On April 7th, the Syrian city of Douma was reportedly attacked by the Syrian government with chemical weapons containing chlorine and nerve gas, which reportedly killed at least 70 civilians. This occurred in the midst of a seven year civil war between the Syrian government run by President Bashar al-Assad, political rebels and the Islamic State (IS). Douma became a target for these attacks due to its being a rebel held area.
There were two different reactions to this news. The first was from Syria, along with their allies Russia and Iran, who denied the reports, claiming that the attacks were fake news manufactured by foreign press outlets, or attacks spearheaded by UK intelligence agencies. Russia warned that any retaliatory attack on Syria would lead to serious consequences for the attackers.
The second reaction was a series of non-congressional missile attacks on Syria on April 14th by the US, France and the UK. The missiles in these attacks were directed at three Syrian military factories which were said to be involved with the manufacturing of chemical weapons. No casualties from these attacks have been reported. In the entirety of the Syrian conflict, this has been the biggest Western intervention, set to make much more of an impact than the bombing of Damascus’ airport last year, another attack ordered by President Trump without the normal congressional approval.
Leaders from the US, France, UK and their allies (including Australia) all express that these missile attacks were not intended to be construed as signs to pre-empt future foreign intervention, but that they were intended to purely deter the use of chemical weapons. This distanced yet omniscient approach has been both criticised and applauded by political commentators on all sides of the political spectrum, echoing the complexity and intensity of the situation.
In the past couple of days, reports of a cyber attack from Russia on the Western powers leading the strike as well as their allies have surfaced. 400 Australian businesses have had their data viewed by hackers in Moscow, yet no news of this data being implicated has been released. Perhaps more distressing is that these hacks have been shown to be involved with spreading disinformation and confusion about the initial chemical attacks, posting comments in online forums in an effort to encourage a ‘false flag’ conclusion. Additionally, Syrian officials have disallowed chemical weapons inspectors into Douma, leading to US officials suggesting that this may be due to evidence tampering.
As it stands right now, we’re at an awkward stand-still that for now at least, signals no immediate retaliation. It doesn’t look like world war three is at our doorstep, but it does look like tensions have escalated. No major western power has committed to interfering in Syrian events any more than they already have. The future is uncertain at this point, and the need to encourage political discussion rather than showboating on Twitter has become more crucial than ever
What we know for certain is that 70 people were killed in Douma, the allied forces then bombed Syrian bases because the usage of chemical weapons is something that would not be tolerated by them, in response to this Russia has launched a series of cyber attacks in which Australia, among other countries, has been implicated in. It is quite possible that over the next couple of days we will see further developments with more cyber attacks, more information from Douma surfacing or more news about the tension between countries.
Yet it’s also important not to jump to drastic conclusions about a situation that’s unfolding, as propaganda machines thrive off of reinforcing dramatic and catastrophic language no matter which political angle it is driving. It is this language that allows certain arguments to be dismissed and others to be supported, all because they evoke a certain contextual perspective.