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Is the United States Preparing for a War in Syria?

A civil defence team search for survivors after a barrel bomb attack in Aleppo Syria in August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A civil defence team search for survivors after a barrel bomb attack in Aleppo Syria in August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

OXFORD, Jul 3 2017 (IPS) - Although US policies during the past few months have been quite puzzling and unpredictable, the events of the past few days have been truly bewildering and alarming. On Monday 26th June, the White House released a statement saying that the United States had “identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime…” It went on to say: “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price.”

The threats were not limited to the Syrian government. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, followed that statement by tweeting: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.”

It is of course beside the point to ask how US officials have “identified” that Syria was preparing for another chemical attack, while after so many years of fighting ISIS and other terrorists, they have not yet been able to find out who is supplying them with weapons, funds and organization.

Farhang Jahanpour

With these strange and unsubstantiated statements, the Trump Administration is introducing a new element of uncertainty to the developments in the Middle East. As if the situation in that volatile region was not bad enough, these warlike statements have made it much worse. Many people are asking whether the US Administration is preparing the ground for a major confrontation in the Middle East with unimaginable consequences.

Some 14 years ago, in total violation of international law, former US President George W. Bush launched a barbaric attack on Iraq on the basis of fabricated intelligence, which destroyed that country, killed and wounded more than a million people, and gave rise to ISIS that has afflicted the world ever since.

Far from having learned any lessons from that disastrous mistake, the Trump Administration seems intent on committing a similar mistake on a grander scale. During the campaign, Candidate Trump accused the former US Administration of having created ISIS, not indirectly but deliberately. He spoke about America having spent six trillion dollars on illegal wars in the Middle East and having nothing to show for it. He vowed that he would not be interested in regime change and was intent on resolving international disputes through negotiations and deals.

Whether he has changed his mind or whether the neocons in the Administration have infiltrated and dominated his administration makes little difference. The clear fact is that the Trump Administration seems to have opted for the logic of war, instead of resolving the conflicts by peaceful means.

During the past few weeks, US forces have launched a number of attacks on the positions of the forces allied with the Syrian government. On 18th May and 6th June, American aircraft bombed pro-Syrian militias in southern Syria. They shot down two Iranian-made drones on 8th and 20 June, and on 18th June a US fighter shot down a Syrian aircraft that was attacking ISIS bases west of Raqqa.

On 6th April, after an alleged Syrian chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, a US frigate fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the air base from which the Syrian aircraft had taken off. This was despite the fact that the United Nations was still investigating the source of the attack, and some leading investigative reporters and even the Veterans Intelligence Professionals for Sanity who were on the ground had cast doubt on the Syria government’s involvement in the chemical attack.

It is strange that as Syrian forces, backed by Russia and Iran, are gaining the upper hand and liberating most of Syria from the terrorists, the intensity of Israeli and American attacks on Syrian government forces has increased.

From the start of the crisis in Syria, there have been a number of theories based on some leaked information that claimed that the entire debacle in Syria was part of a vicious plot by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United States, initially supported by Turkey and Qatar, to isolate Iran and to cut off any links between Iran and Hezbollah through Syria.

Whether those theories about US involvement in Syria in support of Israel and against Iran were correct or not, the fact remains that the Trump Administration is engaged in an illegal and dangerous course of action that may result in a an unwanted war between Russia and Iran on the one hand, and the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia on the other.

In view of these developments it is important to point out:

  1. US actions are in clear violation of the UN Charter and are acts of aggression against a sovereign state.
  2. While Russian and Iranian forces are fighting in Syria against the insurgents at the invitation of the Syrian government, America as an uninvited guest has been fighting against the Syrian forces.
  3. If the Trump Administration is sincere in wanting to eliminate ISIS it should support Russia and Iran to liberate the remaining territory occupied by the terrorists.
  4. If the Trump Administration believes in democracy, free elections and the rule of law, it should call for elections in Syria under UN supervision after the defeat of the insurgents, and then accept the election results, rather than keep calling for the ouster of the Syrian president.
  5. Before launching into a dangerous adventure against Russia and Iran, the Trump Administration must carefully consider the consequences of such a major confrontation.
  6. If the Trump Administration is determined to push for war in Syria, US allies should make it clear that they will not support another unnecessary war in the Middle East.
  7. Meanwhile, instead of being only concerned about possible threats to the state of Israel, it is time to take serious steps to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict with some justice for the hard-pressed Palestinians who have lived under a brutal occupation for more than 50 years. Finding a fair solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict would ensure Israel’s security more than any attempts at regime change in other countries.
  8. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Trump strongly criticized President Obama for having set a red line regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and then failing to punish Syria. President Trump should realize that by issuing similar ultimatums to the Syrian government on the hypothetical use of chemical weapons, he is giving an open invitation to the terrorists to undertake such false flag operations, and then he will have to act, whether the Syrian government had been responsible for the use of chemical weapons or not.

Finally, to add an element of farce to the entire episode, on June 28th Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the Syrian government had heeded the US warning and had changed its mind about the use of chemical weapons.

The situation in the world is too serious for the leading superpower in the world to pursue such confused and contradictory policies. It is time for the US government to adopt serious and sane approaches towards the Middle East before the world is engulfed in another major catastrophe.


Farhang Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan and a former Senior Research Scholar at Harvard. For the past 30 years he has been teaching courses on the Middle East at the Department of Continuing Education and is a member of Kellogg College at the University of Oxford

The statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.


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  • Omar Bradly

    Mr. Farhang Jahanpour is an Iranian and, as such, he is presenting his pro-Iran/anti-U.S./anti-Israel bias opinion on the subject. He intentionally ignores the fact that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad had butchered half a million Syrians and forced more than 10 million others into exile. Assad has lost all legitimacy to rule Syria, and the U.S. is quite right to call for his departure (not just Bashar himself, but the entire Assad family). Someone should also ask Mr. Jahanpour what is Iran doing in Syria — or Iraq, or Lebanon or Yemen for that matter? Iran, with its expansionist policy in the Middle East and its attempt to export its Shiite version of Islam to other countries during the last 37 years is more responsible for the emergence of ISIS then the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and the removal of that country’s dictator Saddam Hussein.

  • Omar Bradly

    Mr. Farhang Jahanpour is an Iranian scholar and, in this article, presents his own
    pro-Iran/anti-US/anti-Israel bias opinion. He conveniently ignores the fact that the Assad family belongs to a minority Shiite sect ruling over a huge majority angry Sunni Muslims in Syria. Mr. Jahanpour also does not mention that the Assad family has subjected the Syrian people to a barbaric brutality during the last 45 years.
    In 1982, Hafez Al-Assad (Bashar Al-Assad’s father) massacred close to 50,000 people in the city of Hama alone. From 2011 until now, Bashar himself, along with Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon have killed half a million Syrians and forced more than 12 million more into exile. The Assad family has lost all legitimacy to rule Syria (not that they had any to begin with).

    Someone should ask Mr. Jahanpour what is Iran doing in Syria anyway?! Americansare in Syria because they have been victims of ISIS again and again, and theywant to destroy their enemy, ISIS. Up until a month ago, Iran had never been attacked by ISIS. So, what has Iran been doing in Syria for the last 6 years, except for helping its Shiite ally, Bashar Al-Assad, to massacre the Syrian people?!

    As for the emergence of ISIS, contrary to what Mr. Jahanpour argues, Iran’s expansionist policy and its continuous efforts to export its Shiite revolution to other Sunni countries in the region (including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain, and so on) is a lot more responsible than the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and the removal of that country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. The whole world knows that.

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