At first, US leaders in Washington refused to acknowledge that a gas attack had occurred in Syria, although observers and video evidence said otherwise. The President’s initial silence was broken when the administration rushed to judgment, putting full and unequivocal blame on the Bashar Assad regime for the attack, even though Doctors Without Borders said otherwise, and the UN fact-finding team said they needed more time to ascertain the facts.
Meanwhile, four US Navy destroyers – the USS Gravely, the USS Mahon, the USS Barry, and the USS Ramage – have been positioned off the shores of Syria in the eastern Mediterranean, with another – the USS Stout – on its way. Each of the warships can carry up to 90 Tomahawk missiles, capable of delivering massive destruction if deployed against Syria. An aircraft carrier, the USS Truman is now being positioned in the Persian Gulf to join the USS Nimitz, 1200 miles from Damascus and a few hundred miles from Teheran.
The US is not alone in its preparations for war. The British are sending six Typhoon fighter jets to Cyprus, only 200 miles from Damascus. And the Russians are moving two destroyers into the Mediterranean, while Russian soldiers man air defense systems in Syria. In Egypt, the Tamrod campaign, led by the anti-Morsi activists, has urged the government to close the Suez Canal to all military shipping.
Israel, caught in the middle of this growing confrontation, has issued gas masks to its citizens and called up its military reserves. Israelis are nervous because, like the rest of us, they do not know what to expect. Their geographical location puts them on the front lines, and although they do not want war, they may have no choice. Their military is prepared and their military power, awesome as it is, has not kept Assad or Iran’s Ayatollah from threatening them with extinction should the US attack Syria. So the Israelis, too, are preparing for war.
Fanning the Flames While all these assets are converging on the region, the President is still trying to decide what to do.
To be fair, this is not an easy decision, but it is essential for America, as a world leader, to be precise about where we stand. We must neither confuse our allies nor appear weak before our enemies. The situation in Syria is complicated and American indecision fans the flames of conflict by empowering those whose interests are inimical to our own.
An attack by the US on Syria will undoubtedly trigger retaliation by one of the many players in this doomsday scenario, if the threats of Russia, Iran, and Syria can be believed. The target may not be the US, although that is also possible, but Israel. Iran has equipped Hezbollah in Lebanon and now in Syria, with over 100,000 rockets and missiles, and Iran has its own weapons at its disposal, including, perhaps, nuclear. Should a US attack trigger a response by Hezbollah or by one of the countries that have threatened Israel, all hell, as they say, will break out.
Israel will not submit to annihilation. Its military posture is powerful, and some of its capability is still unknown by the outside world. Its response to a massive attack can be expected to be fierce and unlike anything we have seen before.
The stakes could not be higher. The President’s apparent inability to make a decision raises them dramatically. While he continues to waver, the preparations for battle by other nations in the region and beyond are fueling the possibility of a sudden outbreak of war that will far surpass the issues of Syria’s internal crisis.
The time for American intervention in Syria has long past, just as the possibility of the President regaining prestige in the region has also passed. Any military action that we take in Syria now is likely to precipitate a confrontation that will go far beyond what the President can either control or contain. The death and destruction will be immense and the world may be reaping the consequences for generations to come. It is time for the President to back off the threat.
Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst with over twenty years of experience. Comments and questions can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or posted below.