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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Signs of coming US strike on Syria abound

With a US attack on Syria rumored to be happening as soon as Thursday, Amos Harel reports that there are many signs that an attack is coming soon. And it will be over in the blink of an eyelash.
An American strike, meant to punish and deter, is seemingly only days away. The United States will have to act soon since any further delay will be embarrassing to the Obama administration after a pattern of indecisiveness in the face of crises in the Arab world in general, and Syria in particular. Since the United States is not planning a lengthy military operation but momentary and powerful strike, and assuming the plans have been ready for a long while, U.S. forces can deploy as soon as a decision is made. Cruise missile-carrying warships are already stationed in the Mediterranean, not too far from the Syrian shores, and U.S. fighter jets are likewise in attack range.
The Obama administration will carry out a strike because this time, after declaring chemical weapons a "red line," the president's hands are tied. The United States dragged it feet for 6 weeks following the chemical attack in the village of Khan al-Assal near Aleppo in March, before Israel released its intelligence findings and Washington was forced to admit the facts . This time around it took the United States less than a week to reach an unequivocal conclusion. Still, the apparent decision to carry out a strike against Assad as punishment for the massacre of civilians does not mean that the it will act to topple the regime. The United States has learned painful lessons from orchestrating regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan (and to a lesser extent in Libya). American public opinion will no longer tolerate the idea of prolonged military presence with boots on the ground, much less clips of U.S. soldiers escorting Arab children to school under mortar fire and sniper shots. From Washington to the Midwest, the Middle East is now viewed as a region plagued by disaster, a entanglement to be avoided.
Most likely, the U.S. will do the bare minimum and attack but then swiftly disengage. Such an approach dictates a particular set of targets: Not symbols of the regime but strictly military targets such as missile bases, anti-aircraft batteries and perhaps chemical weapons sites.
Western intelligence agencies know the locations of at least 90 percent of the Syrian chemical weapons bases. According to various reports, the components are stored separately and assembled when an order is given – meaning that a strike won't trigger a chemical reaction.
Assad, it seems, would be able to withstand such an attack and remain on his feet. It wouldn't stop him from continuing his onslaught on the rebel forces, who are currently preoccupied by infighting. An American strike, aside from countering criticism that Washington is not true to its word, might also serve, to a certain extent, as a deterrent against future chemical weapons use.
Intervention might also galvanize the opposition groups. Still, to turn the tide in the civil war, the United States would have to resort to a prolonged air strike, which is the last thing the Americans want, especially since there is no one way to know that Assad's replacement will be any better than the murderous tyrant himself.
Washington is giving up the element of surprise. Max Fisher explains why.
If his goal were to fully enter the Syrian civil war and decisively end it then, yes, secrecy would be the way to go. But the administration has been very clear that it has a much more modest goal: to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons so that he, and future military leaders, won’t do it again.
What’s about to happen, if the United States and allies do go through with the strikes, is less of a war and more of a ritual. This isn’t about defeating Assad, it’s about punishing him. And that calls for being really precise about how much punishment the U.S. imposes.
If the U.S. military just fired off a bunch of missiles, it would probably cause more civilian causalities than with its current approach and the amount of damage it caused would be tougher to predict. Maybe it causes less damage than the United States wants and then Assad is not sufficiently deterred from future chemical weapons use. Maybe it causes more damage and then Assad might feel compelled to respond, perhaps by striking Israel, and that’s how things spiral out of control.
No, what the Obama administration appears to want is a limited, finite series of strikes that will be carefully calibrated to send a message and cause the just-right amount of pain. It wants to set Assad back but it doesn’t want to cause death and mayhem. So the most likely option is probably to destroy a bunch of government or military infrastructure – much of which will probably be empty.
But what if Assad isn't deterred? What could go wrong? 

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