A potential decision by Washington to take new military actions against Damascus would mark the second US strike on Syria in less than a year.
The Trump Administration is considering new attacks against the Syrian Government in response to reports of chemical weapons’ use, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said on Tuesday.
“As you saw the president’s response to the attack last year, this is something that is under serious discussion as we speak, but again, something that needs to be discussed in a classified session,” Daniel Coats told a Senate committee, referring to the launch of 59 Tomahawk missiles towards a military base in Syria’s Shairat.
Last week, President Donald Trump had discussed the possibility of “a new military action” against the Syrian government as a punitive measure, citing Damascus’ alleged use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta, the Washington Post quoted anonymous US officials as saying.
The discussion came shortly after the infamous White Helmets reported that three civilians had been killed and dozens more had been wounded in a suspected chlorine gas attack on Eastern Ghouta.
Despite the fact that the Russian center for Syrian reconciliation having repeatedly warned that a local resident from Eastern Ghouta had announced that Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) terrorists and White Helmets had been preparing to stage a provocation, involving the use of chemical weapons in Idlib in order to blame the government for the attack on civilians, those warnings were ignored by the US-led international coalition.
On April 7, 2017, the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, located about 40 kilometers from the city of Homs in response to the alleged usse of chemical weapons in Syria’s Idlib, which Washington blamed on the Syrian Government. The allegations were vehemently denied by Damascus. Russia described the attack as an aggression against a sovereign state.
Moscow as a Credible Regional Power Broker in the Middle East
Addressing Russia’s role in the conflict, Daniel Coats wrote in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the United States was not sure that Moscow could convince Assad to make concessions.
“Moscow probably cannot force President Assad to agree to a political settlement that he believes significantly weakens him, unless Moscow is willing to remove Assad by force. While Assad may engage in peace talks, he is unlikely to negotiate himself from power or offer meaningful concessions to the opposition,” director of national intelligence wrote.
Lieutenant General Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also considered Russia’s role in his prepared testimony to the Committee.
“In Syria, Russia’s military intervention changed the dynamic of the conflict, bolstering the Assad regime and posturing Moscow as a credible regional power broker in the Middle East,” the testimony read.
The Conflict Has Decisively Shifted in Damascus’ Favor
Evaluating the conflict itself, Coats highlighted the success of Damascus, adding that the level of violence has declined:
“The conflict has decisively shifted in the Syrian regime’s favor, enabling Russia and Iran to further entrench themselves inside the country. Syria is likely to experience episodic conflict through 2018, even if Damascus recaptures most of the urban terrain and the overall level of violence decreases,” he wrote, adding “The Syrian opposition’s seven-year insurgency is probably no longer capable of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad or overcoming a growing military disadvantage. Rebels probably retain the sources to sustain the conflict for at least the next year.”
As for Daesh, he underscored that “despite territorial losses, it probably possessed sufficient resources, and a clandestine network in Syria, to sustain insurgency operations through 2018.”