An attack, allegedly by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of civilians sparking an international outcry. Khan Sheikhoun is located in the region of Idlib, which has been an opposition/rebel bastion for the longest time. Assad had directed his troops to take over Idlib after the fall of Aleppo.
The regime is accused of gassing its civilians to death, an accusation the Syrian government continues to reject citing that they do not have any access to chemical weapons, whatsoever. There have been reports and sources who claim that the possibility of the involvement of a foreign “aggressor” in this attack cannot be ruled out. But, one hasn’t got enough clarity to even closely believe that a foreign power could be held responsible.
President Assad does have a history of chemical attacks in Syria. Back in 2011, Assad and his men killed 1000 civilians by unleashing a deadly chemical attack. The US’s effort to militarily intervene was resisted by the Congress and Russia intervened in the matter upon which Assad handed over stocks of weapons.
An emergency UNSC meeting was called for immediately after the deadly attacks in Idlib. Russia continued to defend Assad and his regime throughout the proceedings. One should note that Syria is Russia’s only Arab partner and Moscow will clearly go out of its way to ensure their interests are catered to in Damascus meaning Assad being reinstated back to power. Russia primarily accused the rebels and local jihadi groups behind the attack and additionally accused Turkey of violating Syrian sovereignty in a bid to take over Syrian territory close to the Turkish border.
The US-led international community strongly believes in an action for peace in Syria with Assad shown the door and by restricting his role to solely choosing his successor. The American Ambassador to the United Nations made very indirect, unclear references to a direct American attack on Syrian soil on account of inaction by the international community & the UN.
This was followed by the Americans launching a very heavy cruise missile attack on the Syrian airfield which is believed to be the genesis of Tuesday’s chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun at 4:40 am Syrian time on Thursday. There were 59 missiles that were launched from the East Mediterranean at the Al-Sharyat airfield close to Homs. The attacks seem to have caused significant damage to Syrian aircrafts, support infrastructure & equipment in the airbase.
This move defines a very important shift in Trump’s approach towards Assad. There was a time when Assad called Trump a “natural ally” and Trump slammed Obama’s potential ideas of striking on Syrian soil as a “strategic folly”. Today, the Trump Administration claims to have carried out these attacks in the interests of the US’s national security. He has urged the international community to unite against the growing terrorism in Syria. Note that this move of Trump hasn’t gone through congressional consent and ideally violates international laws.
The strikes have clearly sparked both outrage & support. Russia, Assad’s ally, has opposed the strikes and have called them as “American aggression on Syrian sovereignty-violating international law and on a made up pretext”. The Russian President’s spokesperson also additionally stated how Washington has made the joint international effort against ISIL all the more difficult and that these strikes will have some very serious damage inflicted on relations between Washington and Moscow.
Iran, another ally of President Assad, also has condemned these attacks and have stated how this will strengthen terrorists in Syria and make the situation not only in Syria but in the whole of the region more complex. Critics of these strikes have also called this an attempt by Trump to direct attention away from American strikes that killed civilians in Mosul, Iraq a few weeks back.
Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Australia and Israel have applauded the strikes and called them the need of the hour to tackle Assad and his barbaric acts. In fact, there are reports of how the Israeli military knew about the attack beforehand. The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces has also welcomed the strikes.
There are critics who claim that Trump’s decision to strike on Syria is fundamentally flawed considering Assad’s role in the chemical attacks is still disputed. Though the international community, independent journalists, activists and human rights organisations across the world believe him to be behind the attacks. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also claimed that there are steps underway to oust Assad from power and consolidate an international coalition to isolate and remove him diplomatically, the latter being opposed by Beijing and Moscow.
The purpose of this strike can be debatable. Either it could be a show of revenge against the chemical attacks, to banish Assad from power or to strip him of his chemical weaponry. But, what will this war do to Moscow and Washington? Do we need to gear up for more political & diplomatic tensions between the world’s two largest powers and not rule out the complete possibility of a fully blown war in near future? Will Syria be the last of tensions in the Middle East? What is Assad’s future? Too many questions to be dealt with.