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The Chemical Attack a Test for Trump | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

Regardless that it is prohibited under any circumstances, we couldn’t find a reasonable justification for the Syrian regime use of chemical weapons against civilians in Idlib.

The regime forces were not in a critical point there, the targeted site is not a strategic gain to the civil war and it is unclear why the regime is challenging the international community that is by the regime’s side for the first time since the revolution was staged more than six years ago!

So why did the regime use toxic gas against civil towns, killing women and children? Why did it take the risk of committing a dangerous crime that might lead to an international trial? Why did it carry out this action while being certain that western governments would be embarrassed having adopted a tolerant stance opposing human rights organizations, a huge number of intellectuals and the public?

In fact, we can only find one motive for this horrible crime i.e. that the regime allies, either Russia or Iran, want to test the US President Donald Trump and maybe weaken him – given that he criticized earlier the former US administration for its desertion in the first chemical attack.

What can the US president do? Would he directly punish Syria as Israel does when it sees that some red lines are being crossed? Would he take an adverse step, such as arming the Syrian opposition or will he settle to a warning statement that does not commit his government to any future acts, in case the regime dared to repeat this act?

It is a tough test for Trump, already preoccupied in various internal battles, and fears his foot might slip in a foreign battle and sink in moving sand on both sides.

I see that the chemical attack in Idlib might not be but the start of a series of other attacks that the opposing parties are willing to embarrass Trump with. It would not be a surprise in case navy confrontations took place in the Persian Gulf or its extensions, or Americans in Lebanon were kidnapped or US forces were targeted in Iraq – busy fighting ISIS.

All these fall under Iran’s capabilities which it used before in the beginning of the eighties when “Hezbollah” in Lebanon became in charge of kidnapping Americans, diplomats and academics on behalf of Iran, in addition to blowing up the marines headquarters in Beirut. When discord occurred with the French government, it also conducted bloody operations that targeted civilians in Paris, not less ugly than ISIS recent operations in Europe.

Therefore, Tehran and Moscow are observing the reactions in Washington over Idlib crime: What is Trump’s confrontation ability and what are its limits?

Trump administration is undergoing a tough test. I see that it would have been better if the administration showcased its power before accepting to grant cessions to Damascus axis. Arming the Syrian moderate opposition with qualitative weapons is sufficient to deliver a message that the balance of powers can be changed in the Syrian war.

The chemical attack on Idlib – undoubtedly – worries many because it hints that Damascus axis is willing to expand battles and not as thought that the regime is nostalgic for peace.