Days after the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad allegedly carried out a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of people, Western nations and their Arab allies are actively planning a military strike. This would be the first show of force by an outside power since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, all Arab dailies lead off.
The Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat, known for its hostility toward the Assad regime, reports that in the face of overwhelming international pressure, Assad came to an understanding with the United Nations that will allow an international fact-finding team to investigate the chemical attack as early as Monday. The Syrian government has publicly accused “terrorists,” or rebel forces, of launching the deadly attack.
Regardless of the conclusions the fact-finding team comes to, the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France have already decided that Assad’s gesture is too little too late. The Syrian regime will already have had enough time to destroy crucial evidence.
“The UN must be realistic about what it can achieve,” British Foreign Secretary William Haig told reporters.
The United States has already announced a re-concentrating of American warships in the eastern Mediterranean.
The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera notes that American Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey has already begun conducting meetings in Jordan with top generals from 10 other countries on a contingency plan for Syria. The main issues being discussed are how a strike in Syria will affect Jordan’s stability, what the response will be from Iran, and whether or not a strike will be successful.
The London-based pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi adds that any military strike is expected to be limited and to be carried out from air or water. The main option being considered seriously is to launch rocket attacks on specific points for a period of 24-48 hours “to send a message to the Syrian regime.”
Alexander Ukashevic, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, warned that “the repercussions would be severe on the White House if Russia’s red line on Syria was exceeded. . . There must be no effort to pre-impose the results of the investigation of UN experts. It must be rational because a mistake would be tragic.”
Despite the talk of military action against him, Assad too remains defiant, warning that “military intervention would only bring chaos and instability to the Middle East and the world.”
In an exclusive interview with the Russian daily Izvestia, picked up by the London-based Al-Hayat, Assad continues to call his battle with the Syrian opposition a fight between a legitimate power and terrorists.
“Syrian security forces are dealing with terrorist armies that have a radical ideology, the same as that of Al-Qaeda,” Assad asserted. “These terrorists are receiving major backing from Israel. If these terrorist groups hate Israel, then why are they going to Israel’s hospitals and fighting the Egyptian and Syrian states rather than opening up its operations against Israel? Let’s not forget that the main supporter of the terrorists is the United States of America.”
“I will not turn Syria into a puppet in the hands of the West,” Assad continued. “We are an independent state, we will fight terrorism, and we will build relations with those countries that want what’s best for the Syrian people.”
In an editorial published in A-Sharq Al-Awsat called “No politics with chemical weapons,” the paper opines that military intervention in Syria is no longer an option, but a duty.
“It cannot be permissible for the Assad regime to dilute the facts and disrupt an international investigation into the use of chemical weapons,” the editorial emphasizes. “Any delay in dealing firmly with Assad’s disregard for the lives of innocent people would cause great harm to the reputation of the international community. Silence for these crimes will destroy the chances of moderation and ignite extremism throughout the entire region.
Syrian opposition groups, for their part, may be already making the Saudi paper’s prediction a reality. Also accused of committing vast human atrocities, they have already vowed to bomb Alawite villages along the Syrian coast with thousands of rockets as retaliation for the chemical attack, according to the Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya.
The leading editorial in Al-Quds Al-Arabi states that, at this point, it is no longer important who carried out the chemical weapons attack. In a piece entitled “Doomsday scenario in Syria,” the paper argues that nothing other than military action can prevent Assad from continuing to subject his people to genocide.
“Arab intervention is not enough to overcome the beast,” the editorial reads. “It must be a total global effort.”