Sunday, April 09, 2017

The Dangerous War Games of the Middle East

"The Syrian people? The Syrian people are very happy now. This should have been done a long time ago."
"This might push Russia and Iran and the Syrian regime and send them the message that they have to stop the open massacres that have been happening in Syria for six years now. [The U.S. missile attack's message is] that there is no solution by war and by weapons."
"It [missiles hitting Al Shayrat air base] was a bombing, but this time there were no injured civilians. It was a military installation. We are happy. It means it might begin to push a political solution."
George Sabra, founding president of the revolutionary Syrian National Council

"Assad had an air force, and that air force is the cause of most of the civilian deaths, as we have seen over the years, and as we saw again in the last few days."
"I really believe that we should have, and still should, take out his airfields, and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them."
Hillary Clinton, former Obama administration Secretary of State
The Tomahawk cruise missile is seen launched from the USS Porter vessel
According to US media, the strikes were carefully targeted to avoid hitting chemical weapons at the base.
The Trump administration took care to alert Moscow an hour before the 59 Tomahawk missiles were sent on their mission to the Syrian air base where U.S. intelligence had confirmed that Syrian war jets had taken off from, with their load of sarin gas-infused tanks to drop on the still-sleeping village of Khan Sheikhoun, killing 80-some-odd people, including 30 children, and leaving hundreds wounded and struggling for their lives. And as doctors in the local hospital did their utmost to save those lives several hours following the initial bombing, a second targeting the hospital took place.

Moscow, alerted, took steps to ensure that none of its planes would be in the vicinity. This was the agreement signed between Moscow and Washington to alert each other when aerial sorties were planned to ensure that no accidents between their respective nations' warplanes would ensue. (And which Moscow afterward abrogated in righteous rage.) Moscow then turned around and warned Bashar al Assad of the bombing to come, allowing Assad the opportunity to clear out of the base both troops and materiel, ensuring minimal damage would ensue.

The air base whose infrastructure was heavily damaged, still has undamaged runways. The runways were not targeted since they can be readily repaired, whereas the operations buildings and depots that were targeted would take considerable resources and time to replace.  In any event, the country, though in control of only one-third of its original territory, has a number of other air bases in operational order. Yet the Al Shayrat airbase is right back in use again.

And as though to tweak President Trump's nose in an arrogant show of one-upsmanship, the town of Khan Sheikhoun, still staggering under the hideous sarin gas attack and the death toll it took, has been hit by more bombings, whether that of Syrian or Russian warplanes has not yet been fully established. Clearly, a one-time slap on the back of the head via missiles will not be sufficient to persuade either Syria or Russia that they've gone beyond what can be tolerated in their choice of atrocities.

The political reality is that the bellicose posturing, the hostility and the violence, all of it conducted by volatile, unstable personalities grimly prepared to sacrifice countless human lives for their egotistical nationalistic dreams of privilege, power and entitlements to destroy civil society to achieve their goals have produced a dangerous setting where the next provocation could be the one that sets off a far wider conflict with far greater ramifications, sucking in a much larger group of participants, a situation the world can do without and shudders at the very prospect of.

The missile strikes could, however, be seen as a double rebuke, to both Vladimir Putin and Bashar al Assad, since it was under Mr. Putin's watch and patronage that Assad was permitted to indulge his personalized brutality against innocent civilians. As for the air base that was struck, it was used co-jointly by both Syrian and Russian planes. Russia had invested heavily in the upgrading of the airbase for that purpose; gone now in one fell swoop.

It can be guaranteed that China's President Xi Jinping was one astonished man, when directly after the conclusion of a state dinner in his honour as a visiting head of state to Washington, he was informed that his host had ordered a bombing attack in Syria on a regime installation. The other option in response to the chemical attack that took place two days earlier would have been yet another Security Council emergency meeting on the issue, and a resulting sanction that both Russia and China would have blocked.
An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017
The chemical-weapons issue speaks to the horror of the agonizing breakdown of the human body infused with a gas that neutralizes the body's central nervous system and breathing becomes impossible. Yet of the close-to-half-a-million Syrian lives that have been destroyed by this Syrian regime, it has been other types of bombs that have succeeded in swelling that body count; not just napalm, sarin and chlorine-laden bombs, but bombs crudely stuffed with sharp metal objects to exact maximum damage on soft human tissue on impact.

Now that Bashar al Assad and Vladimir Putin have a fairly good idea that new red lines have been imposed, these to be enforced expeditiously so that there can be no mistaking what they represent, it might be reasonable to suppose that they might consider more humane tactics in their future and ongoing disagreements with Syrian rebels reacting to their president's pathological course of violence. As though to dispel that naive conclusion, Syrian warplanes took little time to reconsider when they sped off the following morning on missions to bomb other rebel-held territories.
A man mourns as members of the White Helmets and other people search for survivors after a reported airstrike in Saqba.
A man mourns as members of the White Helmets and other people search for survivors after a reported airstrike in Saqba. Photograph: Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images

"Putin made a choice -- to underline that Assad is his ally. This will lead to Russia's further isolation, but Putin will stand his ground."
Alexander Morozov, independent political analyst

"Moscow's main problem is not that the U.S. made a strike but that Trump and Tillerson have toughened their rhetoric on Syria and Assad."
"They have said that Russia is responsible for Assad's actions and that it didn't fulfill its responsibilities in terms of chemical weapons disarmament."
Vladimir Frolov, foreign affairs analyst

"The rest of the pre-election fog has melted away. Instead of the mass circulated narrative about a joint fight against our main enemy, ISIL, the Trump administration has demonstrated that it will be fiercely fighting the legitimate government of Syria."
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev 
The Russian frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich. The ship, which is armed with cruise missiles, was reportedly entering the Mediterranean en route to a logistics site in Syria, Russian state media said.
The Russian frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich. The ship, which is armed with cruise missiles, was reportedly entering the Mediterranean en route to a logistics site in Syria, Russian state media said.

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