Bolton Again Warns Assad "We Will Respond" If Chemical Weapons Used In Idlib Offensive

Here we go again. Did Bolton just give jihadists facing imminent final defeat under Assad and Russian bombs an open door invitation to initiate a chemical provocation? 

As CNN and others warned this week that Syrian and Russian forces are closing in on the "last rebel stronghold" in Syria in the country's northwest pocket of Idlib province, US National Security Advisor put Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on notice, saying the United States would respond "very strongly" if pro-government forces use chemical weapons in their campaign to retake Idlib

Bolton spoke at a press conference Wednesday while in Jerusalem, where he met with Israeli officials. 

"We now see plans for the Syrian regime to resume offensive military activities in Idlib province," he said. "We are obviously concerned about the possibility that Assad may use chemical weapons again."

Bolton warned, "Just so there's no confusion here, if the Syrian regime uses chemical weapons we will respond very strongly and they really ought to think about this a long time." 

This month Syrian and Russian air attacks and shelling began targeting al-Qaeda held Idlib in what is likely a prelude to a full-scale ground offensive

The "rebel" coalition in control of this major "final holdout" is but the latest incarnation of al-Qaeda, calling itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and has held the province, the capital city of which is Idlib city, since a successful Western and Gulf ally sponsored attack on the area in 2015. 

During Bolton's comments before reporters in Jerusalem, he appeared to boast about prior US airstrikes on Syrian government forces, referencing Tomahawk missile strikes over the past two Aprils the first of which was in response to sarin gas attack claims made by HTS and the White Helmets in Khan Sheikhoun, which is in Idlib

Till this day the international chemical investigative body and watchdog, the OPCW, has yet to visit the site due to its being controlled by al-Qaeda forces. 

At the time, as in other cases like Douma in April 2018, the White House simply relied on the word of both HTS and the White Helmets, who produced social media videos purporting to show the aftermath of an alleged chemical attack. 

Considering the al-Qaeda and Islamist coalition in Idlib is now facing imminent total annihilation in the face of overwhelming Syrian Army and Russian air power, it is highly likely that jihadist insurgents and their partners like the White Helmets are already in the process of preparing for some kind of claimed "chemical event"

Indeed, Bolton's words on Wednesday of "we will respond very strongly" positively invites just such a scenario

This is the clearly observable pattern that seems to repeat both whenever the administration announces it is content with Assad  staying in power and seemingly every time the Syrian Army is on a trajectory of overwhelming victory: an ill-timed and strategically nonsensical mass chemical attack on civilians supposedly ordered by Assad — inevitably giving the West an open door for military intervention, new rounds of crippling sanctions, and yet more international media condemnation heaped on Damascus. 

Bolton is currently in Israel to discuss the key issues of Iran and Syria, and further addressed Iran during the press conference. While he noted that "Regime change in Iran is not American policy but what we want is massive change in the regime's behavior," he also said the US supports Israel's recent attacks on Iranian targets within Syria.

"Every time that Iran has brought missiles or other threatening weapons into Syria in recent months Israel has struck those targets," Bolton said, and added, "I think that's a legitimate act of self-defense on the part of Israel."

The other observable pattern on the seven-year long conflict in Syria is this: every time the war seems to have receded from international media attention, with the momentum clearly being with Assad and the Syrian Army, a mass attention-grabbing event or massacre happens to yank the world's (and the White House's) focus right back on Damascus.