Syria: Was the Chemical Attack a “False Flag” Operation?


Let’s make Syria the graveyard for Assad, Putin and Trump! Victory to the Revolution!


By Johannes Moraga, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 14 April 2017,




There is tremendous confusion within the international movement of the workers and oppressed about the current situation in Syria. A big part of the “radical” left – mostly the Stalinists and their followers – openly and more or less uncritically backs the Assad dictatorship. This goes hand in hand with their pro-imperialist adaptation towards Putin’s Russia as an alleged counterweight against US imperialism (or, more generally, western imperialism). This position has created a situation whereby many Syrian revolutionaries are hostile towards revolutionary communism, because they (wrongly but understandably) associate it with Stalinism, oppression and pro-Assad counterrevolution. This confusion about the Syrian revolution also affects a number of more orthodox Marxist groups who do not support the Syrian masses in their struggle against Assad, but who instead take an abstentionist position on Syria (1).


Since the first days of the Syrian revolution, the Assad regime and its international friends have told lie after lie about the Syrian rebels. For example, all of them were trained and equipped by the CIA and are under direct control of the US. We don’t deny that the US tried to buy some influence among the rebels, but their support for the Syrian revolution was mostly rhetorical; the handful of rebels they were able to train and equip were not loyal agents but deserted to the ranks of various Islamist groups (who despise the US, and which the Americans have listed as “terrorist organizations.” (2) In addition, the US has and still bombs a number of Islamist rebels and has even killed the leadership of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (3).


For a week now, the pro-Assad camp has been hysterically screaming about Trump’s missile strike on one of the airbases of the Syrian Army, an act which should be opposed by all revolutionaries – just like any other imperialist intervention. (4)


However, it is important to bear in mind that this missile strike killed only a small number of ordinary soldiers and didn’t even destroy the runway of the airfield. A day after the missile strike, Assad’s terrorist air force could continue to use this air base for targeting civilians and carpet bombing districts of the workers and poor in Aleppo, Hama, or Idlib. The air strikes of the US, which were directed not only against IS/Daesh but also against a number of other rebel groups, mainly Jabhat Fateh al-Sham but also Ahrar al-Sham, killed far more soldiers, including a number of senior officers. (5)




The chemical attack: a “false flag” operation?




Following the US missile strike against the Syrian air base, the pro-Assad camp has been claiming that the chemical gas massacre at Khan Shaykhun which became the alleged pretext for Trump’s attack was in fact caused by one of two scenarios:


(1) The chemical gas which resulted in the civilian deaths in Khan Shaykhun was actually produced by the rebels and was released after being hit by bombing of the Syrian Air Force (which is also what Russia has claimed);


(2) Or, the chemical gas sent to the rebels by the US (or Turkey), with the intention that the rebels use it against their own people in a “false flag operation” thereby providing the US with justification for attacking Syria.


Sadly, the (justified) mistrust of the western capitalist media by a number of leftists is so developed that they are willing to believe any crazy conspiracy theory so long as it was presented to them by Moscow or Assad. But let’s be more serious and closely examine the two scenarios.


At the time of the deadly gas attack, the town of Khan Shaykhun was held by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) (6) which is a united front of various petty-bourgeois Islamist organizations (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Harakat Nur al-Din al-Zanki, Liwa al-Haqq, Ansar al-Din and Jaysh al-Sunnah). (7) Only in mid-February was Khan Shaykhun captured by these forces from Liwa al-Aqsa (a group closely aligned with IS/Daesh) following heavy fighting and the town remains quite close to the front (less than 15 km). This being so, why should HTS, which has never used chemical weapons against Assad’s army of terror, select this town, which is still relatively vulnerable to enemy attack and only just recently captured, as a site to start producing sarin gas, a process which is extremely complicated?!


IS/Daesh, which has in fact used mustard gas shells (8), a much less effective weapon but one easier to produce, certainly has no ethical problems about producing sarin gas. However, it does face a technical problem. Nevertheless, Daesh/IS is much better quipped, controls a much larger area, has many more experts (including former Baathist officers of the Iraqi army who have used chemical weapons to slaughter civilians), and therefore is much more capable of producing chemical weapons than HTS. In addition, HTS, which may have up to 40,000 fighters, is not a homogenous organization like IS/Daesh, but much more of a united front of several Islamist militias, one that was very complicated for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham to create. How exactly are these different militias, linked as they are to the poor masses, supposed to have agreed to use chemical gas against their own population? This is an extremely unlikely scenario!


Furthermore, sarin gas is stored as two separate components (9), one of which is highly flammable. So if an air strike against the HTS rebels was responsible for inadvertently releasing the deadly gas, as proponents (like Russia) of the first theory cited above propose, it is far more likely that the initial explosions would have destroyed a necessary component for producing the gas, and that any resulting byproduct would not have been particularly potent against the civilian population.


Beyond these technical problems, we have to ask the pro-Assad supporters exactly how they explain the following conundrum: If – as they claim – it is always the rebels who are responsible for all chemical weapon attacks, why don’t the latter ever use this powerful weapon against the Assad forces, instead of against their own people?! Which fighting force on earth doesn’t use a powerful weapon at its disposal against its enemy, but only against its own supporters?! Such logic demonstrates, once again, how absurd is the blame heaped by the Assad regime on the rebels for perpetrating chemical weapon attacks!


Let’s now deal with the second theory cited above. Is it plausible that Turkey delivered chemical weapons to Syrian rebels in an attempt to provide the US with a pretext for bombing Assad? Well, Turkey does consider Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, which contributes more than 50% of the HTS, to be a “terrorist organization.” (10) If Turkey were to participate in staging a “false flag operation,” how and why would they do this with a group that they obviously don’t trust? Why didn’t they instead use the FSA or one of their “Turkmen brigades”? Furthermore, why would they decide to stage such an operation in the extreme south of the province of Idlib, less than 15 km from the Assadist troops, and not in the north, far closer to their own military lines? Why would they make the effort to transport sarin gas to the south of Idlib, where it would have to pass a number of rebel checkpoints of different brigades and militias? Recall, these various forces hate and distrust one another so much that on numerous occasions they have fought among themselves and they couldn’t even agree on how to collaborate when Aleppo, the capital of the revolution, was being besieged by Russia and the butcher Assad, only to fall into the hands of the latter? Such a notion is simply unfathomable!




Trump’s missile strike




Realizing the absurdity of the two above theories, the pro-Assad camp now decides to play their so-called “Trump card”! They scream at us: “Just look, who this attack helps? It certainly doesn’t help Assad, but it does help the US and their CIA-backed-rebels!” If the US did in fact launch a “false flag operation,” like they have done in the past (just take, for example, the Gulf of Tonkin incident which purportedly gave the Americans the pretext to start bombing North Vietnam and commence its large scale intervention of South Vietnam), we would assume that there is an actual plan that they want to implement following such a “false flag operation.” However, after launching 59 tomahawk cruise missiles (which together cost $70 million), of which only 23 hit the targeted Syrian airbase, and killing only 7 or 9 Syrian soldiers (11) while destroying 9 planes, only to be followed up with absolutely nothing; this is no plan which required a complicated false flag operation involving huge risks to being exposed! Rather, this is just a slap on Assad’s fingers warning him not to use chemical weapons again.


But why should the US even care if Assad uses chemical weapons? Of course, as revolutionaries we know that US imperialism never cares about the death of non-combatant civilians or chemical weapons, per se. They certainly didn’t care when Saddam Hussein used such weapons against Kurds at Helebce or against the Iranian masses in the 1980-1988 war!


The real issue in Syria is that the US and EU imperialism don’t want Assad because he is the servant of Russian imperialism, and that the use of such chemical weapons only strengthens the conviction of the Syrian masses not to end the war to topple the regime. However, the goal of the US (and European) imperialists is to liquidate the revolution and pacify the country by dividing it into different spheres of interest controlled by the different imperialist Great Powers and their local lackeys.


Assad, on the other hand, wants to go forward with his “military solution” of the conflict. That means he wants to seize as much territory as possible, while at the same time also driving out – in fact ethnically cleansing – as many of the rebellious Syrian masses as possible. To achieve this goal Assad is determined to terrorize the mostly Sunni population of Syria, which is loyal to the revolution, and cause them to flee from his army even before it captures particular a town or city. Assad and Russian imperialism want to displace as many people as possible and drive them into neighboring Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, because just as was the case with the Palestinian refugees, they plan not to let them return to their country after the war.




For an international solidarity campaign!




What the Syrian Revolution indeed needs is international support – but not by the Western imperialist Great Powers and their local allies (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar) who are amenable to making a deal with Assad, and who only want to subordinate the Syrian masses and carve up the country!


Rather, what is needed is an international solidarity campaign of the workers and oppressed masses of the region, but also of Russia, Iran and Europe as well as the US! We need to organize practical help for the revolutionary masses in Syria and sabotage the war machine of Assad, Russian imperialism, the Iranian dictatorship, as well as of the EU and the US.


Victory to the Syrian Revolution – Let’s make it the graveyard for Assad, Putin and Trump!




(1) See on this, e.g., Michael Pröbsting: Is the Syrian Revolution at its End? Is Third Camp Abstentionism Justified? An essay on the organs of popular power in the liberated area of Syria, on the character of the different sectors of the Syrian rebels, and on the failure of those leftists who deserted the Syrian Revolution






(4) See on this, e.g., RCIT: Syria: No to Trump's Missiles Strike! Drive all Great Powers out of Syria! Victory to the Syrian Revolution! 7 April 2017,