In the early hours of the morning on the 14th of April 2018 Syria came under attack yet again, this time from a combined strike by the United States, the United Kingdom and France. Not only was this attack completely illegal under international law, it was also a pointless failure and a waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to US intelligence services, the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the Damascus suburb of Douma. Not only is this verging on the impossible given that Syria gave up its chemical weapons to the west in 2013, but it would also be the height of stupidity and incompetence by the Assad government. Why would he do the one thing – a chemical attack – that could bring down the wrath of the West given that he is soundly winning the war? The premise is ludicrous.
It seems far more likely that the Islamist rebels in the suburb, Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) would use chemical weapons in order to bring about Western intervention against Assad, something that would be greatly beneficial to their cause and that of their primary financial backer, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – who have long wanted to topple the Syrian government.
Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Syria to verify whether a chemical attack had happened and who was ultimately responsible if so. They were due to begin their investigation in Douma today. The Russian government has suggested the attack on Syria was to prevent this investigation taking place, as there is almost no doubt the OPCW will vindicate the Syrian government or at least turn up totally inconclusive results.
Thankfully the attack on Syria was both limited in size and highly ineffective. The current estimates are that the combined forces of the US, UK and France fired around 120 missiles, of which an embarrassing 5 to 25 roughly reached their target (although the Pentagon denies this failure of course). Not only does this demonstrate the ineffectiveness of their armaments against Syrian air-defences but also that the strike was more for show than military effect. More details and exact numbers as well as the damage done will emerge in the coming days.
Similar to the slightly smaller attack in April of last year on the Shayrat Airbase after the equally unproven chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun (recently shown never to have happened), it seems likely that this attack was more for the appeasement of a domestic war-lobby and as a geopolitical gesture than an actual military operation with a goal.
Military analysts have largely agreed that for a Western attack on Syria to be in any way truly harmful to the Assad government, three to four hundred or more Tomahawk missiles (or equivalent) would need to be used.
We are lucky indeed that the US opted for the smaller scale show attack rather than a larger one, as that would have resulted in the involvement of Russia – which threatened to both shoot down American missiles if necessary and retaliate against the US Navy if Russian military personnel or equipment were targeted in the attack.
The world came extraordinarily close to a major conflict a few days ago. We should be thankful to those in the US cabinet who still have cool heads and pushed for the lesser military option, such as General Jim Mattis the Secretary of Defence – who is widely believed to have disagreed with John Bolton, the National Security Advisor and constant proponent of toppling Assad.
Of course any attack on Syria is an utter disgrace that puts thousands of lives at risk for the sake of geopolitical manoeuvring, but ultimately a major confrontation was avoided. The ramifications of a larger strike that could have resulted in the death of Russian military personnel do not bear thinking about, especially given their promise to destroy the ships that launched such an attack in response.
On the upside, it was heartening to see the highly negative response from across the political spectrum to these illegal attacks. Considerable numbers on both the left and right in the United States are opposed to this, with Trump’s anti-interventionist voter base the most dissatisfied. Unsurprisingly this was not reflected in mainstream media on both sides of the Atlantic who continued to push a pro-war agenda, with Sky News for example blatantly cutting off a former British general who dared question the legality and logicality of responding militarily based on unproven allegations.
Syria and Russia have of course condemned this violation of international law and promised reprisals of some form. The situation remains tense and prone to escalation, but if we look to the reaction of Damascus citizens who partied in the streets and on the roads throughout the night in support of their military and to celebrate the failure of the attack, then the worst would appear to be over.