Monday, August 26, 2013

Obama May Hit Syria

Israel Expects U.S. Strike on Syria - Amos Harel & Jack Khoury

The likelihood is increasing of an American strike on Syria as a targeted retaliation against the Assad regime for the use of chemical weapons last week, according to assessments in Israel based on President Obama's statements over the past few days.

Washington announced that four U.S. destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea armed with Tomahawk missiles would be moving closer to Syria. The U.S. is expected to make do with a targeted response that will not embroil it in another war in the Middle East.

Obama Opts for "Tomahawk Diplomacy" - Anshel Pfeffer      

Every U.S. president since 1991 has ordered Tomahawk launches - in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Yemen, Sudan, and two years ago when Obama supported the rebels in Libya.

Initial Implications - Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi    

War crimes and crimes against humanity have been carried out in Syria on a large scale and before the eyes of the world.

The international impotence in the face of these events weakens deterrence against the use of nonconventional weapons and has implications in the Iranian context as Tehran continues on its determined march toward nuclear weapons.
(Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Netanyahu: Syria Has Become Iran's Testing Ground

Prime Minister Netanyahu told visiting French Foreign Minister Fabius: "Assad's regime is not acting alone. Iran, and Iran's proxy, Hizbullah, are there on the ground playing an active role assisting Syria. In fact, Assad's regime has become a full Iranian client and Syria has become Iran's testing ground. Now the whole world is watching. Iran is watching and it wants to see what would be the reaction on the use of chemical weapons." 
(Prime Minister's Office)

Questions as Attack on Syria Looms - Zvi Bar'el

Who exactly will reap the fruits of the attack? Who will take the reins of government in Syria if the strike leads to Assad's downfall? No one knows the answer.

Syria Will Require More than Cruise Missiles - Eliot A. Cohen

The scale, openness and callousness of the Syrian government's breaking of an important taboo seems likely to compel this president to launch warplanes yet again in the Middle East. The temptation here is to follow the Clinton administration's course - a futile salvo of cruise missiles, followed by self-congratulation and an attempt to change the topic.

It would not work here. A minority regime fighting for its life, as Assad's is, can weather a couple of dozen big bangs. More important, no one would be fooled. As weak as the U.S. now appears in the region and beyond, we would look weaker yet if we chose to act ineffectively.
(Washington Post)

In Syria, America Loses If Either Side Wins - Edward N. Luttwak

It would be disastrous if President Assad's regime were to emerge victorious after fully suppressing the rebellion. Iranian money, weapons and operatives and Hizbullah troops have become key factors in the fighting, and Assad's triumph would dramatically affirm the power and prestige of Shiite Iran and Hizbullah, posing a direct threat both to the Sunni Arab states and to Israel.

But a rebel victory would also be extremely dangerous for the U.S. and for many of its allies because extremist groups, some identified with al-Qaeda, have become the most effective fighting force in Syria. If the jihadis were to triumph in Syria, Israel could not expect tranquility on its northern border.

The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways, Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion, and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world.

There is only one outcome that the U.S. can possibly favor: an indefinite draw. By tying down Assad's army and its Iranian and Hizbullah allies in a war against al-Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington's enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America's allies.
(New York Times)

Bruce's Note: Daniel Pipes, PhD made an similar argument, well prior to Mr. Luttwak. Dr. Pipes, however, went further, suggesting intervention to help the losinig side...and when that side was no longer losing, help the other side to prolong the conflict. See:


Syrian rebels used Sarin nerve gas, not Assad’s regime: U.N. official
-Shaun Waterman

Testimony from victims strongly suggests it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, that used Sarin nerve gas during a recent incident in the revolution-wracked nation, a senior U.N. diplomat said Monday.

Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV there were “strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof,” that rebels seeking to oust Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad had used the nerve agent.
[Washington Times]

Families of Syrian Brass "Fleeing" Ahead of Feared U.S. Strike    
Israel TV reported that chemical shells were fired last Wednesday by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, commanded by President Assad's brother Maher.
(Times of Israel)
Bombing Syria: What's the Goal? - Robert Satloff

In Syria, the Assad regime and its Iranian sponsors apparently believe they can put a stake through the heart of U.S. power and prestige in the region by testing the president's "red line" on the use of chemical weapons (CW). For the Iranians, Assad's CW use makes Syria - not Iran's nuclear facilities - the battlefield to test American resolve. Assad probably miscalculated - there is a line beyond which even the most reluctant president cannot go.

Given the strategic stakes at play in Syria, the wiser course is to take action that hastens the end of Assad's regime, and not just dispatch cruise missiles against Syrian military installations. This will also enhance the credibility of the president's commitment to prevent Iran's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability.
The writer is executive director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.


Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas
- Noah Shachtman

[H]ours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, and that is the major reason why American officials now say they're certain that the attacks were the work of the Assad regime. But it is unclear whether the attack on Aug. 21 was the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds or explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime.
(Foreign Policy)

Questions on Syria for the U.S. and its Allies - James Blitz

Brig.-Gen. Mike Herzog, a former senior figure in Israel's Ministry of Defense, says the U.S. should conduct what he calls a "stand-off air strike" on a Syrian military establishment. "You could target airfields, air assets, helicopters. Hitting any of these in a single strike would do a lot of damage. If it is big enough Assad will take notice. It could deter Assad from allowing chemical weapons to be used in this way again."

Failure to take any meaningful action would give the Assad regime the green light to use chemical weapons attacks on civilian population with even greater impunity.
(Financial Times-UK)

Choosing the Right Options in Syria - Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Even if the U.S. does intervene militarily in Syria, the time window for its best option has already passed. The U.S. did not intervene when the rebels were strongest, the Assad regime most fragile, and limited U.S. support to the then dominant moderate rebel factions might well have pushed Assad out of power without dividing Syria along sectarian and ethnic lines.
  • Assad is now far stronger and the rebels are fractured and have strong Sunni Islamist extremist elements. This means there is no way the U.S. can quickly use any amount of force to destroy the Assad regime with any confidence that Syria will not come under Sunni Islamist extremist control.
  • The U.S. has also chosen the wrong red line. The key challenge in Syria is scarcely to end the use of chemical weapons. The real challenge is some 120,000 dead, another 200,000-plus wounded, and as many as 20% of its 22.5 million people have been displaced inside the country or are living outside it as refugees.
  • If the U.S. is to intervene in Syria, its options must have some strategic meaning and a chance of producing lasting success. They must have a reasonable chance of bringing stability to Syria, of limiting the growth of Iranian and Hizbullah influence, of halting the spillover of the Syrian struggle into nearby states, and helping to deal with the broader humanitarian crisis.
(Center for Strategic and International Studies)

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