Less than three months after the US launched 49 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in early April, allegedly in retaliation for a chemical attack conducted by Assad forces, in an ominous statement issued with no supporting evidence or further explanation, on Monday night the White House warned that the U.S. has “identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime” in Syria and warned that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if one took place.
Such an attack “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” White House (outgoing) spokesman Sean Spicer added, noting the activity is “similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.”
“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price,” the White House added on Monday night.
According to AP, a non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east of south of the country, where government troops and their proxies have faced recent setbacks.
Further quoted by AP, several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn't appear to be discussed in advance with other national security agencies, perhaps an indication of just how powerful the Deep State has become under Trump. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.
As a reminder, the justification for Trump's strike on the Shayrat airfield in Syria in April was to retaliate for what the White House said was a poison gas attack by Assad's government that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denied it carried out the attack. Overnight, however, a new article by Pulitzer winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (in a German newspaper of all places) has again accused the US of lying about Syria's chemical weapons, and claims that the US bombed Syria in what was the latest attempt to "rally around the flag" and distract from Trump's ongoing domestic scandals.
Predictably, the White House has provided no immediate evidence to back up its claims, however in a media world that is desperate for clicks, we doubt many will demand proof this time, unlike the April strike, when Russia requested a broad UN inquiry into whether Assad indeed used chemical weapons, in which the US has declined to participate for obvious reasons.
April's strike put Washington in confrontation with Russia, which has advisers in Syria aiding its close ally Assad. US officials at the time called the intervention a "one-off" intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war. The United States has taken a series of actions over the past three months demonstrating its willingness to carry out strikes, mostly in self-defense, against Syrian government forces and their backers, including Iran.
And, as if expressly intending to further deteriorate already abysmal relations with Russia, shortly after the White House statement, the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Twitter: "Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia and Iran who support him killing his own people."
Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.— Nikki Haley (@nikkihaley) June 27, 2017
Since the April military strike, Washington has repeatedly struck Iranian-backed militia and even shot down a drone threatening U.S.-led coalition forces. The U.S. military also shot down a Syrian jet earlier this month. Trump has also ordered stepped-up military operations against the Islamic State militant group and delegated more authority to his generals.
So far Russia has refused to respond in deed to repeated US provocations over Syria.