What comes after the gas attack in Syria?

The US, France and Britain hope to decide on a joint reaction to the presumed chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime in eastern Ghouta within the next few days. Russia has said rebels staged the attack in which according to the aid organisation White Helmets 42 people were killed. Commentators discuss the credibility of the West's threats and Assad's future.

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La Repubblica (IT) /

A classic diversionary tactic

Trump isn't the first US president to divert attention from domestic problems with military interventions abroad, La Repubblica's Washington correspondent Vittorio Zucconi recalls:

“Bombing Syria to defuse the legal bombs that threatened to explode at home harks back to the cynical and violent tactics used by Bill Clinton to get rid of the spectre of his intern Monica Lewinsky. ... Risking a few dead in far-away countries is a classic strategy used by powerful leaders who feel threatened within their own four walls. All the more so when the person under threat has such a gigantic military apparatus at his disposal as Trump does. Since he can deploy neither the marines nor missiles against the inquisitor Bob Mueller he must point them at the Syrian desert to divert attention from the investigations.”

Karar (TR) /

Murder will once again go unpunished

Trump's threats against Assad are just bluster, Karar complains:

“It doesn't make any sense to nourish hopes that this time Assad will pay a high price for his crimes - because not so much as his little finger will be hurt. ... How many days has the murder of civilians, including babies in nappies, gone on in eastern Ghouta? ... How many have passed since the UN Security Council voted for a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta? 40. ... As if the murderer Assad had ever paid the price for the brutal murder of 400 civilians in eastern Ghouta or ever will for the most recent massacre. As if Assad had begun only yesterday to carry out massacres in Syria and use chemical weapons. Assad has been murdering for seven years and for seven years he has been using chemical weapons.”

112.ua (UA) /

Russia could end support for Assad

Assad's future as Syrian leader is by no means secure, political scientist Giorgi Kukhaleishvili comments on the news portal 112.ua:

“Certainly, the US and France have stopped calling for his overthrow because he's more predictable than the alternative, the radical extremists - of which there are too many in Syria. But no one intends to close their eyes to Assad's use of chemical weapons or his attempts to use brute force to recapture all territories from the opposition. ... If he continues like this it won't be advantageous either for Russia or for the West to leave him in power. For the Kremlin it would then be simpler to organise a palace rebellion in Damascus and install in his place a reliable Baath general who doesn't use chemical weapons and doesn't discredit Russia's international image.”

Latvijas Avize (LV) /

Sacrifice Syrian unity for peace

Latvijas avīze sketches a picture of Syria's future:

“Syria will become a colourful patchwork, with the territory divided up into areas with their own administration, police, army and financial authorities. That would at least be a guarantee for a short-term peace and a more or less stable system in which the inhabitants no longer suffer and the waves of refugees no longer pose a threat to Europe. And that's what will happen. In the worst case, civil war trouble spots will keep flaring up in the conflict-riddled country, driven by foreign interests and Muslim extremists.”

Avvenire (IT) /

Victims are being instrumentalised

The public outcry makes Avvenire mistrustful:

“From a tactical point of view the use of chemical weapons is not only pointless, it's also counterproductive. Because it amounts to inviting a military intervention against the forces that have already decided the war in their favour. Nevertheless it's hard to ignore just how much the indignation over the chemical attacks contrasts with the limited interest in the massacres carried out on a daily basis against the Syrian population - using conventional weapons, or worse still, the lack of food, water and medical assistance. It would seem that those who rant and rave about the chemical attacks care little about the daily killing machine: about the dead, the wounded and the refugees. This gives rise to the suspicion that the dead, too, are merely being exploited for strategic reasons.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Inept evasive manoeuvre by the Europeans

The reactions to the presumed chemical weapons attack are hypocritical, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung criticises:

“The fact that the Europeans are now appealing to the UN Security Council - the selfsame body that Russia degraded to a toothless tiger with its veto right - makes Europe look inept indeed. Only a robust show of force could now stop Assad from slaughtering his own population - but the will is for the most part lacking. A year ago the American President Trump ordered an airstrike on a Syrian military base in retaliation for the massacre of Khan Shaykhun. Critics describe the strike as unjustified, but it achieved an important goal: the Syrian troops' attacks using the nerve gas sarin abruptly ended, allowing at least a few lives to be saved.”

Milliyet (TR) /

A good reason to stay in Syria

The timing of the gas attack is no coincidence, Milliyet suspects:

“Just when Donald Trump had made the decision to pull out of Syria, Assad has convinced him to stay by deploying poison gas! ... Trump announced on March 29 that he was withdrawing his troops from Syria. The gas attack in Douma, eastern Ghouta, was carried out on 7 April. The use of poison gas is a war crime. But to condemn it you first have to find the culprit. This is the task of independent observers. But the US is doing the same thing it always does. Accusing Syria and Russia before the incident has even been investigated.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Trump seeking direct conflict with Putin

In the crisis triggered by the presumed chemical weapons attacks US President Donald Trump has for the first time directly threatened Putin in his tweets. The tone is getting increasingly harsh, De Telegraaf notes:

“In his election campaign Trump always said he would seek dialogue with Putin. ... Later, sanctions were imposed on the Russian president's clique, but the White House always refrained from taking action against Putin himself. Now Trump has publicly blamed Putin for supporting the 'animal Assad'. And Trump is clearly no longer willing to adopt a moderate tone now that he's surrounded by a growing number of hawks like [National Security Advisor] John Bolton and [the new Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo.”

ABC (ES) /

Entire region threatened with catastrophe

ABC fears that the war in Syria could spread across the entire region as a result of a rash reaction by the US to the chemical attacks:

“After seven years of war it's hard to imagine that things could get any worse for Syria. But they can - a lot worse. ... The strike the US administration is now preparing must be carefully planned, because right now any error could have disastrous consequences for the entire region. It is in no one's interest to see a torturous civil war turn into a regional conflict or something even worse. It may be too late to convince Assad to negotiate on certain aspects. But there is time at least to prevent the immeasurable suffering the Syrians have gone through from spreading to other countries in the region.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

"Red line" long a thing of the past

For Hospodářské noviny Assad's latest chemical weapons attack is a mocking accompaniment to the US's announced withdrawal from Syria:

“In 2013 Obama drew a 'red line' that Damascus was not to cross. Assad then went ahead and crossed it with impunity. The subsequent treaty worked out under American and Russian patronage according to which Syria will relinquish its C-weapons is worth no more than the scrap of paper it's written on, as we now see. Any 'red line' there ever was has long been replaced by Russian cynicism and American isolationism. A few days ago Trump announced the US's withdrawal from Syria. If it goes ahead it could mean a new American disgrace of historical proportions.”

La Stampa (IT) /

State terror as the ultimate deterrence

Assad is now trying to secure his future by adopting a strategy of terror, La Stampa comments:

“Terror is a long-term psychological weapon. Assad learned that from his father. In 1982 the Syrian army besieged the city of Hama to quell a rebellion there. ... The city was bombed, searched house by house and then razed to the ground with bulldozers. It is estimated that between 20,000 and 40,000 people died. For years Hama served as a deterrence in Syria against any form of opposition. Until 2011 and the start of the civil war. ... For the dictator, attacks with chemical weapons are a way of cementing his future power by neutralising any idea of revolt. In the same way the Romans - symbolically - spread salt on Carthage, so that the city that had dared to rebel should remain forever barren.”