The United States, France, and the United Kingdom together launched more than one hundred missiles at Syria Friday night. The allies stated that their airstrikes were in response to the Syrian government’s April 7 chemical weapons attack that killed at least forty-three civilians and injured hundreds more.
I wrote a Daily Article last week in response to the crisis in Syria, overviewing the history of the civil war there, the recent chemical weapons attack, and four ways we can intercede in response. I invite you to download that article here.
My purpose in this special edition is not to survey that information again. Rather, it is to think with you about ways we can address Friday’s missile strikes in our sermons and/or statements to our people tomorrow.
This is obviously a developing story, but I’ll report what we know as of this morning. I’ll list five questions I think our congregations are likely to be asking, along with my responses.
What happened Friday night?
President Trump told the nation that the United States Armed Forces have begun “precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.” He explained that this is a “combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom.”
And he stated that the purpose of his order was “to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.” (For a full transcript of his remarks, click here.)
Witnesses told CNN that they heard explosions in Damascus, the capital of Syria, that began while the president was addressing the nation. According to US defense officials, US aircraft—including B-1 bombers—and ships were used in the attack.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said the US specifically targeted the Syrian chemical weapons program while selecting targets “that would minimize the risks to innocent civilians.” General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, also said the US “specifically identified” targets to “mitigate the risk of Russian forces being involved.”
Mattis identified three targets: a scientific research center in the greater Damascus area, a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs, and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility that also served as an important command post.
Is this response justified?
Syria has denied that it staged the April 7 chemical attack to which the US, the UK, and France are now responding. Russia initially denied that such an attack occurred as well. Later in the week, it accused the United Kingdom of staging the chemical attack.
However, France has said it has “proof” that chemical weapons were used by Bashar al-Assad’s regime. US officials have been quoted as stating that attack victims have tested positive for chlorine and a nerve agent.
In 2013, Russia purportedly worked with the US to implement a strategy for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons. Since that time, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic reports that it has confirmed at least thirty-four chemical attacks, many of which used chlorine or sarin. It claims that each attack was conducted by the Syrian government.
(The commission is an independent body established by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in Syria. It states that there have probably been more attacks than the number it can confirm, noting a lack of access in Syria during 2015.)
The Human Rights Watch reports a much larger number, alleging that there have been eighty-five chemical attacks since 2013. Nikki Haley, America’s UN Ambassador, accused the Syrian government Friday of using chemical weapons at least fifty times since 2011.
The chemical weapons attack that provoked the US/UK/French response afflicted approximately five hundred people in Douma, a suburb of Damascus. About seventy people died while sheltering in basements, according to the World Health Organization. Of these, forty-three had signs of being exposed to “highly toxic chemicals.”
When the US was considering war in Syria back in 2013, I wrote an article outlining “Just War” theory. Cicero was the first to argue for such an approach, but St. Augustine (AD 354–430) outlined its classic formulation:
Just cause—a defensive war, fought only to resist aggression.
Just intent—fought to secure justice; not for revenge, conquest, or money.
Last resort—all other attempts to resolve the conflict have clearly failed.
Legitimate authority—military force is authorized by the proper governmental powers.
Limited goals—achievable, seeking a just peace.
Proportionality—the good gained must justify the harm done.
Noncombatant immunity—civilians protected as far as is humanly possible.
What does this mean for Israel?
Last February, Israel downed an Iranian drone operated by the Iranian air force from a command center in Syria. On Friday, an Israeli spokesman said that analysis of the drone indicated that it was carrying explosives and that its goal was “an act of sabotage in Israeli territory.”
In response to the April 7 chemical weapons attack, Israeli forces reportedly bombed a Syrian regime airbase east of the city of Homs. Israeli leaders met last Wednesday to discuss the possibility that Iran or Syria could target Israel in retaliation.
Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that they will not permit an Iranian military entrenchment in Syria. However, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are establishing permanent bases there. Iran is also spending enormous sums to buy parts of the Syrian economy.
As I stated in my April 10 article, Iran views Syria as an essential conduit to its proxy in Lebanon, the Shi’ite radical group Hezbollah. As Iran seeks to rebuild the Persian Empire by establishing a “Shia Crescent” across the Middle East, further conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria is plausible if not likely.
What comes next?
Defense Secretary Mattis called Friday’s missile strike “a one-time shot” and stated, “Right now, we have no additional strikes planned.” However, President Trump stated that strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends. The president previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.
Western allies warned Syria this morning that they could deploy further attacks if chemical weapons are used again.
Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the strikes, warning there would be unspecified “consequences and repercussions for this adventurism.” This morning, Russia called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council “to discuss aggressive actions of the US and its allies.”
Russia’s ambassador to the US previously warned that Moscow would respond: “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences.” However, the Washington Poststates that “for the moment, there were no signs that the worse fears would take shape: that the US-led attack could put the United States and Russia in direct conflict.”
President Trump’s stated goal is to eliminate Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons, not to become involved more directly in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Nor do the US, UK, or France intend to engage in a land war in Syria.
How should we pray?
I often state that God redeems all he allows. One way he would redeem the conflict in Syria is by using it to unite Christians in intercession for this war-torn country and her people.
Consider five suggestions:
One: Pray for wisdom for our leaders and protection for our military.
We are taught to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:2). Our leaders especially need divine wisdom and courage in these conflicted days. And military personnel who implement their decisions need divine protection. Every soldier in harm’s way today deserves our deepest gratitude and passionate intercession.
Two: Pray for a just peace in Syria.
The civil war in Syria has raged for seven years, causing 5.5 million people to flee the country and 6.1 million to be displaced internally. The government now appears to be winning the battle, but at a horrific cost.
Syrians need and deserve a genuine, lasting, just peace. But such peace is truly possibly only when the Prince of Peace rules in the hearts of people.
Imagine the impact in Syria and around the world if Bashar al-Assad were to become a follower of Jesus. Imagine the impact if opposition leaders were to become Christians as well. This may seem impossible, but I’m sure victims of persecution by Saul of Tarsus felt the same way about him.
Pray for the conversion of Syria’s leaders and people and for a just peace in their nation.
Three: Pray for protection for Israel.
Israel possesses one of the strongest militaries in the world. I have led more than twenty study tours to the Holy Land over the years and am constantly amazed by the courage, resilience, and strength of the nation and her people.
However, the growing Iranian presence in Syria is a significant threat to the State of Israel. And the nation faces continuing challenges from Hamas on its west and Hezbollah on its northern border. It also must confront terrorists in the Sinai to its south.
We are commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6). Please do so today.
Four: Pray for spiritual awakening in the Muslim world.
The good news is that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last fifteen years than in the previous fifteen centuries, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus. Please pray for God to redeem the conflict in Syria by using it to show Muslims there and around the world their need for Jesus. And pray continually for visions and dreams to transform millions of Muslims.
Jesus is the ultimate answer to conflict in the Middle East and the global threat of radical Islam.
Five: Pray for spiritual awakening in America.
President Trump stated Friday night, “We cannot purge the world of evil, or act everywhere there is tyranny. No amount of American blood or treasure can produce lasting peace and security in the Middle East.”
This ongoing conflict shows our need for peace we cannot secure or defend. The psalmist called the Lord “my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (Psalm 91:2). Pray that this conflict will show Americans our need for such protection and direction.
One day, “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Please join me in praying for such peace, to the glory of God.