Syria’s use of chemical weapons in an attack on Douma last weekend,...
There is no doubt that the forces of President Assad have committed war crimes. Whilst every government has a legitimate right to act to stop rebellious groups and preserve national unity, the methods being used in Syria are contrary to international law and morality.
The Syrian army and its allies have used sarin and chlorine gases since 2013, killing thousands. UN weapons inspectors were sent in to confiscate stocks of these weapons but some were obviously secreted and used again last week to kill 87, including non-combatant women and children. Syrian forces have also used barrel bombs dropped from helicopters and cluster bombs that are banned by 119 countries. They have also laid siege to rebel towns to starve occupants into surrender. Amnesty International reports the use of torture and execution of 11,000 people.
So strong action to stop and deter the use of these extreme measures was justified but should have been taken at least four years ago. The failure of the USA and its allies’ to act then before Russia and Iran became involved in propping up the Assad regime was a grave error of judgement. In 2013 the Russians helped to broker the deal that allowed the weapons inspectors to go in. They would not do that today. It is easy to be wise after the event but western leaders need to recognise the previous mistake so they do not compound it now. The American missile strike to knock out the planes that delivered the sarin weapons was arguably proportionate and involved minimal loss of life but it cannot be repeated. So how else can the six years of agony for the Syrians be brought to an end?
Those responsible for answering that question have to take account of those they must influence. The Assad government is probably indifferent to world opinion. Whilst President Assad is seen as the culprit he is not the strong man of the regime and is probably manipulated by his brother Maher who heads the Republican Guard. It is unlikely that they told the Russians they would be using the nerve gas because the latter would almost certainly have stopped them. President Putin would have known how the rest of the world would react but he will hide behind the feeble excuses now being made because he is a proud man and unlikely to back down in the face of western criticism. Had President Trump warned him of the intended military response he might have saved Putin sufficient face to make him prevent any further use of sarin by the Syrians. If the western allies further damage his pride and credibility they will only make their task more difficult.
Iran is the other player in this scenario and their motives are religious as well as political. Assad belongs to the Alawite branch of Shiite Islam which has been persecuted by the Sunnis who are the majority in Syria. Iran is predominantly Shiite which is why they have supported the Assad regime since his father ruled Syria. Iran’s hostility to Israel is another reason for wanting to enlarge its influence in the Middle East to frustrate its enemy. This further complicates finding a political and diplomatic solution to ending the agony of Syria.
The need for prayer for God’s will to be done in finding a peaceful solution in Syria and ending the agonies of the majority of its people is obvious. Like it or not that has to include praying for the politicians who have to take account of the complex issues as well as the various personalities involved.