Hassan Hassan writes: The decision of the US finally to punish Bashar al-Assad for the use of chemical weapons against civilians will turn out to be, no doubt, a catalyst for a new chapter in the Syrian conflict. Even though US officials repeatedly emphasised the missile strikes on the Shayrat airfield were a one-off punitive measure, the unprecedented move comes amid a set of turning points in different parts of Syria and in the way foreign actors operate there. It is against the backdrop of these changes that the regime’s logic behind the use of chemical weapons should be viewed.
Paradoxically, recent changes in the conflict have seemed to favour the regime. Exactly one week before the missile attack, American officials gave Assad something he long wanted, namely, a new stated policy that his removal was no longer a US objective. This came in the form of top-level remarks from Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, stating that the long-term status of Assad would be decided by the Syrian people .
The message was cause for celebration in Damascus, especially as the about-face reflects the approach of the opposition’s regional and international backers in recent months. [Continue reading…]