‘The les­son of history is that when the global rules that keep us safe come un­der threat – we must take a stand and de­fend them’ Theresa May

The Prime Min­is­ter joins Trump and Macron to take a tough stance on Syria – and does what Cameron never man­aged in 2013

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Raf Sanchez, Ed­ward Mal­nick and Ben Ri­ley-Smith in Washington

IT WAS mid­night at Che­quers and Theresa May had a long list of phone calls to make.

For the first time in her premier­ship, she was or­der­ing Bri­tish forces into com­bat and from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Buck­ing­hamshire manor she be­gan to phone the UK’s other po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to in­form them of her de­ci­sion.

One call was to Jeremy Cor­byn, who warned that strikes against the Syr­ian regime might be il­le­gal and de­manded more ne­go­ti­a­tions at the UN.

The Labour leader ap­pealed to Mrs May to change her mind and al­low a vote in Par­lia­ment but she had al­ready set­tled on her course.

The Prime Min­is­ter also tele­phoned the first min­is­ters of Wales and Scot­land, solemnly ex­plain­ing to each of them why she thought in­ter­ven­tion in Syria was nec­es­sary.

She also placed a call to David Cameron, who lis­tened care­fully and of­fered his full sup­port.

Mrs May was about to do what he had tried and failed to do five years ear­lier – launch strikes against the As­sad regime for its use of chem­i­cal weapons against civil­ians in Syria.

Her de­ci­sion came af­ter days of mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion and in­tel­li­gence shar­ing be­tween Lon­don, Washington and Paris.

In a phone call to French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron on Fri­day, the two lead­ers agreed they were con­fi­dent in the assess­ment of Western spies: an As­sad regime he­li­copter had dropped chem­i­cal weapons on the Damascus sub­urb of Douma, killing more than 70 peo­ple. And the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor must be held ac­count­able.

“This be­hav­iour must be stopped – not just to pro­tect in­no­cent peo­ple in Syria from the hor­rific deaths and ca­su­al­ties caused by chem­i­cal weapons but also be­cause we can­not al­low the ero­sion of the in­ter­na­tional norm that pre­vents the use of these weapons,” Mrs May said in a pre-recorded state­ment re­leased at 2.15am.

Six min­utes ear­lier, Don­ald Trump had fin­ished his own speech from the White House, where he vowed to use “right­eous power against bar­barism and bru­tal­ity”.

John Bolton, on only his fifth day as Mr Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, stood nearby scrib­bling notes on a yel­low le­gal pad.

By the time Mrs May’s aides had sent the state­ment to jour­nal­ists, four Bri­tish Tor­nado GR4s were al­ready in the air over the Mediter­ranean.

The air­craft from 903 Ex­pe­di­tionary Wing had taken off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and were racing over the dark sea to­wards the coast of Syria, es­corted by Typhoon fighter jets.

The eight Tor­nado air­men had be­tween them flown dozens of mis­sions over Syria against the rem­nants of the Is­lamic State of Iraq and the Le­vant (Isil). But tonight they had a dif­fer­ent and more com­pli­cated tar­get.

Mil­i­tary plan­ners had as­signed them to attack Him Shin­shar, a for­mer missile base 15 miles west of Homs.

Western in­tel­li­gence be­lieved the base was used to store the deadly nerve agent Sarin and other chem­i­cal weapons which the As­sad regime falsely claimed to have dis­posed of as part of a 2013 deal with the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As the Tor­na­dos neared the coast­line, the weapons op­er­a­tors activated their Storm Shad­ows – bulky cruise mis­siles which weigh more than a ton and are ca­pa­ble of blast­ing through con­crete to de­stroy un­der­ground tar­gets.

They fired from 300 miles away, send­ing the mis­siles streak­ing to­wards their tar­get as the Tor­na­dos veered back over the sea and away from the Syr­ian regime’s air de­fence sys­tems.

The Tor­na­dos’ sor­tie was just one el­e­ment of a vast al­lied air and naval op­er­a­tion which un­folded in the early hours of yes­ter­day morn­ing.

Bri­tish, French, and Amer­i­can forces fired a total of 105 mis­siles – more than dou­ble the num­ber launched by Mr Trump in his first strike on the Syr­ian regime in 2017.

“I would use three words to de­scribe this op­er­a­tion: pre­cise, over­whelm­ing, and ef­fec­tive,” Lt Gen Ken­neth McKen­zie, di­rec­tor of the US joint staff said.

Ini­tial as­sess­ments in­di­cated no civil­ians were killed in the strike.

The bom­bard­ment was led by the USS Mon­terey, an Amer­i­can guided missile cruiser in the Red Sea, whose decks were lit up in red as crews fired 30 Tom­a­hawk mis­siles to­wards Syria.

Two more Amer­i­can war­ships also launched mis­siles from the Red Sea and the Per­sian Gulf.

A Vir­ginia-class US sub­ma­rine, nor­mally hid­den in the depths of the Mediter­ranean, rose to the sur­face to fire six Tom­a­hawk mis­siles of its own, while a French frigate launched three mis­siles nearby.

Two Amer­i­can B-1 bombers and a hand­ful of French Rafale and Mi­rage fighter jets rounded out the strikes, while a con­stel­la­tion of es­cort jets and re­fu­elling tankers also filled the sky.

Three quar­ters of the mis­siles were aimed at a sin­gle tar­get: the Barzeh re­search fa­cil­ity in north­ern Damascus.

From the out­side, the fa­cil­ity ap­peared to be a mod­ern aca­demic cam­pus. Sup­port­ers of the As­sad regime posted pic­tures of chil­dren in class­rooms pur­port­edly in­side the cen­tre.

But US in­tel­li­gence as­sessed that Barzeh was at the “heart” of As­sad’s re­search into chem­i­cal weapons and that the tox­ins used in Douma may have been de­vel­oped at the site.

The fa­cil­ity was sur­rounded by Syr­ian anti-air­craft missile sys­tems and US of­fi­cials de­scribed the airspace as some of the “most heav­ily-de­fended in the world”.

Damascus res­i­dents were jolted from their beds as Syr­ian troops fired mis­siles and lit up the night with tracer fire. Build­ings shook and those brave enough to look through their win­dows could see As­sad’s Ot­toman palace on the slopes of Mount Qa­sioun il­lu­mi­nated by the ex­plo­sions.

While Rus­sia claimed that 71 al­lied mis­siles had been in­ter­cepted by Syria’s air de­fence, US of­fi­cials were coolly con­fi­dent that the weapons had, in fact, found their marks.

The ev­i­dence was plain to see as the sun rose in Damascus: the Barzeh fa­cil­ity had been re­duced to rub­ble.

“It does not ex­ist any more,” Lt Gen McKen­zie said flatly in a brief­ing at the Pen­tagon. “This is go­ing to set the Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapon progamme back years.”

The fi­nal and small­est tar­get was a bunker used by As­sad’s elite Repub­li­can Guard near the stor­age fa­cil­ity struck by the Tor­na­dos at Him Shin­shar.

The Pen­tagon said seven French mis­siles had been enough to de­stroy it.

In com­mand cen­tres around the world, al­lied officers qui­etly counted their air­craft home safely.

At Che­quers, Mrs May was given the Bri­tish mil­i­tary’s ini­tial assess­ment of the night: the mis­sion had been a suc­cess and her first ex­pe­ri­ence of send­ing troops into com­bat had ended with­out UK loss of life. The Prime Min­is­ter went to bed at around 2.30am.

While the strikes were over, the ten­sion was not. Rus­sia warned ear­lier in the week that it could attack Western forces in re­tal­i­a­tion for tar­get­ing As­sad.

French and US ships re­mained on high alert and in the Golan Heights, Is­raeli troops were also on standby in case As­sad’s Ira­nian al­lies used the chaos as a chance to strike.

But hours ticked by and there was no sign of a mil­i­tary re­sponse from Rus­sia, Iran or Syria.

Bashar al-As­sad, the 52-year-old who plunged his coun­try into seven years of blood­shed, had been a spec­ta­tor to the night of bomb­ing and the week of diplo­matic wran­gling that led up to it.

But at pre­cisely 9am yes­ter­day the Syr­ian regime be­gan to ex­e­cute a small piece of theatre it had been re­hears­ing for some time.

The Syr­ian pres­i­dent’s of­fi­cial Twit­ter ac­count posted a short video of As­sad walk­ing briskly into work at his palace, a suit­case in his right hand. “The morn­ing of stead­fast­ness,” read the cap­tion.

The footage was al­most cer­tainly staged and anal­y­sis sug­gests it may have been filmed at midday the day be­fore.

But the mes­sage was un­mis­tak­able: the regime may have been at­tacked by the world’s most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary but it lives to fight an­other day.

“This ag­gres­sion will only make Syria and its peo­ple more de­ter­mined to keep fight­ing ter­ror­ism,” As­sad told his Ira­nian coun­ter­part.

Later, crowds of sup­pos­edly spon­ta­neous As­sad sup­port­ers marched through the streets of

Damascus, wav­ing the regime flag as well as the tri­col­ore of Rus­sia.Sev­eral hun­dreds miles north in Idlib, the last rebel-held prov­ince in Syria, a weary fa­ther named Abu Ji­had was fol­low­ing news of the strikes via his patchy in­ter­net con­nec­tion.

His three chil­dren have spent their en­tire lives un­der siege from regime forces. But Abu could sum­mon no en­thu­si­asm for the Western strikes.

“This will change noth­ing,” he said. “The regime has known for a week that the strikes were com­ing and they hid their air­craft, their equip­ment and their top peo­ple. This is like prick­ing some­one with a pin.

“We sur­vived in Ghouta with the chem­i­cal at­tacks, the phos­pho­rous bombs and the bom­bard­ments. Life and death is the same for us now.”

‘This attack will set the Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapon pro­gramme back years. It does not ex­ist any more’

FI­NAL

The skies above Damascus light up as the al­lies launch their attack, above. Satel­lite images show the Barzeh facilty both be­fore and af­ter the strike, top right, as a Syr­ian sol­dier hoses down the stillsmoul­der­ing rub­ble. Pres­i­dent Trump, right, said...

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