It’s the tragic Islamic insurgency that has internally and externally displaced more than 9.5 million Syrians in total and killed more than 400,000 others, and just last week, it took an even worse turn.
On April 4, 2017, extremely graphic video footage and photographs emerged of children suffering from what appeared to be a chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Idlib, which has been under the total control of anti-Assad Islamist militants since 2015.
The footage and photographs were quickly spread around the world through social media and then by media outlets. Confronted with such heart-breaking scenes, objectivity and reason quickly dissipated as emotions ran high.
Donald Trump’s response was no exception.
Within 48 hours of learning of the attack, and with no investigation, UN approval or Congressional oversight, an impassioned decision was made to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air force base that had been used by Russia and Syria to fight ISIS.
Immediate military action was taken without any investigation, or consideration of the facts on the ground. This was unprecedented. Even after the 9/11 attacks – which killed nearly 3,000 American civilians – there was an investigation.
Putting Trump’s erratic nature aside, it’s important to note that his decision to take action quickly might have been motivated by the fact that a full investigation might have ended with the administration getting egg on its face.
April 4 was not the first time that Assad had been falsely blamed for using chemical weapons against his own people. In August 2013, civilians were killed by chemical gas in Ghouta.
Following that attack, Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said that given the evidence, the culprits were the Islamist insurgents , who Bashar al-Assad’s army was fighting.
Nonetheless the nations with vested interests in seeing Assad removed from power persisted with their accusations.
And so, on 10 September 2013, the Syrian government accepted a US–Russian negotiated deal to turn over “every single bit” of its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction and declared its intention to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The destruction of all chemical weapons stockpiles were subsequently recorded and verified in 2013 by the OPCW, a specialised UN body.
So if the UN verified as far back as 2013 that the Syrian Army/Bashar al-Assad did not have any chemical weapons, then who was responsible for the April 4 attack in Idlib?
Even before being pressed for answers, the Syrian Air Force admitted to carrying out an air strike in Idlib, and said a warehouse was targeted. Supposing that there were chemical weapons stored inside this warehouse in rebel-held Idlib, one must question not only what children were doing in its vicinity, but why the rebels did not declare these weapons to the United Nations.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no secret that among the 1,000 armed groups fighting in Syria, several of them, including ISIS, have used chemical weapons stolen from Assad’s stockpiles following their conquests over government-held towns and cities.
ISIS, for example, has used chemical weapons 52 times on the battlefield in both Syria and Iraq. Other Islamic insurgent groups, with equal disregard for innocent life, have shown no hesitation in using them.
This brings us to a disturbing question: who has the most to gain from using chemical weapons?
Certainly not Assad. He is winning on the battlefield, wresting control of his country back from the insurgents, who are crying out for direct Western military intervention against Assad. Perhaps it is this context of the Syrian tragedy that deserves the closest attention.
On 5 April, Charles Shoebridge, a British security analyst and counterterrorism expert, made a valid assertion that ties in perfectly with the inconvenient truth of this catastrophic war.
“The people who have benefited from this kind of attack are the rebels themselves, because they have gained a major political advantage at a time when they are struggling both strategically and geopolitically.”