The atrocious chemical attack Tuesday near Idlib, in northern Syria, raises more questions than definite answers.
It is premature to define and agree on the basic facts of what really happened and why a chemical agent was most probably dropped from the air, killing at least 100 people, many of them children, and wounded some 400.
Most signs indicate that it was an attack by the Syrian Air Force on civilians with the outlawed sarin gas, but no one has yet confirmed it definitively.
Even the UN’s special envoy to Syria was cautious and said only that there was an airstrike, but refused to confirm that the weapon used was sarin and that it was the Syrian Air Force that carried out the attack.
The rebels don’t have planes or helicopters and or chemical weapons, certainly not sarin, though ISIS has tried in the past to develop chemical weapons and used some basic homemade toxic chemicals or those purchased in the civilian market on a small scale. On the other hand, only the Syrian regime and Russia have air forces and the regime, in the past, has used sarin and another nerve gas against the rebels. Since 2013 Syria has used chlorine gas, which is not defined as a chemical weapon by the Chemical Weapons Convention, but is banned from warfare.
Both the Syrian regime and Russia deny that they were involved in the attack and blamed the rebels. The attack has, once again, damaged whatever was left of the regime’s reputation.
Theoretically, it doesn’t make sense for the regime to order such an attack at this stage, when its forces have gained some victories in recent months on the battlefield, capturing Aleppo and relatively consolidating and stabilizing their situation.
Furthermore, if sarin was indeed used, it is evidence that the regime violated the commitment it made in 2013 when it joined the convention and supposedly destroyed its arsenal of chemical weapons, which was one of the largest in the world. But on the other hand, it is hard to find any logic in the behavior of President Bashar Assad, who is described in an Israeli intelligence profile as having a “psychopathic” personality.
It also shouldn’t be ruled out that perhaps the order to use chemical weapons was not given by Assad, but instead by a local commander; although so far the military has proved to be a disciplined and hierarchal organization that is obedient to the president.
If indeed the regime used sarin gas, it would not surprise Israeli intelligence agencies, which know that the weapons inspectors didn’t dismantle the entire Syrian chemical weapons stockpile and that Assad managed to hide and keep a “residual capacity” of up to 10% of what he had before.
Nevertheless, the Israeli military estimate is that Assad has no intention to open a new front with Israel, thus there is no need to consider reissuing gas masks to the citizenry, a practice that was stopped a few years ago as result of the destruction of most of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal.
Sooner or later, the world will know whether sarin was used, and by whom and why.
But one basic truth doesn’t need to be investigated. The international community has once again displayed its apathy to the slaughter that has been taking place in Syria for more than six years and has so far caused the deaths of half a million people, wounded another million and made 10 million homeless refugees.
The cardinal sin was the decision of former US president Barak Obama not to attack Syria in 2013, after he declared the use of chemical weapons a “redline.” In turning his back on the Syrian tragedy, he signaled to Russia to move in and to Assad that he is immune from punishment from the United States.
But one shouldn’t expect any direct action from Obama’s successor. President Donald Trump, who rushes to tweet about pretty much everything, has remained silent.
More importantly, Trump is seeking to reach an agreement with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on dividing the world into spheres of influence, and he seems ready to acknowledge that Syria should be under Russia’s influence.
Israeli leaders, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the attack and the Assad regime and called upon the international community to act, but this is not enough. Words are not sufficient.
Israel has a moral obligation as the homeland of the Jewish people, which was decimated by the Nazis and their gas chambers. Israel should have intervened based on moral and humanitarian justification when the war broke out. Now it’s too late and the non-interventionist policy of Israel is understandable.
Over the last several years, Israeli hospitals have treated some 3,000 Syrian civilians who were wounded in the war.
But it’s not enough. Israel has to make another humanitarian gesture and take in some of the victims of the Idlib tragedy for medical treatment.
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