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A strike to strengthen Assad

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad [En.kremlin.ru]
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad [En.kremlin.ru]

After heated tweets and large deployments with his Western allies, the American President, Donald Trump, along with Britain and France attacked targets and sites associated with Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. This was the long-awaited response to Al-Assad’s attack on Douma with chemical weapons, killing more than 70, including women and children, and suffocating dozens.

The American attack, described by some as clinical, does not seem different to what it was expected to be. Everyone knows that Trump has not showed great enthusiasm to further interfere in the Syrian conflict. He had announced, before the chemical attack, his desire to withdraw his troops from Syria, despite the reservations expressed by senior military officials in his administration. He is also still trying to rein in the investigations that are moving fast towards convicting his team of allowing Russian intervention in the elections that won him the White House.

The joint military strike carried out by the US, Britain and France, and which received international blessings, was not designed to overthrow Al-Assad’s regime, as the three countries announced. They also weren’t interested in destroying the regime’s air bases, airports and military sites that are most likely used to launch attacks on cities and areas under the control of the opposition. Instead, these attacks focused on trying to weaken the chemical weapons’ infrastructure possessed by the regime, meaning that the international community does not yet think it is time to overthrow the Syrian despot’s regime.

Read: Air strikes send a message to the Russians not to Assad

In a tweet posted early Saturday morning by Trump, after the attack, he wrote, “mission accomplished” without mentioning what the mission was. Does he think that destroying Al-Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles would prevent him from obtaining large amounts of these weapons given Russia and Iran’s sponsorship? Does Trump think that even if Al-Assad were unable to obtain chemical weapons to attack his people he would not resort to attacking the people with traditional weapons? One explosive barrel attack on a Syrian city resulted in many more victims than the number of victims resulting from the use of chemical weapons, so why is the use of chemical weapons banned while the use of other weapons is not?

A caricature of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad feeding children toxic waste.

A caricature of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad feeding children toxic waste.

I will not be answering such questions, which are being raised, but any attack that does not eliminate the Assad regime or knock it out of the governing game, only makes it stronger, as well as strengthening its supporters, Russia and Iran. Moreover, the attacks like the one which occurred on Saturday prove that the international community still sees Al-Assad as president of Syria and that if Al-Assad surrenders his chemical weapons, the international community would not mind re-polishing the ugly face of this regime.

The tripartite military strike on the Syrian regime’s sites indicates an American and Western desire to restore balance to Syria by confronting the Russian and Iranian influence. However, even this message does not seem accurate, especially since the attacks did not target Iranian sites in Damascus and the surrounding areas. It also avoided the Russian presence in Syria, not to mention the fact that the American-Russian contact was not cut off before or during the attack. It was also reported that Washington did not reveal the list of targets to Moscow, but it is unsure how accurate this it.

Trump linked any military attack against Al-Assad’s regime to the regime’s use of chemical weapons. This is a very dangerous message, which Al-Assad seemed to have received since the US attacked the Shayrat airport a year ago, after the regime bombed Khan Sheikhoun using chemical weapons. Therefore, we may witness a fierce war over the city of Idlib, for which the regime and its militias are preparing for. In addition to this, the Iranian Supreme Leader’s advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati, threatened this during his visit to Syria right before the western strike.

Read more: Assad’s chemical weapons between Russian denial and US sanctions

The dangerous message received by Al-Assad’s regime and its allies warns that a new violent event will befall the Syrian people in Idlib and perhaps in Qalamon before that. At that point, it does not seem that Trump and his western allies will be interested in confronting Al-Assad’s brutality, if it refrains from using chemicals against Idlib or any other area.

Besides being interested in the oil-rich areas in Syria, the US is interested in limiting the Iranian influence in the country. It seems that Trump’s administration, which refuses to get involved in Middle Eastern conflicts, will leave this job to Israel’s air force, which upset Damascus with an airstrike on the T-4 Airbase, where it seems to have hit Iranian forces.

The military strikes on the Assad regime, which do not aim to remove Al-Assad from power, will only strengthen him, as the blind international community is no longer strongly opposed to this murderer remaining head of the regime. Perhaps what the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman said is the biggest proof of this, as he does not see Al-Assad’s remainder as president as a problem as long as he is not a puppet in the hands of Iran.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 16 April 2018

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

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