With US President Trump experiencing a rare surge of praise from world leaders and even the Arab public, some journalists and experts say that the damage caused by the US's airstrike on Thursday did not cause significant damage to Syria's military capabilities.
US President Donald Trump's decision to attack a Syrian Air Force base on Thursday night, in response to the chemical attack allegedly perpetrated by Assad, received a great deal of support from many Arab leaders and western leaders, in addition to the Arab street. Yet as the smoke clears and the actual damage is assessed, some doubt that the US's action managed to fundamentally hinder Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's options of attack.
And yet, though it is still unclear how the US attack will affect Assad's regime, Syria's conventional attacks have continued uninterrupted. Local sources in the Damascus suburbs on Friday reported attacks by the Syrian regime in the area, causing the destruction of an ancient mosque built 900 years ago. The attacks also hit a market near the mosque. Two children were killed and dozens were injured as a result.
Social networks posted videos of opposition elements documenting the treatment of the wounded, some of them children. In other areas of the Damascus suburbs, attacks continued in Duma and Harsta. The Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Center claimed that seven people, including three children, were killed and 23 injured in the attacks on the outskirts of Damascus. The Al-Jazeera news network cited opposition sources that said the Syrian regime had bombed the town of Al Latmana on the outskirts of Hama and used napalm bombs.
Meanwhile, Syrian Arab Army's Chief of Staff Ali Abdullah Ayyoub visit to the base yesterday, it seems that for Assad it is business as usual, at least when it comes to appearances: officials close to the Syrian regime have already posted videos and pictures of the first plane that took off yesterday from the A-Shaerat airport that was attacked by US forces, while Syrian opposition activists have already said that warplanes have struck a northern town where a chemical attack killed scores of people earlier this week.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday's airstrike on the eastern side of Khan Sheikhoun killed a woman, marking the first death in the town since Tuesday's chemical attack that killed 87. The Local Coordination Committees, another monitoring group, said the airstrike was carried out by Russian warplane.
Arab and western leaders praise Trump's decision to attack
Many world leaders were quick to show their support to Trump's order to carry out an airstrike against a Syrian Air Force base. Among them was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who took to Twitter to write of his support.
"When I saw pictures of babies suffocating from a chemical attack in Syria, I was shocked and outraged," he wrote. "There's no, none, no excuse whatsoever for the deliberate attacks on civilians and on children, especially with cruel and outlawed chemical weapons. I call on the international community to fulfill its obligation from 2013 to fully and finally remove these horrible weapons from Syria."
The official Saudi Press Agency is reporting that US President Donald Trump has spoken by telephone with King Salman about the US missile strike on Syria. The news agency reports that during the Friday phone call, the Saudi monarch congratulated Trump for his "courageous decision."
Saudi Arabia says the missile launch by Trump was the right response to "the crimes of this regime to its people in light of the failure of the international community to stop it."
Saudi Arabia is among the most vehement opponents of Assad's, and supports Sunni rebel groups fighting to oust him. The Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia are in a power struggle for regional dominance with Iran's Shiite government and view Tehran's support of Assad as a threat to the region.
US attack may not have caused substantial damage
"Despite the fact that the Syrian air force's actions have been damaged as a result of the attack, it will not have a significant impact on the capability of the Assad army to carry out further chemical attacks," said Reed Post, a security and intelligence analyst.
Colonel Hassan Hemda, who deserted the Syrian Air Force in 2012 when he landed with his plane in Jordan, agrees with the assessment. "The bombing at the base in Homs will not have an impact on the activities of Assad's Army," the senior officer said. "Even if the runway is destroyed, it can be repaired within hours, whether the communication systems and the control tower have been significantly damaged, in which case it will take months to restore activity." The sight of the plane from the base yesterday proves that the injury was not so significant.
Hemda also noted that Assad has enough alternative options besides the Homs base that was hit. "There are 25 air bases in Syria, of which 20 are under regime control," he said. "The base (that was hit—ed) in Shayrat is the second largest and its activity in terms of landings and landings, with the former being the base in Latakia, and the third largest base, Saakal in central Syria, will fill in the gaps in activity."
According to the director of the Syrian Human Rights Monitoring Center, Rami Abdulrahman, the base in Homs was almost completely destroyed. However, he explains: "This is more a morale injury than an injury to military capabilities."
Russia admonishes Trump, as Iran says he gave terrorists 'a reason to celebrate'
The US strike against Syria did, however, receive some backlash, mainly from Assad and his allies. In addition, the president's decision to act without congressional authority also angered a mix of libertarian Republicans, Democrats and the far right in Washington.
Assad advisor Bouthaina Shaaban criticized the US attack, saying that "From this airport, Syria has been fighting terrorists for the last six years" in an interview with the Washington-based daily Asharq Al-Awsat. "If the United States is so important in fighting terror, why do not they turn their missiles to ISIS or Al-Nusra?"
Another condemnation came from Iran on Saturday, when President Hassan Rouhani accused Trump of helping terrorists. "This man who claimed that he wanted to fight terrorism gave terrorist organizations a reason to celebrate, the American attack," Rohani said in a live broadcast. "I call for an end to this process in the international community. It is impossible to know now what the American president is planning for the region."
The Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with terror group Hezbollah, published a long list of articles on the attack, headed by editor Ibrahim Al Amin, who is close to Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. In an article devoted to a sharp attack on Trump and his allies, he wrote: "What happened has opened a new chapter in the global struggle that is taking place in our countries ... What the United States did will lead to a clear response from Russia, Iran, Syria, and all the forces that are part of the axis of resistance."
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the meantime, warned that the strikes dealt "a significant blow" to relations between Moscow and Washington.
At the United Nations, Russia's deputy ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, strongly criticized what he called the US "flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression" whose "consequences for regional and international security could be extremely serious." He called the Assad government a main force against terrorism and said it deserved the presumption of innocence in the chemical weapons attack.
The Arab street embraces Trump
While Trump has received warm responses from leaders in Europe, Israel, and the Arab World, the Arab public has also expressed its gratitude to the US leader. On social networks, Arabs gave him warm posts, and his "memes" dressed as an Arab with the words "We love you" and "You did the right thing," in addition to photos of Trump with a traditional Arab beard and wardrobe, were posted and shared. Trump was even given a new nickname—"Abu Ivanka," meaning Ivanka's dad—which was also adopted by the Arab public.
Arab journalists, however, lobbed significantly more criticism at Trump. Syrian journalist Rami Jarrah, who identifies with the Syrian rebel forces, wrote that the Syrians are not, in fact, hailing Trump, but are simply happy that Assad now has less means with which to kill them. Another Arab journalist based in London accused Trump of using the strike to draw attention away from the criticism he is facing at home.
Trump administration points finger at Russia, threatens further response
Since its attack on Thursday, the US has vowed to keep up the pressure on Syria, despite the prospect of escalating Russian ill-will that could further inflame one of the world's most vexing conflicts.
Standing firm, the US signaled new sanctions would soon follow the missile attack, and the Pentagon was even probing whether Russia itself was involved in the chemical weapons assault that propelled Trump to action.
US officials blame Moscow for propping up Assad. "The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria," US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said during an emergency Security Council session. "The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad."
Haley said the US was prepared to take further action in Syria but hoped it wouldn't be necessary.
In Florida with the president, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said additional economic sanctions on Syria were being prepared.
Thursday night's strikes—some 60 cruise missiles fired from two ships in the Mediterranean—were the culmination of a rapid, three-day transformation for Trump, who has long opposed deeper US involvement in Syria's civil war. Advisers said he was outraged by heartbreaking images of young children who were among the dozens killed in the chemical attack.
The decision undercut another campaign promise for Trump: his pledge to try to warm relations with Moscow. After months of allegations of ties between his election campaign and the Kremlin—the subject of current congressional and FBI investigations—Trump has found himself clashing with Putin.
On Friday, senior US military officials were looking more closely at possible Russian involvement in the poison attack. Officials said a drone belonging to either Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site after the assault earlier this week. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was targeted.
The officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the sensitive matter, said they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the earlier assault.
White House officials caution that Trump is not preparing to plunge the US deeper into Syria. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the missile attack sent a clear message to Assad, but he avoided explicitly calling for the Syrian tyrant to leave office.