By Robert Fisk
Before the stupidest Western war in the history of the modern world begins â€“ I am, of course, referring to the attack on Syria that we all yet have to swallow â€“ it might be as well to say that the cruise missiles which we confidently expect to sweep onto one of mankindâ€™s oldest cities have absolutely nothing to do with Syria.
They are intended to harm Iran. They are intended to strike at the Islamic republic now that it has a new and vibrant president â€“ as opposed to the crackpot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad â€“ and when it just might be a little more stable.
Iran is Israelâ€™s enemy. Iran is therefore, naturally, Americaâ€™s enemy. So fire the missiles at Iranâ€™s only Arab ally.
There is nothing pleasant about the regime in Damascus. Nor do these comments let the regime off the hook when it comes to mass gassing. But I am old enough to remember that when Iraq â€“ then Americaâ€™s ally â€“ used gas against the Kurds of Hallabjah in 1988, we did not assault Baghdad. Indeed, that attack would have to wait until 2003, when Saddam no longer had any gas or any of the other weapons we had nightmares over.
And I also happen to remember that the CIA put it about in 1988 that Iran was responsible for the Hallabjah gassings, a palpable lie that focused on Americaâ€™s enemy whom Saddam was then fighting on our behalf. And thousands â€“ not hundreds â€“ died in Hallabjah. But there you go. Different days, different standards.
And I suppose itâ€™s worth noting that when Israel killed up to 17,000 men, women and children in Lebanon in 1982, in an invasion supposedly provoked by the attempted PLO murder of the Israeli ambassador in London â€“ it was Saddamâ€™s mate Abu Nidal who arranged the killing, not the PLO, but that doesnâ€™t matter now â€“ America merely called for both sides to exercise â€œrestraintâ€. And when, a few months before that invasion, Hafez al-Assad â€“ father of Bashar â€“ sent his brother up to Hama to wipe out thousands of Muslim Brotherhood rebels, nobody muttered a word of condemnation. â€œHama Rulesâ€ is how my old mate Tom Friedman cynically styled this bloodbath.
Anyway, thereâ€™s a different Brotherhood around these days â€“ and Obama couldnâ€™t even bring himself to say â€œbooâ€ when their elected president got deposed.
But hold on. Didnâ€™t Iraq â€“ when it was â€œourâ€ ally against Iran â€“ also use gas on the Iranian army? It did. I saw the Ypres-like wounded of this foul attack by Saddam â€“ US officers, I should add, toured the battlefield later and reported back to Washington â€“ and we didnâ€™t care a tinkerâ€™s curse about it. Thousands of Iranian soldiers in the 1980-88 war were poisoned to death by this vile weapon.
I travelled back to Tehran overnight on a train of military wounded and actually smelled the stuff, opening the windows in the corridors to release the stench of the gas. These young men had wounds upon wounds â€“ quite literally. They had horrible sores wherein floated even more painful sores that were close to indescribable. Yet when the soldiers were sent to Western hospitals for treatment, we journos called these wounded â€“ after evidence from the UN infinitely more convincing than what weâ€™re likely to get from outside Damascus â€“ â€œallegedâ€ gas victims.
So what in heavenâ€™s name are we doing? After countless thousands have died in Syriaâ€™s awesome tragedy, suddenly â€“ now, after months and years of prevarication â€“ we are getting upset about a few hundred deaths. Terrible. Unconscionable. Yes, that is true. But we should have been traumatised into action by this war in 2011. And 2012. But why now?
I suspect I know the reason. I think that Bashar al-Assadâ€™s ruthless army might just be winning against the rebels whom we secretly arm. With the assistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah â€“ Iranâ€™s ally in Lebanon â€“ the Damascus regime broke the rebels in Qusayr and may be in the process of breaking them north of Homs. Iran is ever more deeply involved in protecting the Syrian government. Thus a victory for Bashar is a victory for Iran. And Iranian victories cannot be tolerated by the West.
And while weâ€™re on the subject of war, what happened to those magnificent Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that John Kerry was boasting about? While we express our anguish at the hideous gassings in Syria, the land of Palestine continues to be gobbled up. Israelâ€™s Likudist policy â€“ to negotiate for peace until there is no Palestine left â€“ continues apace, which is why King Abdullah of Jordanâ€™s nightmare (a much more potent one than the â€œweapons of mass destructionâ€ we dreamed up in 2003) grows larger: that â€œPalestineâ€ will be in Jordan, not in Palestine.
But if we are to believe the nonsense coming out of Washington, London, Paris and the rest of the â€œcivilisedâ€ world, itâ€™s only a matter of time before our swift and avenging sword smiteth the Damascenes. To observe the leadership of the rest of the Arab world applauding this destruction is perhaps the most painful historical experience for the region to endure. And the most shameful. Save for the fact that we will be attacking Shia Muslims and their allies to the handclapping of Sunni Muslims. And thatâ€™s what civil war is made of.