In the absence of new information (and three weeks of international travel starting tomorrow) it would be sensible for us to turn the page on Ghouta and leave you with some final thoughts. We don’t know what the agent, or agents, used in the attack were and until a Syrian CW defector comes out with the recipe, or there are more attacks with the same symptoms, then we never will. If Ake and the team do get to the area they will find ground contaminated with everything from battlefield contaminants to industrial wreckage, picking the signature out of that mix will be impossible (which is perhaps why Russia has now changed their tune), at best we will see depressed AChE in the victims, but the level of battlefield stress that they have been under will again complicate identification. Any samples that they will be provided with will be suspect, and the only other hope is international units on the ground bringing samples back into their military (and I see the recent comments by Steinitz in this light - Times of Israel reporting it ), which will again be a difficult pill for the general population to swallow.
Figures are again difficult to judge, the FSA press office confirmed to us that there were 1,300 fatalities from the barrage, with ‘many’ chemical casualties. All a bit fuzzy for me, but without a unified C3i system, what else do you expect? So that means that we have an unknown number of people affected by an unknown chemical - all for unknown reasons.
Equally unknown is what the international community will do without some hard facts. The UN Inspectors will be able to provide a better guess, but it will be ambiguous enough for Russia and China to drive a cart and horses through it in the Security Council, resulting in sterner words and maybe some form of sanctions (which will be breached by those countries that want to). Obama has, quite rightly, tiptoed around the idea of arming the rebels, and France for all its need for ‘force’ will equally be cautious about committing a military that is suffering under swingeing cuts.
What does this mean? Unfortunately I think these outrages will become more normal, the chemical gloves have come off - regardless of who did it - and there is a good chance that there will be an escalation of use and an increase in toxicity. I was asked today what the best case scenario was… I scratched my head for a good while, and came to the conclusion that the very best outcome for Syrian people would be that this was done by a splinter group within the FSA, that they had used up whatever limited stocks of chemical they had, and this would be an aberration. It’s not much of a best case scenario - but I am happy to hear others!
Finally, I have to take exception of some of the media that take side swipes at the UN Inspectors, “sheltering in their five star hotel.” Would it be better if they were in a three star hotel? Equally the suggestion that these professionals have taken a holiday in Damascus and are being interrupted from their pina coladas around the pool by requests to do something is insulting to them in the extreme. I am sure that they will take the comments in their stride, but of all the players in this they are the ones most determined to get to the site as quickly as possible.