All red lines have been crossed in Syria

By Alberto Negri

“Red lines” had been crossed on all fronts in Syria long before the Khan Sheikhoun raid in the Idlib province where almost 60 people [latest figure is 72] have been killed in a chemical attack.

In August 2012, Barrack Obama warned Assad: if he had used chemical or biological weapons, he would have crossed the “red line” and thus prompted an American intervention. A year later, 21 August 2013, a number of areas in the suburbs of Damascus in Ghouta were struck by missiles containing the chemical substance Sarin. Rebels and the Syrian government accused each other of the attack.

The international community was divided. The United States, Nato-countries, European Union and the Arab League accused Bashar al-Assad, while Russia and Iran gave their support to the government by sticking to the hypothesis of a rebel attack. An agreement that agreed on the destruction of chemical weapons in the hands of the Syrian government was in this way signed by the United States and Russia on 14 September in Geneva.

It’s hard to tell, far away from the battleground, what really happened. The rebels’ version goes against that of the pro-regime media, which claims that a chemical arms depot belonging to the opposition was hit and exploded in Khan Sheikhoun. Each is sticking to his own defence, knowing that truth comes before the victims of war.

One thing is certain: if the Assad regime really carried out this attack, it would mean a clamorous faux pas from a diplomatic point of view. The United States had in recent days publicly expressed their view that Assad could remain at the helm and that the dethroning of the Syrian autocrat was “no longer the priority of this administration.”

This also poses a problem for Trump, who after the St. Petersburg attack, showed Putin his willingness to combat terrorism together and that this cooperation would begin with the war against the Caliphate [IS] in Syria. The indignant reaction of the European leaders makes this scenario even less feasible.

There is more to it. Turkey will be forced to react, as it was Ankara, fearing territorial consolidation by the Syrian Kurds on its borders, that bowed to Russia and Iran, Damascus’ two greatest allies, in order to reach a cease-fire between negotiators in Astana.

Thus the Syrian landscape heats up again; as if the death of 500,000, more than 5 million refugees and more than 6 years of civil war – a war that has become a proxy-war between international powers – wasn’t enough. But we can be almost certain that between the plea to our conscience and the one to realpolitik, the latter will prevail at the end. After the gravest massacre of our recent history, when Saddam Hussein killed more than 5,000 people in Halabja in 1988, not a single condemning word was uttered by anyone.

At that time, the Iraqi chief was an ally of the West and the Sunni Arab powers against Khomeini’s Iran. The massacre was thus met with deafening silence. Will the West have the courage, when the facts are verified, to intervene against Damascus, clash with Russia and Iran while perhaps even supporting jihadists?

This article was first published in Italian on Il Sole 24 ore, on 4 April 2017.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Kom News.