Iran is the target and Russia knows that
Hours after the U.S., Britain and France conducted joint military strikes on Syria on April 14, experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) were scheduled to start their works in the Syrian town of Douma, where an alleged chemical weapons attack was carried out last week. Their mission is to understand whether or not any chemical weapons were used in the Syrian regime forces’ attack on the rebel-held town on April 7 and, if so, which chemical agent was used.
As it has been proven that the so-called “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction” intelligence was a fabricated one to justify the U.S.’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, it is understandable that the international community might want to be assured that it was indeed the Syrian regime that used the chemical weapons.
But when the OPWC carried out a similar work in the neighboring Eastern Ghouta in 2013, it found solid evidence that the Bashar al-Assad regime used chemical weapons against its own citizens. And what happened after then U.S. President Barack Obama made the “red line” warning? Nothing.
The problem, however, is not just chemical weapons. Syria had a population of around 22 million before a civil war broke out in 2011, when Assad’s forces shot dead demonstrators in the wake of the Arab Spring. Now, more than 500,000 are reported to have been killed, according to human rights observers. Some 6 million fled the country and some 5 million are currently displaced within the country, according to figures of the U.N. and human rights observers. The country is in ruins and is an open battleground for the proxy wars of regional and global powers.
So, was the April 14 attack, during which 105 missiles were launched to hit alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria, with an estimated budget of $240 million, a demonstration of Western democracies saying “enough” to human rights violations in Syria?
The leaders of the three Western U.N. Security Council member countries that led the strikes, Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron, all have their own — in fact serious — political problems at home. Amid difficulties they’ve been facing back home, they found — after seven long years — an adversary: An Arab dictator killing his own people with the support of Russia and Iran.
Russia and Iran filled the power vacuum gradually after 2013; Iran through its Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and Shiite militias, and Russia through its military alliance with Syria by expanding its military presence since 2015. The U.S., in the meantime, has been telling Turkey to stop its military action against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), their partner on the ground and the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), saying it was diverting their attention from the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But is hitting the Syrian regime not diverting attention from the fight against ISIL?
Perhaps the real problem is the Western powers seeing their NATO partner Turkey cooperating with Russia and Iran on Syria amid the absence that Turkey found in the fight against the PKK. It is important to keep in mind that Bob Menendez of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked the crucial question of “Where is America in this picture?” to the nominated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his April 11 testimony, showing a photo of Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in a meeting on April 4 in Ankara over the future of Syria.
On the other hand, the three Western powers know well that it is Erdoğan that is trying to ensure the Astana Process over Syria is kept within the focus of the Geneva talks despite Iran’s objection and Russia’s latency. It should also be noted that Turkey was informed about the April 14 missile attacks on Syria beforehand and has been one of the first countries to give support to it. Ankara shows that it can work much better with its NATO allies on Syria if it could get support from them in the fight against the PKK and its extensions in Syria, Iraq and Europe.
Russia is too big of an adversary for the U.S. (and also for the U.K. and France) to start a fight over Syria, as Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in a recent column for the Daily Sabah, especially after China gave military backing to Russia in the event of an attack from the West. It should be noted that Russia withdrew its battleships from its naval base in the port of Syria’s Tartus before the missile attacks and said afterwards that it did not respond to the attack. Russia wants to keep its position in Syria even if Assad goes.
Assad is not a huge problem for the West, which is what Turkey objects to. Assad’s presence means Syria will remain weak and dependent on Russian support, while its threats to its neighbors Lebanon and Israel will be limited. But a larger presence of Iran due to the civil war is imminent. Iran’s presence is a problem not only for Israel but for Saudi Arabia too. The American support for the YPG/PKK (they are the same, despite the U.S. Intelligence Community Assessment said earlier in February that they are not) looks like a move against Iran rather than defeating ISIL.
Both Turkey and Russia know that the real target of the West is now Iran and its presence in Syria. If a political solution is forced in Syria soon, through Geneva, it would be the best not only for the majority of Syrians who want to live in peace in their own lands, but also for many people and countries across the region.