Over the night of 13/14 April the United States, the United Kingdom and France launched airstrikes against multiple targets inside Syria suspected of being used in connection with chemical weapons.

President Donald Trump said that the actions were to establish a deterrent “against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.” He stated that the US was prepared to “sustain the response.” He also addressed comments directly to Russia and Iran, the supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime: “What kind of a nation wants to be associated with the mass murder of innocent men, women and children. The nations of the world can be judged on the friends they keep.”

Following the broadcast, at a Pentagon briefing Gen Joseph Dunford listed three targets that had been struck:

– A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons

– A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs

– A chemical weapons equipment storage site and an important command post, also near Homs

According to US news network CNN: “Military and defense officials told CNN that at least one US Navy warship operating in the Red Sea participated in Friday’s strikes, as well as US B-1 bombers.”

The UK Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “The UK element of the carefully coordinated joint action was contributed by four Royal Air Force Tornado GR4s. They launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility – a former missile base – some fifteen miles west of Homs, where the regime is assessed to keep chemical weapon precursors stockpiled in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

CNN also reported that the French Rafale jets participated with their own missile attack.

This attack follows a previous airstrike on Monday 9 April against the Syrian T4 (Tiyas) airbase near Homs that followed the alleged chemical weapons attack by regime forces over the weekend of 7/8 April 2018.

The chemical attack was mounted against Douma in the Eastern Ghouta region, the last rebel-held enclave near Damascus. Over 70 people, including children, were reportedly killed by what was said to be chlorine gas. Although it was not immediately possible to independently verify the nature of the weapon used, or the number of dead, Ahmet Uzumcu, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, expressed “grave concern”.

The mission attack on three Syrian targets that occured on Friday 13 April came after US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron had issued a joint statement on Sunday 8 April promising that they would “co-ordinate a strong, joint response” to the attack. Trump also promised that there would be a “big price to pay”, branding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as an “animal”, and criticising Russia and Iran for supporting the Syrian leader.

Damascus continues to deny that its forces had used chemical weapons, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said such allegations were false and “a provocation”. Moscow warned the US and its allies against undertaking any “military intervention on fabricated pretexts”, warning that such action could have dire consequences. Lavrov had called the strike against T4 airbase a dangerous development.

Following an earlier chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017, the USA fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat military airfield, and Syrian state TV initially accused the United States of carrying out the latest attack on T4. Washington denied this, responding that the US was not conducting airstrikes in Syria “at this time”, while France also denied that its forces had been involved.

Before the day was over, Syria and Russia had blamed Israel for the attack.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the Russian Defence Ministry as saying that said two Israeli F-15s had carried out the strike, firing eight missiles from Lebanese airspace. Russia said that Syrian air defences had shot down five of the eight missiles fired, with three hitting the western part of the aerodrome.

The attack would seem to be part of a wider Israeli effort to contain Iran’s military build-up in Syria and to interrupt the supply of advanced Iranian weapons to its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah.

Israeli sources have said that Tiyas air base has been used by Iranian forces to transfer weapons to Hezbollah, and Israel has targeted the base during previous attacks.

by Jon Lake