Sunni Arab states and Israel welcome US strikes on Syria air base

John Reed & Simeon Kerr
Key Points
  • President Donald Trump fired Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian air base on Thursday after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killed at least 85 people with chemical weapons earlier this week
  • The U.S. attack comes after six years of hands-off policies on Syria's civil war under former US President Barack Obama
  • Across the Arab world, trending posts on social media included songs celebrating the air strikes
The guided-missile destroyer USS Porter fires a Tomahawk land attack missile on April 7, 2017 in the Mediterranean Sea.
U.S. Navy

Sunni Arab states and Israel on Friday applauded the US Tomahawk missile strike on an air base in Syria, welcoming what they saw as an overdue show of resolve against the Assad regime and its main foreign patrons, Iran and Russia.

The attack comes after six years of hands-off policies under former US President Barack Obama that saw Russia enter the war unchallenged on the Syrian government's side in 2015. Officials in the Gulf states and Israel said they believed US President Donald Trump was drawing a line of deterrence against what they see as hitherto unchecked Iranian and Russian-backed militarism in the region.

"This is the serious, credible and reliable America that its Gulf allies want to see more of," said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a Dubai-based political analyst. "They were limited strikes, but meaningful messages for everybody, and were heard loud and clear."

More from Financial Times:
Russia condemns US strike on Syrian air base as act of aggression
Chaos will reign when Isis loses Raqqa
Berlin seeks to strip far-right party's state funding

Across the Arab world trending posts on social media included songs celebrating the air strikes and a coffee cup in which the dregs portrayed a likeness of Mr Trump. "America strikes the regime of Bashar," was a popular hashtag in Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Syrian opposition.

The official reaction was most forthright in Israel, the US's closest ally in the Middle East. Israel's military said they were notified ahead of time and "expressed our support" for the strikes, which were launched in response to this week's deadly gas attack that killed more than 70 people in Khan Sheikhoun, northern Syria.

"In both word and action, President Trump sent a strong and clear message today that the use and spread of chemical weapons will not be tolerated," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said.

The Israeli leader said Mr Trump's use of force would send a "message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime's horrific actions" that would resonate, too, in Tehran and Pyongyang, the Iranian and North Korean capitals.

"We're only at the beginning of this military response, but I think President Trump has gone a long way to restoring American credibility in the Middle East," said Dore Gold, a former close adviser to Mr Netanyahu and head of the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs.

Mr Trump has been vocal in denouncing Iranian military action in the region, while embracing both Israel and Sunni Arab states — most notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan — as allies.

Oil-rich Gulf countries, which back the Syrian opposition, have for years been pleading for more direct US intervention in Syria's six-year war, partly to counter the influence of predominantly Shia Iran.

Saudi Arabia said on Friday that it gave "total support" for the US strikes. The Saudi news agency, citing an "official source" at the foreign ministry, said the Syrian regime bore responsibility for the country being exposed to military action.