Despite warnings from the Russian government, US, UK and France coordinated to launch strikes against targets within Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Over the span of several centuries, Syria, which was at the forefront of the Islamic Caliphate witnessed multiple invasions and occupations. The Romans to the Crusaders and the Turks have tried to gain control of the region.
The Syrian Civil War has been going on since 2011. It began during the Arab Spring protests and due to resentment towards the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The war is being fought by several factions: the Syrian government and its allies, a loose alliance of Sunni Arab rebel groups (including the Free Syrian Army), the majority-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with a number of countries in the region and beyond being either directly involved, or rendering support to one or another faction.
The Syrian government has often been accused of conducting chemical warfare against its own citizens in rebel regions. In April 2017, news emerged of an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town. At least 74 people, including 11 children, were killed in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province. At the time, the Syrian government once again denied culpability and Russia backed the Assad government. US President Donald Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles in response just two days later.
Shortly after the attack was initiated, US President Donald Trump delivered a national address. He said, “A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. Last Saturday, the Assad regime again deployed chemical weapons to slaughter innocent civilians - this time in the town of Douma, near the Syrian capital of Damascus. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime. The evil and the despicable attack left mother and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”
Shortly after Trump's statement, UK Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement saying she had "authorized British armed forces to conduct coordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian Regime's chemical weapons capability and deter their use."
A statement released by the French President Emmanuel Macron, Friday, said that a "red line set by France in May 2017 has been crossed. So, I ordered the French armed forces to intervene tonight, as part of an international operation in coalition with the United States of America and the United Kingdom and directed against the clandestine chemical arsenal of the Syrian regime."
Meanwhile, Russia has aggressively signaled that any strike in Syria would be a step towards war with the United States. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia had warned western allies against taking any military action. He stated that if these countries did not refrain from taking military action in Syria, then he would not “exclude war” between America and Russia. "The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," he told reporters. "We hope there will be no point of no return."
Meanwhile, experts have begun sounding alarm regarding escalation in the region. The UN's secretary general Antonio Guterres said that the Cold War seems to be "back with a vengeance". "The Cold War is back with a vengeance, but with a difference," he said. "The mechanisms and the safeguards to manage the risks of escalation that existed in the past no longer seem to be present."
Assad and Kremlin have maintained that the chemical attack was a farce or “fake news.” Syria has suggested that the government is being set up. In an extraordinary turn of events, Russia has now blamed UK of staging this attack in Syria. The Russian Defense Ministry accused Britain of staging a fake chemical attack in a Syrian town outside Damascus. This charge has been vehemently denied by Britain as a “blatant lie.”
Mixed reactions from Senators
Lawmakers in America either applauded President for initiating action or expressed concern on whether he had the legal authority to do so. Senator John McCain stated, “I applaud the President for taking military action against the Assad regime for its latest use of chemical weapons, and for signaling his resolve to do so again if these heinous attacks continue. I am grateful to our British and French allies for joining us in this action.” He added, “To succeed in the long run, we need a comprehensive strategy for Syria and the entire region. The President needs to lay out our goals, not just with regard to ISIS, but also the ongoing conflict in Syria and malign Russian and Iranian influence in the region.”
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine was highly critical noting, “Trump’s decision to launch airstrikes against Syria without Congress’s approval is illegal. We need to stop giving presidents a blank check to wage war. Today it’s Syria, but what’s going to stop him from bombing Iran or North Korea next?”
Our assessment is that these strikes could end up sparking a chain reaction in Middle East. It is likely that Russia would respond to these attacks and that would result in a sustained and prolonged conflict between US and Russia. As we have stated earlier, as two of the most powerful military powers in the world, a military conflict between the two would prove to be dangerous for the world.
There are also other implications. This strike against Syria is likely to cause concern in Iran and North Korea – two countries that have tense ties with the US. Would North Korea be less willing to de-nuclearize as a result of this?
Some experts have also claimed that the Syrian strikes are also a diversion orchestrated by the US President Donald Trump as he grapples with multiple scandals domestically.