A new catastrophic phase in the Syrian carnage

US President Donald Trump signs more overtime pay for the US Secret Service, April 6 2018. White House photo, by Shealah Craighead

At a time when Donald Trump, the US President of ‘America first’ had just urged his military to leave Syria, the gas attack in Douma, near Damascus seems to change the prospect for Washington abandoning this country to Assad, Putin, Erdogan and the Iranians. Last Saturday, more than 60 people died and about 1000 were severely wounded in this tormented Syrian city, the last ditch of anti-Assad rebels in the area of Eastern Ghouta, close to capital Damascus. It was the first province seven years ago to have risen against the Assad regime. Independent sources say poisonous gas bombs spread a deadly mix of sarin and chlorine, but this has not been confirmed by independent bodies.

Trump accused Assad and the Russians for the gas attack and actually he has even mentioned President Putin possibly as personally responsible. “This is about humanity. We’re talking about humanity. It can’t be allowed to happen” he said. According to Reuters, when asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin may be responsible for the attack, Trump replied, “He may, yeah, he may. And if he does it’s going to be very tough, very tough.”

Washington threatens Moscow

The Russians and the Assad regime have denied any implication in the attack. They accused the Americans of staging the whole affair in order to create a justification base for a strike. In any case, the relevant UN body has already “documented 33 chemical attacks in Syria, attributing 27 to the Assad government, which has repeatedly denied using the weapons”. One year ago, the Americans fired a ballistic missile from a ship in the Eastern Mediterranean and hit a key Assad government/Russia military air base, bringing the confrontation with Moscow to a dangerous point. Reportedly, on that occasion, the airplanes which had fired gas bombs had flown form that airport.

This time, however, it’s rather Israel to have instantly responded to that. According to well informed sources, F-15 Israeli airplanes flying in Lebanon’s air space, hit a Syrian government air base near the city of Homes. Reportedly, 14 people were killed in this Tivas or T-4 air base. Unconfirmed information says a number of Iranians were amongst the victims. If this is so, the Israeli attack makes sense, given that Tel Aviv has repeatedly accepted striking positions in Syria at times and places where the Iranian fighters’ presence was very strong.

A poisonous atmosphere

Still, to this day, it has not being defined what kind of poisonous gas was used last Saturday in Douma, or even if there was a gas attack at all as the Assad/Russia side alleges. Only the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based in the Netherlands can do that in a reliable way. The experts of this last body have ascertained in the past – not without difficulties in accessing the right cites – that the Assad regime has used sarin and chlorine poisonous gases against the rebels. On those occasions, Damascus had answered that the government forces had confronted mustard gas attacks by the ISIS-Islamic State fighters.

Whatever the results of a future UN or OPCW forensics examination in Douma, the truth remains that only hours after the alleged gas attack, the Assad government/Russia forces completed the occupation of the entire Eastern Ghouta region, adjacent to Damascus. All along the seven years war, this region was held by rebels confronting successfully the Assad regime. By regaining control of this area, Damascus secures its grip in the entire south east part of the country. It’s a major win for the regime and its backers in Moscow, comparable to the taking of Aleppo.

Russian gains

In one word, the Damascus government and its Russian supporters become so far the real winners of the war, securing the control of more than half of the Syrian soil. By the same token, the US plus France and Britain intervention in the Syrian affair failed to accomplish its strategic target, to chase away Assad. He and his regime now proves that there cannot be a final political solution to the entire Syrian problem without him and his Russian backers.

No wander then why Washington, together with Paris and London felt obliged to raise the issue of the alleged gas attack high and actually threaten Russia with direct military retaliation. Last Monday, Trump went as far as to say that the White House will soon answer with force and that “the United States had a lot of options militarily on Syria”. However, even if the US decide to hit a major Assad military target with missiles fired from ships sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean, the military situation on the ground won’t change. Assad and Moscow will remain on the winning side. The West’s insistence to ‘punish’ those who fired the poisonous gas bombs is then just a face saving gesture. Not to forget, Trump only one week ago had urged his military leaders to prepare a full withdrawal from Syria.

The US won’t leave

Undoubtedly though, there are other voices within the American administration and of course in Tel-Aviv, rejecting any idea of an American departure from Syria. Israel is watching with horror its deadly enemies in Tehran, having constructed a well controlled corridor from the Iranian borders, through north Iraq and Syria and from there to Lebanon and the Mediterranean with the Iran affiliated Hezbollah. This last Shiite organization, a very close ally of Tehran, is the most powerful political/military movement in Lebanon, effectively retaining a grip on the country’s future.

Actually, this reality has led both Israel and Saudi Arabia to come to terms between them and start a close political and security cooperation. Their aim is to jointly put a stop to the growing Middle East influence of their common arch enemy, Iran. This said, the strong sway of Israel in the US Administration and the decisive presence of the Jewish community in the US and more so in the White House will certainly neutralize Trump’s natural isolationist tendencies. As a result, the US won’t abandon Syria and probably will increase its implication in renewed and toughened fighting.

Unfortunately, all that means there is no end to the woes of the already dismembered country and her ill-fated people.

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