- The American attack on Syria is an important message that symbolizes the international community’s opposition to the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
- American policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime needs to look beyond the chemical weapons and fight against ISIS. Assad interprets this limited focus as weakness, and he allows himself to do whatever he wants with Russian-Iranian backing.
- The dangers to Israel from Syria and Iran have not subsided, and Israel may have to deal with the threats alone.
As time goes by, the failure of President Obama to deal with Syrian President Bashar Assad is becoming more and more apparent.
In August 2013, Obama had the option for a military strike against the Syrian regime following its use of gas against civilians in Ghouta, but he preferred to broker an agreement for removing chemical weapons from Syria. Later, it emerged that Bashar Assad misled the United States and managed to conceal large quantities of chemical weapons, which he is currently using against civilians.
If President Obama had acted to topple Bashar Assad’s regime, he would have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and prevented millions of Syrian civilians from becoming refugees.
President Trump is much different from Obama. In the last year, he attacked Syria twice after Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against civilians.
At a speech that he gave in Ohio on March 29, 2018, President Trump surprised many when he announced that the United States would soon withdraw from Syria. He ordered the commanders of the U.S. armed forces to end the military campaign in Syria and to facilitate their exit from Syria in a few months.
According to American sources, President Trump has ratcheted down the plan to remain in Syria for the long term, provide aid to restore stability to Syria, and destroy ISIS.
President Trump agreed to leave U.S. military forces in Syria for another few months to prevent any ISIS resurgence.
However, recent developments show that Syrian President Assad is a thousand times more dangerous than ISIS.
Time for a Change in U.S. Policy toward Assad?
American policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime needs to look beyond the chemical weapons and fight against ISIS. Assad interprets this limited focus as weakness, and he allows himself to do whatever he wants with Russian-Iranian backing.
The American-French-British attack avoided strikes against the symbols of the Syrian regime. It also didn’t strike at the Syrian army. In the best case scenario, it neutralized the chemical weapons factories for a long time. President Trump has instructed the State Department to freeze economic aid to Syria worth $200 million while the United States reconsiders its role and involvement in the conflict in Syria.
If Bashar Assad’s regime succeeds in restoring its military control over the whole of Syria, it is reasonable to assume that the western countries, led by the United States, will regret it.
Syria has turned into a stronghold of the “Evil Axis,” a covenant of interests between Bashar Assad, Iran, and Russia. According to this pact, Assad receives protection from both of these countries, and in exchange he allows them to have a military presence inside Syria. This is his “insurance policy.”
Several times this week, President Trump praised the way the United States bested ISIS in Syria. However, if the United States withdraws unilaterally from all involvement in Syria, it will serve the interests of Bashar Assad, known as “the Butcher of Damascus.”
The Growing Iranian Presence in Syria
Israel is not prepared to accept Iran’s entrenching itself in Syria, the purpose of which is to open an additional front against Israel in the Golan Heights. Israel is determined to prevent this, and there appears to be an inevitable path toward escalation.
President Trump understands the Iranian peril all too well. However, he also needs to take into account the danger that Assad poses to the stability and security of the region.
ISIS has been defeated in Syria and Iraq. The “Islamic Caliphate” that it established has collapsed, but Syria under Assad’s leadership has become strengthened by the civil war that has been raging for the past seven years.
President Trump must not repeat the mistakes of President Obama. He did refer to President Assad as an “animal,” but the United States needs to adopt a firm line regarding anything related to the current Syrian regime.
Israel is a faithful ally of the United States. A complete U.S. withdrawal from Syria leaves Israel isolated when dealing with the Iranian-Syrian danger.
It can only be hoped that recent events in Syria will lead to American reevaluation of U.S. policy toward Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria under Assad’s leadership has become a regional threat because it has opened its doors to Iran so that it can establish a military presence within its territory.
There is concern by some in Israel’s leadership that the U.S. administration may consider the attack on the chemical weapon installations in Syria as the farewell act of U.S. military involvement in Syria. This would be bad for Israel, which from now on will need to deal on its own with the Iranian threats emanating from Syrian territory.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.