08/21/2013 05:12 EDT | Updated 10/21/2013 05:12 EDT

The Truth About Poison Gas In Syria

Did the Syrian government launch a nerve gas attack on the night of August 20, 2013, that killed 1,300 people? Yes, no, or maybe... choose your answer. But don't count on knowing if it's accurate.

First, no media report provided by either the Assad Government or the Syrian National Front should be accepted at face value, although -- perhaps -- the Assad government has more of a history of controlling media and less of one of providing fabricated material.

However, various local parties on both sides of the civil war have learned from the Palestinian Authority about the value of providing staged or fabricated media events. "Pallywood", as some reporters and journalists have described it, has a long history of providing exciting or emotional images that have no basis in reality.

Hezbollah moved things to a new level during its 2006 conflict with Israel, when it turned out that their own cameramen provided some images, and there were many carefully staged and choreographed media events. Some local stringers for media outlets even turned out to be members of Hezbollah.

Hamas tried the same strategy during Operation Cast Lead in 2008/09.

The civil war in Syria is undeniably vicious and there have been plenty of atrocities by both sides, but the allegations of poison gas use have been flying thick and fast.

Syria has been known to have been making its own chemical weapons since the 1980s, particularly blister agents (such as mustard gas) and nerve agents (such as sarin and VX). These, in the main, are "area denial" chemical weapons, and may have been developed with halting an Israeli armoured thrust in mind -- the IDF came perilously close to Damascus in the '73 war.

For gassing people hiding inside buildings and cellars, blister and nerve gases are inefficient; choking and blood agents such as phosgene and cyanogen are far more effective. Syria was not believed to have been manufacturing these prior to 2011.

Using chemical weapons on rebels is an old habit in the Middle East. Egypt used them on Yemeni Royalists in the 1960s, Saudi Arabia on Wahhabi militants in 1979, and both Saddam Hussein and Qaddafi used them in the 1980s. It is very hypocritical for the Arab League to be crying 'foul!' at the Assad regime.

For those with the stomach for it, it is not too hard to find footage on the internet of tests of nerve gas on animals... including al-Qaeda experiments on dogs in their Afghan training bases prior to 9/11. There are also a lot of photographs of victims of blister-agents dating back to WWI.

The footage of purported victims of recent chemical weapons attacks in Syria shows a distressing number of children's corpses... but then both Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah have been accused of stockpiling them in the past to reserve for media events. The Syrian National Front might be no different.

Dead children are an abomination under any circumstances -- and every propagandist knows it.

However, film of partly shrouded dead children (showing gray faces but whose bodies are wrapped in thick cloth) yields few obvious clues about the manner of their death.

The victims of the chemical weapons attack in a mosque (again, with an abundance of children) show no signs of the painful blisters that attend exposure to mustard gas or the twitches and convulsions of exposure to nerve gas.

Also, blister and nerve agents tend to be "persistent" which means those who blithely treat casualties without wearing full protection soon become casualties too.

It is possible, indeed probable, that the Assad Regime has used chemical weapons at times on Syrian National Front rebels. It is equally likely that the rebels have returned the favour. However, one could wonder why both sides seem to be randomly firing limited qualities against non-combatants, instead of reserving their stocks to seek some decisive battlefield advantage somewhere.

In a vicious ideologically-driven civil war with plenty of murders and massacres already to the discredit of both sides, it may not be too cynical to submit that chemical weapons -- when used -- are mostly being used for their propaganda value as "proof" of the bestial nature of the foe. We require no further proofs about either side.