We ask Glenn Greenwald and Eli Lake about Trump’s next move in Syria and debate Israel’s deadly tactics in Gaza.
In an UpFront Middle East special and in the wake of a suspected chemical attack in Syria, journalist and cofounder of The Intercept Glenn Greenwald and Eli Lake, a columnist for Bloomberg View, debate whether attacks by the United States are an effective response or one that deepens the crisis in the region.
And in the Arena, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon and Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, debate Israel‘s use of force in the occupied Gaza Strip, which has killed dozens and injured thousands of Palestinian protesters.
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Special Debate: What will US attacks against Assad achieve?
The Syrian government is being accused of another suspected chemical weapons attack on its own people and world leaders are debating how to respond.
The April 7 attack in the rebel-held town of Douma killed at least 70 residents and injured hundreds more. In response, US President Donald Trump called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “a Gas Killing Animal“.
Trump had previously criticised former President Barack Obama‘s inaction following a chemical attack in 2013, but it remains to be seen what effect US attacks on Syria would have.
“The record that the United States is going to drop bombs in order to bring happiness or to protect people in the world is an extremely poor one,” says Greenwald. “That’s generally the excuse it uses for geopolitical reasons.”
Greenwald points to the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya as examples where US intervention based on humanitarian purposes did not turn out well for the people they were supposedly trying to help.
He argues there is a now a trend of using chemical agents in the world and “if you want to reverse that trend, Bashar al-Assad must pay a very heavy price.” He argues if the US does not do this, no one will.
Complicating the situation are the thousands of Russian troops stationed throughout Syria, supporting the Assad government.
Crippling Assad would mean killing Russians, says Greenwald. He argues a US-led intervention poses a “serious risk of an actual hot war between two countries that have very deep-seated animosities going back decades”.
After more than seven years of war and half a million people killed, Lake says “we’re watching the consequences of non-intervention.” He says the US is through with feeling bad about its mistake of non-intervention.
“The United States hasn’t had a policy of non-intervention in Syria,” argues Greenwald. “It has armed the rebels to a tune of $1bn a year, not enough to overthrow Assad, but enough to keep the war going.” Greenwald says the US has played a big role in Syria and they are not going to solve the problem under Trump.
This was recorded before the April 14 US-led strikes on ‘chemical weapon sites’ in Syria.
Arena: Gaza protests: Will Israel stop using deadly force?
In the past two weeks, more than 30 Palestinians have been killed and over 2,700 injured along the border between Israel and the occupied Gaza Strip.
Tens of thousands have gathered there to commemorate the Great March of Return, a protest against conditions in Gaza and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Israel defends its use of force, blaming the violence on Gaza’s governing party Hamas, which has been labelled a “terrorist organisation” by many Western governments.
“We have seen lots of documented evidence on video of Palestinian protesters who were shot when they were in no way posing any imminent threat,” says Munayyer.
He says Israel’s decision to station 100 snipers on the border, authorised to use lethal force, is criminal.
The Palestinians killed include Omar Samour, a 31-year-old farmer shot and killed on his land. Journalist Yasser Murtaja was also shot and killed despite carrying a video camera and wearing a flak jacket marked ‘press’ and teenager Abdul Fattah Abdul Nabi was shot in the head when he was running away from the Gaza-Israel border fence.
However, Ayalon insists no unarmed protesters have been shot. He claims Hamas is committing war crimes by sending the protesters to the border and embedding snipers and those carrying explosives.
Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman went a step further, saying last week “there are no innocent people in the Gaza Strip” and everyone there is connected to Hamas. Lieberman has defended the tactics used on the border, saying the Israeli army operated exceptionally well.
With video evidence of unarmed protesters shot and killed, Munayyer says blaming Hamas “is an attempt to justify what is clearly murder.” He says Palestinians have the right to peacefully protest anywhere, and the murders happened because “it was Israeli soldiers acting on the orders of the Israeli government, not Hamas”.
Protest organisers say Hamas was invited to provide logistical support to the demonstration, and Hamas says it continues to call for peaceful protests.
Whether Hamas exists or not, Munayyer says the right of free movement for the people in occupied Gaza remains. “These protests are going to continue,” he says. “They are inspiring for Palestinians who are looking at mass popular mobilisation as a way to continue to resist and demand their rights.”