Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards
Members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Reuters

Yochanan Visser is an independent journalist/analyst who worked for many years as Middle East correspondent for Western in Arizona and was a frequent publicist for the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant. He authoreda book in the Dutch language about the cognitive war against Israel and now lives in Gush Etzion. He writes a twice weekly analysis of current issues for Arutz Sheva

On Saturday, the United States, France, and the United Kingdom launched more than hundred Tomahawk cruise missiles on three Syrian facilities which were part of Assad’s still existing covert chemical weapons program.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces General Joseph Dunlop said, during a press conference after the strikes, that the facilities included a scientific studies and research center in northwest Damascus used for tests of biological and chemical weapons.

The attack came earlier than many observers expected after President Donald Trump seemed to indicate he would wait for the arrival of a fleet of U.S. warships which left for the Mediterranean Sea at the end of last week.

The US military used the so-called SEAD method to prevent its warplanes from being hit by surface to air missiles.

SEAD is suppression of enemy air defense, and in modern strike operations "typically involves pre-emptively taking down, or counterattacking, air defense command posts and surface to air missile batteries when they shoot at the strike aircraft,” weapons expert Jennifer Dyer reported.

Some of the Tomahawk missiles “were likely used for this ancillary mission,” she added.

The Pentagon and the White House later released declassified information which assessed with confidence that "the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in the eastern Damascus suburb of Douma on April 7, 2018, killing dozens of men, women, and children, and severely injuring hundreds more.”

The White House press release furthermore revealed chemical weapons were used more than once during a week-long offensive against Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam), one of the largest Islamist rebel groups in Syria.

The assault on Jaish al-Islam in Douma “killed and wounded thousands of people” the statement furthermore read, while Syrian government helicopters were used to launch the chemical attack.

The victims of the chemical attack, which reportedly also involved the use of Sarin gas, suffered from” miosis (constricted pupils), convulsions, and disruption to central nervous systems” according to multiple open sources such as the World Health Organization.

The Russian-Iranian-backed pro-Assad coalition still denies the use of chemical weapons in Douma on April 7, but the evidence that Assad used these forbidden weapons against the Syrian population is overwhelming.

The Syrian regime always uses chemical weapons when an offensive is grinding, as was the case in Douma where Jaish al-Islam refused to surrender and rejected a deal which would have ended its presence in the area of Damascus.

The White House press release also said “the Syrian military retains expertise from its traditional chemical weapons agent program to both use sarin and produce and deploy chlorine munitions.”

This, despite a 2013 Russian-American agreement which should have resulted in the complete destruction of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. The deal was brokered by former US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

The Syrian opposition said at the time the agreement would “embolden Assad to escalate his military offensive across Syria.”

Adulsalam Abdulrazek, a former Syrian military official who worked on Assad’s chemical weapons program, now says that the joint American, French and English strikes hit parts but not “the heart of the program.”

Abdulrazek toldAssociated Press in rebel-held northern Syria that many of Assad’s chemical facilities still exist and that Syria’s chemical weapons program was only partly dismantled, because the regime often refused inspections of existing stockpiles.

The NATO partners, however, don’t seem to be considering additional strikes against regime targets.

Trump, for instance, said in his address to his fellow Americans that the purpose of the military action was limited, intended “to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.”

The president also indicated he would use all instruments in his power, “military, economic and diplomatic” to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons again.

Although Trump warned Russia and Iran, who he said were the “two governments most responsible for supporting, equipping, and financing the criminal Assad regime,” he did not make clear what he would do to stop the two countries from expanding their influence in the Middle East.

On the contrary, he said again that he looked forward to pulling the more than 2,000 US soldiers out of Syria.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria under no circumstances. As other nations step up their contributions, we look forward to the day when we can bring our warriors home,” Trump said.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex), however, said after Trump’s speech that the United States should focus on “Assad’s financers” and called upon the president to withdraw from former president Obama’s “disastrous Iran deal.”

"In addition to any military action that we may choose to take, we must also take action against Assad's financers,” Cruz wrote in a statement.

“We should withdraw from President Obama's disastrous Iran deal that is enriching the Iran government with billions of dollars, and those ill-gotten gains are in turn being funnelled to Syria to prop up the Bashar regime,” the Texan senator added.

His words coincided with news that a new aerial attack had taken place against an Iranian base south of Aleppo in Syria.

Arab social and news media said Israeli warplanes had blown up an Iranian missile facility on Jabal Azzan, a mountain near Aleppo, killing 20 soldiers, among them Iranians.

Most media reports concentrated on the question of whether Israel was actually involved in the assault on the base, while Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese media claimed the news was a hoax.

The fact of the matter is, however, that an Israeli reconnaissance drone similar to the one that was used ahead of the IAF strike on the T-4 airbase near Homs last week, had been conducting “intensive over flights” in northern Lebanon, the Lebanese National News Agency reported on Saturday.

Israel is “pretty much alone” in the fight against Iran’s growing presence in Syria, a very senior source in the Israeli defense establishment told the news site Al-Monitor last week.

As Cruz rightfully observed, Assad would never have been in the position to consolidate his control over Syria and to develop chemical weapons without the backing of Russia - and of Iran in particular.

The urgency of coordinated and decisive action against the growing Iranian threat from Syria was underlined by the release of new details about an Iranian drone which was shot down close to the northern Israeli city Bet Shean at the beginning of February.

Channel 10TV in Israel reported that the large drone, which departed from the T-4 airbase near Homs and was shot down by an IAF Apache helicopter after entering Israeli airspace from Jordan on Feb.10, carried “explosive material”.

“Its mission was to carry out a destructive operation,” according to the IDF.

The Iranian action could easily have ended in a mass-casualty disaster because most people in Bet Shean were at home celebrating the weekly Sabbath rest day during the incident.