by Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Donald Trump is facing his first international test. And if he passes it, the US will be on the way back to its former glory.
A very short length of rope connects the launching of an anti-aircraft missile towards IAF jets on the night of March 17th and the murderous use (once again!) of the poison gas which the Syrian regime is not supposed to have by the "Butcher of Damascus." The rope has the words "made in Russia," on it, and the poison gas is just a continuation of the brutal behavior of the Russian armed forces who have been helping Assad. And since Russia has veto power iin the Security Council, the world, even if it so wishes, is unable to force Putin to give an accounting of his army's actions in Syria and it certainly does not have the power to act against Russia in non-military fashion - by boycotting it, for example.
Although this latest atrocity took place during President Trump's term of office, the responsibility for its occurrence rests squarely on the former president's shoulders. Obama ignored the previous chemical weapons attacks, over 20 of them, and allowed Assad to get off the hook via an "agreement" according to which he was to dismantle his chemical weapons stores. There was no provision in the agreement for making sure Assad gave up his entire arsenal of CBW (chemical and biological weapons) nor did it have any means of preventing the renewed manufacture of chemical weapons once Assad dismantled a portion of them. All these mistakes were made during Obama's terms of office, and since then, Syrian citizens have been suffering from their reverberating outcomes.
With Russia's back, Assad feels free to do whatever he wishes, anything at all, legal or illegal, letting the end justify the means, including chemical means. He needs to remain the ruler in order to keep his head attached to his neck, even if he is left with only a small part of the country, from the coast eastward to the Idlib Mountains, where his defenders say he will establish an Allawite state on the ruins of Syria. Assad strides unhesitantly on the skeletons of the people he has killed, on a road built by the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias who came to eliminate the Sunni majority in Syria and replace it with Shiites, some local and some imported from Iran and Afghanistan. An ethnic purge of the Sunni majority is going on in Syria, and it involves using whatever means are at Assad's disposal. Exile, mass murders, all achieved using conventional weapons - or gas, the poison gas he doesn't have anymore after "destroying" the arsenal, leaving a significant amount intact and possibly the ability to manufacture more.
Assad is flexing his muscles, waiting to see whether the new US president has any red lines - and if so, what he might do if Assad crosses them. He is checking just how far he can go, how much patience Trump has, whether he has to be taken seriously, and just how seriously. If Trump does nothing, Assad will conclude that Trump is an Obama clone with regard to Syria and not worth taking to heart. Trump is facing his first test right now, with North Korea's nuclear threats vis a vis South Korea in the background, closely followed by Japan and the US, Russian plans for Ukraine and China's aspirations for control of parts of the China Sea.
In my humble opinion, the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun that left over a hundred dead and several hundreds injured, many of them chidlren, is - uinfortunately - the chance that the god of history has given the new American president. If I were one of Trump's advisors, I would tell him to call a press conference in the White House and read the following letter, live, to the entire world:
"To the Butcher of Damascus, Mr. Bashar Assad,
"For the past six years you have been massacring your citizens, people whose only sin is their wish to live in a state that cares about them, and not in a state which sees itself as their enemy. You, who have turned Syria into a slaughterhouse for its people, have lost all legitimacy, if you ever had any, because you have failed in the primary and central mission of any president: ensuring that his citizens can live their lives. That concept has vanished without a trace, leaving no justification for the continuation of your regime. In the name of Syria's citizens, in the name of all mankind, you are hereby removed from your position forthwith. You have 48 hours to get out of Syria, and as Commander in Chief of the US armed forces I have already given the order to be ready for an operation that will leave you a dead man. If you are still on Syrian soil at the end of that time period, I will give the order to act. Don't call me to get a time extension because you won't get one, you simply don't deserve it."
A credible threat of his nature will get the entire world to its feet with one question: "What is going to happen if Assad does not give in to the threat and ignores Trump's ultimatum? Putin will have to either enter into a confrontation with the United States or convince Assad to "take a short leave" in Moscow until Trump calms down. The North Koreans will wait impatiently to see the results of Russia's threats, because they are next in line after Assad to be threatened similarly by Trump about their military nuclear plans. Iran will also be on alert during those fateful 48 hours after Trump's speech because Iran's rulers know exactly what Trump thinks of them and of the nuclear agreement Obama had them sign in 2015.
An ultimatum of this nature could give the United States deterrent power once again after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama, the human rights knight in shining armor, intentionally and purposefully made it disappear. If Assad gives in to the ultmatum, Trump will come out a real winner. If Assad refuses to leave and an American operation eliminates him - Trump will be an even greater winner. I do not expect Putin to battle Trump to keep Assad in power, because Russian interests are not dependent on Assad the man but on the Alawite ethnic group and the ports Russia has taken over in Syria. Russia is also interested in what becomes of the natural gas on the bottom of the sea facing Syria's coast. Syria's gas resources are much larger than those of Israel.
Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. Thoroughly familiar with Arab media in real time, he is frequently interviewed on the various news programs in Israel.
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