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April 22, 2018 2:57 pm

A Wake-Up Call on Syria

avatar by Fiamma Nirenstein /

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Members of the Syrian police hold their weapons as they sit on a back of a truck in Douma, April 16, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ali Hashisho. – In his initial reaction to the raid in which 100-plus Tomahawk missiles hit Syria on April 13, Bashar Assad remarked that it signified the “failure of the West.” He fortuitously touched upon a sensitive point — albeit the wrong way round.

Far from a failure, the strike represents a sudden reawakening: America, France, and the United Kingdom collectively decided to prevent further atrocities and acted together on a joint mission of justice: to not only punish but also to prevent the use of chemical and biological weapons.

The history of such weapons is engraved in the numerous images of soldiers in the trenches of Europe during World War I, the gas chambers used by the Nazis, the massacre of Iranians by the Iraqis during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s slaughter of his Kurdish citizens.

In 1925, the Geneva Protocol was signed by most of the world’s countries in order to ban the use of chemical weapons. In 1972, the protocol was supplemented by the Biological Weapons Convention, which has been in effect since 1975, and the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which went into effect in 1997. Syria also signed this treaty. It prohibits the production, development, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons, and orders their destruction.

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Now, the Tomahawks and other missiles have quite rightly taken out Syria’s chemical weapons program — its storage and equipment facilities, as well as research centers located in the suburbs of Damascus and Homs. It was a raid that was, as President Donald Trump said, “justified, legitimate, and proportionate,” but above all “perfectly executed.” This indicates superb intelligence and outstanding military organization.

The strike has saved lives. And it was careful to avoid provoking both the Russians and Iranians, whose facilities were circumvented. The goal was solely to target Assad’s chemical facilities. The Syrians tried but were unable to intercept the missiles. Various military bases were evacuated. Syrians who were stationed at some fled and sought refuge among the Russians. Even the Iranians evacuated areas and bases — at least temporarily.

But will nothing change for Assad, as we’ve heard reiterated? No one will want to pose this question in the short term, and the practical details still need be worked out, but at the very least, in my view, Vladimir Putin is not attached to Assad.

Trump was wrong to proclaim in a tweet “Mission Accomplished.” Assad has been able to retain power for so long due to two reasons: his savage mania for control, which has led him to kill hundreds of thousands of his own people; and support and encouragement from Iran. This week, Iran was the first, along with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, to run to his rescue with statements that accuse the coalition of violating international law — a rather ironic accusation. Russia has also been an Assad supporter and made similar statements.

At present, we haven’t heard a peep from the Arab world, apart from the Palestinians, who are all fervently anti-Trump. Previously, Trump had announced that he intended to leave Syria. Now, given Iran’s aggressive use of the Syrian border against Israel and the development of American relations with those Arab countries most concerned about Iran’s presence in Syria, it seems highly unlikely that the mission is truly over. Israel has already said that it will not let Iran establish a military front on its border. Russia will want to make its voice heard, albeit with caution, in the new situation, even if it plays lip service to the “war on terrorism” and “aggression against the government of a foreign state.”

It seems clear at this point that it will be difficult to reverse course now. A new front has been opened that calls into question seven years of arrogance in Syria, which the United States, France, and Britain have finally taken into account.

Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice-president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies. She also served at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including Israel Is Us (2009). She is currently a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This article was translated by Amy Rosenthal.

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