While Syria seemed to have dropped from the Western media's radar over the past months as the Syrian Army and its Russian and Iranian allies made rapid gains, multiple huge developments this week have returned the war to center stage in Washington and the dangerous rhetoric of escalation.
In just the last 24 hours alone, we've learned:
- Trump has reportedly done a 180 shift, departing from his prior statements of "bring our troops home" made only months ago, and has approved "an indefinite military and diplomatic effort in Syria" according to a bombshell Washington Post report.
- Russia has put the US military on notice, telling American commanders that Russian and Syrian forces are prepared to attack At Tanf — a key US garrison along the Syrian-Iraq border.
- A top US Syria policy representative says there's “lots of evidence” chemical weapons are being prepared by the Syrian Army for use in its impending Idlib ground assault.
Perhaps most alarming concerning all of the above is that the threatened US "response" and rhetoric over potential future use of chemical weapons in Idlib is dramatically escalating by the day.
On Thursday night Reuters reported:
There is "lots of evidence" that chemical weapons are being prepared by Syrian government forces in Idlib region in northwest Syria, the new US representative for Syria said on Thursday, warning any attack on the last big rebel enclave would be a "reckless escalation."
"Any offensive is to us objectionable as a reckless escalation," the envoy, Jim Jeffrey, told reporters. "There is lots of evidence that chemical weapons are being prepared."
This comes days after US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley gave a similar warning, while also claiming to somehow predict the future, and assuring the world that "Assad is guilty" before anything actually happens.
Here's video of Nikki Haley saying this of the Syrian regime: “If they want to continue to go the route of taking over Syria, they can do that, but they can not do it with chemical weapons." pic.twitter.com/F7y1bNvO2n— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) September 4, 2018
She said at a UN press conference Tuesday:
“But they cannot do it with chemical weapons. They can’t do it assaulting their people. And we’re not gonna fall for it. If there are chemical weapons that are used, we know exactly who’s gonna use them.”
But it's hugely significant that top State Department envoy for Syria, Jim Jeffrey, actually invoked US intelligence for the first time, though not providing any evidence for the claim of Assad's supposed chemical preparations underway.
It appears that should Russia continue its ongoing bombing campaign of al-Qaeda held Idlib, and should the Syrian Army ground operation commence, we are in for a likely quick escalation, with some kind of "chemical provocation" claimed by insurgents facing imminent defeat in Idlib.
Meanwhile Russia had previously cited its own intelligence in contradiction of US claims, over a week ago saying that Syrian armed groups in Idlib are preparing for a staged chemical provocation, which Moscow says the West will use to justify a strike against Syrian government forces.
Like the latest US claim, Russia did not provide any particular proof or reveal any specific intelligence.
Speaking to Newsweek recently, Syria analyst Joshua Landis said that there is every reason to doubt the veracity of past rebel claims regarding government chemical weapons usage — a surprising admission given his prominence as speaking from within the heart of the media foreign policy establishment.
Landis said, "I don't know what to make of the U.S. and Russian war of words over the potential use of chemical weapons in Idlib. The final reports on the use of chemical weapons in Ghouta were not definitive."
"There was no evidence found for the use of nerve agents, but controversy over the use of chlorine gas. The rebels had reason to carry out a false flag operation, as the regime and Russians suggested, but the regime refused to let U.N. inspectors in to test for chemical weapons until after a lengthy delay, which was suspicious," he concluded.
What is certain is that we are once again witnessing the Syrian proxy war coming to a head, and after seven years of conflict, this could be the big one in terms of the final direct 'great power' confrontation that commanders involved on either side had previously just barely avoided.