On 7 April 2018, the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Douma was subjected to a chemical weapons attack, killed more than 42 residents and affected more than 500. Although activists inside Douma, the U.S.-based Syrian American Medical Society, and Syria Civil Defence have provided initial information about the attack, so far, no nonpartisan international bodies have confirmed or presented concreate evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for the chemical weapon use.
The Syrian government has repeatedly employed chemical agents against areas under rebel control. Based on the information gathered by the independent sources, the Syrian government is responsible for the majority of 85 confirmed chemical weapon attacks. It is obvious that the efforts of the United Nations Security Council, the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the Western powers have failed in deterring the Syrian government to use of chemical weapons. Albeit the Syrian government and its backers, Russia and Iran, refused to face the reality in alleged chemical attack in Duma, the U.S. State Department declared that the symptoms of victims in a suspected chemical gas attack in Douma were consistent with those caused by an asphyxiation or nerve agent.
Timing always matters in the game of thrones. After Trump signalled his ultimate intent to withdraw from Syria, some argue that the regime and its backers are likely to test the US responsiveness. Others who have great concerns over Iran’s role in the region hold that the US must directly involve in Syrian crisis. In this regard, we should recall Israeli airstrike that hit Syria’s T-4 airbase. Israel has declined to comment. Certainly, Israel will be benefited most by a comprehensive US-led military campaign in Syria beyond ISIS, deterring use of chemical weapons, and degrading Iranian hegemony.
Following the chemical attack, as expected, Trump ordered a proportional military strike to “degrade the Syrian military’s ability to conduct further chemical weapons attacks and to dissuade the Syrian regime from using or proliferating chemical weapons.” Since the 2003 Iraq War, the largest military strike package was heading towards Syria. Surprisingly, its closest ally, Britain, first stated that more evidence needed before joining a military strike against the regime, but now May tries to win the backing of the cabinet to join in military action. Differ from the UK, at the very first stage of the increased tension between the US and Syrian -and its backers-, France repeatedly highlighted its own red line, threatening to strike if banned chemical weapons are used and currently agreed with the US on “coordinate a strong, joint response”.
Turkey’s stance on the current escalation in Syria is a contradictory one. Erdogan said “Turkey’s traditional ties to the West and growing ties to Russia and Iran were no obstacles to Ankara pointing out their mistakes”. However, Erdogan regime’s eager rapprochement policy with Russia and Iran as a NATO member, has caused distrust rather than neutrality. Definitely, in a great-power conflict no party forgives and forgets its so-called “neutral stance”. Therefore, we could foresee that Turkey would be one of the biggest losers at the end of the day.
Turning to the Russia-Assad-Iran coalition, no doubt that Moscow is preparing to counter any military strike and has already warned that it does not hesitate to shoot back at US-led missiles, warships and jets if they strike against Syria. Moreover, the so-called coalition has been relocating its military assets and personnel in advance of an expected US-led military strike. More broadly, it is obvious that the Russia-Assad-Iran coalition’s war efforts including using chemical weapons, and their rapprochement with Turkey pose a grave threat to stability and security of the region, undermine NATO cohesion and defence posture, and fuel the refugee crisis which endangers the stability in Europe.
On this basis, we could predict that the US, the UK, France, and their possible allies want to punish not only Syria but its backers. But, but a crucial but, if the US-led military strike is not limited to Syrian targets, in other words, Trump administration intends to deter further aggression of Russia, break the Iranian influence and expel Iranian proxies, it would be crystal clear that this elevates the Syrian crisis to another level and there could be a spill-over risk from the region to the globe.
On the other hand, taking Macron’s last-minute effort and hotline between the US and Russia into consideration, we could hold that this will be a military action against Syrian targets, because behind the scenes no party involving directly in the crisis wants an escalation beyond that. It seems that the US and its allies will do their best to avoid any Russian casualties. More precisely, the signals of a proportional military response, “early warning!”, and ongoing communication between the Western powers and Russia make it clear that the ultimate purpose of the US-led strike will most likely not to topple the Syrian government but to punish and deter chemical weapons use.
Admittedly, even if the new round of strikes cost the Syrian capacity to launch further chemical attacks, evidently this option would not be strong enough to bring the Syrian war to a stable end and limit Iranian influence over Syria, as Israel, a closest ally of the US in the region, repeatedly warned. So, we could estimate that although the escalation could be an opportunity to leverage international sanctions against Russia and Iran, due to the fact that apparently Israeli interests and those of the US are not fully aligned, Israel itself and its diaspora would increase their pressure on the US to do more in Syria.