Archive for the ‘Assad’ category

Russian supply of S-300 systems to Syria major threat to IAF

April 18, 2018

Since the Russians entered the bloody conflict in 2015, the Syrian regime has become more brazen in its responses to Israeli strikes.

By Anna Ahronheim April 15, 2018 06:35 The Jerusalem Post

Source Link: Russian supply of S-300 systems to Syria major threat to IAF

{If Assad’s upgraded air defense system is successful in shooting down an Israeli pilot, I suspect all hell will break loose. -LS}

With Russia considering supplying the S-300 surface-to- air missile systems to Syria, Israel’s air superiority is at risk of being challenged in one of its most difficult arenas.

With a de-confliction mechanism in place with Russia over Syria in order to avoid any unwanted conflict with the superpower, Israel has largely had free reign over Syrian skies to carry out strikes on targets deemed a threat to the Jewish state.

Over the course of Syria’s seven-year-long civil war, Israel has publicly admitted to having struck over 100 Hezbollah convoys and other targets in Syria, while keeping mum on hundreds of other strikes that have been attributed to the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that strikes will continue when “we have information and operational feasibility.”

Syrian air defenses are largely Soviet-era systems, comprised of SA-2s, SA-5s and SA-6s, as well as more sophisticated tactical surface-to-air missiles such as the SA-17 and SA-22 systems. The most up-to-date system that Moscow has supplied to the Syrian regime is the short range Pantsir S-1, which has shot down drones and missiles that have flown over Syria.

Russian chief of main operational directorate Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said Saturday evening that “In the past year and a half, Russia has fully restored Syria’s air defense system and continues to further upgrade it.”

Moscow had “refused” to supply the surface-to-air missile system to Syria a few years ago after “taking into account the pressing request of some of our Western partners.”

But following US-led air strikes on the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons infrastructure, Russia considers “it possible to return to an examination of this issue, not only in regard to Syria but to other countries as well,” he said.

The advanced S-300 would be a major upgrade to Syrian air defenses and pose a threat to Israeli jets as the long-range missile defense system can track objects like aircraft and ballistic missiles over a range of 300 kilometers.

A full battalion includes six launcher vehicles, with each vehicle carrying four missile containers for a total of 24 missiles, as well as command- and-control and long-range radar detection vehicles.

The system’s engagement radar, which can guide up to 12 missiles simultaneously, helps guide the missiles toward the target. With two missiles per target, each launcher vehicle can engage up to six targets at once.

Since the Russians entered the bloody conflict in 2015, the Syrian regime has become more brazen in its responses to Israeli strikes.

Last March, Israeli jets carrying out air strikes against several targets in Syria were targeted with three anti-aircraft missiles with a 200-kilogram warhead. The missiles were shot down by the Arrow advanced missile-defense system in the first usage of the system in a combat situation.

In February, Syria succeeded – after launching a salvo of between 15-20 anti-aircraft missiles – in bringing down an Israeli F-16 (which crashed inside Israeli territory) that was carrying out a strike. Both pilots ejected from the jet and have since returned to duty.

If the Russians supply the advanced S-300 to Syria, Israeli jets may face these scenarios more often. And it could be just a matter of time before an Israeli pilot is killed.



Assad’s land grab: Refugees face losing the homes they fled under new law

April 18, 2018

A displaced Syrian family at a government checkpoint in Idlib province in April 2018 (AFP)

Property owners in Syria and abroad must present deeds to offices inside the country by early May or the state could seize their holdings.

By Bahira al-Zarier, Barrett Limoges Wednesday 18 April 2018 09:53 UTC

Source Link: Assad’s land grab: Refugees face losing the homes they fled under new law

{First he takes his citizens’ lives, then he takes their property. What next, Mr. Assad? – LS}

AMMAN – Scrolling through his Facebook feed at his home in Jordan last week, Syrian refugee Salim Muhammad’s eyes fell upon a news headline that made his heart sink.

Under a new property law issued by the Syrian government in early April, Muhammad has one month to prove ownership of his house and land in a village near Homs that he fled under government shelling in 2012, or risk losing it.

“I always held out hope that we could go back,” Muhammad told Syria Direct. “This decree has destroyed all chance of that.”

Introduced on 2 April, Law 10 sets in motion a massive overhaul of the government land registry across Syria, state news agency SANA reported.

Law 10 gives property owners both in Syria and abroad just 30 days – starting 11 April – to present their deeds to local council offices in the country. Otherwise, the state can liquidate their titles and seize their holdings. Once the registration window closes, “the remaining plots will be sold at auction,” reads Article 31 of the law.

For citizens living abroad like Muhammad, family members as distant as a second cousin may present the documents in their stead.

However, the millions of Syrians impacted by Law 10 include refugees and internally displaced people without family back home to assist with registration, as well as people whose deeds were lost or destroyed during the war.

Security sign off

Perhaps most ominously for opposition supporters, all property owners wishing to register their lands must first obtain approval from state security officials, a lawyer in Damascus familiar with the law told Syria Direct. The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

“Without this approval, they will not be able to prove ownership of the property,” said the lawyer. “Therefore, it would be sold at auction or claimed by another person.”

“Herein lies the seriousness of this decree,” she added.

The Daraya Executive Council discusses the return of displaced residents earlier this month (Daraya Executive Council)

The need for security clearance could exclude large swathes of the Syrian population inside and outside the country with outstanding arrest warrants or known anti-government sympathies from registering their property.

Muhammad is one of them. Although he still has the deed for his house and land in the south Homs village of al-Buwaidah a-Sharqiyah, he said the Syrian government has issued an outstanding warrant for his arrest.

“I am wanted by the regime on charges of incitement and attending demonstrations,” said Muhammad. “I understand that the regime means to take our property with a legal text, creating new laws to suit their interests.”

Law 10 comes in the immediate wake of the Syrian government’s recapture of East Ghouta, one of the last major rebel-held areas near Damascus, in early April. The subsequent displacement of more than 60,000 residents to opposition territory leaves the fate of thousands of properties near Damascus uncertain.

Under the new law, former residents of the enclave would now need family members to register property on their behalf, or go to government territory themselves and risk arrest.

The Damascus lawyer who Syria Direct contacted this month said that, although Syria has long needed to update the property registry, she believes the timing of Law 10 makes its motives suspect.

“The timing of the decree, in light of the war which has seen millions displaced and the creation of refugees who cannot return to their homes because of the security situation, certainly raises doubts,” she said.

Bureaucratic mess

Even before the latest property law, international aid agencies warned of legal ramifications surrounding the issue of lost or damaged property in Syria. A Norwegian Refugee Council report this past February estimated that the state could face more than 2 million lawsuits from Syrians seeking restitution for lost or damaged property in the wake of the civil war.

The subject of property titles and deeds in Syria is greatly complicated by the existence of parallel administrative systems that sprang up across a patchwork of opposition areas during the conflict. When government forces recapture these areas, documentation produced by opposition authorities is of little use.

Furthermore, many property documents have been lost or destroyed in recent years as residents fled shelling and ground fighting in regions across Syria.

According to the same NRC report, only nine percent of Syrians who fled their country during the war have access to their property deeds today. An estimated 5.6 million people have fled the country as refugees, and a further 6.1 million people are displaced inside Syria.

Abdel Hameed a-Shami, a 28-year-old media activist from the formerly rebel-held south Damascus city of Darayya, currently lives in opposition-held northern Syria with his family. He left Darayya in August 2016 when all of the city’s fighters and residents were evacuated in a surrender agreement with the Syrian government.

A-Shami’s family owned a home in Darayya, but the activist said that he, too, is wanted by the government and cannot register his property. Many other former Darayya residents are in a similar position, he said.

A map of a property to be registered in Daraya (Daraya Executive Council)

“There are thousands of families from Daraya that are living outside now, entire families that are wanted by the regime,” a-Shami told Syria Direct. He fears the Syrian government is using the law to seize the homes of opposition supporters and give them to its own support base.

In Jordan, Muhammad and his family have few options, he said. With no family left in Syria to register their property and no way for Muhammad to receive security approval due to his arrest warrant, he believes it is only a matter of time until he officially loses his property in Homs.

“The [government] decision has made me lose all hope of returning to Syria,” Muhammad said. “The regime has abandoned us, bombed us, destroyed us, and now they want to take away our homes and lands.”


Pentagon gives Syrian strike details and calls out Russian disinformation trolls

April 14, 2018

APRIL 14, 2018 EDITORIAL STAFF via American Military News

Source Link: Pentagon gives Syrian strike details and calls out Russian disinformation trolls

{Failed defenses. – LS}

On Saturday, Defense spokeswoman Dana White and Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. held a press conference at the Pentagon that laid out the details of the Syrian missile strike by the U.S., U.K. and France on Friday night. The three nations who participated in the strike are three of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The presser took place after the President tweeted “Mission Accomplished!” earlier Saturday morning.

While Syria tried to pre-empt the press conference by publicly claiming that Syrian air defenses shot down 71 of 103 missiles, McKenzie said: “No Syrian weapon had any effect on anything we did,” and that the U.S. “successfully hit every target.”

McKenzie also said: “None of our aircraft or missiles in this operation were successfully engaged,” and that the operation took out the heart of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program and set back the program by years.

McKenzie noted that the operation was “precise, overwhelming and effective.”

McKenzie said that Syria did launch 40 unguided surface-to-air missiles (SAM) after the U.S.-led operation was over, and alluded to the possibility that Assad’s 40 SAMs could have hit his own people because the Syrian missiles “had to come down somewhere.”

It appears that Russia and Syria are trying to publish propaganda to try to minimize the public perception of the strike.

White called out Russia and said that its disinformation campaign has increased and that there had been a 2,000-percent increase in online Russian trolls in the last 24 hours.

Russian President Vladimir Putin put out a statement Saturday claiming the strike was an “act of aggression,” after the Russian Ambassador to U.S. warned of “consequences” for the strike.

The coalition fired 103 missiles over 70 minutes at 4 a.m. local Syrian time, which was Friday night on the East Coast of the United States.

This was a larger operation than the 59 missiles launched last April, in an attack on Syria last year.

Two B-1 bombers fired 19 of the missiles.

White called on Russia to demand Assad dismantle his chemical weapons program.

White started the press conference by saying the use of chemical weapons is an inexcusable violation of international law and the U.S. will not tolerate it.

The three targets were the Barzah Research and Development Center, Him Shinsar Chemical Weapons Facility and the Him Shinsar Chemical Weapons Bunker Facility, and McKenzie showed before and after photos of each target.

White said that Assad’s use of chemical weapons on his own people demanded an immediate response, and the precision strikes against the Assad regime targeted sites associated with the chemical weapons program. The purpose was to prevent the future use of chemical weapons in the future.

White said the strike was a justified, legitimate and proportionate response to Assad’s use of Syria’s chemical weapons and stated several times that “out goal in Syria continues to be to defeat ISIS,” but that the U.S. cannot ignore the threat that Assad’s actions present.

She also stated that Assad’s actions in April 2017 by gassing his own people and on April 7, 2018, gassing his own people again, show Assad has abandoned Sryia’s commitment to the international agreements that Assad committed to.

Officials noted that they are still collecting information and more details will be provided as assessments are completed.

AMB. Haley: If Poisonous Gas Is Used Again, The U.S. Is Locked And Loaded

April 14, 2018
OAN Newsroom
UPDATED 9:20 AM PT – Sat. April 14, 2018

The UN Security Council holds an emergency meeting after the Syria air strikes.

{I suspect next time won’t be so pretty. – LS}

Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council Saturday the overall U.S. Syrian strategy has not changed, but the Assad government forced the U.S. to take action.

Haley also thanked the UK and France for their assistance, saying the U.S. worked lock-step with both nations.

The ambassador confirmed the air strikes successfully hit the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program, and warned if the Assad government uses the poisonous gas again, the U.S. is “locked and loaded.”

“I spoke to the President this morning, and he said if the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded. When our President draws a red line, our President enforces the red line.” – Nikki Haley, U.N. ambassador

Trump: ‘Get ready Russia,’ missiles will be headed to Syria

April 11, 2018

Trump: 'Get ready Russia,' missiles will be headed to Syria

By John Bowden – 04/11/18 07:15 AM EDT The Hill

Source Link: Trump: ‘Get ready Russia,’ missiles will be headed to Syria

{It’s not Trump’s character to broadcast his future military plan of action. It is his character to throw people off while working on a more effective approach. This is why I believe he’s clearly up to something. It will probably involve the military, but the how, when, and where is a big guess at this point. Meanwhile, the press will eat this stuff up, push for attacks, then pull the rug out from under Trump if anything goes wrong. – LS}

 President Trump in an early morning tweet on Wednesday warned Moscow that “nice and new and ‘smart'” missiles would be headed to Syria, saying “Get ready Russia.”

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!'” he said.

“You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” the president added.

The tweet comes after Russia’s ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zasypkin, told a Hezbollah-controlled TV station that Russian air defenses would strike down any incoming missiles. He added that Russian forces would retaliate against the source of any attacks.

“If there is a U.S. missile attack, we – in line with both Putin and Russia’s chief of staff’s remarks – will shoot down U.S. rockets and even the sources that launched the missiles,” he said, according to Al Jazeera, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has laid blame for a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians earlier this week squarely at the feet of Putin and Syrian President Bashar al Assad and said he would decide on a response soon.

“It was an atrocious attack. It was horrible,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “This is about humanity and it can’t be allowed to happen.”

The president in a second Tweet on Wednesday  said the relationship with Moscow “is worse now than it has ever been.”

“There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?” Trump tweeted.

Relations between Russia and the West have been steadily deteriorating over recent weeks due to Putin’s support for the Syrian government as well as the alleged poisoning of an ex-Russian spy on British soil.

Dozens of Russian diplomats have been expelled from the U.S. and Britain in past days, with a reciprocal amount of U.S. diplomats being expelled from a U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg.



April 11, 2018

KEVIN GOSZTOLA April 9, 2018 via Shadow Proof


{If the reports are true, who had the capability to drop huge cylinders of poisonous gas from the air? The rebels? I doubt it.  Furthermore, the US military actively monitors air traffic and communications all over Syria.  As a result, they know the origin of the air assaults and their very nature via monitored communications. – LS}

An alleged chemical weapons attack against Syrians in Douma preserves United States military involvement in the conflict. It even creates the possibility for a major escalation in U.S. intervention, with President Donald Trump pledging to announce a response to the attack in 24 to 48 hours.

However, the sources for claims about the alleged attack come from pro-rebel groups, including those who have aligned themselves with Salafi-leaning militias like the hard-line Jaysh al-Islam (or the Army of Islam) backed by Saudi Arabia.

Jaysh al-Islam came to dominate Douma in October 2013. Yassin al-Haj Saleh, a Syrian exile who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times on the Syrian government’s siege of Ghouta, said the group established a “despotic system, arresting, kidnapping, and assassinating people who did not comply with its dictates.”

In 2015, the militia locked dozens of captured army officers, who were from President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, in cages on rooftops and the streets of Douma. They were effectively used in the stunt as human shields to deter Syria government or Russian attacks.

There has been no independent confirmation that the Syrian government was responsible for the alleged attack. Media outlets, like CNN and NBC News, indicated they could not verify the claims. Yet, there is very little room for skepticism or tempered judgment in Western media reports

The expressions of skepticism are virtually all from Syrian government or Russian government officials. Even if these remarks included in news reports seem like they should be weighed against claims, to put forward this view invites immediate condemnation for “apologism” over Assad’s brutality or promoting the agenda of the Kremlin.

U.S. media largely have no desire to assess whether it is true or not that Assad used chemical weapons.

Former national security adviser for President Barack Obama, Tom Donilon, appeared on CNN. He said Trump should quickly establish evidence the Syria government was behind the attack. “It needs to be clear evidence,” he added.

Donilon was interrupted by host Wolf Blitzer, who said “we’ve seen the video of the children.” To which Donilon assured Blitzer he had no doubt that the Syrian government was responsible.

“I think the evidence is pretty persuasive at this point, but establish that solidly. You had 500 people, who sought medical assistance as a result of this attack. It’s consistent with past Syrian actions to try and clear out these areas right around Damascus. Only 10 miles from Damascus,” Donilon asserted.

If the media and government officials have all made up their mind that some kind of action must be taken before compiling evidence, it does not matter what is compiled. The evidence pieced together will be put together to justify an outcome already favored by the Western world, particularly as a way to counter the hegemonic influence of Russia, or to a lesser extent, Iran. (Israel already allegedly launched a strike on a Syrian air base used by Iranian troops.)

No Reliable Sources

It is nearly impossible to find independent reliable sources on what is unfolding in the Syrian war.

Government officials have an incentive, as all governments do, to lie about the nature of operations. So, too, do militia groups fighting the Syrian government have an incentive to control the narrative and ensure it is what they want the world to see, hear, and read, especially as the need for assistance from outside military forces increases sharply.

According to the New York Times, “It [is] not possible to independently verify the reports because Douma is surrounded by Syrian government forces, which prevent access by journalists, aid workers and investigators.”

That could also be true for areas in and around Eastern Ghouta that are controlled by Jaysh al-Islam. Any journalists, aid workers, or investigators questioning what activists are saying to media could be seen as a threat that needed to be expelled.

Still, it is important to at least attempt to examine the alleged chemical weapons attack and whether there is any concrete evidence beyond strongly held assumptions toward Assad and Russia to prove Syrian government forces were responsible.

Mahmoud Aadam is the spokesman for the White Helmets (or Syrian Civil Defense). The New York Times reported that Aadam said in a video on Facebook “15 people, including women and children, reported breathing problems after an airstrike in their area.” This happened Saturday afternoon.

“Then, after dark, a government helicopter dropped exploding barrels that dispersed an unknown chemical substance that affected many more people, Mr. Aadam said. The continued assaults made it hard for rescue workers to look for victims, he said, meaning that it was difficult to establish a comprehensive death toll.”

Haitham Bakkar, an activist with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the Associated Press “several bombs laced with chemicals landed in Douma Saturday night.”

The AP also spoke to Bilal Abou Salah, who claimed “a large, yellow cylinder smashed through the roof of an apartment building and came to rest on the third floor and started to discharge gas.” He was labeled an activist and no other information about his affiliation with any organizations or militias included.

NBC News’ report contained vague details about what allegedly happened, with more specifics about the dead and wounded attributed to the White Helmets and “local activists,” whoever they may be.

Similarly, CNN reported, “Anti-government activists claimed Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs filled with chemicals on the town, suffocating some residents and sending others into violent convulsions.” It is unclear if these activists are with the White Helmets or some other group.

A report from the Independent, based in the United Kingdom, contained much more severe allegations. “The pro-opposition Ghouta Media Center alleged that a helicopter had dropped a barrel bomb containing sarin, and another organization claimed that a hospital had been hit by a chlorine bomb.”

The Ghouta Media Center is a citizen journalism collective composed of individuals who are all “against the Syrian regime” and “work without conditions or restrictions.” They say they approach their work with “objectivity and professionalism in a manner that serves the revolution.”

One problem, however, is that this collective must deal with the power Salafi-leaning militias or jihadist rebel groups have in the opposition. The condition they work under is not putting out reporting that will get them killed. Such militias have an incentive to embellish or exaggerate reports of chemical weapons as they are deployed.

The White Helmets have gone to great lengths to make it seem they are a nonviolent group of rescuers, but they are strong advocates of regime change.

As journalist Max Blumenthal documented, photographs and videos have shown members of the White Helmets “boasting about discarding the body parts of Syrian troops in dumpsters, posing triumphantly on the corpses of Syrian soldiers, joining fighters accosting an alleged political opponent, waving the flag of al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra alongside jihadist fighters, and carrying weapons.” And in one instance, White Helmet members participated in an execution carried out by a member of al-Nusra.

Does any of this mean the White Helmets are fabricating or lying to the press about an alleged chemical weapons attack? There is no specific evidence at the moment, but it would not be the first time if this turned out to be the case.

Journalist Gareth Porter detailed in March 2017 how an account of an attack by a White Helmets chief on a “humanitarian aid convoy west of Aleppo City on September 19, 2016,” was entirely flawed.

From Porter’s analysis:

At first, [Ammar al-Selmo] claimed in an interview that he had been more than a kilometer away from the warehouses where the attack occurred and had seen Syrian helicopters dropping “barrel bombs” on the site. But his eyewitness account would have been impossible because it was already dark by the time he said the attack began at about 7:15 p.m. He changed his story in a later interview, claiming that he had been right across the street at the moment of the attack and had heard the “barrel bombs” being dropped rather than seeing them.

Selmo insisted in a video filmed that night that the attack began with Syrian helicopters dropping eight “barrel bombs,” which are described as large, crudely constructed bombs weighing from 250 kg to 500 kg or even more. Citing a box-shaped indentation in the rubble, Selmo said the video is showing “the box of the barrel bomb,” but the indentation is far too small to be a crater from such a bomb.

But Hussein Badawi, apparently the White Helmet official in charge of the Urum al Kubrah area,contradicted Selmo’s story. In a separate interview, Badawi said the attack had begun not with “barrel bombs” but with “four consecutive rockets” that he said had been launched by government forces from their defense plant in Aleppo province – meaning that it was a ground-launched attack rather than an air attack.

In an email response to a query from me, Selmo retracted his own original claim about the S-5 rockets. “[B]efore aircraft’s attack on the area,” he wrote, “many land to land missiles attacked the place coming from the defense factories which [are] located in eastern Aleppo [east of] the city, regime controlled area. [T]hen aircraft came and attacked the place.”…

Nevertheless, the White Helmet chief’s “dramatic narrative of a Russian-Syria air attack” formed the basis of a United Nation panel’s report on the attack.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights may be capable of accurately tracking casualty counts in the war, but it is a one-man operation. Rami Abdul Rahman, who fled Syria over 13 years ago, conducts work from within the United Kingdom. His organization concedes it cannot be certain about chemicals allegedly reported to have been deployed in Douma.

Rebel Group’s Very Existence Threatened

Over the last months, Syrian forces greatly intensified their campaign to regain control of the area of Eastern Ghouta, which includes Douma.

Haitham Bakkar told the AP in March it was “very tense because it is unclear what will happen next. He said it was a question of existence for the Army of Islam fighters, most of whom are from Douma.”

“If the Army of Islam goes to northern Syria it will be its end,” Bakkar declared.

As AP reported, “Douma, on the northeastern edge of Damascus,” was “the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta region after thousands of fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Rahman groups ceded their towns to government control under a deal brokered by Russia, a key ally of Assad.” (Ahrar al-Sham is a Salafiorganization and Faylaq al-Rahman is an ultraconservative religious group.)

While this pressure from Syria and Russian officials to leave eastern Ghouta increased, days later, President Donald Trump signaled it was time for the U.S. military to prepare for withdrawal from Syria.  “I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home.”

Trump has completely abandoned this talk after seeing videos of children struggling to breathe after an alleged chemical weapons attack. He is contemplating retaliation that may resemble the attack on Shayrat air base, which occurred almost exactly one year ago also after an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Would Jaysh al-Islam use chemical weapons in a last-ditch effort to save their existence? Does the group have chemical weapons?

Kurdish officials claimed in 2016 that Syrian rebels with Jaysh al-Islam likely deployed chlorine gas against Kurdish forces in Aleppo.

“One of our commanders has unlawfully used a type of weapon that is not included in our list,” a statement posted on the group’s Twitter account read.

The Islamist group didn’t say what type of weapon was used but it said the commander has been referred to an internal martial court.

Notably, none of the media reports contain comments from Jaysh al-Islam on what transpired in the past few days. But if Western media had any interest in sorting out the truth of what unfolded in the last week, they would ask leaders of Jaysh al-Islam if they possessed chemical weapons and used them to drum up sympathy for their dire situation.


Assad’s Horror, and Those Who Enable It

April 9, 2018

Russia, Iran, and North Korea all play a role in the Syrian regime’s chemical attacks on its own people.

APR 08, 2018 | By THOMAS JOSCELYN via Weekly Standard

Source Link: Assad’s Horror, and Those Who Enable It

{Birds of a feather flock together. – LS}

Horrific images from the aftermath of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria are once again circulating online. The scene of this gassing is the eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. Both the location and the timing of this apparent war crime are symbolically important. And while the immediate focus will be on Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his willingness to gas his own people, any long-term solution will require understanding the role of the rogue states that enable and support him.

It was one year ago, on the morning of April 7, 2017, that the Trump administration launched punitive airstrikes against Assad’s regime at the Shayrat Airfield in response to a Sarin gas attack days earlier. Those targeted bombings were intended to send a message to Assad: Stop using banned weapons of war against your own people. Assad was undeterred.

He had failed to adhere to a previous deal, negotiated by the Obama administration and Russia, that was intended to end his chemical weapons capability. The concord was struck in the aftermath of the August 21, 2013, nerve agent attack on eastern Ghouta–the same suburb hit in the last 24 hours. The U.S. government determined that the Assad regime was responsible and “that 1,429 people were killed … including at least 426 children.”

Just a few weeks later, in September 2013, the U.S. and Russia agreed to “special procedures” for the “expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof.” Secretary of State John Kerry claimed in 2014 that the agreement had worked, saying “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out” of Syria. That obviously wasn’t true, or at least highly misleading, as Assad retained the capability to regenerate and use certain weapons.

And now—one year after the U.S. attempted to punish Assad with airstrikes, and in the same neighborhood that was terrorized in 2013— the Syrian regime has seemingly struck again.

Many details concerning this most recent attack remain to be confirmed. But the world has already learned some valuable lessons regarding the behavior of rogue actors when it comes their pursuit and use of banned weapons.

There is no real question that Assad has continued to use chemical weapons even after he agreed to give them up. As the State Department was quick to note yesterday, the U.S. has concluded that he was responsible for the April 4, 2017, Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun—the same incident which prompted the Trump administration’s bombing. And both the U.S. government and the UN have found that Assad’s goons used other chemical weapons, namely crude chlorine bombs, more than once. While some of these bombs struck areas held by jihadi rebels, they have also indiscriminately killed civilians.

Assad’s principal international backer, Vladimir Putin, hasn’t stopped him from using of them. Nor has Iran, which is deeply embedded in Syria alongside Assad’s forces. In fact, the Assad-Putin-Khamenei axis has a legion of online apologists who argue that the high-profile chemical weapons assaults aren’t really the work of the Syrian “president” at all. This noxious advocacy on behalf of mass murderers is readily available on social media.

It gets even worse, as another rogue state has reportedly facilitated Assad’s acquisition of chemical weapons: North Korea. This facilitation is especially worrisome in light of the two nations’ previous cooperation on a nuclear reactor that was destroyed by the Israelis in 2007.

In March, the U.N. issued a report on North Korea’s active “prohibited military cooperation projects…stretching from Africa to the Asia-Pacific region, including ongoing ballistic missile cooperation with the Syrian Arab Republic and Myanmar, widespread conventional arms deals and cyberoperations to steal military secrets.”

The U.N. traced a number of visits by North Korean officials to Syrian soil, finding that “multiple groups of ballistic missile technicians” have been inside Syria. Citing intelligence received from a “Member State,” the U.N. explained that these “technicians … continued to operate at chemical weapons and missile facilities at Barzah, Adra and Hama.” The Assad regime tried to deflect this accusation by claiming the North Koreans were in town simply for “training athletics and gymnastics.”

But the U.N. documented additional suspicious details, including previously unknown illicit shipments and transfers. The U.N. investigative body’s “investigations into several cases of hitherto unreported arms shipments and cooperation with front companies of designated entities between 2010 and 2017 showed further evidence of arms embargo and other violations, including through the transfer of items with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons” programs.

In one such transfer, the North Koreans provided the Assad regime with “special resistance valves and thermometers known for use in chemical weapons” programs. U.N. member states also interdicted suspicious shipments, including bricks and tiles that may be used as part of a chemical weapons program. Although the U.N. found these specific materials weren’t banned, a member state noted that they “can be used to build bricks for the interior walls of [a] chemical factory.”

The U.N. found it especially suspicious that North Korean front companies were doing business with the Syrian government’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), which oversees Assad’s chemical weapons development.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 271 SSRC staffers in the aftermath of the April 2017 Sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Treasury explained that the SSRC is “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them.” And the sanctioned SSRC employees “have expertise in chemistry and related disciplines and/or have worked in support of SSRC’s chemical weapons program since at least 2012.”

Therefore, the U.N.’s conclusion that North Korea has been working with the SSRC is especially noteworthy.

The U.S. and its allies will continue to face daunting challenges when it comes to restraining rogue nations and their pursuit of banned weapons. As Syria’s ongoing work on chemical weapons shows, such proliferation concerns often involve multiple rogue states. Assad’s chemical weapons attacks inside Syria are principally his own doing, but not solely. He has friends outside of Syria who are willing to help.


Let Assad win? A response to Max Boot

March 15, 2018

Michael Rubin March 14, 2018 2:04 pm | AEIdeas

Source Link: Let Assad win? A response to Max Boot

{Genocide is not an acceptable path to harmony. – LS}

Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a best-selling author and a prolific military historian. Earlier this month, he began a stint as a Washington Post columnist, and the appointment couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But his March 8 column on Syria, entitled “To Save Syrians, Let Assad Win,” was a doozy. Boot argued:

The way to save lives, I’ve sadly concluded, is to let [Syrian President Bashar] Assad win as quickly as possible. Aleppo was a charnel house in 2016. But now that it has fallen to Assad’s forces, pictures are circulating of civilians strolling through its rebuilt public park. It’s terrible that they have to live under Assad, but at least they’re alive. Tyranny is preferable to endless and useless war.

Boot could not be more wrong. More than a half million Syrians are not strolling in public parks but are buried under them because of Assad’s ethnic and sectarian cleansing. Assad’s misrule and deliberate targeting of civilians have convinced many times that number to flee.

So, with tongue-in-cheek and to illustrate in the spirit of collegial debate why such logic is wrong, let’s apply Boot’s logic through history:

1940: “To Save Brits, Let Hitler Win”

The “Battle of Britain” was waged over the skies of Great Britain for three and a half months in the summer and autumn of 1940. Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe repeatedly bombed London and other population centers to try to beat the British into submission. The destruction caused by the Nazi bombing was astounding. More than 40,000 civilians died, and another 50,000 were wounded. To support Great Britain would be to engage in Great Power rivalry. If only Winston Churchill had had the good sense to surrender, maybe the British could get back to gardening and strolling in public parks. Tyranny would be a small price to pay.

1953: “To Save Korea, Let Kim Il-sung Win”

The Korean War killed 2.5 million civilians and is a prime example of Great Power conflict in the Cold War. More than 300,000 Americans fought for Korea’s independence against communist aggression, and almost twice as many South Koreans fought; many never came home. And while China, North Korea, and the United States signed an armistice in 1953, the war technically continues. Indeed, with North Korea now a nuclear power with an increasingly sophisticated missile arsenal, is the price of freedom from tyranny worth it? Are 51 million South Koreans really worth the hassle? And even if North Korean civilians suffer in concentration camps for the crime of not crying adequately at the funerals of Dear Leader Kim Jong-un’s late father and grandfather, Pyongyang has some new skyscrapers and a really neat synchronized cheerleader routine so, there’s that.

1975: “To Save Cambodians, Let Pol Pot Win”

Pol Pot may have been a racist, murderous authoritarian, but as he sought to return Cambodia to its agricultural roots, shouldn’t the United States have been supportive? Sure, the Khmer Rouge might have wanted to shoot anyone who spoke a foreign language or who wore eyeglasses, but wouldn’t it be better just to let them consolidate control and build pyramids out of human skulls so that loyal acolytes of Pol Pot might get on with their lives in peace and tyranny?

2018: “To Save Afghanistan, Let the Taliban Win”

Afghanistan throughout its history, like Syria today, has long been the epicenter of Great Power competition and, for nearly 40 years, has also experienced almost constant internecine struggle. Why bother? The Taliban might execute women in stadiums, deny girls education, profit off opium, and rape young Hazara boys but, when they ran Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they also maintained an illusion of stability. When I visited the Taliban’s “emirate” in March 2000, they also had parks. Wouldn’t the ability of bearded Pushtun men to stroll in parks in peace be worth the lack of freedom? We blew that opportunity in 2001, but couldn’t we try to give the Taliban their peace now? Who cares if, imbued with the narrative that they had defeated two superpowers, they would become Islamic State version 2.0.

There are other examples, but let’s be serious: Boot’s policy prescription would signal to any dictator that if only he employed enough brutality against his population, no matter what the regional impact, he could have his cake and eat it too. True, the Syrian opposition is a mixed bag, but let’s not create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which we urge abandonment of anti-Assad Syrians and then complain that they don’t have enough support to win.

Boot is right that Syria is a proxy war and has become a center of Great Power conflict. That’s unfortunate for Syrians, but US engagement overseas isn’t just for positioning — it’s for a vision of the world that doesn’t excuse chemical weapons use, ethnic cleansing, or sectarian incitement. Russia, Iran, and perhaps even Turkey approach Syria through a different lens, and the cost of their victory would reverberate far beyond Syria.

Syria is tough to resolve; there is no magic formula. But allowing Assad to win? That might be the worst of all possible scenarios. Assad won’t bring stability — it was on his watch that a local protest amplified into civil war — and the Hamza Ali Al-Khateeb case illustrates why ordinary Syrians will never acquiesce to life, even under Assad tyranny. Nor would Assad — and his Russian and Iranian protectors — be content with simple stability. Boot is a fine historian but, when it comes to Syria, his prescription promises a future worse than the past.


Nikki Haley to UN on North Korea Jan 18, 2018 UN Security Council meeting on non proliferation of Mass Destruction

January 18, 2018

Nikki Haley to UN on North Korea Jan 18, 2018 UN Security Council meeting on non proliferation of Mass Destruction via YouTube, January 18, 2018

Reported Israeli strikes in Syria coincide with US cogitation on Assad’s post-war future

January 9, 2018

Reported Israeli strikes in Syria coincide with US cogitation on Assad’s post-war future, DEBKAfile, January 9, 2018

A broad, purposeful assessment of policy on Syrian president Bashar Assad’s political future has been scheduled for the rest of the week in Washington, DEBKAfile reports. This event accounts for the timing of Israel’s purported air strikes from Lebanese air space, which Syrian state media claimed targeted the Al Qutaiba base east of Damascus before dawn on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources reveal that the deliberations in the White House are to be led by high officials of US government branches involved in Syrian policy. Invited too are senior European diplomats from Britain, Germany, France and Italy, and representatives from Asia, led by Japan and India. The conference has been called to hammer out a unified US-European-Asian policy for determining the shape of the regime in post-war Syria and Assad’s future role. The Trump administration intends to come out of these deliberations with a broadly-based US-led coalition policy for Syria that will challenge Vladimir Putin’s plans for leading Syria from war to peace in conjunction with Iran and Turkey.

The American scheme’s central theme is the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity along with partial autonomy for its minorities, especially the Kurds. Assad will remain in office for an interim period, whose length will be up for negotiation between the US and Russia. It will end with elections to the presidency and parliament, after which Assad will step down. It is surmised in Washington that the main bone of contention will be Russia’s insistence on drawing Assad’s rule out for as long as possible, while the Americans will seek to cut it short. However, US administration circles are confident about the chances of bridging this gap.

Israel was not invited to take part in this round-table, but made its position clear to Washington in direct communications between US and Israeli government and security officials. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu laid out Israel’s stance in a phone call to Vladimir Putin on Jan. 1. They decided to meet soon.

Vice President Mike Pence’s forthcoming visit to Israel on Jan. 22 will also serve for the transmission of messages from Jerusalem to Washington on the Syrian question.

The reported Israeli air and ground strikes against Syria Monday night were meant as a reminder to both Washington and Moscow that Israel is closely following their moves on Syria and will make sure that its views and security needs are taken fully into account. They were also a warning to Tehran against trying to use the transition period for deepening its military presence in Syria.