Will U.S. Strike Syria? Does Israel Want That? What are Intelligence Analysts Watching?

The next step in the Syrian crisis — how the world responds to the use of chemical weapons against civilians — hangs in the balance (on Sunday).

In Damascus, the government announced it will let U.N. inspectors go tomorrow to the scene of the latest attack.

So would that delay a widely expected attack by the United States on selected sites in Syria?

President Obama, at his vacation home in Massachusetts this month, speaking to advisors about Egypt

In Washington, when Obama Administration officials were asked about that, they stressed that no decision has been made — in the wake of the President’s sit-down with his National Security Council experts and Secretaries Chuck Hagel and John Kerry (on Saturday). But they added that, anyway, there is persuasive evidence that Syria’s military has used chemical weapons several times in the civil war.

Israeli officials have been behaving as though they do expect the U.S. Navy to launch cruise missiles at targets in Syria.

Israeli intelligence analysts believe that the U.S. can attack as many sites as it chooses to in Syria, with little chance of any retaliation by the Syrians.

Signaling a measure of concern that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad might choose to respond by launching missiles at Israel, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel would strongly defend itself if attacked by Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a point of saying that Iran is deeply involved in Syria, helping Assad try to crush opposition as a kind of “testing ground.”  Both Israelis were speaking to the visiting foreign minister of France, Laurent Fabius.

Netanyahu, in BBC interview, 18 April 2013

“Now the entire world is watching,” Netanyahu added, “and wants to see the response to the use of chemical weapons.”

Israel has still not determined which outcome in Syria would be best, for Israeli interests.

The Times of Israel asked two Israeli strategists to update their views on who — if anyone — should win in Syria’s civil war.  A retired general, Shlomo Brom (now at the Institute of National Security Studies in Tel Aviv), and Prof.  Efraim Inbar both told the on-line newspaper that it clearly would be preferable for Assad to lose.

Brom’s assessment of a possible U.S. missile strike on Syrian targets was that it would not likely affect the outcome of the civil war — but it would deter Assad from using chemical weapons again. So that could be good.

a CIA map of Syria

Edward Luttwak, controversial and widely published strategy analyst in Washington, wrote in The New York Times, however, that the best result for the United States would be a long, continued “stalemate” in Syria. Luttwak suggested that neither the Assad regime nor the dominant rebels would be friends of the U.S.

Syrian rebels factions who insist that they are pro-Western and not infected by al-Qaeda insist that the U.S. can safely support them. Salim Idris, a Syrian general who defected to the rebel side, told NBC News (in Turkey on Sunday) that his faction — the Free Syrian Army — is finally receiving “tons of weapons.” The indication was that CIA-organized aid is arriving.

The first U.S. government announcement that assistance would be sent to carefully chosen Syrian rebels was a reaction to earlier allegations that Assad’s army used chemical weapons.

A professor at the University of Maryland who does research for the U.S. government on terrorist deradicalization worldwide — Arie Kruglanski — comments: The two main alternatives in Syria seem like a real-life choice between Scylla and Charybdis. Both seem thoroughly unpleasant.

August 25, 2013

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