Will US respond ‘forcefully’ to Syrian chemical attack?

Israeli analysts expressed concern over Washington’s  mixed messages, highlighting the overarching imperative to prevent Iranian expansionism in Syria.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News, with AP

US President Donald Trump was poised Tuesday to decide on possible military action against the Syrian regime, after vowing to respond “forcefully” to the latest alleged chemical atrocity in the country’s bloody civil war, despite strong warnings from Damascus-ally Russia.

The United States, backed by Britain and France, has said it is ready to act with or without support from the United Nations, where the Security Council was to vote as early as Tuesday on rival US and Russian proposals to probe chemical attacks in Syria.

Trump met with his cabinet and then dined with top generals Monday, telling reporters “we have a lot of options militarily and we’ll be letting you know pretty soon … probably after the fact.”

Washington and Moscow set out starkly different positions at a stormy emergency session at the UN Security Council, where Russia’s ambassador Vassily Nebenzia warned that the possibility of US military action was “very, very dangerous.”

Nebenzia rejected a US call for the world body to set up a probe to identify the perpetrators of what rescuers called a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” late Saturday in the enclave of Douma, near Damascus. But US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the “world must see justice done.”

“History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria,” Haley declared.

Diplomats said the United States was pushing for a vote on Tuesday on its draft resolution setting up a Syria gas attacks inquiry, but Russia could veto the measure.

Rescuers and medics in Douma say more than 40 people died after the suspected poison gas attack in the last rebel held pocket of the one-time opposition stronghold of Eastern Ghouta.

In April last year, Trump launched a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base after a previous chemical weapons attack UN monitors later blamed on Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Bottom line is ‘prevention of Iranian expansion’

Syrian expert Dr. Jonathan Spyer told World Israel News (WIN), “There appears to be no doubt that the Syrians did use chlorine gas in its latest usage of chemical weapons. They have done do regularly. This time the amount of chlorine was apparently even more devastating than usual, and the result was many deaths.”

“Punishing Assad with an air strike here or there will not be a game changer to impact his behavior. The real issue is the overall US strategy in Syria. Just days ago Trump announced that he would pull out American troops. That’s the wrong message to send. They said they want to withdraw, and now they say they want to punish Assad. You cannot do both at the same time. That’s just a mess,” said Spyer.

Currently there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, working mostly as advisers to the Kurdish dominated Syrian Defense Forces battling the Islamic State in northern Syria.

Dan Diker from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs told WIN that he expects a strong US response to the chemical attack, and hopes that the US president will fully walk back his declared intention to pull its troops out of Syria.

“The Trump administration is filling the Middle East void created by the Obama administration. The current administration generally has a stronger understanding of the dangers. The US military presence in Syria has a stabilizing influence for the Kurdish areas. A pullout would be devastating for the Kurds and for Israel as well. John Bolton is now Trump’s National Security Advisor and I know that he is giving strong advice about preventing and counteracting the expansionist Iranian presence in Syria,” said Diker.

Veteran Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger told WIN, “The US should act in accordance with its own national security interests. That requires neutralizing Iranian expansion threatening, checking recent Russian entrenchment, enhancing ties with Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Refraining from an assertive profile plays into hands of global adversaries. The US should resist the option of isolationism. The world is a global village.”

Using a football analogy Ettinger said, “The closer you push toward the enemy’s goal line, the closer you are to scoring a touchdown. On the other hand if they allow the enemy to advance into their territory, they will always be on the defensive. The bottom line is the prevention of Iranian expansion.”