Not much time today so I am committing larceny again by providing you with last night's KGS NightWatch summary of the Syrian firestorm which our (less than) glorious leaders seem intent on stoking:
The mainstream media headlines with slight variations predict that an attack
against Syrian targets by US missiles could occur as early as Thursday. The UK
and France are lobbying hard for action because of the alleged chemical attack.
Numerous pundits and experts have expounded on the need for the US to take
action, the consequences of inaction, and the potential for a US attack to
generate a regional conventional war. Curiously, they have not mentioned the
probability of Iranian-instigated terrorist attacks in the US.
NightWatch has little to add to all that "wisdom," but
prefers to comment on matters not covered.
Feedback from one of the finest analysts alive provided a
reminder that the "bugs and gas" (biological and chemical warfare)
lobby in US intelligence contains fine people who get few opportunities to
shine. That's because of the limits of intelligence on bugs and gas. Next to
nukes (nuclear weapons) they are the most protected weapons a country, such as
Syria and North Korea, has.
As a result, studies of national capabilities and stock
piles of bugs and gas are notoriously suspect, but err on the side of caution
because a little goes a long way. As a result, the record of predictive accuracy
tends to be poor. That record includes the inaccurate judgments about various
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003.
The detection of actual use of bugs and gas agents and of
the specific agents used, as during the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, is even
harder. It always requires reliable and competently educated and specially
trained investigators on the ground at the site. Actual use cannot be inferred
from radio intercepts or any other indirect or remotely collected information
A second observation derives from the Russian use of a
chemical agent in 2002 when Chechen terrorists held more than 700 Russian
hostages in a Moscow theater. The Russians used a crowd suppression agent that
killed 116 people, but enabled 650 to be rescued. The agent is not banned by
the Geneva convention on chemical warfare.
If the Syrians used such an agent, which can be delivered
by mortars and artillery as well as aircraft, there would be no international
legal justification for attacking Syria based on the Geneva convention. It
would not have been violated. The possibility that a non-banned substance was
used makes it all the more urgent that competent investigators inspect the
sites to identify the agent as well as the culprit.
A third observation is that the use of lethal gas is
notoriously and inherently dangerous, often depending on the weather and the
delivery system. It can blow back, in some instances, for miles. That is why
military forces do not use it.
A fourth observation from Feedback from chemical warfare
experts is that lethal gas kills effectively. There are no large numbers of
people left alive but suffering. Victims die by the thousands. Survivors are
few, if any. That is the lesson of Iraq's use of such weapons at Hallabjah
against the Kurds and later against the Iranians. Casualty reports from Syria
are precisely opposite of the lethality pattern in a chemical weapon attack.
A fifth observation is that US media have given Syrian
forces more than enough warning to enable them to protect themselves and their
weapons. Leaks about US attack plans represent either monumental incompetence
in operational security or a deliberate effort to tip off the Syrians for
arcane political purposes.
In either event, the leaks ensure that Syrian military forces
will suffer no significant damage from a US attack. An attack under these
conditions must be considered entertainment for the benefit of the
international press instead of a serious military operation.
As for Syrian defense capabilities, Syria has a respectable
integrated air defense system, but the Israelis have defeated it thrice in the
past year. It poses no serious impediment to a missile or air attack except to
the unwary or unlucky.
Syria has supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles that have a
range of 300 nm. Syria will use them if it can acquire the US destroyers off
As for the value of limited punitive strikes, Syria already
has shown that it can withstand limited, genuinely surgical, punitive attacks
by the Israeli air force. The Israelis have attacked three times in the past 18
months and the Syrians have not retaliated. Apparently that is because the
Israeli attacks have had no demonstrable impact on Hizballah's operations or
Syria's prosecution of the fight against the opposition.
Syria is in an existential battle. Surgical, pin prick NATO
attacks are trivial compared to the prospect of Syrian forces destroying the
rebel concentrations east of Damascus. This means Syria might not retaliate for
a US attack, but just continue to prosecute the fight. Iran and Lebanese
Hizballah are the more dangerous sources of retaliation.
As for ripple effects, Iran is so heavily invested in the
survival of the government in Syria that US and NATO planners must plan for
retaliatory attacks in Western Europe, in the US, in the Persian Gulf states
and everywhere the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds Force has a
presence. Iran's responses will depend on the damage inflicted on Syria.
Concerning leading from behind, American audiences
apparently are not aware that in Libya and in Mali, Western European air forces
were unable to sustain combat flight and logistics operations without
comprehensive US support, from intelligence to mission planning to all types of
resupply. Some US military personnel are resentful because they received so
little recognition for so much effort to compensate for European NATO lack of
The notion of leading from behind is a political and media
myth. NATO is incapable of sustaining any but the most elementary level of air
combat for a minimal amount of time without comprehensive US support. That
means the feel-good notion of a coalition of the willing is actually a cover
term for US military operations with minimal NATO help for window dressing.
Is anyone, do you think, saying, or perhaps, shouting, this sort of sceptical commonsense into the ears of our leaders? Take that as a 'no', shall I?