by Whitney Webb
The U.S. government is so desperate to prevent the Syrian government from retaking Idlib that it is willing to launch unilateral military action with or without the smokescreen “chemical weapons” justification it has been working to develop in recent weeks.
WASHINGTON – As the temperature of Syrian conflict is rising dramatically ahead of the Syrian government’s anticipated military offensive in the Idlib province, a new report published in the Wall Street Journal has revealed that President Donald Trump may not even wait for an accusation over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons to launch a strike against the government and its military allies.
The alarming report, which relies on information provided by anonymous administration officials, further claimed that U.S. intelligence indicated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had approved an imminent attack on the rebel-held Idlib province using chlorine gas, a scenario that the U.S. government has repeatedly warned in recent weeks would result in retaliatory military action. This “new” U.S. intelligence notably fits the “pre-crime” narrative that has recently been promoted by a cadre of U.S. government officials, including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley who claimed that the Syrian government is guilty of chemical weapons attacks against civilians before they happen.
Another troubling development detailed in the WSJ report is the fact that the Trump administration is also mulling whether or not to expand military strikes to include not just Syrian government forces but also the forces of Syria’s military allies in the conflict, Iran and Russia. If a military option targeting Russian and Iranian forces moves forward, it could prove a dangerous escalation and potentially cause the conflict to spread well beyond the borders of Syria
However, one of the most jarring yet most glossed over points made by the administration officials is that Trump may not even wait for any accusation of chemical weapons use to emerge before ordering a strike. As the Wall Street Journal notes, during recent exchanges within the White House, “President Trump threatened to conduct a massive attack against Mr. Assad if he carries out a massacre in Idlib,” meaning that an attack that results in a certain number of deaths – whether using conventional weapons or chemical weapons — may also trigger a military response from the United States.
While no fixed conditions were given by the quoted officials as to what would constitute a massacre, the threat of retaliation seems to be a means of providing an “open door” to the Trump administration for unilateral military action in Syria. For instance, the deaths of thousands of Al Qaeda-linked militants in Idlib at the hands of Syria’s army could potentially be called a “massacre.” Indeed, a high death toll for Al Qaeda-linked militants is likely, given that even mainstream media sources like The Washington Post admit that there are at least 14,000 of them currently in Idlib.
Given that the U.S.’ new representative for Syria engagement, James Jeffrey, recently stated that the even Al Qaeda-linked militants and other “rebels” in Idlib are “not terrorists, but people fighting a civil war against a brutal dictator” despiteconsiderable evidence to the contrary, it seems highly likely that the deaths of such militants could potentially push the U.S. government to take military action in response.
Idlib an important square in US’ Syria chess game
This possibility also lays bare the fact that the U.S. government is so desperate to prevent the Syrian government from retaking Idlib that it is willing to launch unilateral military action with or without the smokescreen justification it has been working to develop in recent weeks — i.e., the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
As MintPress has reported on multiple occasions, the U.S. is eager to maintain its occupation of Syrian territory in the northeast, home to the majority of Syria’s fresh water, agricultural and fossil-fuel resources, including its largest oil fields. Were Idlib to be brought under Syrian government control, the clearest consequence would be the fact that the Syrian government would then focus its attention on the U.S.-occupied portion of Syria. That is something the U.S. seeks to avoid, as local resistance to the U.S. military presence continues to proliferate, and as its alliance with the Kurds — who make up the bulk of its military proxy in the area, the Syrian Democratic Forces — is splintering.
Thus, were a Syrian military offensive to target this area, the U.S. would most likely be forced to face the end of its military presence in Syria, an eventuality that would be a major blow to the U.S.’ regime-change policy in Syria and regional effortsto counter Iran. By forcing a fight in Idlib, the U.S. may hope to prevent increased attention being given to its military occupation of Syria’s northeast.