Praise has poured in from American allies across the Middle East who are elated that the United States has bombed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. But whether the strike will have any practical effect in a brutal and internationalized conflict seems uncertain.
The attack itself inflicted only minor damage on Mr. Assad’s military, while exacerbating tensions with Russia and Iran, the greatest foreign backers of the Syrian leader. And while some allies renewed their calls for a leadership change in Damascus, six years of war have decimated the opposition, largely replacing the rebels the United States once backed with Islamists and jihadists.
But in one swift order, President Trump signaled that, unlike his predecessor, he would not hesitate to use American force where he sees fit, hinting at a new reality for both friends and foes.
In a statement, a Saudi Foreign Ministry official praised “this courageous decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to respond to the regime’s crimes against its people, in light of the failure of the international community to stop the regime from brutalizing its people.”
During the presidency of Barack Obama, allies of the United States in the Middle East had seethed at his refusal to wield military might to contain Iran and to punish Mr. Assad for his brutality against his people. Despite calls from America’s allies and from some officials in his administration, Mr. Obama refused to attack Mr. Assad directly — even after a chemical attack in 2013 killed more than 1,000 Syrians — apparently fearing that it would drag the United States into an Iraq-style quagmire.
Many American allies who felt that Mr. Obama’s reticence gave a green light to Mr. Assad’s brutality are now lauding Mr. Trump.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for the Turkish president, called the strikes on the air base “an important step to ensure that chemical and conventional attacks against the civilian population do not go unpunished.” He also called for the creation of safe zones for civilians inside Syria, options that Mr. Obama considered but ultimately rejected.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, went further, calling in a televised speech for a leadership change in Syria.
“This regime should be removed from Syria right away,” he said. “The best way to do this is to establish the interim government, an interim government without Assad.”
In Israel, which has kept its distance from the war raging across its northern border, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes sent a clear message against the spread of chemical weapons.
“Israel fully supports President Trump’s decision and hopes that this message of resolve in the face of the Assad regime’s horrific actions will resonate not only in Damascus, but in Tehran, Pyongyang and elsewhere,” he said.
But Mr. Trump’s actions could complicate the pursuit of other American priorities, like defeating Islamic State militants. Russian officials, who have denied that the Syrian government has retained any chemical weapons, condemned the attack and suspended their agreement with the United States over the use of Syrian airspace, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday. The United States leads a coalition of countries that have been bombing the militants.
Since 2011, Syria’s war has evolved from an uprising against Mr. Assad into a multifaceted and international war. While the United States, Turkey and Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia have covertly armed rebels seeking to oust Mr. Assad, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah from Lebanon have intervened to shore up his rule and win key battles.
So far, Mr. Trump has not detailed whether Thursday’s strikes were a one-off response to the chemical attacks or the start of more direct American involvement. He had previously spoken of cooperating with Russia against the Islamic State, and his spokesman, Sean Spicer, said last week that Mr. Assad’s staying in power was “a political reality that we have to accept.”
But some analysts said that even if the strike did not represent a major blow to Mr. Assad’s military abilities, it could be a deterrent, by signaling new American assertiveness in the conflict.
In Iran, the attack, and the swiftness with which it was executed, caught the establishment by surprise. Most in the crowds at Friday Prayer said they had heard of the attack only through social media, and state television aired the reaction of the Foreign Ministry hours after the strike.
One analyst close to the moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani of Iran predicted that the country would take the message seriously. “They will choose not to be confrontational towards the U.S. and the West,” Farshad Ghorbanpour said. “Iran will continue to support Bashar al-Assad, but not at all costs. This attack was large and carried a message, saying the Americans are serious.”
The strikes did not appear to have significantly degraded the ability of Mr. Assad and his allies to wage war.
A correspondent on the ground in Syria for Rossiya 24, the main state-run Russian satellite news channel, filed video from Al Shayrat air base in Syria, the target of the attack. The damage included nine destroyed airplanes and a runway littered with shrapnel, the reporter said.
He also posted a photograph on Instagram of at least one warplane that he said had not been damaged.
Talal Barazi, the governor of Homs Province, which includes the air base, said by telephone on Friday that five people in the military and two civilians had been killed in the strikes.
Like other Syrian officials, he said the strikes showed that the United States supported terrorism in Syria.
“What happened today is biggest evidence that the U.S. and its allies are the biggest supporters of the Daesh terrorist,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
But the attack was welcomed in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun, where a chemical weapons attack this week killed scores, including women and children.
“The people were suffocated with sarin and Trump came and vented the anger,” said Abdul-Wahab al-Safar, a member of the town council. “In the past, Obama used to say words. Today, Trump said and did.”
While chemical attacks draw the world’s attention, most of the Syrian war’s more than 400,000 victims have been killed with conventional weapons whose use has not piqued Mr. Trump’s ire, leaving some skeptical that the strikes would change the war’s course.
“I feel the ecstasy of revenge now,” said Malek al-Shimali, an antigovernment activist who recently fled to Turkey. “I don’t feel the strike will change anything. Unless Bashar goes, nothing will change.”