On Tuesday last week, Syrian government of Bashar-al-Assad (or whatever is left of it), attacked the town of Khan Sheikhoun, in the rebel-held territory of Idlib Province. Alleged video footage of the attack, which soon surfaced on international media, showed women and children gasping for breath and foaming at the mouth. Within hours, experts in the international community suggested that the attack might have involved the use of chemical weapon; specifically, Sarin, a banned nerve agent.

Almost instantaneously, the international community reacted with condemnation and horror. Yes, the same international community that had the stomach to tolerate thousands of scenes of horror and mutilation during American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Regardless, everyone held their breath, with one eye fixed at Trump’s White House, for possible retaliation.

Almost as expected, within 63 hours of Syrian attack, President Trump ordered airstrikes against Syria’s Shayrat Airbase, just South-East of the city of Homs, from where the Syrian aircrafts had carried out their attack on Khan Sheikhoun. According to the Pentagon, the aim was not to kill Syrian personnel, but instead to target and destroy Syrian aircrafts and installations. And the number of missiles used – 59 in total – suggests that the US strike was intended to do real damage, carefully planned and delivered by individuals such as Defence Secretary James Mattis and the National Security Adviser, Lt. General McMaster.

Up to 20 Syrian aircrafts were reportedly destroyed in Friday’s attack by US missiles. And the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said that the US is ‘prepared to do more’. However, for now, it seems unlikely that these strikes were part of any larger military campaign designed to remove Assad and his government.

Importantly, this is not the first airstrike, by the United States, in Syrian territory. Since 2014, under the leadership of Obama as well as Trump, a US lead coalition has conducted strikes in Syria, against ISIS targets. However, this week’s airstrikes are significant, in that they marked the first direct military action by the United States against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Pertinently, this is also not the first time that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict in Syria. Sarin gas was used in Syria in 2013; at the time, President Obama said that it crossed a “red line”, but resulted in no military retaliation. Other chemical weapons have also been used by either side in the Syrian conflict – chlorine gas by Assad’s government, and mustard agent by ISIS. However, this is the first time, during this painful conflict, that the United States (or any other Western power) has carried out an attack based on allegations concerning use of chemical weapons, demonstrating to all parties that a new sheriff is in town.

Syrian government, supported by Putin, claims that no chemical weapons were used in this week’s attack. In fact, Syrian military’s official statement, transmitted by state media, categorically denied the use of “any chemical or toxic substance” in Khan Sheikhoun on Tuesday, adding that the military “has never used them, anytime, anywhere, and will not do so in the future.”

Be that as it may, a majority of the international community has issued statements in support of United States’ airstrikes in Syria. This includes the traditional Western allies of the United States, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, Japan, U.K., Spain and Italy. (Not) surprisingly, it also includes the entire gamut of Arab countries that either oppose Assad’s government on sectarian basis, or simply wish to fall in line with the Trump White House for their own vested interests. This includes, among others, the (notorious) Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey.

It is important to point out that this is not the only time that Saudi Arabia and Israel find themselves on the same page in terms of supporting Western bombing of a Muslim country.

On the opposing end of the spectrum, only one (notable) Muslim country has officially opposed the airstrike: Iran. Perhaps this too is a result of sectarian sympathy, as oppose to any higher principle of moral conduct. And, as part of larger geopolitics, Iran and Syria have been lent support by the Russians and Chinese – the traditional foes of the United States.

Russia, for the most part, is Syria’s most powerful ally and has provided the military might behind Assad’s (weakening) clutch on Syrian government. Russia has significant economic and military interests in Syria, including a naval base at Tartus in the Mediterranean. As a result of these ties, Russia (more than any Muslim country) has staunchly shielded Syria from UN resolutions in the UN Security Council over the recent years. And Russian military has carried out airstrikes in support of Assad since 2015.

Naturally, these latest airstrikes have also pitted the United States against Russia, in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. In fact, the President Putin has deemed these strikes as “act of aggression”, and a violation of international law. In fact, a Russian frigate, armed with cruise missiles, has been parked in the Mediterranean, in an apparent show of force, just one day after United States’ airstrikes. Also, the Russians have suspended their agreement with the United States, under which a military hotline was used to ensure that the two military powers do not come into direct conflict over Syrian skies.

These are exceptionally troubling times for the Middle East and, by extension, for the entire Muslim world. There is a hellish army, the ISIS, supported by the Wahabi ideology of Saudi Arabia, which has wreaked havoc across the heart of the Muslim world. All the international players –the United States, Europe, Russia and China – have actively picked sides in the ongoing conflict, which will determine who controls the production and supply of oil across the world. And the absolutely feeble Muslim players in the region have decided to oppose each other on the basis of ethnic (Shia-Sunni) divide.

This sad state of affairs should surprise no one. After all, the Muslim countries in the Middle East, especially those under the sordid influence of the Wahabi Saudi Arabia, have all but surrendered the autonomy (and integrity) of their sinister kingdoms. All, so that they can appease international powers, who might help propagate their dreadful dynasties for a moment longer. And the people of these countries, the citizens of this unfortunate Wahabi belt, have been subjugated by their tyrannical masters for so long that they have almost forgotten the meaning and virtue of freedom.

But this cannot persist forever. The Middle East, its resources and (most importantly) its people, cannot be chained to the gold-plated kingdoms of these tyrannical kings forever. And as soon as we all realize this unequivocal fact – Western and Muslim countries alike – perhaps we can all sit down to have a meaningful dialogue about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. A dialogue that divorced from oil interests, sectarian divisions and dynastic geopolitics.