By Julian Lewis
Tory Chairman of Commons Defence Committee*
Mail on Sunday – 15 April 2018
Without prior Parliamentary approval, our forces have struck in Syria. Their mission must remain limited to punishing and deterring the use of chemical weapons. To take sides would be an unforgivable error.
In December 2015, the Commons voted to bomb Islamist terrorists in Syria, as we had been doing in Iraq for more than a year. For the next 17 months, we mounted over 800 air strikes in Iraq but only 95 in Syria. Why the huge disparity? Because in Iraq, we want one side (Iraq s government) to win, and the other side (Islamist fighters) to lose.
Syria is totally different. It is a choice between ‘monsters’ and ‘maniacs’, with the inhuman Assad regime on one side, and jihadist fanatics on the other. Do not be fooled: the armed opposition in Syria is dominated by vicious Islamist factions. Only the Syrian Democratic Forces, led by the Kurds but confined to a limited northern area, are at all acceptable to us – and they are now under attack from the Turks, supposedly NATO allies, who are increasingly cosying up to the Russians.
The ‘70,000 moderate fighters’ (remember them?), whom David Cameron identified as a third way between Assad and the Islamists, were indeed ‘bogus battalions’ as he was warned at the time. Yet, there are still plenty of people urging us to take the rebels' side and topple the Syrian government.
Air strikes risk lethal 'collateral damage' to civilians and Russian forces alike. Nevertheless, as they are being used, three guidelines apply.
- We must remember that, apart from the SDF, neither side in Syria deserves our support.
- We must impress upon Russia that the action we are taking is solely to punish and deter the use of poison gas, and is NOT the thin end of a ‘regime-change’ wedge.
- Finally, we must ensure that what we do is a one-off punishment which will not be repeated unless further chemical attacks take place.
We must not let chemical crimes suck us ever deeper into the Syrian snakepit.
*Mr Lewis was speaking in a personal capacity.