The death toll of a presumed chemical weapons attack on a Syrian village has risen to 75, while the regime of Bashar al-Assad launched further strikes on that same village on Wednesday. The presence of a toxic nerve agent is strongly suspected in Tuesday's attack; according to the World Health Organization, "the likelihood of exposure to a chemical attack is amplified by an apparent lack of external injuries reported in cases showing a rapid onset of similar symptoms, including acute respiratory distress as the main cause of death."
“Assad, Russia and Iran have no interest in peace. The illegitimate Syrian government, led by a man with no conscience, has committed untold atrocities against his people,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday. She called the attack “a disgrace at the highest level” and an “assurance that humanity means nothing to the Syrian government.”
“When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action” Haley added. She was referring to repeated Russian and Chinese obstruction at the UN Security Council: just two months ago, the two countries vetoed a UN resolution that would have imposed sanctions on the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons.
President Donald Trump called the attack “heinous” and an “affront to humanity.” Standing alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah II at a White House press conference, Trump said this atrocity “cannot be tolerated.” When asked if the attack crossed any red lines, Trump answered, “It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies…with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines beyond a red line.”
Trump added that the attack had “a big impact” on him. While just last week, the Trump administration said that the fate of Assad was up to Syrians, on Wednesday he said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.” Trump did not offer any specifics as to how American policy toward Syria might evolve.
Israeli officials believe that “Assad, or senior officials in his regime, approved the use of chemical weapons against the backdrop of growing confidence in the regime’s stability following military successes since the regime completed its takeover of Aleppo in December,” wrote veteran Haaretz military analyst Amos Harel Wednesday. Furthermore, “Israel is under the impression that the regime cheated international inspectors and kept residual amounts of sarin,” The Jerusalem Post reported. The Post continued, “Israeli security officials also believe that the Assad regime has been rebuilding and reopening Sarin manufacturing plants.”
Experts vs. Tehran--
Appearing on a panel at the House Oversight Committee, Iran and nuclear nonproliferation experts expressed their concerns about Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East and its testing of the limitations of the nuclear deal that it reached with the global powers in 2015.
General Michael Barbero, an advisory board member at United Against Nuclear Iran, served 46 months in Iraq, witnessing firsthand Iran’s “subversive activities, hegemonic ambitions, and direct targeting of American troops.” When asked by the chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) if it was true that Iran had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds and even more than 1,000 American servicemen in Iraq, Barbero asserted that this was in fact the case.
David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a nonproliferation think tank, said that Iran has been exploiting loopholes in the nuclear deal and pushing the envelope to see how far they can go before getting pushback. The Iranians purposely misinterpret clauses so they can argue that they are not in violation. Nonetheless, “Iran is not in full compliance with the deal” – in fact, Albright went so far as to say that Iran has violated the deal on issues ranging from heavy water, centrifuge research and development, and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) limited ability to conduct inspections. Because the IAEA has been unable to access military sites, it is not possible to enforce the provision of the deal that prohibits Iran from nuclear weaponization.
Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region have only increased after the implementation of the deal, said Mark Dubowitz, the Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. It is essential, Dubowitz stressed, that the administration investigate whether or not Iran Air, which last December signed deals with Boeing to acquire 80 aircraft and with Airbus to acquire 100, is complicit in Iranian illicit activities in Syria. Dubowitz’s strong belief is that it is: of 690 flights from Iran to Syria since the deal was implemented in January 2016, 114 involved Iran Air. Many of these did not fly from Tehran to Damascus but rather from an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) resupply base in Abadan, Iran. For background, Iran Air was designated in 2011 for being used by the IRGC and Iran’s Ministry of Defense to transport military-related equipment, including rockets and missiles to the Syrian regime. These sanctions were dropped on a technicality as part of the nuclear agreement. Iran has ramped up its support for terrorism, its push for hegemony in the region, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations – the Trump administration must “reinvigorate” the sanctions regime to punish Iran for these activities.
Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations strongly agreed that a focus on Iran’s human rights violations was essential – Iran is a signatory of a variety of international human rights conventions and is “egregiously in violation.” This would be particularly important because, according to Takeyh, Iran “is at an impasse” and the theocratic regime is destined to collapse. In the aftermath of the fraudulent 2009 election, Iran crushed the pro-democracy Green Movement, and, in doing so, destroyed the “veneer of republicanism” it had enjoyed. Ultimately this crushed its legitimacy among the Iranian people.
Tracks for Peace--
Israel is planning a railway that would connect its Haifa port to destinations as far away as the Persian Gulf, Transportation Minister Israel Katz announced Wednesday. The project, called “Tracks for Peace,” would travel from Haifa to Beit-She’an on the Jordanian border, but would also track downward to Jenin to provide access to Palestinians. From there, it would cross the border into Jordan, where it would connect with existing and planned north-south lines in that country, and then farther east to Saudi Arabia and even Iraq.
Katz said Arab interlocutors with whom he has spoken are seriously considering the project and added, “I’m optimistic about our ability to promote it.” He called it “a base for future political endeavors.”
By having a hub in Jenin, the railway will give a “massive boost to the Palestinian economy,” wrote Jerusalem Post reporter Herb Keinon, giving them access to Arab markets to the east and European markets via the Haifa port.
“Beyond its contribution to Israel’s economy, to the Jordanian economy, which is under pressure, and to the Palestinian economy, the initiative will connect Israel economically and politically to the region and will consolidate the pragmatic camp in the region,” Katz said. This land route will provide an important alternative to existing sea routes, which are much longer, more expensive, and more dangerous, “especially in view of the Iranian threat to maritime routes in the Gulf and the Red Sea – through Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.”
A modern-day miracle--
The Israeli company Water Gen, which developed technology that produces clean water out of thin air, has signed deals to share its innovation with India and Vietnam.
The agreements were reached with India’s second largest solar engineering company to provide water to remote villages and with the Vietnamese government to install water generators in the capital, Hanoi, The Times of Israel reported Tuesday. They are estimated to be worth $150 million, according to Water Gen.
“The government of Vietnam greatly esteems the technological developments in Israel, and I hope that the Israeli technology that we supply to Vietnam will significantly help to improve water conditions in the country,” Water Gen President Mikhael Mirilashvili said in a statement.
“It is a very interesting marriage and we are looking forward to working with Gyanesh Chaudhary and his team at Vikram Solar to expand our footprint in India,” Mirilashvili added.
India and Vietnam both suffer from lack of access to clean water. According to the nonprofit Water Aid, 75 million people out of India’s total population of 1.25 billion don’t have proper access to clear water. Vietnam also has difficulty providing water for its population of 95 million, due to poor infrastructure and strong demand for farming.
Through its deal with Vikram Solar, Water Gen will provide its water generators to remote villages to be powered by Vikram’s solar power. In Vietnam, Water Gen will install its generators throughout Hanoi to provide tens of thousands of liters of water daily to the capital’s residents. Water Gen is planning to build a factory to manufacture equipment for the region.