By Middle East Affairs
Damascus, Aleppo and Homs saw explosions early Saturday as the United States, France and Britain carried out their first joint air strikes against Syria.
The air strikes were in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack April 7 in the Eastern Ghouta city of Douma. Experts believe a “cocktail” of chemical weapons killed 60 civilians. The international community has blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran, who deny the claims.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Syrian air defense systems shot down a “considerable part” of the 105 missiles fired. Haaretz reported three targets that were struck: a scientific research facility in Damascus’ Barzeh district that “allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons,” a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a command post, also near Homs, that stored chemical weapons equipment.
“We believe that by hitting Barzeh in particular we’ve attacked the heart of the Syrian chemicals weapon program,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters at the Pentagon.
However, McKenzie also acknowledged that elements of Syria’s chemical weapons program were left unscathed and that he could not guarantee that Syria wouldn’t carry out another chemical attack in the future, Reuters said.
Syrian state television confirmed three civilians were injured, while a Syrian military source told Haaretz that at least six Syrian soldiers were injured near Homs.
Syria managed to evacuate its bases and facilities earlier this week, according to The Observatory, after warnings from Russia when U.S. President Donald Trump threatened – then confirmed – his intention to carry out air strikes on the country.
Russia had promised to respond to any attack on its ally, but Reuters said the Pentagon claimed to have had “deconfliction” contacts with Russia before and after the strikes, that Syrian air defense systems were virtually ineffective, and that it wasn’t believed Russian systems had been employed.
In a televised announcement Friday evening, Trump said, “The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. … These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead,” Trump said.
Speaking to Syrian allies Iran and Russia, Trump asked: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women, and children?”
According to Haaretz, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said the attack was a “one-time shot,” and that “the Assad regime didn’t get the message” after Trump tried carrying out air strikes last year as well to warn the Syrian president against more chemical attacks.
Saturday’s attacks are not expected to change the course of the al-Assad’s victory. A photo released Saturday morning by his office shows al-Assad walking into the office in a suit, with a briefcase, and the caption: “Morning of resilience.”
Russia, however, a major ally of Syria since 2015 and much of the reason al-Assad is winning the seven-year civil war right now, has said it will call an emergency U.N. Security Council session to discuss the events.
Mattis said the military had “gone to great length to avoid civil and foreign casualties,” Haaretz reported.
"These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead," President Trump said, announcing he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a suspected chemical weapon attack https://t.co/bWUhTVsDRl pic.twitter.com/uEmMD5TkF3
— CNN International (@cnni) April 14, 2018
The Russian embassy in the U.S. said in a statement, “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences,” and that the United States, France and Britain would be held accountable.
“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible,” the statement said. “The U.S. – the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons – has no moral right to blame other countries.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the air strikes were a crime.
“Today’s dawn attack on Syria is a crime. I clearly declare that the president of the United States, the president of France and the British prime minister are criminals,” Khamenei said in a speech, according to his Twitter account.
Leaders of the three countries defended their decision.
“This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement. “It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called the alleged chemical weapons attack a massacre and a violation of international rules.
“The red line established by France in May 2017 was crossed,” he said.
Haaretz said an Israeli official also supported the strikes by the United because as Syria had crossed the “red line,” the United States, France and Britain were now enforcing that line.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan also voiced his support for the airstrikes on Syria.
“With the joint operation by U.S., U.K. and France on Saturday, the Syrian regime received the message that its massacres wouldn’t be left unanswered,” Reuters reported him as saying in an Istanbul meeting.
“The innocent Syrian people should have been defended long ago,” Erdogan added.
Russia had originally agreed in 2013 to monitor Syria and disarm the country from chemical weapons attacks. Trump has directly blamed Russia for the April 7 attack, saying it was a “direct result of Russia’s failure to keep that promise. Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path.”
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert took it a bit further by adding during a press conference that the United States hopes “Russia and Iran will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, however, warned that if another chemical attack happens in Syria, the United States is “locked and loaded” to strike again, Reuters reported.
“We are confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program. We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will,” she said.
“If the Syrian regime uses this poison gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,” Haley said.
Trump, in a tweet Sunday, called the air strike “perfectly executed” and finished with: “Mission accomplished.”