Monday, April 09, 2018

Gas, Bombs, and a Red Wedding?

The Syrian multi-war is getting more complex despite the destruction of the territory-based caliphate there.

Syria appears to have conducted another chemical weapons attack on rebels notwithstanding the Kerry-Lavrov deal of 2013 that "eliminated" Syria's chemical weapons and committed Syria to not use gas as a weapon of war:

An alleged chemical attack that left dozens dead in Syria's rebel-held town of Douma sparked international outrage Sunday, with US President Donald Trump warning there would be a "big price to pay".

All the deal was, essentially, was a cleanup of ancient chemical weapons and facilities that the West paid for, while allowing Assad to use chemicals not covered in the deal as weapons (Chlorine, the first gas used in war in World War I) and clear the deck to build newer chemical weapons when the war is over (if Assad waits that long). Ah, smart diplomacy.

But I'm sure that the 2015 deal that "eliminated" Iran's nuclear weapons program is much better.

If our intelligence is reasonably sure Syria did this, expect an American response to defend that red line. I suspect it will be more thorough than the cruise missile strike on an airfield used for a previous attack.

Although Russia has warned America, essentially to observe limits on action.

If we don't strike, the chemical attack is just rubbing the noses of rebels into the unpleasant fact that they are all alone and that Assad can do what he wants to crush them.

Overnight, Israel appears to have launched a strike in Syria with two planes:

Syria accused Israel on Monday of carrying out overnight missile strikes on a major airfield, after earlier saying it suspected the United States of being behind the attack.

Russia, the Damascus government’s key ally, also said two Israeli F-15 war planes carried out the strikes near Homs in central Syria. An Israeli military spokesman said he had no immediate comment.

I wonder how much of that raid was for the purpose of blowing up things and how much was to map the ingress and egress routes for American aircraft or missiles?

In other news, perhaps encouraged by the chemical attack, rebels are getting out of Douma:

Rebel fighters will leave the besieged city of Douma for a rebel-held area of northern Syria under a deal with the Russian army that Russian military police will help to enforce, opposition negotiators said.

Under the agreement, Jaish al-Islam fighters will evacuate Douma and move to the northern city of Jarablus, near the border with Turkey, within 48 hours, state media quoted an official source as saying.

These deals are common and allow Assad to take ground at the price of letting enemies live to fight another day. But as Assad's relative strength over rebels increases, the need for such deals will diminish.

If Assad really wants to rub the noses of rebels into their hopeless condition, one of these days one of these deals will be used as an opportunity to gather rebels and their supporters in one spot to slaughter them in large numbers.

I don't know whether an American strike to enforce the red line on chemical weapons use will deter Assad from such a slaughter or encourage him, honestly.

Perhaps this most recent agreement won't be the Red Wedding Evacuation. But one day there will be.

It's an ugly, brutal war. Thank God we didn't further militarize it 6 years ago by supporting rebels when Assad was weak, the death toll was still relatively low, and the conflict was simpler.

I wonder if Kerry, bless his heart, still thinks his brilliant deal got rid of Assad's chemical weapons capabilities? I was skeptical of any deal, especially given the weak hand Kerry played; but was willing to give the administration credit if it worked. It did not.

And don't you dare say you are surprised that this is how the chemical weapons deal worked out. Russia shields Assad as Assad uses chemical weapons today; which is no different than Russia's motive in 2013 that resulted in the farcical deal.

UPDATE: Note that while Assad is winning right now, I don't assume he has yet won the war. Things happen. And given the high price in lives and money that Assad's backers have paid to get Assad this far, I don't assume they are willing to keep paying that price without an end in sight.

UPDATE: Mattis weighs in:

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday he would not rule out "anything" after a suspected chemical attack in Syria triggered speculation about a U.S. military response, and he piled blame on Russia for falling short on its obligations to ensure that Syria abandoned its chemical weapons capabilities.

To be fair to Russia, they were also had an obligation to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up nuclear weapons. But Russia being Russia, Russians feel free to violate obligations like that. So Russia occupies parts of Ukraine and Assad uses poison gas against "enemies" broadly defined as people who don't support him.

UPDATE: A no-fly zone is pointless because Russia can provide air support and if Syria uses artillery rather than aircraft, so what? And we risk aircraft being shot down to enforce a pointless punishment.