In addition to being forbidden in all circumstances and situations, we did not understand the reasoning of the Syrian regime in using prohibited chemical weapons against the civilians in Idlib. The regime’s forces were not in a critical position there, and the targeted region was not a strategic gain in the civil war. It is not clear why the regime defied the international community that is now standing by it for the first time since the eruption of the revolution more than six years ago!
So why did the regime use poison gas against civilian neighborhoods, killing children and women? Why did it commit a serious crime that might lead to an international trial? Why did the regime do it knowing that it would embarrass the governments of Western countries that adopted a willing position to accept its persistence in Syria, contrary to the opinion of humanitarian and human rights organizations as well as a large public of intellectuals and people in the West?
In fact, there is only one motive behind this heinous crime: the regime’s allies, whether the Russians or the Iranians, want to test the limits and decision taking ability of US President Donald Trump. They maybe want to weaken him, especially that he has already criticized the former US administration for its weakness regarding the previous chemical attack.Abdulrahman al-Rashed
In fact, there is only one motive behind this heinous crime: the regime’s allies, whether the Russians or the Iranians, want to test the limits and decision taking ability of US President Donald Trump. They maybe want to weaken him, especially that he has already criticized the former US administration for its weakness regarding the previous chemical attack.
What can the US president do? Will he resort to punishing the Syrian regime directly, as Israel usually does when it considers that the Assad regime is crossing the red line? Will he take a countermeasure by arming the Syrian opposition for example, or he would merely issue a reprimand and warning that does not oblige his government to do anything in the future if the regime does it again?
It is a very difficult test for Trump who has been dragged into multiple internal battles, and may be afraid to be dragged into an external battle that would drown him in shifting sands on both fronts.
In my opinion, the chemical attack on Idlib may only be the beginning of a series of attacks that Trump’s opponents are plotting against him. It would not be surprising to see naval confrontations in the Gulf, kidnappings of Americans in Lebanon, or targeting US forces in Iraq that are engaged in a war against ISIS. Iran can do all that as it has already done in the early 1980s, when a proxy (Hezbollah) took over in Lebanon and kidnapped a number of American diplomats and academics. Hezbollah has also bombed the Marines headquarters in Beirut. And when Iran got into a disagreement with France, Iran’s proxies also carried out bloody operations targeting civilians in Paris. These attacks are no less horrifying than what was committed recently by ISIS in Europe.
Thus, Tehran and Moscow are studying the reactions of Washington regarding the heinous crime of Idlib: How will Trump handle it and to what extent can he go?
This is a very difficult test for Trump administration. In my opinion, the administration should have proven its power before compromising for Damascus axis, and not the contrary. The Syrian moderate opposition should be armed to send a message that the war in Syria can be altered and made difficult for everyone, not only for the civilians.
The chemical attack on Idlib must worry many parties, because it suggests that the regime intends to expand the circle of confrontation, not as some would think that it is longing for peace.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on April 7, 2017.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.