Friday, December 7, 2012

Surgical strike against chemical weapons in Syria? Or removal of Assad?

The National Post's Matt Gurney puts the case for a surgical strike against the existing supplies of sarin in Syria's possession. It is clearly a compelling case. However, if one listens to military experts, one learns that such an action will also expose many people to the gases that an attack would be attempting to eliminate.
Clearly, it is Assad who must be removed, and that would seem to be a far more feasible, and "finite" move that would result in some measure of control of the stockpile of chemical weapons in Syria's possession.
International capacity to influence the events inside countries where the people in power are killing their own people, no matter the specific explanation of their actions, seem quite limited. There are differing motives and perceptions in different "command centres" in different countries. Russia, for example, continues to support Assad, as it clings to the possibility of some significant influence in Syria if and when he "goes". However, Russia, like all other outside countries is facing a conundrum, given the potential that chemical weapons could end up in the hands of Islamic terrorists, for example, whose threats against most western countries, including Russia, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany..(we have not heard so much about Islamic terror threats to China) seem boundary-less.
In the middle of the twentieth century, we used to build bomb shelters to protect us from the potential fallout from a nuclear war, during the cold war, when the Soviet Union and the United States were the principal potential combatants.
Now, however, the non-state threats principally coming from Islamic terrorists could and would come in the form of any lethal weapon on which the terrorists can get their hands.
With some 40,000 people now murdered by the Assad regime under the guise of "defending the state against outside terrorists" (as Assad puts it) and the potential threat of hundreds of thousands being victims of his, or others' use of chemical weapons, the whole world, once again, needs the collective will and conviction to act in a manner that prevents the slaughter of even more innocent people of many cultures, and countries.
And that prevention must include a joint agreement to remove Assad from power, and to provide the Syrian people with enough support to begin to establish their own state, including the necessary infrastructure both physical and political, economic and national security....and there is a very small window of time in which the international community must come together.
A military strike, while one open option, may not be the most effective or the best option for the long-term recovery of the people of Syria who have already suffered too much from this dictator.
Matt Gurney: NATO should destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. Now

By Matt Gurney, National Post, December 6, 2012
I don’t support Western military intervention in Syria’s civil war. But if reports now emerging from the U.S. defence community are to be believed, and if Syria has indeed prepared its arsenal of sarin nerve gas for use, then things have changed. And the U.S., or NATO collectively, needs to go in and take these weapons out. Now.
Sarin is extraordinarily unpleasant stuff. It can be inhaled or, even at very low atmospheric concentrations, penetrate the skin. It attacks the body’s nervous system, causing systems and glands to “overload.” Exposure, unless treated with specific antidotes immediately, results in convulsions, coma and then death.
Over the last year and half of fighting in Syria, the West has kept a close eye on Syria’s weapons depots. As recently as a few months ago, Western defence officials were quietly telling journalists that the Syrians were behaving responsibly, given the circumstances: They had stepped up security at the storage facilities and taken no provocative acts.
Yet over the last few days, that has changed. Defence officials are now telling major U.S. media outlets that Syria has activated its sarin and loaded it into bombs for dispersal.
Sarin’s component chemicals are normally stored separately. Only when they are mixed together does sarin become a deadly weapon. But sarin, once mixed, has a short shelf-life — months at most, or perhaps only weeks. Past that and it will become inert.
In other words, activated sarin is a use-or-lose weapon. The clock is running. President Bashar Assad’s possession of these weapons in a high state of readiness is incredibly dangerous and destabilizing for the entire region.
Because Assad, who is fighting for what a Russian diplomat recently termed “his physical survival,” is now going to face a deadline on when he can use these munitions, and thus psychological pressure to do so. It also means that he’s concluded, for the first time since the civil war started, that he might need them. Even in the context of Syria’s bloody civil war and its thousands of civilian casualties, these developments are extremely disturbing.
Syria’s neighbours are reacting accordingly. Turkey has requested NATO Patriot missiles to protect itself against missile attacks — missiles that could be carrying sarin. [ital]The Atlantic[endital] has reported that Israel sought Jordan permission several times for a strike at Syrian chemical weapons depots before the weapons are armed and used. Jordan, which Israel felt obliged to consult because several of Syria’s depots are very close to Jordanian territory, apparently denied permission, but left open the possibility of granting it later.
Clearly, Turkey and Israel — hardly countries that see eye to eye on anything these days — are equally alarmed at the prospect of a collapsing regime arming its most deadly weapons. And that raises the prospect that either of them might feel compelled to strike first if they feel threatened. Israel, in particular, has a history of pre-emptive action against threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. Sarin certainly qualifies as such.
Turkey doesn’t have the capability to surgically destroy the weapons by itself. Israel does, but can’t relish the prospect of starting a war with its northern neighbour. The last thing the world needs is another Arab-Israeli war, one in which chemical weapons are primed and ready to go from the outset.
But these weapons must be destroyed, and quickly. Only the United States has the capability to do so with both precision and overwhelming force. As reluctant as President Obama understandably is to involve his country in Syria’s civil war, the risk of inaction is greater.
This does not mean the West should take a side in the conflict. We should not begin arming the rebels or sending in our own ground troops.
But a surgical attack against the weapons, plus whatever Syrian air-defence assets would stand in our way, will not materially impact the course of the ground war between Assad’s forces and the rebels. It would simply remove an extremely dangerous weapon from the hands of an increasingly desperate man.
No military operation is ever without risk, but in this case, the risk is warranted. Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed.

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