The world was rightly horrified when a chemical weapons attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed at least 80 civilians. Graphic accounts of babies and children writhing in pain as they slowly succumbed to the toxin, followed up by intelligence that identified the culprit, spurred the United States into action. Donald Trump took decisive action, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who drew a red line over the use of chemical weapons in Syria and then did nothing when it was crossed. Mr Trump placed the blame squarely on Bashar Al Assad and directed a volley of 59 missiles at the airbase where the chemical attack originated.
This necessary action was widely welcomed around the world, including by the UAE. Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said Mr Trump’s actions were determined and decisive, and he noted that the use of chemical weapons was “a continuation of the heinous crimes committed by the regime against the Syrian people”. Describing the strike on Shayrat airbase as a “very measured step”, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the Security Council: “We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary.”
Nobody wants a further escalation of a war that has already claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions of people. While we are right to be concerned about what may come next, there can be no doubt about the correctness of the American action. The US has sent a strong message that civilised nations will not stand by in the face of atrocities committed by a reckless leader who has demonstrated his sheer contempt for his own people. This is not the first time Mr Al Assad has ordered the murder of innocent civilians, but it could be the last if he understands that the United States has joined the long list of countries in this region and beyond who are saying to him: “Enough is enough.”
Yes, the situation in Syria is complex and there are other groups with blood on their hands. With so many factions and shifting allegiances among them, it is a quagmire. It is unclear what the US is prepared to do next, but one thing is for sure: Mr Al Assad has been put on notice. Even with influential supporters in Moscow and Tehran, he must know that he is being held to account for his crimes in a way that has never happened before.