The tactical use of chemical weapons in Syria
(Al Arabiya) Of all the horrors of the Syrian war, the most peculiar is the regime’s use of chemical weapons. They are used even when they have no discernible strategic advantage, and they carry a heavy political cost, making it harder for the international community to consent to a continuation government led by Assad after the end of the civil war.
This has not always been so. As far as we can tell, when the first attacks were reported, the use of chemical weapons was a provocation towards the West, authorized by Russia. Russia moved into the conflict theatre, and then they, and the Assad regime, wanted to test the West’s resolve.
...The driving factor behind these attacks seems to be the fact that Assad, the Russians and the Iranian-backed militias are still surprisingly far from stamping their authority onto the broken country.
Even after three years of Russian involvement, with large scale devastation of civilian targets like Aleppo, the routine violation of international humanitarian taboos like the targeting of hospitals and humanitarian convoys, and the use of mass starvation sieges as a routine tactic of war, the rebellion is not broken. It has been beaten back to a small number of areas and provinces, and their prospects are not at all bright, but they are not capitulating.
…But what these attacks do is to further entrench that status for both regimes, possibly for decades to come. They may not think this is the most important consideration at the moment, but in the medium-to-long term, this will be devastating for their prospects, both politically and economically. Assad seems to be taking after his sponsor, President Putin: all tactics, and very little strategy.