[Marxism] Vijay Prashad: Is Trump Going to Commit the Next Great American Catastrophe in Syria? | Alternet

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 6 06:30:10 MDT 2017


Russia and the Syrian government now suggest that there was perhaps a 
stockpile of such weapons in Khan Shaykhun, which combusted perhaps by a 
Syrian Air Force strike. There is no confirmed evidence of any such 
warehouse, although the Russian Defense Ministry says that this 
information is "fully objective and verified." Whether aerial 
bombardment can have this effect on gas housed in a warehouse will need 
to be investigated.


Like many people, Vijay imagines sarin gas housed in a warehouse along 
the lines of what you might see in Home Depot with 10 gallon bottles of 
industrial strength floor cleaner stacked on a pallet.

If you are going to write about such matters, you really need to have a 
better grasp of the chemistry like Dan Kaszeta who writes for Elliot 
Higgins's bellingcat and is is the managing director of Strongpoint 
Security Ltd with 24 years experience in 
Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear response (CBRN).

I posted a link to his article on the chemical and technical aspects of 
this incident yesterday. I will now post the entire article that 
illustrates how absurd the Home Depot analogy is.


The Chemical Realities of Russia’s Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Warehouse 
Attack Claims


In response to allegations of a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun on 
April 4th 2017 the Russian Ministry of Defence made a statement where it 
claimed a warehouse containing chemical agents was hit in the same town 
as the attacks were reported to have occurred:

	The Syrian Air Force has destroyed a warehouse in Idlib province where 
chemical weapons were being produced and stockpiled before being shipped 
to Iraq, Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The strike, which was launched midday Tuesday, targeted a major rebel 
ammunition depot east of the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Russian Defense 
Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

The warehouse was used to both produce and store shells containing toxic 
gas, Konashenkov said. The shells were delivered to Iraq and repeatedly 
used there, he added, pointing out that both Iraq and international 
organizations have confirmed the use of such weapons by militants.

 From a technical chemical weapons perspective, it seems unlikely that 
the Russian “warehouse/depot” narrative is plausible as the source of 
the chemical exposure seen on April 4th.  To date, all of the nerve 
agents used in the Syrian conflict have been binary chemical warfare 
agents, so-named because they are mixed from several different 
components within a few days of use.  For example, binary Sarin is made 
by combining isopropyl alcohol with methylphosphonyl difluoride, usually 
with some kind of additive to deal with the residual acid produced.  The 
nerve agent Soman can also be produced through a binary process.  The 
nerve agent VX has a similar binary process, although it proved to be a 
more complicated process than merely mixing the materials.

There are several reasons why the Assad regime would use binary nerve 
agents. Binary nerve agents were developed by the US military in order 
to improve safety of storage and handling, so that the logistical chain 
would not have to actually handle nerve agents.  The US had developed 
some weapon systems that mixed the materials in flight after firing. 
These particular weapon systems were the M687 155mm binary Sarin 
artillery shell, the XM736 8 inch binary VX artillery shell, and the 
Bigeye binary VX air-dropped bomb.  All were the product of lengthy 
research and development efforts, and none of them worked terribly well 
in practice, particularly the VX weapons.  There is no evidence that the 
Assad regime has ever made or  fielded “mix-in-flight” binary weapons. 
OPCW inspections after Syria’s accession to the CWC in 2013 revealed a 
variety of fixed and mobile mixing apparatus for making binary nerve agents.

The other key reason for binary Sarin is that only a few countries 
really ever cracked the technology for making “unitary” Sarin that had 
any kind of useful shelf-life. The main chemical reaction that produces 
Sarin creates 1 molecule of hydrogen fluoride (HF), a potent and 
dangerous acid, for every molecule of Sarin.  This residual HF destroys 
nearly anything the Sarin is stored in, and quickly degrades the Sarin. 
The US and USSR had devoted a huge effort to finding a way out of this 
problem.  They found different ways to refine the HF out of the Sarin 
using very expensive heavy chemical engineering techniques which, for 
obvious reasons, are best not described here.  Syria either did not 
develop such techniques or decided it was far cheaper, safer, and easier 
to stockpile binary components for a “mix it as you need it” process. 
Hence the “mobile mixing equipment” found by the OPCW.  Nor did Saddam 
Hussein’s Iraq, which had huge problems with the short shelf life of its 

Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were 
located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems 
odd), an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large 
quantities of Sarin.  Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not 
actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent.  It 
is an infantile argument.  One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol. 
It would go up in a ball of flame.  A very large one.  Which has not 
been in evidence.

Another issue is that, if the Syrian regime actually did believe that 
the warehouse stored chemical warfare agents, then striking it 
deliberately was an act of chemical warfare by proxy.

Finally, we are back to the issue of industrial capacity.  It takes 
about 9 kg of difficult to obtain precursor materials to generate the 
necessary steps to produce Sarin.  The ratio is similar with other nerve 
agents.  Having a quantity of any of the nerve agents relies on a 
sophisticated supply chain of exotic precursors and an industrial base. 
Are we to seriously believe that one of the rebel factions has expended 
the vast sums of money and developed this industrial base, somehow not 
noticed to date and not molested by attack?  It seems an unlikely chain 
of events.

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