The development comes on the heels of a joint vow by US president Donald Trump and France’s Emmanual Macron to take a “strong” response against Bashar al-Assad for what they insist was his use of chemical weapons against civilians over the weekend. So far however, no evidence to support the accusation that Assad was to blame has surfaced. Sputnik spoke to Middle East analyst, Ammar Waqqaf for more insight into the issue.
Sputnik: So firstly, what do you think the strategic rationale of this attack by Israel on Syria could be, and is it likely that it was carried out with some nudging by Washington?
Ammar Waqqaf: Well I think the nudging was there; we’ve just heard news that the United States was informed of the attack previous t it happening. We can’t see any objections being raised by the United States otherwise, probably, it wouldn’t have taken place. So yes, there was probably a nudge.
Israel since the downing of its F-16 a couple of months ago by Syrian air-defences have refrained so far from entering Syrian air space or carrying out any bomb attacks. It’s using we think the incident in Douma, the alleged chemical attack, the fury of international public opinion, condemnation and so and so forth to align itself with the forces of, quote ‘good’ unquote, against the forces of evil, quote unquote. So this is what we think is happening.
Sputnik: Do you expect to see attacks directly from the US and France, as they have said they will do, and could this mark the beginning of a more assertive Western intervention into Syria do you think?
Ammar Waqqaf: Well the rationale we’re hearing at the moment is slightly different from what it used to be a year ago when Khan Shekoun took place. Or indeed a few years ago when the huge Ghouta chemical attack took place in August 2013. We’re currently hearing less of a hawkish tone: they want investigations, we’ve heard the British Prime Minister at the moment saying Russia should not block any investigations anymore.
There’s a Security Council meeting this afternoon in order to, probably specifically, ask for such a proper investigation and what have you. So, whether they have in mind something for later on, should this investigation be blocked, or should it indeed prove anything, we don’t know. But, we don’t think that they have the intention so far to do any strike because it would not serve any interest.
In 2013 had the US carried out an attack on Syria, one could argue that it could have turned the war upside down toward its allies, be very decisive in orchestrating the fall of the Syrian government. Now, you just cannot see anything happening of that sort. Douma is going to be evacuated from Islamic militants, no matter what happens. Indeed there won’t be any investigation until those militants are cleared away, we think.
What tide could be turned, we don’t know. What sort of strategic interests would they gain by carrying out a strike, we don’t know. So, it doesn’t seem likely, but what is likely is to use whatever pressure they have up their sleeves in order to coerce certain results on the political front in terms of forcing the Syrian government’s hands and its allies.
Sputnik: Of course the West is citing the use of chemical weapons against civilians as its reason for at least threatening to intervene, but how substantial is the evidence that these were used by the Syrian government against civilians over the weekend?
Ammar Waqqaf: Well first of all we’ve seen the videos and it does show that the people were being treated, were subject to some sort of unnatural material, whatever it is. So one would suspect that the chemical attack, did take place. It’s not an ‘alleged’ attack.
However who did it is quite something that is unproven. We know that Jaish al-Islam, an Islamic militant group that is still holding what the Syrian government would argue the people of Douma as hostages for the past five years. We know that they have chlorine gas and that they’ve used it before, and that they’ve acknowledged using it before in Aleppo in the Sheikh Maqsood area on the 7th of April 2016.
There was a huge plume of yellow smoke, it’s there on video, everybody saw it and Sheikh Maqsood at the time was populated by Kurdish militia. Immediately after the attack, Jaish al-Islam sort of acknowledged in a statement that one of their commanders up North used an unauthorised weapon. So we know that they have the material. Whether they did it in order to stir up international condemnation, and probably to lead to something, like a military strike or more pressure on the Syrian government, we don’t know.
Common sense would say if Douma is going to surrender anyway within a couple of days using conventional weapons, why on earth would the Syrian government want to use chemical weapons against civilians just to stir up international condemnation? It doesn’t really make sense. So we don’t know.
There’s something hidden that is not very clear and we have to take more than one view of the incident. We just cannot say ‘this is the Syrian government, we know that they can do it,’ and then build up from there. We have to say that Jaish al-Islam obviously possesses such weapons and do they really care much about the civilians in Ghouta? Had they cared much, they probably would have evacuated months ago, if not years.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Ammar Waqqaf and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.