There was more action in Syria on Friday, April 7th as two Syrian jets took off from the airbase that was hit by U.S. Tomahawk missiles on Thursday. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the planes left the base, but their mission remains unclear. While military maneuvers continue in the war-torn middle east state, reactions to President Trump’s swift and decisive military strike are pouring in from around the world.
Several NATO allies came out in support of the U.S. strike. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement:
“President Assad alone bears responsibility for this development,” Merkel and Hollande said. “His repeated use of chemical weapons and his crimes against his own population had to be sanctioned.”
As well, the British government “fully supports” the U.S. air strike on a Syrian government military target, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.
Not surprisingly, Israel also issued a strong statement endorsing President Trump’smissile strike, according to Haaretz:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying President Trump sent a strong message that the use and distribution of chemical weapons won’t be tolerated.
The Prime Minister’s Office added that Israel hopes Trump’s powerful message against Assad’s government will be heard not only in Damascus, but also in Tehran, Pyongyang “and elsewhere.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, has condemned the air strike as an “act of aggression,” according to The Guardian. As a consequence, Russia has suspended military cooperation with the U.S. in Syria. Iran too strongly condemns what they term a “dangerous” U.S. strike on the Syria airbase.
Interestingly, the recent events in Syria and the international reactions seem to re-establish the pre-Trump and to some extent pre-Obama foreign policy relations. Before the election, Trump had made such positive statements about Putin that it created a cacophony of allegations of a “Russian connection” with the Trump campaign. As president, Trump was about to establish military cooperation with Russia in Syria. Only a few days before the chemical attack in Syria, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the U.S. is no longer focused on removing Assad from power. Clearly, priorities have changed.
Some political pundits, such as Ben Shapiro, say that the Assad regime was emboldened by an implicit support of the U.S. that signaled it was permissible to start using chemical weapons again. Others, however, like former British Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford, say that the attack is too convenient for the enemies of Assad.
Ford claims that there was no reason for the Assad regime to use chemical weapons at this time when they had gained the support of both the U.S. and Russia, had reclaimed Aleppo and was winning on all sides. They had very little to profit, and everything to lose by using chemical weapons.
Ford, echoing the Russian government, therefore says that a Syrian missile attack using conventional weapons caused a leak in a chemical weapons deposit held by the Islamist rebels. This then was used as a pretext to blame the attack on Syria for breaking the newly formed alliance between Russia and the U.S.
Regardless of what happened, Trump was painted into a corner and clearly felt it necessary to take action. If he had done nothing, the speculation about the Russian connection would only have intensified. However, at the same time, the military operation seems to have been crafted to make as little damage as possible to the Syrian military capability, while still looking like a fierce response. This could indicate that Trump is ambiguous about who was responsible for the apparent chemical attack or it could simply signal a measured military move by the new president.