If Assad wanted to know what would provoke Donald Trump to attack him directly, fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles gave the answer on April 6. Two days earlier, the town of Khan Sheikhoun southwest of Idlib was hit by a deadly nerve agent, likely sarin gas, killing over eighty civilians. This was the same nerve agent that Syrian armed forces used in a rebel-held area near Damascus in 2013, which triggered President Obama’s famous red line.
While Russia insists the attack was a false flag operation, several factors indicate that the regime was behind the recent attack, despite their ostensible disarmament. First, US officials announced that American intelligence agencies tracked Syrian aircraft leaving Sharyat airfield to Khan Sheikhoun and back around the time of the chemical attack. Second, after the chemical attack itself, aircraft struck a medical building and a makeshift hospital where the victims were being taken. Third, while ISIS has used chemical weapons, they have been restricted to chlorine and mustard gas, rather than the more advanced sarin gas that appears to have been used recently. Finally, embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of using other chemical weapons since allegedly handing over his chemical weapon stockpile in 2013, but none of the attacks have been as deadly or garnered as much international attention as the one last Tuesday.