The UK was involved in an airstrike on a chemical weapons facility in Syria over the weekend, but was the attack justified and was the intelligence leading to it legitimate?
The UK followed the lead of Macron’s France and Trump’s US in a joint airstrike on Syria in the early hours of Saturday morning. The target was a chemical weapons research and production facility thought to be used by the Syrian regime.
The strike was a reaction to the recent chemical weapons attack on the people of Douma, Syria, where it’s estimated that 75 people were killed and some 500 were injured. It is thought that Assad’s regime was behind this attack and the action over the weekend from the US, France and Britain was intended to prevent further such attacks.
Will this strike stamp out the regime’s use of chemical warfare and deter others, or will it extend the conflict and increase tensions between the west and Russia which are currently at their highest since the Cold War?
Early on Saturday morning the US, France and the UK were involved in a “covert, coordinated and targeted” strike on a military facility around 15 miles outside of Homs, a city in western Syria, thought to be a chemical weapons research and production building.
The UK’s specific involvement was the deployment of four RAF Tornado GR4 jets that launched “storm shadow” missiles – a type of guided missile capable of launching 300 miles from its target which is programmed into it before launch – at the facility.
So far there have been no confirmed civilian casualties and the strike is being hailed as a success by Trump, Macron, and May respectively.
Prime minister Theresa May argues that the strikes were necessary to “degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability”. May says that every possible diplomatic channel was pursued in the lead up to the strike but that those efforts were “repeatedly thwarted both on the ground and in the United Nations”.
Following the chemical attacks in 2013, the Syrian regime promised to dismantle its chemical weapons programme, a promise that Russia claimed they would oversee. “But these commitments have not been met”, May said over the weekend.
In an article for The Times, defence secretary Gavin Williamson wrote that “chemical weapons can never be tolerated”. He goes on to say that initial analysis seems to show the operation was a success and paid tribute to the RAF as well as the US and French forces.
There has been wide support of the attacks from various world leaders including the prime ministers of Denmark, the Netherlands, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Angela Merkel, the prime minister of Germany, also backed the strikes saying that the action taken was “necessary and appropriate”.
Did the UK jump the gun?
Rather controversially, Theresa May took the decision to join the US and France in military action on Syria without first consulting parliament. While she is not legally required to do so, it has become a convention since Tony Blair decided to hold a meeting on the potential action in Iraq in 2003.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme this morning, shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti said, “The government cannot demonstrate convincing evidence and general acceptance by the international community that they had to act the way they did”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also condemned the action in an opinion piece for the Guardian, saying that it was “legally questionable”. His article argues that “diplomacy, and not bombing, is the way to end Syria’s agony” and that further military intervention in the country will be even more “disastrous” than the UK’s involvements in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan.
Lord West, a former First Sea Lord, speaking on BBC news today questioned the legitimacy and accuracy of the intelligence that lead to the strikes. He said that as Assad is currently winning the civil war and was about to take over Douma, it would make no sense for him to carry out such an attack.
“Just before he goes in and takes it all over, apparently he decides to go in and carry out a chemical attack. It just doesn’t ring true, it just seems extraordinary”.
Evidence is Key
Given the events in recent history, most notably the invasion of Iraq, where military intervention has been made on the basis of intelligence that was later to be found questionable, it is important that Theresa May has irrefutable evidence in place before military force is used that could potentially end up prolonging a complex and very bloody civil war.
May is due to make a statement today in an emergency parliamentary meeting in which she is expected to say that, “there is broad-based international support for the action we have taken”.