The Case for a New Red Line on the Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria

March 9 2018

According to available estimates, over 500 people have been killed by Bashar al-Assad and his allies in the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta, an area close to Damascus. Besides artillery and barrel bombs, Syrian forces have also been using chlorine gas on the civilian population there. The editors of Bloomberg urge the U.S., and its Western allies, to take a stand:

The moral responsibility for Eastern Ghouta clearly belongs to the Syrian government and its primary sponsors, Iran and Russia. But the West has hardly covered itself in glory with its efforts to stop the atrocities.

First, it failed to get any serious sanctions against Syria at the United Nations Security Council. And then, of course, there was President Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” warning that the U.S. would respond militarily if Assad used chemical weapons on his people. The dictator called Obama’s bluff, one of the worst humiliations for U.S. foreign policy in the post-cold-war era. . . .

But the West hasn’t been [entirely] spineless. Last April, after a sarin-gas assault, President Donald Trump authorized a large-scale cruise-missile attack on a Syrian air base. At the time, many scoffed that this was a token effort that did relatively little harm to Syria’s military. But there has been no verified use of sarin in Syria since the U.S. struck back.

It’s time for another red line, one that the U.S. won’t back away from. Trump should tell Assad and his Russian backers that any more proved use of any chemical weapon, including chlorine, will be met with even greater retaliation than what happened in April. It certainly won’t end the fighting in Eastern Ghouta or across the country, but it may take away one of Assad’s most unconscionable methods of terrifying his citizens.

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More about: Chemical weapons, Politics & Current Affairs, Syria, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war