There seems to be no good reason for Assad to have launched a chemical attack in Damascus on civilians just 15 minutes away from the hotel where UN inspectors were staying. There is even less reason why the rebels should mount such an attack on their own people, assuming they had access to such weapons.
So what is really going on?
My guess is that this is a cockup of epic proportions.
Someone in a Syrian rocket artillery unit got the wrong delivery. The shells, as far as we’ve seen, are not clearly marked as chemical munitions. In the heat of battle you don’t check parts numbers against some catalog – you load ‘em up and ship ‘em out to the place you’ve been shelling for a while.
And then the horrifying reports start coming in.
There are also many other ways this could have happened by accident. If this is the case then I’d worry a lot about the security on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, but a cockup seems to make more sense than deliberate action by anybody on either side. But it doesn’t help the political objectives of anybody in this situation to admit to it. Assad would have become a butcher through stupidity. The West would have no causus belli. Russia would be selling weapons to incompetents.
If this was an accident, those responsible are likely to have been severely punished by now. I wonder if there’s any evidence of summary executions in the artillery or logistics corps of the Syrian Army?