In his initial reaction to the raid in which 100-plus Tomahawks missiles hit Syria on April 13, when Bashar Assad remarked that it signified the “failure of the West,” he fortuitously touched upon a sensitive point, upside down.
On the contrary, it’s a sudden reawakening: America, France and the United Kingdom—beacons of democracy throughout history and the champions of human rights, especially after the great world wars—collectively decided to prevent further atrocities against human beings and acted together on a joint mission of justice: to not only punish, but also to prohibit the use of chemical and biological weapons. The history of toxic weapons is engraved in the numerous images of soldiers in the trenches of Europe during World War I and World War II, in the gas chambers used by the Nazis, in the massacre of Iranians by the Iraqis during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war, and in the Scud missiles that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s launched on the Jewish people in the first months of 1991 after the United States went into Kuwait to evict the Iraqi invaders (Israelis always have gas masks ready for use).
Today, we see newborn Syrian children who, and not for the first time, try to breathe while crying.
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 later supplemented by the Biological Weapons Convention, 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.
Now, the Tomahawks and other missiles have quite rightly, together with French and British weapons, taken out Syria’s chemical program—its storage and equipment facilities, as well as research centers located in the suburbs of Damascus (76 missiles) and Homs (29 missiles). It was a raid that was, as U.S. President Trump boasted, “justified, legitimate and proportionate,” and above all, “perfectly executed,” which indicates superb intelligence and outstanding military organization.
This strike has saved lives. And it was careful to avoid provoking both the Russians and Iranians, whose facilities were well-circumvented. The goal was solely to target Assad’s chemical facilities. It’s not true that the missiles didn’t reach their targets; the Syrians fired, but they weren’t able to intercept them. Various military bases were evacuated, Syrians who were stationed at some left and sought refuge among the Russians, and even the Iranians evacuated areas and bases, as if they had been warned. But will nothing change for Assad, as we’ve heard reiterated? No, even though the practical details of his expulsion from the world scene are associated with giving reassurances to Russia, which will continue to set its sights on the Mediterranean. No one will want to pose this question in the short term, and the practical details still need be worked out, but certainly Vladimir Putin is not attached to Assad. Rather, Assad is hereby confirmed, with this coalition’s joint operation, as an unwanted beast that attracts responses upon Syria that can make a pyre, and Putin surely isn’t very pleased.
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 his being supported and encouraged by 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 paradoxical accusation.
At present, we haven’t heard a peep from the Arab world, apart from the Palestinians, who are all fervently anti-Trump. Previously, Trump announced that he intended to leave Syria; developments, however, didn’t permit him. Now given Iran’s aggressiveness using the Syrian border for its genocidal intent against Israel—and given the development of American relations with those Arab countries most concerned about Iran’s presence in Syria, like Saudi Arabia—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.”
There’s not much to say beyond what’s evidently clear at this point: It will be difficult to reverse course now. It has opened up a front that calls into question seven years of arrogance in Syria, which the United States, France and Britain have roughly 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, served in 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). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.