Editor of the Revolution Observer, Abu Anas questions whether the US is ready to attack the Assad regime and the reasons leading up to it.
On Wednesday 21st August, the Syrian regime attacked civilians in the Damascus countryside of Al-Ghouta, killing around 1729 people as reported by the Syrian opposition. Immediately the day after, French Foreign minister Laurent Fabius, said that “reaction with force” might be needed if the claim of using such weapons is confirmed. Last Friday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the Pentagon has ordered some naval assets to move closer to Syria in preparation for a possible military strike using cruise missile.
In addition, Britain has set a firm position too, where Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to US president Barack Obama in which they both agreed that there must be a “serious response” to using such weapons. On Sunday, several US lawmakers in Washington expressed their belief that they “expected limited military” strike by the US and its allies. Hence the important question: will the US strike the Assad regime?
The key point to note, is that it is very unlikely that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on such a large scale without knowing that it would probably lead to a US intervention. Firstly, the Assad regime is already struggling for its life from the sustained offensives of the rebels. Secondly, it could achieve mass killings using conventional weapons without creating media hype over chemical weapons. The Assad regime has been politically covered by the United Nations (UN) and the international community for the last two years and a half: it has used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels and civilians several times before on a smaller scale, but the US did not move. Due to this political cover by the US, the Assad regime would only make such a horrific step of such a scale with a prior green light from Washington and with having an interest in a US intervention.
So why would Washington give Assad such a green light which would enrage world public opinion and would hurt the US’ image on a global scale if not responded to? The Assad regime has secured US interests for the last 43 years. The US still needs the Assad regime; since it has been very difficult to find an ally within the Syrian rebels that can secure its interests as a replacement for the Assad regime. This fact was clearly pronounced by Gen. Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he stated: “It is my belief that the [rebel] side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not.” Therefore, the US would give such a green light for Assad to use chemical weapons on such a scale only if it actually wanted an excuse to intervene to protect its interests directly.
The US turned a blind eye to Iranian support to the Assad regime and even to Hezbollah’s military intervention inside Syrian soil. The goal was to prop up the Syrian regime until the US achieved building a secular rebel coalition that could replace the Assad regime and secure US interests. All that has failed. Hezbollah gave a small push to Assad in Homs and captured the city of Qusair and also supported Assad in Damascus. All that was limited and Hezbollah started to weaken due to Lebanese internal concerns and to heavy losses on the battlefield. So the US would militarily intervene if the Assad regime came close to implosion due to rebel pressure.
In the last several weeks the rebels have made a comeback. Even though this was not the first comeback in the last two years of fighting, what was special about this comeback was the weapons gained from rebel raids and control of army bases and checkpoints. In their control over the Menneg airport in Aleppo, the rebels gained an enormous amount of weapons including T-72 tanks, anti-tank guns, heavy machine guns, 57mm anti-aircraft guns and payloads of artillery and grenades. The most important gain came from the Damascus suburb arms depot where the rebels gained hundreds of advanced anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) which can eliminate any type of tank in the Assad repository. These missiles included the French Milan type and the Russian Kornet, Konkurs and Fagot types. The Kornet is the most advanced and can take down the most advanced Assad tanks.
Assad’s only two advantages over the rebels from a weapons ability are the heavy armor and air-power. Using the ATGMs, the rebels can neutralize the ground based armor and therefore, have the ability to attack airports and other ground infrastructure for his air-power. Thus, the military strategic balance of the battle could shift within the coming months, which is a possible explanation regarding US military intervention. The goal of the US from such an intervention would be the following:
1. Dismantle any heavy and lethal equipment that the rebels can get their hands on.
2. Possible future utilization of drones to eliminate the threat of militants like Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Levant (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra.
3. Prepare for a future escalation in case the regime totally implodes and the rebels set up an independent state outside the influence of the current world order, especially an Islamic state.
The US does not seem to want to initially send ground forces, so a limited air strike might be what is coming through an alliance within NATO, if a UN resolution failed to materialise.