U S President Donald Trump has in a strong tweet warned Russia to “get ready” for a missile attack on its ally Syria, suggesting imminent retaliation for last weekend’s suspected chemical weapons attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis took a more measured tone, saying the US and its military coalition partners were still studying intelligence on the attack.
At stake is the potential for confrontation, if not outright conflict, between the US and Russia, former Cold War foes whose relations have deteriorated in recent years over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, its interference in the 2016 US presidential election and, most recently, its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
According to a report by AP, Russian lawmakers have warned the United States that Moscow would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime and that it could trigger a direct US-Russian military clash. Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon said any missiles fired at Syria would be shot down and the launching sites targeted — a stark warning of a potential major confrontation.
Trump, who has often said a commander in chief should never telegraph his military intentions, apparently did so himself, tweeting that missiles “will be coming” in response to the suspected chemical attack that killed at least 40 people near Damascus.
“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria,” Trump wrote. “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
Defense Secretary Mattis, however, indicated that evidence of what happened was still being studied. At a photo-taking session during a Pentagon meeting with his Dutch counterpart, Mattis was asked by a reporter whether he had seen enough evidence to blame the Syrian government.
“We’re still assessing the intelligence, ourselves and our allies,” Mattis said. “We’re still working on this.”
Trump suggested that he had little doubt that Syria was to blame, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which the US government had video and other evidence of certain aspects of an actual attack by Syrian aircraft, which involved the use of sarin gas. Trump responded then by launching dozens of Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.