite staggering that this argument has been taken seriously by any qualified or competent scientists.

Reading this malarkey, I wonder if maybe Blumenthal and Maté wrote it themselves since it is so detached from the chemical realities of sarin gas. If anything, it is the same crapola Seymour Hersh came up with to absolve Assad in 2013. He told CNN on December 9, 2013, “It’s not hard to make sarin. You could mix it in the backyard. Two chemicals melded together.” This, of course, begs the question—if it is so easy to make, why haven’t the rebels used it except to kill their own supporters? Are they pacifists when it comes to Assad’s military? I don’t think so, especially al-Nusra.

There’s some devastating gaps in the logic of this chemistry not being a secret. You can say the same thing about the atom bomb. It is not that there’s a “secret” to it. Rather, it is a function of being able to create the infrastructure in which the bomb and the explosives can be assembled.

While sarin gas is easier to put together than an atom bomb, this picture of the laboratory used by the Aum Shinrikyo cult for their terrorist attack on Tokyo subway passengers might give you some idea of how ludicrous the whistleblower sounds:


Overhead view of the Satyan-7 chemical weapon facility. (Wikipedia)

Finally, in addition to the OPCW report, I urge you to read Eliot Higgins on the Ltamenah attacks just below. Unlike me, he did not let the relative absence of a significant death count lull him. On April 21, he offered a summary of the OPCW report with a recap of his findings in 2017. This will give you an idea of how Eliot Higgins gets taken seriously while people like Blumenthal and Maté are viewed as dumb and dumber.

Thanks, Russia

November 2017 led to a number of significant developments in the investigation into the nature of Syria’s Sarin bombs, ironically due to the Russian Federation’s attempts to defend its Syrian allies against allegations of Sarin use.

In early November 2017, the OPCW FFM had released a report on their investigation into a number of chemical attacks, including the March 30, 2017 attack in Al-Lataminah. This report included photographs of debris recovered from the site of the Al-Lataminah attack, including measurements of various debris. One of the pieces of debris measured and photographed included not one, but two filling caps recovered from the site of the March 30 attack:

This proved significant, as the filling cap recovered from Khan Sheikhoun had also been measured:

It was also possible to see that both sides of the caps were identical in design, and with the measurements, exactly the same dimensions:

It was now possible for us to state categorically that the design and dimensions of the filling caps recovered from the March 30 attack in Al-Lataminah matched perfectly with the filling cap documented at the Khan Sheikhoun impact site, which the OPCW-UN JIM report had described as “uniquely consistent with a Syrian chemical aerial bomb.”

The next major clue in our investigation was provided by the Russian Federation. In a November 2, 2017 press conference responding to the OPCW-UN JIM report on Khan Sheikhoun, the Russian Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defence, and the Ministry for Industry and Trade presented various information that they used to claim the Khan Sheikhoun attack was not the responsibility of the Syrian Arab Republic. During that presentation, they displayed a slide with a diagram of two Syrian chemical bombs, the M4000 and MYM6000:

Remarkably, the Russian Federation had just provided the first public details on the nature of these two types of bombs, including details of the internal mechanisms of the bombs, and measures of the width and length of the bombs that would prove to be crucial in identifying the type of bomb used in Syria’s 2017 Sarin attacks. The top two images of the diagram showed an MYM6000 chemical bomb before and after the filling process was completed. The filling process was described in a June 2017 Mediapart article by a former member of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC):

“It also meant that engineers from the SSRC also had to design bombs that were specific for sarin, and which were quite different to ordinary munitions. “On the outside, they resemble conventional bombs of 250 and 500 kilos of TNT,” explained one of them. “But inside they were totally different, divided into two compartments. The first, at the front, carried the DF. The second, at the rear, [contained] the isopropyl and hexamine. This mixture is stirred together by a stirring rod that can be activated by sort of crank at the rear of the bomb. When the two compartments are filled up, a technician winds the crank which advances the stirring rod to the point it breaks the wall of mica. The sarin synthesis reaction is set off inside the bomb, placed under a cold shower and maintained within a very precise temperature range which is controlled by a laser thermometer,” continued the former SSRC source. “After which, all that’s left is to introduce, in the allocated hold at the point of the bomb, the explosive charge and detonator – altimetric, chronometric or other – and to place the bomb under the wing of the plane. The load must be very precisely measured. If it is too big, the heat given off can cause the decomposition of the product, or the formation of a cloud of gas too far from the ground, which would render it ineffective. In principle, a 250-kilo bomb contains 133 litres of sarin, a few kilos of TNT and a ballast to preserve the aerodynamic characteristics of the weapon. A 500-kilo bomb contains 266 litres of sarin. The ideal altitude for the explosion of the bomb is about 60 metres.”


  1. Mr. Proyect’s intemperate lexicon does his cause no favours – respected journalists, OPCW-accredited whistleblowers, they are all “assholes” talking “bullshit”. And of course the classic guilt-by-association trope – they are all reminiscent of “David Icke”, “Vanessa Bailey” ad infinitum.

    Comment by Pyotr Ashkenazy — May 5, 2020 @ 7:22 pm

  2. Look, asshole, don’t you have any substantive points to make? Yes, I am an abusive bastard but that’s how I keep trolls on a short leash here.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 5, 2020 @ 8:03 pm

  3. Thank you for this!

    Comment by WSS Memorial Gardens (@WSS_Memorial) — May 6, 2020 @ 1:00 am

  4. You are not gonna like this Lou, but it seems Dumb and Dumber have unearthed some pretty convincing evidence that OPCW Director General Fernando Arias lied about Ian Henderson’s role in the Douma investigation.


    Guess its time for westen intelligence asset Bellingcat to get to work and create some excrutiantingly incomprehensible explanation for this further evisceration of the OPCW’s credibilty.

    Comment by Georges — May 7, 2020 @ 3:48 am

  5. Henderson’s role was not diminished by whatever Arias said. It was diminished by his theory that would have entailed rebels transporting 40 to 50 corpses to a building’s lower floors timed perfectly with the gas attack. At least, a moron like Piers Robinson is honest enough to conclude that they were killed beforehand in a “gas chamber”. The problem with these whistleblowers is that they offer no documentation that would support a “false flag”. That is why nobody takes them seriously except people at Grayzone whose funding invites scrutiny, especially someone like Blumenthal who reversed himself 180 degrees after going to a Russian banquet for RT.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 7, 2020 @ 11:43 am

  6. The leadership of the OPCW lied about Ian Henderson. They altered the FFM report on Douma. Whether there was a “false flag” operation or not is irrelevant. The veracity of the documents Grayzone and others have exposed has never been successfully challenged. The OPCW’s credibilty has been torn to pieces.

    Comment by Georges — May 7, 2020 @ 5:31 pm

  7. Whether there was a “false flag” operation or not is irrelevant.

    Really? In fact, that is exactly what this is about. Henderson et al make the case that the weaponized chlorine tanks were “staged”, when the OPCW official bodies came to the conclusion that they were dropped from helicopters. This is one of the most hotly debated issues on the left for the past 8 years even if you are too thick or too dodgy to admit that.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 7, 2020 @ 5:44 pm

  8. The documents revealed destroy the credibilty of the OPCW and therefore its recent report on the supposed use of CW is of no value. As for the “false flag” operation(s),I don’t know who and how they were planned or who killed the civilians, but absolutely no reliable evidence has been disclosed implicating the Syrian government. Its not a stretch, however, to conclude that armed bands that run around grinning while holding up severed heads, or celebrate by jumping up and down on corpses would be quite capable of murdering civilians.

    I don’t know what “left” you are a part of, but Cuba, China, Venezuela, Bolivia ( pre-coup) , mass based communist parties, anti-imperliasts, left labour types etc.. support the Syrian Arab Republic and its government.

    Comment by Georges — May 8, 2020 @ 5:40 am

  9. Its not a stretch, however, to conclude that armed bands that run around grinning while holding up severed heads, or celebrate by jumping up and down on corpses would be quite capable of murdering civilians.

    Of course they can murder civilians. However, they don’t have the ability to produce sarin gas as any imbecile who looks at the Aum Shinrikyo’s laboratory can figure out. If you think it can be thrown together in a kitchen sink, be my guest. The Assadist trolls who show up here are generally distinguished by an IQ of about 65 and a tendency to come up with bullshit lies that would embarrass Donald Trump, so why should you be an exception?

    Comment by louisproyect — May 8, 2020 @ 11:42 am

  10. I’m not a chemist, so I’m not going to speculate on how the sarin was produced or if it was even used. The armed bands and the phony white helmets are funded by the gasoline monarchies and elements of western intelligence and military networks. The OPCW has been discredited along with the “human rights” NGOs. There was no military advantage to be gained by the use of CW. That seals the deal for me.

    Comment by georges — May 8, 2020 @ 9:40 pm

  11. I’m not a chemist, so I’m not going to speculate on how the sarin was produced or if it was even used.

    You don’t have to be a chemist but if you are going to shoot your fucking mouth here about everything except whether a whistleblower was right in implicating the rebels for using gas in a false flag, just go away. I’ve written at least a dozen articles dealing with the impossibility of rebels using sarin gas. That is really what this is about. I don’t give a shit if Arias didn’t pay proper respect to Henderson. What does that have to do with whether rebels gassed their own supporters? Arias says the dictatorship used it and Grayzone, et al back Putin and Assad’s claim that the rebels were involved with a false flag.

    I understand that you obviously don’t have the IQ or the motivation to delve into the chemistry of sarin gas. My recommendation is to finish high school and then do some reading about sarin and chlorine gas. A lot of it is online. Otherwise, just piss off.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 8, 2020 @ 10:26 pm

  12. Arias’ problem was not that he did not pay “proper respect” to Ian Henderson. His problem was that he lied about Henderson’s role in order to squelch the growing realization that the OPCW official reports on Douma were not what the inspectors saw on the ground. A dirty OPCW invalidates the rebels’ accusations against the Syrian government. It’s a simple as all that.

    I’d like to become an online chemistry expert like you, but I’m currently studying online brain surgery, so I’m kind of busy.

    Comment by Georges — May 9, 2020 @ 2:09 am

  13. You don’t have to be a physics or chemistry expert if that means having a PhD. However, when you need to refute bullshit about how the WTC was brought down by controlled explosives and that aviation fuel is incapable of melting steel girders on the upper floors, etc, ad infinitum, you do need to spend a decent amount of time reading people who are professionals, like Manuel Garcia Jr., a retired physicist who wrote a series of articles in CounterPunch debunking the 911 Truthers. Manuel reads this blog and occasionally offers comments. He is brilliant. I relied heavily on his articles to write my own posts on the WTC, just as I relied on Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons consultant, when it came to the kind of false flag crapola you are trying to peddle here. It is patently obvious that you are endorsing the whistleblowers even if you are too lazy and too stupid to even put in five minutes boning up on the idiotic analyses of a Theodore Postol, who gets a red carpet treatment at Grayzone. You don’t have to go to MIT to understand that rebels lack the infrastructure to create sarin gas or to understand that it was unlikely that the chlorine gas deaths in Douma were “staged”. In fact, I came to these conclusions long before any OPCW report came out. If OPCW did not exist, it would still be easy to prove that Assad was behind these war crimes.

    Your problem is that you are trying to legitimize false flag propaganda but without putting in the time and effort to make the case for it, even if implausible. You are arguably the laziest troll I have run into in the over 15 years this blog has existed.

    You should understand that conspiracism is a shit-stain that runs through all these Assadist propaganda projects. Off-Guardian and Global Research, two of the main purveyors of this rotting, fetid garbage, are die-hard Syrian false-flaggers, as well as 911 Truthers. More lately, they are posting articles claiming that the pandemic resulted from a bioweapons project.

    Anyhow, it probably doesn’t matter to you that you are appearing so feeble-minded. What I’ve learned is that men with a hard-on for Assad will not be denied when it comes to acting on their deepest passions.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 9, 2020 @ 11:51 am

  14. Hi Lou:

    Perhaps some missed the irony of discussing –with a lab photo– the complexity of outlaw sarin production. Granted it seems formidable (far more due to isol;ation engineering, far less in chemistry). Nevertheless it PROVES it can be done, even if they are much fewer in number; in fact, only a handful of cultists built and operated the lab). Also worthy of note that particular lab was not solely dedicated to sarin manufacture: “… phosgene, VX, soman, cyclosarin… as well as “…LSD, PCP, methamphetamine, mescaline” also.

    Comment by Craig Simmons — August 8, 2020 @ 8:30 am

  15. It can be done, of course. But, to repeat a point I’ve made often, if the dreaded, murderous jihadis had that capability, why didn’t they fire sarin bombs into the heart of Damascus’s government quarters or at massed Syrian military forces? As to your claim that this lab was making LSD, etc., I’d appreciate a link that backs that up.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 8, 2020 @ 12:17 pm

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