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Opinion: Why did the Assad regime use chemical weapons? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A United Nations (UN) arms expert collects samples as they inspect the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburb during an investigation into a suspected chemical weapons strike near the capital. AFP PHOTO /AMMAR AL-ARBINI

So just why did the Assad regime use chemical weapons?

A simple and direct answer to that question is that the Assad regime used chemical weapons because criminality is a core philosophy of this regime, which has ruled Syria over the past five decades according to the equation, “Either we rule you or kill you!” Today, it seems that the Assad regime is no longer able to rule, and so has moved directly to killing. This is a view that cannot be denied by anybody who has kept a close eye on what has been happening in the country over the past 50 years, and who have seen how its leadership refuse to reconsider their pro-security policies. This is an approach that they have continued to follow even after all their policies have been shown to be wrong; this has been shown following the beginning of the Syrian uprising in March 2011. The Syrian elite have upheld the criminal Assad dynasty because it is expressive of their own nature, as shown by the limitless backing they offered Bashar Al-Assad, rather than rising up against him and standing against his homicidal approach. They followed their foolish president without objection or hesitation, and now they continue to follow him towards the edge of the abyss, even though they assumed leading positions in Syria long before he was born and have taken the lead in handling Syria’s problems over the past 50 years.

In addition to this, there is also an indirect answer related to the current state of affairs regarding the struggle against the Assad regime. It is this same regime that three months ago launched its fifth strategic attack against the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Syrian media applauded what happened, launching a campaign of lies to claim that what happened represented a pivotal victory for the regime that completely transformed the strategic reality on the ground. This includes claims of the fall of Al-Qusayr, reports of huge troop deployments around the heroic city of Homs, enforcement of a blockade on Jabal Al-Zawiya, and the recapture of Deir Ezzor and Aleppo with the assistance of Hezbollah. However, these claims were false, and the regime’s plans ultimately backfired following defeats at Khan Al-Assal, Ming Airbase and Al-Sahel.

All of this is coupled with the emergence of an unprecedented phenomenon, namely the flight of Syria’s pro-Assad elite—including the military elite—who had remained firm and unyielding over the past two years and more. However, at Khan Al-Assal, Ming and Al-Sahel, it was military officers who escaped, a new phenomenon that perhaps foreshadows a possible sudden collapse of the entire regime.

To confront this possibility, those who undertook the war against the people proposed the idea of carrying out a strike that will completely suppress the protests. For those managing this war, this strike had to be strong enough to prompt an FSA collapse and ensure the regime stays in power for a long period of time, boosting the low morale of its military. This explained the chemical strike’s barbaric nature, with the number of victims standing at 10,000, according to some estimates. According to information leaked from inside the city, the strike exterminated a considerable part of the city in eastern and western Ghouta, something that the regime saw as necessary for the success of any attacks on the FSA. For the regime, that attack was a necessity in order to regain control of eastern Ghouta—a province that had remained steadfastly opposed to the Assad regime for nearly nine months despite the deliberate systematic campaign intended to push it towards famine. The regime also needed to attack Ghouta to “liberate” it from the opposition, whose presence there was deemed a direct threat to the regime.

This criminal attack did not cause the collapse of Ghouta, despite the heavy civilian and FSA causalities, not to mention the causalities among the rescue and medical teams the Russians subsequently accused of being responsible for the attack itself.

The people of Ghouta exhibited amazing cohesion and extraordinary ability to endure pain and loss, while the entire world was astonished by the nature of the suicidal attack that will certainly have dire consequences for the Assad regime. At the very least, this chemical attack will force the opposition to rectify its mistakes that had been benefiting the regime. It will lead the international community to reconsider its calculations and confront Assad’s crimes, which have horrified the entire region and confirmed that it is a danger to the safety and security of the entire world.

The Ghouta chemical weapons attack will not stop the collapse of the Assad regime; in fact, it will only accelerate this. This horrible crime only serves to push Syria closer to the decisive moment of Assad’s fall and the people’s victory. This will be achieved by the hands of the Syrian people themselves, and they are moving closer and closer to this goal.