War with Syria approaching?


in Bombs and rockets, Politics, Security

The August 27 – September 6 issue of The Economist includes an article discussing the military options that may be possible in Syria, in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Bashar Assad:

As The Economist went to press, it seemed clear how the attack would begin, if not when. Four American Arleigh Burke destroyers stand ready in the eastern Mediterranean, the 1,600km range of their Tomahawk land-attack missiles allowing them to stay well beyond the 300km range of Syria’s Yakhont anti-shipping missiles. There are doubtless American submarines in the area, too, and a British one may be on its way. Christopher Harmer of the Institute for the Study of War, a think-tank, says the destroyers should have about 45 Tomahawks each. Add in the submarines and there are about 200 available to make precision strikes, roughly twice the number used against Libya in 2011.

British and French aircraft flying out of Incirlik in Turkey, which has said it will support such missions, or Akrotiri, the British base in Cyprus, might be used too; this may be the only way for French forces to participate. They would probably also launch cruise missiles, as getting close to targets would mean being in range of the Syrian air-defence system, which is a great deal more capable than was Libya’s. Heavier ordnance, including bombs needed to destroy underground bunkers, could be delivered by stealthy B-2 bombers flying directly from America.

The objective of reinforcing the international norm against the use of chemical weapons does seem to have some validity. The world’s wars – civil and international – are bad enough without the use of such arms. Still, it’s clear that nobody is enthusiastic about the prospect of yet another war in the Middle East, particularly after all the suffering that has taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan with few and precarious results to show for it.

At this stage, most people seem to be expecting a military strike that is focused around cruise missiles. The Syrian regime is doubtless expecting this too, so there will probably be an effort to make it surprising at least in terms of the timing. For the last couple of weeks, I have been nervously checking the Google News front page every few hours.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm
. September 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

WHEN America’s secretary of state, John Kerry, casually suggested that Syria could avoid an American attack by turning over its stockpile of chemical weapons, he did not expect much to come of it. It was a “rhetorical argument” and besides, Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, would never go for it.

Then an odd thing happened. Russia embraced Mr Kerry’s offer as if it were legitimate and Syria “welcomed” the proposal. In France the hawkish government took up the cause—bringing it more in line with a dovish French public—and suddenly Mr Kerry’s rhetorical offer became rather more real. On September 10th France said it would put a resolution before the United Nations Security Council that will warn Syria to dismantle its chemical-weapons stocks, or face “extremely serious” consequences.

Barack Obama now says he will work with France and Britain to find a diplomatic solution in Syria, though he insists that strikes are still an option. Such threats may have led to this fit of diplomacy, but they have come to look less absolute. As president, Mr Obama has the authority to strike Syria, but he has nonetheless sought the approval of Congress. Predictably, it has turned into a partisan squabble, with members of both parties abandoning their long-held principles. Lacking support, Mr Obama has asked to delay the votes while the UN deliberates.


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