Missiles of aggression

Print edition : May 11, 2018

The skies over Damascus erupt with surface-to-air-missile fire during the attack on April 14. Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP

The site of the suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma, near Damascus, on April 16. Photo: Hassan Ammar/AP

A U.S. Air Force B-1 Bomber en route to Syria on April 13 separates from the boom pod after receiving fuel from an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker. Photo: U.S. Department of Defence/AP

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on April 17 holding placards as French President Emmanuel Macron (not in picture) delivers a speech before a debate on the future of Europe. Photo: Vincent Kessler/REUTERS

Demonstrators from the “Stop the War Coalition” protesting in Whitehall, London, on April 16 against the U.K. government’s involvement in the latest air strikes on Syria. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Without waiting for independent confirmation that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the town of Douma, the U.S. with its two staunch NATO allies carries out air strikes against Syria.

On the basis of unverified charges that the Syrian Arab Army used “chemical weapons” in the town of Douma, the United States, in coordination with the United Kingdom and France, its two trusted North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) allies, once again launched missile attacks and bombing raids on Syria. President Donald Trump had advertised his plans to “punish” Syria ever since the Western media highlighted reports that chlorine gas was used against the civilian populace of Douma. Trump threatened to rain fire and brimstone on a country that has already been ravaged by more than seven years of a brutal civil war. It was a war thrust on the Syrian people by outside forces under the supervision of the U.S. and its close allies in the region. When the threatened attack finally materialised on April 14, it was short and limited in scope, lasting for an hour and conducted under cover of darkness.

The U.S. timed the attack to coincide with the arrival in Douma of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to look into the allegations that the Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons there. The Syrian government steadfastly denies that it uses chemical weapons in combat. In fact, by 2014 it had handed over its entire arsenal of chemical weapons under international supervision. The OPCW had certified that there were no chemical weapons producing factories in Syria now.

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), a group comprising former U.S. security officials, had issued a statement saying that clear evidence on the use of chemical weapons was required before the U.S. President could authorise military strikes against Syria. It stressed that there was evidence showing that the video and images of the victims allegedly affected by the chemical weapons originated from rebel-affiliated groups such as the “White Helmets” and the “Douma Rebellion”. The government allowed the families of the rebels safe passage out of Douma in air-conditioned buses that headed for Turkey before the so-called attack took place.

The VIPS also noted that the Russian military and the Syrian Army, both of which entered Douma immediately after pictures of the alleged victims were circulated, found no traces of poison gas or chemicals. After the fall of Douma, the U.S. and its allies like Saudi Arabia have lost the ability to militarily target Damascus from the ground. Douma is located close to the Syrian capital. “A major question for us, as former intelligence officers with some knowledge of the operational use of false information and false flag actions, is what motive would the Syrian government have for making a chemical weapons attack on its own civilian population, especially at a time when it has growing popular support and is having increased military support. Why would it risk Western ire?” the statement said. An American citizen expressed his concerns in a letter to T he N ew Y ork T imes a few days before Trump carried out his threat. He asked the following pertinent questions: 1. Why is the death of a few dozen by poison gas in Syria worse than the slaughter of thousands by conventional armaments? 2. Why is it the obligation of the U.S. to punish Syria? 3. What gives the U.S. the legal right to attack another country when that country is not threatening us? 4. What independent authority has found out that Syria used poison gas?

An expert group comprising American legal luminaries specialising in international law urged the U.S. President in a statement to desist from launching a military attack: “The unlawful killing of any human being without legal justification, under every legal system, is murder. And an act of violence committed by one government against another government, without lawful justification, amounts to the crime of aggression: the supreme international crime which carries with it the evil of every other international crime, as noted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946.”

Eighty members of the U.S. Congress had also urged Trump not to take military action against Syria without prior congressional authorisation. In a letter to the President, the Congressmen stated that such an act would “violate the separation of power that is clearly delineated in the Constitution” of the U.S.

Russia’s warning

Russia had warned that it would shoot down any incoming U.S. missile if its assets or troops in Syria were targeted. Iran, too, issued strong warnings to the U.S., saying that any violation of Syria’s sovereignty would have serious repercussions. In a statement issued immediately after the attack, the Russian Defence Ministry said that airfields and military, along with industrial and research facilities, were among the targets hit. According to the statement, the Syrian Army suffered no casualties. The Syrian government has issued a statement saying that there were no major civilian casualties. Three Syrians were injured. President Bashar al-Assad was seen going to his office as usual at 9 a.m., a few hours after the attacks. “Good souls can never be humiliated,” read a tweet from the Syrian President. Thousands of Syrians gathered in Umayyad Square in central Damascus to condemn the attack and to celebrate the Syrian Army’s success in repelling some of the missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to issue a strong statement condemning the attack. He said that it was “an act of aggression against a sovereign state that is on the front line of the fight against terrorism”. The attack on Syria, Putin said, was “committed without a mandate from the U.N. Security Council and in violation of the U.N. Charter and norms and principles of international law”. He pointed out that Russian military experts had visited the town of Douma after the reports of the chemical attack surfaced but did not find any traces of chlorine or any other toxic agent. “Not a single local resident was able to confirm that a chemical attack had actually taken place,” Putin said. He accused the U.S. and its allies “of pandering to the terrorists who have been tormenting the people of Syria for seven years, leading to a wave of refugees fleeing this country and the region”.

Putin warned that the current escalation around Syria “is destructive for the entire system of international relations”. The U.S., Putin said, “already bears responsibility for the bloody outrage in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya”. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the leaders of the U.S., the U.K. and France as “criminals”. He also said that these countries had committed similar crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya “and did not benefit from them”. In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition in the U.K. and the Labour Party leader, criticised his country’s participation in the attack, saying that the British Prime Minister “must be accountable to Parliament, not to the whims of the American President”. He said that the action against Syria was “legally questionable”, pointing out that the U.N. Secretary-General had said as much on the issue. In France, the air strikes have further exacerbated public anger against President Emmanuel Macron. France is currently in the throes of serious industrial unrest. According to the data analysed by the Russian military, the U.S. and its two NATO allies launched a total of 103 cruise missiles inside Syria. According to the Russian military and the Syrian government, the Syrian Army shot down many of them. The Russians say that in total, 71 of the cruise missiles were “intercepted”, including those targeting the Damascus airport. The Russian Defence Ministry said that it would now consider providing the Syrian Army with the more sophisticated and proven S-300 anti-missile systems.

Trump tweeted that the U.S. and its allies had accomplished “a perfectly executed strike” against Syria and that it was “mission accomplished” for him as far as Syria was concerned. On May 2003, President George W. Bush, standing on the deck of an American aircraft carrier, declared that “all major combat operations” in Iraq were over. Displayed prominently behind him was a banner with the words “Mission Accomplished”.

The U.S. went to war in Iraq in 2003 on the pretext that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had hidden “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) and is still mired militarily in that country. There are currently around 2,200 U.S. troops illegally stationed inside Syria. One-third of Syrian territory is under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian rebel forces. Much of Syria’s oil and gas resources are located there.

U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis told the media that no more attacks were being planned against Syria for the time being but stressed that the U.S. retained the option to attack Syria again at a time of its choosing. He claimed that future attacks were justified as long as the U.S. was satisfied that the Syrian government was guilty of using chemical weapons. However, while insisting that the U.S. was certain that the Syrian military used chlorine gas in Douma, Mattis did not produce any evidence to back his claims. Colin Powell, the Defence Secretary under Bush, was also sure Iraq had WMDs while justifying the invasion of Iraq. The French President and the British Prime Minister parroted the line that Syria used chemical weapons without bothering to provide any proof whatsoever.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated at a press conference on April 14 that the Kremlin had “irrefutable evidence that the special services of a state which is in the forefront of a Russophobic campaign had a hand in the staging” of the attack. Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s Ambassador to the U.K., said that the “White Helmets”, which “receive U.K. money”, were involved. Peter Ford, Britain’s former Ambassador to Syria, told the BBC that he believed the Douma attack was “staged”.

U.N. Security Council meeting

An emergency U.N. Security Council meeting was convened at the request of Russia to discuss the attack on Syria. Russia sponsored a resolution condemning the air strikes on Syria. Speaking during the meeting, Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., reiterated the viewpoint that the U.S. had the right to punish Syria any time it wished to. “I spoke to the U.S. President this morning, and he said that if the Syrian government uses poison gas again, the U.S. is locked and loaded,” she said.

Reacting to this speech, Sacha Sergio Soliz, Bolivia’s Ambassador to the U.N., said that the international community was aware of the U.S.’ might and military prowess. Holding up a copy of the U.N. Charter, Soliz pointed out that the U.N. only allowed the use of force for self-defence or with the approval of the Security Council. He said that the international community was also aware that the U.S. “has nothing but scorn for international law”. Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador to the U.N., said that the three foreign powers carried out “aggression against a sovereign state” without providing any proof that chemical weapons had been used.

Bolivia, which is an elected member of the Security Council, voted along with Russia and China after a two-hour long heated debate on the resolution. Four nations abstained on the resolution. The three permanent members of the Security Council that initiated the aggression against Syria, the U.S., France and Britain, naturally voted against it. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that “the Cold War has returned with a vengeance”. He urged member states “to show restraint” and to ensure that situations “don’t go out of control”. Guterres described the Syrian conflict as the “most serious threat to international peace and security in our time”.

The Pentagon claimed that the latest attack was much bigger in scope than the missile strike Trump ordered last year on a Syrian Air Force base. According to the U.S. Defence Secretary, the main targets were the factories producing chemical weapons, which, according to both Syrian and Russian officials, have been lying abandoned since Syria voluntarily gave up its chemical weapons arsenal. (Other countries in the region, including Israel, continue to retain their arsenals of banned weapons.) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford claimed that the U.S. and it two allies successfully targeted chemical weapons producing facilities in the cities of Damascus and Homs.

Israel’s attack

In the din created by the U.S.’ latest attack on Syria, the international community in general has conveniently glossed over an attack by Israel on a Syrian military base in Homs in the first week of April. Fourteen people, including four Iranian military advisers and a senior Iranian army colonel, were killed. Lavrov said that the Israeli strike was “a dangerous development”. Russia warned Israel, with which it has good relations, that it would not allow any further violation of Syrian air space by Israeli war planes. Israel routinely violates Syrian sovereignty with impunity and is known to lend a helping hand to some terror groups fighting against the Syrian government. Russian officials believe that Israel is being used by the U.S. to weaken the Syrian government when it is on the verge of unifying the country.

Iran has vowed to retaliate against the killings of its citizens by Israel. Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, said that “Israel’s crimes will not remain unanswered”. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyyed Abbas Aragchi blamed the U.S. for supporting Israel. “The U.S. and Israel have entered the scene at different stages to boost the morale of the terrorists in Syria, and the recent attacks by the Zionists against Syria, which were a repetition of similar assaults in the past, are within the same framework,” he said.