Today, following a meeting between the Russian and Syrian Foreign Ministries and their respective staffs, Russia announced that Syria has accepted Russia’s plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons stores under international control. According to our sources, Syria agreed to the terms in exchange for increased aid to strengthen the Syrian military, including the introduction of Russian Spetznaz Commandos to aid in counter-insurgency against the rebels
In a separate statement, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, in Moscow for the meeting, spoke on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, welcoming the Russian proposal as a means of averting a US military strike on Syrian targets.
This is likely to take the wind out of the sails of President Obama’s plan to strike Syrian targets as punishment for the chemical attack on a suburb of Damascus. Even as this meeting was taking place, the President was preparing for multiple television appearances tonight, and a major speech to the American people tomorrow to convince them to support his plan.
Meanwhile, the White House has admitted this morning that they have NO irrefutable proof that it was the Assad government that used chemical weapons on August 21st. This should make the President’s campaign to garner support for his strike plan even more difficult, but so far, his efforts seem to still be on schedule.
Even if the Syrian-Russian agreement enables a graceful withdrawal for Obama, the news may be far too little and far too late. Opponents of the US plan have already begun to mobilize.
In the eastern Mediterranean, US, Russian, and Chinese squadrons have converged along the Syrian coast. It is the largest show of military power in the region in forty years.
Then there are the terrorist groups themselves. Jihadis both inside and beyond the borders of Syria have been empowered by America’s inability to make a decision about the attack and the leaking of battle plans has given them the time to make preparation for reprisals. Terrorist attacks on US assets throughout the world may be attacked, whether or not the US attack ever takes place. The terrorists live by a code of strength through power, and President Obama has shown himself, in their perspective, to be a weak adversary and worthy of attacks upon the country he is supposed to lead.
Read more below:
By Ilana Freedman
It is a war no one wants. Not our allies, not the American people, not the Syrians. But for President Barack Obama a military strike on Syria is an imperative. He has asked for Congressional authorization for military intervention in Syria, but he has made it clear that if he doesn’t get the approval from Congress, he has the authority to do it on his own.
This is Obama’s war.
Last week, the President tried to win support from foreign leaders at the G20 meeting in Russia, and came home empty-handed. He now takes his message to Congress. At the moment, his prospects do not look good for approval, with nearly 80% of the American people telling their Congressmen to vote “no”. But Obama is now pulling out all the stops, putting pressure on the leading Senators and Congressmen in both parties to support his plan to strike Syria.
Many people around the world are scratching their heads, wondering why, after ignoring Syria for the past two years, and with all the domestic issues currently facing Washington, the President should suddenly embark on this controversial crusade. Since March 2011, over 120,000 people have died in the violent free-for-all between hundreds of anti-Assad fighting groups and the government of President Bashar Assad. Yet until last month, the President was silent.
It was only after a gas attack killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus that he took any apparent interest at all. Suddenly, with only circumstantial evidence in hand, without waiting for the conclusion of the UN tests on the gas that was used in the attack, and despite mounting evidence that a rebel group and not Assad had perpetrated the attack, he has unilaterally decided that Assad gassed his own people and deserves to be punished. He made up his mind and he is pushing hard. Today, the White House admitted that they have NO irrefutable Proof that Assad used Chemical Weapons on August 21st.
Obama says that this will be a “limited, proportional strike”, not a war. But history and reality remind us that it is not the side that strikes the first blow who gets to decide what happens next, or how long the confrontation will last. Obama does not have the power to decide what the unintended consequences may be. It is the recipient of the first strike and its allies who get to decide that.
It is unreasonable to assume that the US can strike Syria with up to 200 Tomahawk missiles without military consequence. If Syria, or Hezbollah, or Iran, or Russia decides that a military response is called for, the resulting war will proliferate quickly and last far longer than the 48 hours that the President anticipates. The fallout could be enormous.
And while the world waits to see what happens next, the US naval task force in the eastern Mediterranean waits for the order to strike. They have been joined by two large Russian navy squadrons, as well as one Chinese squadron, ostensibly there to observe. This is in addition to the Israeli, Lebanese, and Egyptian naval presence, plying their home waters in the eastern Mediterranean. The Russian force includes two Russian Naval Squadrons with destroyers, tank landing ships, and submarines, as well as the Russian spy ship Priazovye. It is the largest concentration of military might in the region since 1973, and it would take only a small incident to ignite the spark of confrontation.
Russia has taken an additional step, and is beginning to evacuate all civilian, non essential diplomatic personnel, and dependents from Syria. All three vessels have a combined personnel of approx 4,000 personnel. The Russian volunteers are staying. We take this as an indication Russia expects heavy combat in the region.
The President has said that the US has the ability to identify the good guys among the “opposition”. But referring to the “opposition”, as though it were a single, cohesive group, shows an appalling lack of understanding of the reality in Syria today. The so-called “opposition” is actually a deeply fragmented collection of hundreds of fighting groups with widely differing agendas. The only thing that they all have in common is their interest in toppling the Assad regime. The next step for many of them will be the creation of an Islamist state in Syria.
Some of these groups, like the fierce al Nusrah, are allied with al Qaeda, some with the Muslim Brotherhood, and many are smaller groups, manned by jihadis who have filtered into Syria from Libya, Iraq, Jordan, Afghanistan, Egypt, and other Muslim countries throughout the Middle East.
The US has given open support to the Free Syrian Army led by Salim Idris. But Idris and his cohorts, who claim to be fighting for a democratic Syria, have been tied to kidnapping and the trafficking of arms and missiles to the al Qaeda-linked al Nusrah front.
To add to the confusion, a second group uses the same name. Led by Col Riad al Asa’ad, it too claims to be pro-West and pro-democracy, but receives no aid or support at all from the West. The great difficulty that Washington faces in deciding who are the good guys, and whom we should be supporting should give Obama pause as he prepares to go to war again.
There is no black and white in Syria today. There are only infinite shades of gray, the dark, cold violence of terrorists fighting against the people of Syria, and the impossibility of knowing who is who.
The potential consequences of a US strike could be catastrophic, opening the floodgates to a cascade of international violence. The first reaction might come as the promised strike against Israel by Hezbollah in Syria, using Iran-supplied missiles. An even more powerful military response from Israel, an attack by Turkey on northern Syria, the closure by Iran of the Strait of Hormuz to oil traffic, and strikes between Iran and Israel would quickly draw the rest of the world into a war of enormous proportions.
The tiny spark of a “limited, proportional strike” could easily become a global confrontation, ignited by a President who wants his own war and refuses to back down. But if the latest news, reported at the beginning of this newsletter, succeeds in deflating Obama’s campaign, the world will be a little safer tomorrow. But damage has already been done, and the reaction already triggered by the President’s loose “red line” rhetoric a year ago and his campaign for an attack on Syria will have its consequences. A terrorist attack, in reprisal for the threats, may be an unintended consequence of Obama’s war.
Ilana Freedman is a veteran intelligence analyst who specializes in terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or click the link at the top of this page and leave your comments on-line.