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02 February 2013


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There are some even more disturbing aspects of the Israeli strikes. Head of Israeli Military Intelligence was in DC to brief the Obama Administration on the Israeli concerns that advanced scuds were being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel message was that there are two threats: Hezbollah getting a hold of Syrian weaponry and Al Qaeda getting a hold of Syrian weaponry. Since Israel cannot control either group, only option is to bomb the known sites where chemical weapons and advanced rockets and missiles are stored. This means that more Israeli strikes are likely. Since the JCS has so far held back the US from any no-fly zone direct intervention, Israel could be taking the initiative to force endgame by military means. An Israeli retired General at WINEP wrote a piece last week, saying that Israel no longer considers Assad to be the "devil we know." He is an anchor of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis and is therefore fair game. Al-Khatib, the chosen one to head the opposition, was heralded at the Wehrkunde session in Munich on Friday night, and the general tenor was an all-out attack on Russia for defending Assad by vetoing UN Security Council action. The blame Russia game adds a further strategic danger to this situation in Syria, given advanced Russian air defense systems in place in Syria, and the likelihood that there are Russian military "advisors" on the scene. Shades of stumbling into World War I?

Paul Escobar


Thank you for that enlightening post. I am less confused each time I visit this site.


I am surprised that Syrian rebels are not already lobbing a few missiles into Israel. Even if the Israeli's realize that it is the rebels (and not the Syrian army) shooting at them, they won't be able to sit still and take it. They are going to need to bomb someone.

This means suppressing the Syrian Air Defenses (and probably their Air Force as well). Thus, for a small investment you get a large return.


What blinkered thinking. Destroy all stockpiles by airstrikes without knowing where they have been relocated? Hope to buy into whatever comes next by acts represented as charitable good deeds? Assume that any of these gestures can determine the outcome of a process so complicated that not even the protagonists understand all its permutations?

Al-Qaeda will get its hands on them? What al-Qaeda? The ghost of OBL and Zawahiri in cave 47B? The Shura meeting in the boardroom of their skyscraper headquarters in Dubai?

If you know where each and every chemical weapon is located, then why can't you track it as it makes its way around the terrorist circuit? What happened to that lady master spy from Zero Dark Thirty who could track down OBL in only 9 years?

Al-Khatib, the chosen one. Who chose him - as what? until when - next Wednesday?

So Russia's the nub of the problem? How about boycotting the next winter Olympics?

Is there anyone left in a position of authority in either Jerusalem or Washington who still has a grip on reality?


If Syria sends SA-17s to Hiz'bullah then what ? I'd say it's a pretty big game changer.

David Habakkuk


The Russian government has very good reasons to want to avoid having jihadists empowered in a country not so very far from their country’s borders. However, I would be wildly surprised if they allowed themselves to be drawn into a war with the United States.

Some comments on Russian and also Chinese attitudes to Syria by the former long-serving Canadian government analyst of Soviet and Russian affairs, Dr Patrick Armstrong, seem to the point:

“Moscow is an intensely status-quo power: not only does it need peace and quiet to reconstruct but a historically-grounded pessimism tells it that much change is only change for the worse. China has few interests and has no desire to parade humanitarian pieties. And it too, has seen advertised better futures turn to dust.”

So the same mindset which makes the Russian government regard Western policy towards Syria with apprehension – and contempt – is likely to mean that they will be greatly concerned to avoid 1914-style scenarios. Certainly, they may not be averse to fear of this possibility, based on the presence of advanced Russian air defence systems and the possible presence of ‘advisors’ in the country, acting as some kind of control on the fecklessness of the Western powers and Israel. But if the control fails, they will act to limit escalation, rather than giving in to its logic.

If you want to empower jihadists in Syria, or indeed turn Iran into glass, I very much doubt that either Russia or China will take military action to stop you. Payback will probably come for these follies, for you, for Israel, and for us, and, as Colonel Lang noted in relation to other kinds of follies, it is liable to be a bitch. But it seems to me that it is unlikely to come in the form of all-out war – for the moment at least.

The remarks by Dr Armstrong come from a US-Russia.Org ‘Experts Panel’ discussion on the question of whether the West and Russia can find a common approach to the Arab Spring. The various contributions are quite illuminating as to the reasons why this impossible.

(See http://us-russia.org/842-can-the-west-and-russia-find-a-common-approach-to-the-arab-spring.html )

David Habakkuk

Michael Brenner,

You might feel that a discussion of David Cameron’s statements on the Mali situation by Brendan O’Reilly is of interest, in relation to Western policy towards Syria as well as other matters. It concludes:

“What the current instability in north Africa really reveals is not that Islamists are taking over the world, but rather that Western governments are utterly incapable of acting in their own interests on the international stage these days. The chasm that now separates what is in the West’s interests and what the West actually does in global politics is enormous. So determined were the British and French to score some PR points by bombing Libya in 2011 that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to the potential consequences – and now the French military, backed by Britain, is getting stuck into the Libyan fallout in Mali, and both governments are panicked by what is happening in Algeria. The true danger on the world stage today is not a global Islamist conspiracy to demolish Western values, but rather the fact that international affairs is now overseen by immature, narcissistic showboaters who know nothing of realpolitik, nothing of diplomacy, nothing of blowback, and nothing of history.”

See http://www.spiked-online.com/site/article/13283/ )

Babak Makkinejad


You guys are over-analyzing this; this was an act of provocation, like numerous other ones committed by Israel against Syria over the years.

Syria - under the Assald le Pere et fils, have done her best to avoid war with Israel.

That will remain so,

Charles I

I anticipate in my dotage being far enough outside the blast zone(s)to be able to follow the missions to secure the hundreds of nukes dispersed during the disintegration of Israel in 202?. . .

FB Ali

I am glad to find Michael Brenner and David Habakkuk confirming my long-held views on the abysmal standard of leadership in the West. Of course, from time to time Col Lang has been correcting my (almost desperate) hope that at least at some level of the US government there must be some serious evaluation of the various problems that face the US and the pros and cons of the available policy options.

To read David Cameron's statements after the Algerian incident (trying to ape Bush Jr after 9/11) was to weep. And now there are the reports that Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus were pushing to get the CIA actively involved in Syria!


FB Ali

HC has proven to be the same naive woman who gave a starry eyed commencment speech at Wellesley long ago. She has also proven to be vulnerable to ego manipulation by the media. These are disqualifying traits for me. pl


David Habakkuk

"...international affairs is now overseen by immature, narcissistic showboaters who know nothing of realpolitik, nothing of diplomacy, nothing of blowback, and nothing of history.”

Yes, certainly, Claude Devereux woud have shared that sentiment with us. pl

Babak Makkinejad

I do not think that Western leaders are the exceptions.

Look no futher than Mr. Erdogna - leading a country with Human Development Index of 98 into wrecking a country of Human Developmengt Index of 118.

Or take Mr. Singh who is positioning a country of Human Development index of 134 in opposition to a country of Human Development Index of 101 - on behalf of a country with Human Developmengt Index of 4.

One may also mention Pakistan, with a Human Development Index of 145, which has carried the load for US (HDI 4) for over 30 years.

The Western leaders must be saluted for having persuaded these non-Western states and leaders to carry their burden for them over years and decades - a truly remarkable achievement.

Neil Richardson

Brigadier Ali:

"And now there are the reports that Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus were pushing to get the CIA actively involved in Syria!"

I read that NYT article as well. It seems consistent with Petraeus and HRC's position during the deliberation prior to the Afghan "surge" that had been recounted by Woodward. HRC, Gates and Mullen were in favor of it while Biden, the NSC (Jones and Lute) and Gen. Cartwright had opposed it.

Clifford Kiracofe


O'Reilly is on target and in step with what many at SST have been saying for years now online and many years before that offline.

The problem is with the mindset/ideology of foreign policy elites. Not much has changed in the US since 1898 and the War with Spain to save our "little brown brothers" as the president of the day said of the Philippines.

Clifford Kiracofe


Our colleagues Brenner and Habakkuk politely put it mildly. It's much worse than meets the eye.

Recently, I was asked to look over some materials relating to the days of the Iran-Contra scandal. It's been awhile but I am struck by the parallels.

We have our present day contras waging war against the Syrian regime and there is terrorism, narcotics trafficking, covert action and the like in the mix. Untold amounts of US taxpayers dollars floating all around and probably in many Swiss or otherwise accounts of the "Freedom Fighters" leaders...

Over the years, there have been many capable and patriotic people in the federal government. The problem, however, is that they are not listened to. The political elite which creates policy prefers what is the politically correct flavor of the day. Hillary, Biden, etal. they are all the same.

Back in the Iran-Contra days, the yahoo Bill Casey worked with the White House to go behind the backs of Congress and the American people. Years later, the CIA Inspector General's (Fred Hitz) two volume report was revealing. This situation was so bad that product of the analytical folks was faulty because they were unaware of the f-ups of some of the ops people. We can recall Fiers and Fernandez and the rest....and the White House of the day with the likes of Ollie North, McFarland, Poindexter. Not much has changed in the last 30 years that I can see, just more of same year after year.


There seem to be two quite separate issues re. Syria's chemical weapons. One has to do with seizure by terrorists; the other intentional transfer to Hezbullah or use by the Assad regime against Israel.

A couple of points on the former. Isn't it reasonable to postulate that the greater risk lies with those (intentionally dispersed) whose location the Israelis do not know, than those in fixed locations? the latter likely will be better protected via passive as well as active defenses. So what's he benefit/cost calculation of going after them?

Also, don't we exaggerate the capacity of extant terrorist groups to deploy and use them? From what I'm told, it is not that easy technically. In addition, you need a disciplined and trained group. Some of the exisiting outfits might have the will but do they have the other necessary attributes? It is striking that over the past 11+ years, there has been no serious attempted attack on the US or its interests abroad. (I do not put the underwear bomber in that category). Only two successful less than catastrophic efforts succeeded (London and Madrid)both of which were carried out by locals. Yet any three or four of us (of you folks anyway) could have decided to punctuate Super Bowl Sunday by placing some explosives in a subway or some place similar, gotten the job done and be back in time to see the second half of the game.

As to retaliatory use by Syria, or the calculated transfer to Hezbullah, here the key questions seem to be: isn't the greatest motivation for that the air strikes themselves?;
is it feasible to destroy all the stocks (see above)?; can you confidently intercept weapons in transit without commandos on the ground? what are the implications?

The most effective (largest anyway) group in Syria with links to al-Qaeda Central is supposedly
Jaghat al-Nusra. But these are among the guys we are trying to bring into a common front. I guess that makes sense; however, are we at all confident who's who in the mosaic? If we favor our preferred rebels, doesn't an active but discriminatory approach just seal their hostility.

Finally, as to Washington's reluctance to allow Qatar, and others, to supply arms to the rebels: if we have made a definitive judgment that on balance we prefer to see Assad fall, why not expedite that outcome since stalemate strengthens the position of the radical Islamists among the rebels? Afraid that the arms will fall into the latter's hands and then be passed on to worser guys elsewhere? Which danger is more worrisome? Tough call? Well, what are you paid for - touring the Cook Islands and skeet shooting?

David Habakkuk

F. B. Ali,

The only job which David Cameron has ever done, apart from working for the Tory Party, is doing PR for a somewhat dodgy television company – a job his mother-in-law got him.

Some while back, the Daily Mirror had an interesting article which, among other things, reported on what City journalists who had dealt with him in his PR days thought about Cameron. In general, City journalists are not exactly left-wing, and they are, commonly, less affected than most journalists by the general collapse in standards of professionalism in ‘the media of communication’.

The Mirror recalled what Jeff Randall, a veteran City journalist who is now editor-at-large for the Daily Telegraph, wrote about Cameron when he became Tory Party leader in 2005:

"I wouldn't trust him with my daughter's pocket money.

"In my experience, he never gave a straight answer when dissemblance was a plausible alternative.

"Whether he flat-out lied I won't say, but he went a long way to leave me with the impression that the story was wrong. He put up so much verbal tracker you started to lose your own guidance system."

(See http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/david-cameron-what-the-experts-say-199206 )

The beaver

I guess there is no lesson learned:
"Senior European officials here said Britain and France were both urging the Obama administration to stop blocking allies in the Persian Gulf, like Qatar, from providing the rebels with more sophisticated arms and intelligence assistance."


Well BAE and Dassault will be seeing $$$$$$$


I might offer a partial explanation of the problem with political elites and idiots like Cameron for one.

There is now a sense in this country (Australia) that "career" politicians are the problem - as evidenced by the train wreck that is the Gillard Government. These creatures have had no experience of the world outside politics. They self selected for a political career at University, then joined a think tank, trade union, political staff, industry body or law firm depending on their inclination. About Ten years later they try for public office and a lot of them make it.

Given that their entire work experience has been related only to politics, they have zero shared experience with working people. Furthermore, their work experience has made them "pragmatic" - they believe in nothing, trust no one, care for no one and are of course totally amoral. Some are simply deeply corrupt. Others just self serving and ignorant of the real world.

It is time we started electing politicians who have had a worthwile career out of politics and thus come to it with a perspective outside the Beltway and its equivalents, if such people can be persuaded to run for office.

David Habakkuk

Colonel Lang,


It is quite difficult to explain quite how galling I find it, that the British have ended up this stupid. The Director of Naval Intelligence in the early years of the Second World War, Admiral John Godfrey, described the vulnerabilities of German intelligence in terms which also describe the vulnerabilities on which Claude Devereux plays.

One key vulnerability of German intelligence he characterised as ‘wishfulness’. What Godfrey meant, in essence, was a propensity, confronted by evidence that might challenge one’s existing view of things, either to ignore it or to interpret it in ways that allowed the fundamentals of one’s existing pattern of beliefs to remain intact.

The other vulnerability Godfrey pinpointed was ‘yesmanship’ – adjusting one’s interpretations of evidence to what one’s political masters wanted to have told them.

Together with others, Godfrey hired a bizarre collection of people – notably Ewen Montagu, the pampered scion of a notable Anglo-Jewish banking family, but also a criminal lawyer, and fly-fisherman – who exploited these weaknesses of German intelligence to play them: like trout, or salmon.

Without the successful deception operations – Operations Mincemeat and Fortitude – the great amphibious operations which opened bridgeheads first in Sicily and then in Normandy would have been unthinkable.

Today however ‘wishfulness’ and ‘yesmanship’ reign supreme, in London, as in Washington. In itself, this would be galling enough. What makes it even more galling is that people do not appear to grasp the extent to which a readiness to be duped puts us at risk.

FB Ali

Bernhard, at Moon of Alabama, sees this report as an attempt by HRC to get over the Benghazi fiasco. In the same post he repeats his view that the CIA operation in Benghazi was running weapons from Qaddafi's stockpiles to the Syrian rebels. If this is correct it raises an interesting possibility regarding the motivation for the attack on the US Benghazi consulate and the CIA base.

The jihadis in Benghazi were doing their own gunrunning into Syria (from the same stocks), but directing their shipments to their own folk, while the US was sending the arms to the non-jihadi rebels. It is plausible that the jihadis decided to end this competition by knocking out the US operation in Benghazi.

FB Ali

I quite agree. However, one can rightly expect a higher standard from Western political leaders since their countries do not suffer from many of the problems of the Second and Third World that prevent worthwhile leaders from emerging there.

FB Ali

One is left open-mouthed in astonishment. However, it seems Tory backbenchers are getting quite fed up with these 'posh boys' and may well oust Boy David at a convenient opportunity.

You mention Admiral Godfrey in another comment. But he was obviously an exception. I have had occasion to become familiar with British military history, and it is quite remarkable how low, by and large, was the intellectual level of peacetime military leaders. It usually took a couple of years of a war for this deadwood to be chopped down and more capable commanders to emerge. Unfortunately, the Iraq and Afghan wars do not seem to have had this purging effect.

Al Arabist

Self serving and ignorant politicians blossom when the policy intelligentsia is gutted. Whereas their power is appropriately limited when there's a loud smart intelligentsia of MENA analysts who ALWAYS know the score on the ground. The only way I know to understand the region, and Syria's a great illustration, is to know who's the principle and who's the client. It's not trivial but essential knowledge. Israelis do it while of course talking the western game of democracy, legitimacy and human rights. E.g. There is knowledge of who within Hezballah is on board as client to Asad and who isn't. All the human rights slogans in the world will not substitute for this kind of understanding. So I see the western fault as a deep and deluded failure of imagination, i.e. ability to see the world how someone else sees it.

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