December 3, 2012

“The Most Dangerous Turn in Syria”

In from the Cold:

The conflict in Syria appears poised to take an ominous–and even more deadly–turn.

In recent days, there have been several developments, suggesting that the on-going civil way may soon cross one of the feared “red lines,” dragging Syria’s neighbors (and perhaps NATO) into the conflict as well.

First, there were multiple reports last week that the Assad government had shut down internet access across the country and restricted cell phone service in a number of areas.  The move came after government forces suffered a string of recent defeats, losing control of air bases and other key facilities around Damascus.  Restricting communications would (at least in theory) make it more difficult for rebel forces to plan follow-on attacks.  Syrian insurgents, like those in other countries, have made extensive use of various internet platforms to coordinate their activities.

While the communications shut-down makes some degree of military sense, it raises a couple of obvious questions.  First, why did Assad and his minions wait so long, and secondly, why surrender such a valuable source of “open source” intelligence information as the battle for Syria enters a critical phase.  Besides, rebel forces have been receiving secure communications gear from the U.S.  (and other sources) for several months, so pulling the plug on the internet may not impact anti-government forces as much as Mr. Assad might hope.

But the comms black-out may be related to something far more dangerous–the potential introduction of chemical weapons in the 20-month-old conflict.  According to The New York Times, U.S. intelligence agencies have detected recent movements involving Syria’s chemical stockpile, activity that goes well beyond past measures which placed them in more secure locations[…]

U.S. officials did not provide specifics on the type of activity observed.  Preparation actions involving chemical weapons can include such measures as

— Removing chemical shells and missile warheads from secure storage
— Transporting those weapons to designated delivery systems (such as aircraft, artillery units and missile battalions)
— Special security measures involving weapons storage sites and employment assets
— Detection of chemical protection and decontamination activity among units involved in CW operations
— Activation of special C2 networks associated with WMD employment (and)
— The actual “mating” of chemical munitions with delivery platforms

Not surprisingly, the current activity involving Assad’s CW stockpile has caught the attention of Israel’s neighbors.  Turkey has asked NATO to deploy two Patriot air defense battalions, to help defend the country from chemical-tipped missiles that might be fired from Syria.

Meanwhile, Israel is considering a much more aggressive approach.  Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought Jordan’s permission to bomb Syrian WMD sites on two occasions in the last two months.  In both instances Jordan declined, saying the “timing wasn’t right.”

With many Syrian CW facilities located near the Jordanian border, Israel believes it is important to have Amman’s permission before launching an attack through its airspace.  But as U.S. officials observe, Israel doesn’t need Jordan’s permission to go after Syria; over the years, the Israeli Air Force has struck a number of targets in Syrian-controlled territory with near-impunity.  So, why the sudden concern about Jordanian permission?

For starters, it’s worth remembering that airstrikes alone won’t eliminate most of Syria’s chemical arsenal.  Neutralizing that threat means destroying weapons, eliminating production facilities and removing some assets–and personnel–from Syrian territory.  It’s a monumental task, one that would require a minimum of 75,000 troops, based on a recent Pentagon estimate.

While there are no indications that Israel (or anyone else) is contemplating that type of operation, a flight corridor through Jordan would have certain advantages.  First, it would decrease the amount of time Israeli aircraft spend in hostile airspace, and if coupled with a feint towards Lebanon (a more traditional ingress route for Syrian missions) and cyber-attacks against Damascus’s air defense network, the IAF would have much better odds of achieving complete tactical surprise.

Additionally, the “Jordan option” suggests Israel has more than airstrikes in mind.  Routing through Jordan would be ideal for an Israeli command operation, using helicopters and transport planes to ferry special forces assets deep into Syrian territory, allowing them to attack high-value WMD sites and fly captured weapons back to Israel.

This much is certain: the events of recent days are clearly connected, and signal that the Syrian civil war is moving in a very dangerous phase.  With the internet switched off (and only limited cell phone service), it will be easier for the Assad government to use chemical weapons against the rebels, without the sort of “instant” reporting that would normally accompany such events.

[…]  if all else fails. Assad is quite willing to provoke a regional war, in hopes of uniting the Arab world against their common foe–Israel.  If the chemical genie is released from its bottle, it’s quite easy to envision initial attacks against rebel forces being followed by “stray” missiles launched against Israel and Turkey.  Assad believes (correctly or not) that both of his foes would be restrained by the U.S. and NATO–and the success of available missile defense systems.

If his desperation plan works, the various regional players would be less likely to intervene on the side of the rebels (hoping to avoid a further escalation in the conflict), allowing Assad to proceed with an even greater genocide in the name of regime survival.  And if it doesn’t, there’s always a quick flight to Tehran, and billions looted from the Syrian treasury, socked away in Swiss bank accounts.

As for the United States, our recently re-elected Commander-in-Chief is about to get a nasty surprise.  Having kicked the Syrian can to the end of the road, President Obama will soon face a tough decision.  Find some way to neutralize the Syrian WMD threat, or watch those weapons be used against anti-government forces–along with innocent civilians in Israel, Turkey and Jordan.  He can out-source the job to the Israelis (or the Syrian rebels); launch a U.S. military operation, or mount some sort of coalition effort.  Whatever he chooses, the outcome won’t be very clean, and the potential loss of life could be significant.  But there are few good options in Syria right now, and postponing the decision won’t make them any better.

Sure. But this is Obama.  Postponing the decision is a stated strategy — because “leading from behind” gives the left time to find the proper way to spin whatever the results in their favor, creating scapegoats (like video makers or “the rich” or Bush) when things go poorly, and taking credit when things turn out well for their sober restraint.

As always, the left is about creating appearances and perceptions in order to control narratives and spin them to their advantage. In the name of accumulating and consolidating power.

That is the extent of their concern with events that are not necessarily political in nature:  how can they turn them into partisan political issues, with the effect of that missteps always redound the failure of supposed right wing policy (colonialism, imperialism), and the successes are always attributed to the essential moral righteousness of left wing ideology (humanitarian intervention vs. selfish sovereign interests).

If Obama can’t find an angle by which to receive the media fluffing he so craves, he’ll wait.  And then he’ll work with his propagandists to back-write the narrative of his steady and determined leadership afterward, pointing the finger at anyone and anythong other than himself  and his own inactions and confused foreign policy signals and stances.

It’s a post-modern, faculty lounge presidency.  Reality is what they can convince you it is.  And they realize that for most people, the “convincing” only requires the disapproving nod to a host or ready-made scapegoats.

It’s who they are. It’s what they do.


(h/t sdferr)



Posted by Jeff G. @ 12:52pm

Comments (9)

  1. You know who needs to step up is Sean Penn. Where is he when we need him?

  2. It’s all Bush’s fault for allowing those non-existent weapons to flee to Syria in the first place.

  3. Asking for ‘permission’ is also a polite way of saying “while we can’t guarantee the wind direction, we can give you time to get to a safe distance.”

  4. You know who needs to step up is Sean Penn. Where is he when we need him?

    Still doing the backstroke in the 9th Ward?

  5. This is a tricky situation. I’m just not sure who I’m rooting for – the bad guys in power, or the bad guys not in power.

    Is there any way we can get a third choice?

  6. OT, but bombshell: Prosecutors in Trayvon Martin Case Finally Release Picture of George Zimmerman With Bloody, Clearly Broken Nose

    On the bright side, I think this case ends at the self defense hearing.

  7. Wait until the media starts threatening the judge with catastrophic social consequences should the ruling go the wrong way, a la Roberts.

  8. The Sarin and VX are a problem now, but they’ll likely be as big or a bigger problem once Assad is removed and the jihadis inherit the Syrian earth (and bunkers). Oh baby, who could possibly see that day coming?

  9. However, Syria said on Monday it would not use chemical weapons against its own people after the United States warned it would take action against any such escalation.

    The trouble is, when the Syrian government uses chemical weapons they’ll merely say they’re acting against a ‘foreign’ presence on Syrian soil in order to “protect” its own people. And blah blah blah.