The Assad family is no stranger to the use of chemical weapons. Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, used the prohibited weapon against his own population in 1982 in the city of Hama, where he massacred 20,000 Sunni Syrians. His son Bashar is reported to have used chemical weapons at least six times since the beginning of this year.
Most recently, in Idlib province where government forces have been accused to have used chlorine gas where 20 people lost their lives. Amnesty International stated “once again, Syria’s government has shown its utter contempt for international law by deploying illegal chemical weapons.”
The Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpile was supposed to have been removed and destroyed in 2013 under a deal made by the United States and Russia. President Barack Obama’s infamous “red line” against the Syrian regime which he later backtracked allowed Assad to further strengthen his power, undermining US credibility. The current Trump administration did not hesitate to draw its own red line and enforce it. Early 2017, the U.S. fired 59 tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria aimed at a military base.
But the question remains, if Assad has survived the extensive civil war, why the need for the usage of chemical weapons? With the backing of Russia, Iran, and the numerous proxy militia groups, Assad defied all odds. Despite the gains Assad has enjoyed, the reality is that the civil war is far from over, with new threats emerging- Assad’s position may not be as secure. Assad hardly has control over Syria, Iran has heavily invested to bolster his allies position. Iran’s spending is estimated between $6 and $35 billion a year. While Russia’s ultimate goal is to preserve its strategic position in the Middle East by spending $2.4 million a day in Syria. The deep commitment to Syria by Assad’s friends comes at a cost that Assad is unable to compensate.
Iran’s commitment to Syria is aimed at its long-term goal of inching closer to Israel’s northern border, not saving Assad. Through its so far successful land bridge stemming from the Kurdistan region of Iraq and crossing through Syria and Lebanon, Iran is after its own objective. The recent attack from Iran using Syrian territory is proof, this led to the downing of an Israeli fighter jet. Assad may have too many committed “supporters”, who are not there to save his regime but to use Syrian territory to launch new offensives.
Turkey, a former staunch ally of the Assad regime has used the weakened neighboring state to ethnically cleanse the Kurds in Afrin while threatening US soldiers in alliance with the Syrian Democratic Forces. Turkey’s ultimate goal is to reach the Iraqi border going beyond Afrin, further prolonging the civil war.
Assad’s use of chemical weapons may be a signal to the international community that he is willing to do anything within his limited capacity to regain full control of Syria. But this puts the responsibility on both Russia and Iran too, as they are parallel with the regime.
Originally Published at The National Discourse on February 15, 2018.