Last night, British, French, and American forces engaged with the Syrian government, in the largest engagement with Assad since the Syria campaign began.
RAF Tornado GR4 aircraft deployed four Storm Shadow missiles at a Syrian airbase, where intelligence suggests the chemical weapons have been stockpiled.
These missiles are GPS guided. Gone are the days where you drop a bomb, and hope it hits your enemy. They have the technology to hit an object the size of your front door; the same can be said for the Tomahawk missiles Trump used to destroy facilities in Damascus. Whilst there are reports of four civilian casualties, the missile is approved by the UN as being appropriate for use in urban areas, due to its accuracy.
The strikes were in response to a supposed chemical attack in Douma, South West Syria, on the 7th of April. It is alleged 70 people were killed in the attack.
Several medical and activist groups, including the White Helmets have reported that helicopter baring Syrian government insignia dropped a number of barrel bombs on the city. The White Helmets are a coalition of western doctors and nurses, some of whom ex NHS. These barrel bombs were allegedly filled with munitions such as chlorine gas, and sarin, both of which, along with all other chemical weapons, are illegal under the OPCW. The use of chemical weapons against non combatants (civilians not directly involved in hostilities, as defined by Article 42 of the First Geneva Convention) is considered a war crime.
The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organization, a coalition of humanitarian, non-governmental, and medical organisations, reported that sarin was detected in the air by sensors, triggering an alarm, and that those admitted to hospital displayed symptoms consistent with a chemical weapons attack.
Investigations by the UN and the OPCW in the past have concluded that the Syrian Government does posses chemical weapons. However, both Syria and Russia claim the repeated attacks have come from rebels, not the government.
The day after the alleged attack, islamist rebels controlling Douma agreed a deal with the government to surrender the area. Middle Eastern analysts have argued that this was the initial motive for the use of chemical weapons.
The political response has been mixed. Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned the use of chemical weapons, and declared that President Bashar al-Assad should ‘get ready’ for ‘missiles’.
Whilst members of the opposition here in the UK called for a vote to approve, parliamentary approval for military action is merely a convention, and not obligatory:
Theresa May certainly could agree to launch UK missiles from a Royal Navy submarine or RAF jets without MPs giving the green light first. Because, while the recent practice has been for governments to win the backing of parliament before UK military action, it is only a convention to do so, and a recent one at that.
Ben Wright, BBC News
Indeed, 2003 was the first time a British Prime Minister requested parliamentary approval for military action. May it seems has been under pressure for both the UN and NATO members to respond swiftly. Whilst desirable, Theresa May had no legal obligation to seek parliamentary approval, however the decision not to will likely have damaged her respect in the commons.
Comment from Henry Jones, Director of Communications
The arguments for and against the strikes were fairly balanced; time will tell whether this bold move from Trump, Macron, and May, will have been a good one. Russia have openly warned that they would engage with the coalition if strikes were launched at Assad. It seems now that this warning was merely a deterrent; the Russians did not attempt to intercept any British, American, or US missiles.
Did Russia choose to not engage the S-400 against cruises missiles or was it jammed by the coalition?
— Alistair Bunkall (@AliBunkallSKY) 14 April 2018
What is in no doubt is last nights actions sent a strong message to Assad. There are however significant questions left unanswered as to whether it was the Syrian Regime who used the chemical weapons earlier this month, or other forces acting in proxy. None the less, Assad is a brutal dictator, who we know has done similar things in the past. Whether this alone was ground for western engagement is questionable.
There is the Russian question; many were in opposition to strikes for fear of Russian aggression. Time will tell if this was a valid fear, however this writer’s opinion is if we’re scared of Russia, Russia have won. Indeed, as the famous quote goes:
‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’
There were of course other options. Sanctions and diplomacy being two of them. Indeed it is likely questions will be asked in the House of Commons next week as to why these options were not explored further.
However, one things is certain. Whether or not it was Assad who used chemical weapons, his means to do so in the future have been crippled. The coalition set out to remove his capability to produce and deploy chemical weapons, and they have succeeded in that.
Assad may not have used chemical weapons; we won’t know until an investigation is conducted. But he had motive, and the ability to do so. 24 hours after the strike, Douma was surrendered to government forces; Assad won the battle, as a result of the chemical weapon strike. It must be made clear that he cannot win a war and kill his people using chemicals. That is a war crime, and the international community will not sit back and watch war crimes take place, as they did in Bosnia.
In due course further evidence will be released to the public; evidence that may or may not correct some of the publics’ misconceptions. But until then, all we can do is wait, and pray for the people of Syria.
It is not our place to be the world’s police. But I for one would have felt culpable if another attack had happened in a few months time, when we could have stopped it.