Driven by the hawks in his administration, Donald Trump doesn’t just want to send a “lesson” to Damascus, like he did a year ago. The objective of the military campaign they are preparing is to overturn the military situation in Syria that’s favorable to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies so that the jihadists sponsored by America’s allies return to the offensive.
The new war is a step away. Israeli military commanders Wednesday said that if Iran is planning a reprisal from Syria for its military advisers killed by the air strike at the T4 base, “President Bashar Assad and his regime will be the ones who will pay the price.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday gathered the security cabinet ahead of the US attack. Putin strongly asked him not to intervene in Syria, but Israel is keeping its hands free.
Meanwhile, the powerful Saudi royal scion Mohammed bin Salman continues his international tour through the United States and Europe, dispensing cooperation agreements and arms purchases for tens of billions of dollars. After the US, the most important stage was in Paris. At the end of the talks, President Emmanuel Macron said that France agrees with Saudi Arabia on the need to curb “Iranian expansionism” in the Middle East. For his part, bin Salman warned that he will continue to “be extremely vigilant on this point … we will not tolerate any ballistic activity that threatens Saudi Arabia.”
For Paris — as for Washington, Riyadh and Tel Aviv — stopping “Iranian expansionism” means intervening first of all in Syria. No one has moved to stop the Saudi offensive in Yemen, where civilians are also being killed. The West is content with the cold reassurances of bin Salman: “We avoid attacking the capital Sanaa directly to safeguard civilians.” In the background is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, an opponent of bin Salman but a close ally of Washington. He also gave the green light to Trump. “The region cannot tolerate a criminal war like that of Syrian President Assad,” he said after meeting the tycoon at the White House.
To speak about the ‘new war’ triggered by the alleged chemical attack that the US and allies attribute to Assad, we interviewed Arab analyst Oraib al Rantawi.
Two days ago, in an article in al-Dustour, the Egyptian daily, you raised strong doubts about the use of chemical weapons by Damascus.
I simply used logic. On Feb. 18, the Syrian armed forces surrounded eastern Ghouta and, week after week, they conquered ground by placing the various armed militias in the area near Damascus: Ahrar ash Sham, Nusra and Faylaq ar Rahman. Factions supported by Turkey and Qatar then left Ghouta, agreeing to go to Idlib thanks to a deal brokered by Russia and under pressure from Ankara, which in turn got free reign with the Kurds in Afrin. Another agreement was in the works, albeit with difficulty, with another armed faction in the Ghouta, Jaysh al Islam, which is headed by Saudi Arabia, when Donald Trump’s announcement came that the US would withdraw their forces from Syria. Then everything turned upside down. Mohammed bin Salman criticized the US decision [to withdraw], and Jaysh al Islam, after initially agreeing, suddenly refused to leave Ghouta amid grave internal disagreements. A few hours later the alleged chemical attack took place.
I wondered: are these just coincidences? Why would Bashar Assad have to use gas? He had already won the battle of the Ghouta. Jaysh al Islam would have left that area. He did not need to use forbidden weapons and unleash the reaction of the world against Syria. It goes against all logic. And then Israel also came on the scene, hitting an air base in Syria that’s very important to Iran, right in the middle of this crisis.
Do you believe in an organized plan to push the US to attack Syria?
I am not suggesting anything or supporting a precise thesis. I am only saying let’s begin a serious and independent commission of inquiry and try to understand if, when and how this chemical attack did or did not happen, and who did it.
What do you expect now?
Unfortunately, Washington will attack Syria along with France and Great Britain. It can’t be ruled out that other countries will join in, perhaps including Arab ones. Trump wants to assert the role of the United States as the global superpower, threatened by Russia, and satisfy the pressures of Saudi Arabia and Israel which want it to strike Iran in Syria. Finally, he wants to send a clear message to Tehran.
Will Trump achieve his goals?
The American president climbed to the top of the tree. Now it will be difficult for him to go down. And there is a high risk of this military adventure turning into a boomerang for Washington. The Kremlin will not watch the destruction of Syria without lifting a finger.