After years of indifference the USA attacked a Syrian airfield firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at about 04:40 a.m. Syrian time (01:40 GMT) of Friday. They targeted aircraft, aircraft shelters, storage areas, ammunition supply bunkers and air defense systems at the Syrian government-controlled facility in Shayrat, according to the Pentagon. However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based opposition news service, said on Friday evening the base was already back in operation and aircraft had taken off and “struck targets near Palmyra”. [The veracity of their information has also been confirmed by all major media outlets.]
US officials say the base was used to launch a chemical weapons attack that killed 89 people, including 33 children and 18 women on Tuesday in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.
The U.S. attack was a delayed action, but was much welcomed and praised across the globe that has only seen massacre and carnage committed by the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad against the Syrian people. Shortly after the U.S. attack, some Arab social media users started referring to the U.S. president as Abu Ivanka – Father of Ivanka, as a sign of respect and endearment. Others referred to him as Abu Ivanka al-Amreeki – Father of Ivanka the American.
Many saw the attack as a just attack to sober a criminal regime that has gotten bolder year by year, mostly because of U.S. procrastination to engage in what it called the Syrian quagmire. The criminal regime has killed nearly half a million Syrians and created an unlivable milieu inside that has contributed to perhaps the largest mass migrations of the 21st century.
One user gave Trump an Arab makeover, with a meme of him wearing a traditional tarboosh hat (like a fez), with the words: “We love you.” He was also described as a “man of his words“, with one user telling him: “You did in a few months what Obama couldn’t do in 8 years.”
Many people are genuinely surprised at the U.S. attack. After all, four years ago when Assad launched a more brutal chemical attack against his own civilians, then civilian Donald Trump spoke out against US military involvement in Syria, instead calling for a greater focus on domestic interests. Just a week ago Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared to be following this new script when he downplayed calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal, saying his status “will be decided by the Syrian people”. His statement may have been interpreted by the criminal Nusayri Ba’athist regime as a green signal to continue its crimes against humanity.
Could Bashar al-Assad be duped into carrying out its sarin attack on the Syrian Sunnis in the rebel-held territories the same way Iraqi president (late) Saddam Hussein was duped into invading Kuwait when his diplomat was told by the U.S. ambassador that Iraq’s territorial dispute with Kuwait was an internal one? We may not know the answer soon, but we shouldn’t be surprised if Assad was tricked to repeat his crimes.
The Middle East has been turned into a major zone of conflict since at least the birth of Israel. The region has seen a few wars involving Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Syria allowing super powers like the USA and Russia to either directly or indirectly engage and meddle.
If one carefully analyzes their engagement what comes crystal clear is that none of these super powers cares about genuine peace in the region. They are for their self-interest, and like to keep the region volatile, weak and vulnerable so that they can sell their arms and ammunitions to these ever- nervous client states.
Russian friendship with Syria dates back to the time of Hafez al-Assad (father of Bashar) soon after he came to power. They are actively fighting in the Syrian civil war to keep the criminal regime survive. The US intelligence sources have told media they believe Russian personnel were at Shayrat when Sarin, a nerve agent, was loaded on to a Syrian jet but they have not established whether the Russians knew it was happening. It goes without saying that without their bombing campaigns Bashar would have been long removed from power. And yet when the Israelis carry out strikes against Hezbullah arms convoys and weapons stores inside Syria, Russia with some of its most modern surface-to-air missile systems at its air base in Syria and radars with a huge reach has not deterred Israeli strikes.
In 2013, the Syrian regime was losing the war. If the USA was serious about seeing the downfall of Assad there was never a better time. President Obama refrained from getting involved even after the deadly chemical attack by Assad’s forces against civilians.
[Note: In 2013, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime mounted a chemical attack using the nerve agent sarin on the Ghouta agricultural belt around Damascus. The then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as a war crime. Following that attack, much of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons was supposedly removed.
But there have been numerous claims of the use of chlorine gas, some of which have been substantiated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – the international body responsible for implementing the ban on such weapons. The Shayrat airbase was used to store chemical weapons until 2013, when the Syrian tyrant agreed to the destruction of the country’s declared chemical arsenal after his forces were accused of firing rockets filled with the nerve agent Sarin at rebel-held suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds of people. It is obvious that Russia has failed to ensure the complete dismantling of Syrian government’s chemical war agents.]
Is it possible that the USA’s attack comes at a time when Bashar seems strong and winning the civil war? If that be truly the case (and not peace) for Friday’s attack, then it would be sad for the entire region – a long, drawn-out war to weaken all the regional parties minus Israel.
In 2013, the New York Times reported on how Israel viewed the prospect of Obama bombing Assad’s forces: “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.” Prime minister Netanyahu’s views are no nobler either.
Can Abu Ivanka be trusted to stop the slaughter of the Syrians? Or, is he for the status quo? After all, Trump, the candidate, did say in a high profile debate in September, 2015: “ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.”
On Thursday, speaking from his Mar a Lago resort in Florida where he was meeting Chinese Premier Xi Jinping, president Trump said preventing and deterring the use of chemical weapons was in the “vital national security interest of the US”. “Tonight I call on all civilized nations in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types,” Trump said.
For the good of humanity, let’s pray and hope that President Trump’s position has changed for the better and that he is serious to stop Bashar’s war crimes. He acted this time when it was established that the Syrian regime has committed a war crime. No matter what motivated him, his decision to attack was a gift to all those dying Syrians who had been asking to protect them from a remorseless monster, something that President Obama failed to do since 2013. In doing so he has marked his distance from his predecessor, demonstrating that there is a new man in the White House.