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Cut the bluster; the West also endorses political assassinations

March 17, 2018 at 3:21 pm

The ambulance, which carried the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia to emergency after they found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, is seen as it is dispatched to an unknown place with a military vehicle within the investigation in Salisbury, United Kingdom on March 10, 2018 [Tayfun Salcı / Anadolu Agency]

We do not know for sure who carried out the chemical weapon attack in the small English city of Salisbury last week. Although it is said that Russia was behind it, this claim must be treated with caution.

Indeed, while many politicians have been lining up to condemn Russia, they should cut the bluster, for they rarely make such condemnation of the political assassinations carried out by Western “allies”, such as Israel, for example. This illustrates the British Establishment’s total hypocrisy.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was quick to expel 23 Russian diplomats as a “punishment” for the attack; he even claimed on BBC Radio 4 that they were “probably” spies. I have no reason to doubt his claim, but it’s interesting that Johnson seemed to have a very different attitude towards Israeli embassy agent Shai Masot last year when his plot to “take down” a British government minister was busted by an Al-Jazeera undercover investigation.

Johnson did not denounce Masot as a spy at the time; he only stated obliquely that, “Whatever he may exactly have been doing here his cover may well be said to have been and well truly blown.”

Generally speaking, on the Salisbury issue I agree with the approach of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn; Britain’s response must be in accordance with international law and be based on evidence, not a mindless rush to judgement.

While Prime Minister Theresa May and Boris Johnson have claimed that the nerve agent used in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter is “of a type developed by Russia”, this does not constitute proof of the Russian government’s responsibility. As Craig Murray points out, the “of a type” phrase is significant and suggests that the government has no actual proof linking the chemical agent to the Russian government; it is simply “of that type. Just as I am typing on a laptop of a type developed by the United States, though this one was made in China,” the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan explains. Murray also says that a Foreign Office source has told him that British chemical weapons’ “scientists are not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture.”

I am not ruling out Russia as a culprit. However, I think that Corbyn is right to point to the recent history of faulty and deliberately misleading intelligence generated by British spy agencies, which are only too willing to push the world closer to war. The comparison with Iraq and the entirely mythical “weapons of mass destruction” has been made more than once in recent days.

Of course, in this case the aim seems to be to move Britain towards a new Cold War with Russia, rather than any sort of “hot” war as was the case with the immoral and illegal invasion of Iraq fifteen years ago this month. That, remember, resulted in the near total destruction of the country, a lengthy civil war and the creation of ISIS, the so-called “Islamic State” extremist group.

We should thus be cautious about taking the British government’s word on the Salisbury incident as sacrosanct. The scene in the House of Commons this week was utterly disgraceful, as Conservative MPs lined up to scream “shame” at Corbyn for even asking the most basic and innocuous questions, such as what the government’s reply has been to Russia’s request to supply Moscow – via the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – with a sample of the nerve agent for testing so that its origin can be tracked down. In my view, this was not an unreasonable request.

If, for the sake of argument, Russia is lying and was actually behind the attack, what does the British government have to lose by providing this sample to the OPCW, which is a relevant international body? The fact that Theresa May’s government has not yet done so is telling. Even though Boris Johnson told Radio 4 listeners that the government would be doing so, he did not say when this would happen.

Again, it tells us a lot that right-wing backbench Labour MPs – who have never been genuinely reconciled to Corbyn’s leadership – also lined up in the Commons to attack their party leader, albeit in a mostly less direct manner.

In my opinion, the unquestioning rush to believe the government, no matter what, is a deeply unsettling symptom of totalitarian tendencies. Given that Skripal is a former double agent who sold Russian secrets to Britain, it’s fair to assume that he would have made many enemies over the years, including some in Russia, not least the Kremlin, but the man was released in 2010 as part of a prisoner swap deal with Britain.

While Corbyn has a point that we cannot rule out Russian mafia groups as potential culprits, it is clear that, whoever was behind the attack, the outrage directed at Russia is entirely hypocritical. Israel – a key regional ally of the US and Europe – is allowed to operate with impunity a global terrorist network of death squads run by Mossad, the spy agency which it uses to kill its enemies. That fact rarely even gets a mention in the British media, let along condemnation at the highest political levels.

The most recent Israeli murder attempt took place in Lebanon when, in January, a car bomb targeted Mohamed Hamdan, a Beirut figure of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. Hamdan reportedly escaped death because of security precautions that he took after being tipped off about the attack. Nevertheless, he was seriously wounded in the assassination attempt.

According to American blogger Richard Silverstein (who has some Israeli intelligence sources), Hamdan was tipped off by a Hamas double agent who had infiltrated the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic secret security agency, which is also sometimes involved in overseas operations. Hamdan was allegedly involved in supplying weapons to Hamas, either from Lebanon to Gaza, or to an allegedly new Hamas front in Lebanon itself; reports vary, and Israeli disinformation seems likely here.

Whatever the case may be, it’s clear that Israel was behind this particular attempted political assassination, not least because Lebanese and Turkish intelligence agents have apprehended the would-be killers, including two Mossad operatives. That’s what constitutes evidence, not childish heckling by compliant MPs in the House of Commons.

Western governments, including that of Theresa May in Britain, turn a blind eye to Israel’s use of assassination for political purposes. It’s time to cut the bluster and end the West’s blatant hypocrisy on such matters.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.