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Experts laud US leader’s ‘decisive action’

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US President Donald Trump has won accolades for leading air and missile strikes in Syria, carried out by the US, UK and France in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Oubai Shahbandar, a fellow in New America’s international security program, told Arab News that Trump should be commended “for taking decisive action against Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons infrastructure.”

But as the smoke settles, he said: “It’s not clear whether Assad’s capacity to gas his people has been truly neutralized.

“(But) what is clear is that neither Iran nor Russia has the ability to counter these strikes. Assad’s weakness was exposed to the international community, as his air defense was also shown to be impotent.”

Shahbandar said that the international community should work further with the regional Arab alliance to ensure that Assad’s military machine was destroyed, paving the way for an equitable political solution and peace settlement.

“Anything short of that will sadly just continue the cycle of violence,” he said.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, Harvard-educated Iranian-American political scientist, told Arab News: “Although limited airstrikes send Assad a warning message, these will not resolve the Syrian conflict. The balance of power in Syria remains intact in favor of the Syrian regime, Iran, its proxies, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias.”

He said that comprehensive, articulate and multifaceted strategy is needed to resolve the crisis. “Such a strategy ought to include imposing no-fly zone, pushing Iran’s military, IRGC and Quds Force out of Syria by targeting its bases, conducting land and air operations simultaneously, and ultimately altering the regime which continues to commit crimes against humanity.”

The Syrian coalition of opposition forces described the strikes as “an important step toward crippling the regime and undermining its military capabilities.”

In a statement to Arab News, the coalition said further strikes should be carried out to prevent the regime and its “terrorist allied foreign militia” from using any weapons against Syrian civilians.

The goal must be to force the regime, Iran and Russia to engage in the political process, it said.
The coalition held the Assad regime and its allies responsible for the current situation.

Bahia Al-Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News that Assad “is fully responsible for what is currently happening in Syria.”

She said: “All attacks against civilians by the regime and its allies, especially those using chemical weapons, must be stopped.”
Syrians deserve better than a choice between the evils of Assad and the poison of terrorism, she said.

Karl Dewey, a chemical and biological weapons expert at Jane’s by IHS Markit, said the extent of Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure remains unclear, although at least three sites have been consistently highlighted: Masyaf, Dummar (Jamraya) and Barzeh.

Syrian authorities claim that more than 100 missiles were shot down by their air defense system. According to Russia, 103 missiles were fired and 71 shot down, Dewey said.

“If confirmed, it remains to be seen whether the allied attack fulfilled all its intended goals. It also remains to be seen if these strikes will deter the future use of chemical weapons,” he said.

The US strike last April did not deliver a consistent response and failed to deter chemical attacks, while the apparent success of Syria’s air defense system may give greater confidence to Damascus, particularly if the allied strike failed to destroy key targets or pre-existing chemical weapon stocks, Dewey said.