According to inside the White House officials, President Obama’s White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone over Syria. The no-fly zone would be enforced by the United States as well as France and Great Britain and other NATO members as the next step in assisting the Syrian rebels against Syrian Dictator Bashir al-Assad. The rebels forces which have presumably been vetted and approved would also receive arms as a part of this new offensive. This was part of the reasoning why Senator John McCain just took an “unscheduled” and “private” trip into Syria to talk with the rebel leaders, the good rebels and not the bad rebels, and get a feeling for level of trust and their needs. There are a few questions which deserve a public debate before such drastic actions are undertaken and perhaps we could start the conversation here.
The first item would be to actually enumerate the potential consequences of such an act. We will hear from President Obama as well as Senator McCain and others in his echo chamber how we are allied and have the praise and agreement from the Saudis, Turkey’s leadership, and the members of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). We will not hear about the opposition and standing threats which exist and have come from Russia’s President Putin, Hezballah’s Leader Nasrallah and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Russian President Putin has made his position exquisitely clear stating that Russia fully backs Syrian President al-Assad in his measures taken to put down the revolution being carried out against him by terrorist entities and Russia will back him against any outside interference by any groups or nation. Hezballah’s Nasrallah has promised that his organization has global reach and has in place assets that can be utilized against anybody found to be interfering in the fighting in Syria or who try to influence things against Hezballah in Lebanon. The Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned that any country which chooses to assist the rebels in their illegal revolution against their ally al-Assad will have their hand and foot cut off on opposing sides, whatever that actually means. Any way you look at these threats, one can be assured that ramification of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria could very quickly lead to an escalating situation that could very easily get out of control leading to a much greater conflagration than we are presently witnessing.
But what are the likely initial and secondary events which would most likely actually follow the placing of a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace and arming the rebels with light and some crew served weapons but not heavy weapons. Some of the response would depend on how the no-fly zone were implemented and enforced. If the rebels were supplied with MANPAD Systems and Stinger Missiles, they would then be capable of providing their own air defenses. This method would allow for a suitable threat to exist on any Syrian air attacks that Bashir al-Assad very well might be very restrictive on his use of his air strike capabilities. This method would allow for only a minimal response from Russia who would likely provide al-Assad with potentially ARMs (anti-radar missiles) with which to counter the new armaments given the rebels thus returning a semblance of balance to the fields of combat. But if President Obama and his allies decide to take the more direct and conventional means of enforcing a no-fly zone over Syrian, this would generate a completely different response all around. The direct method includes initially flying sorties over all Syrian airfields and bases taking out as many aircraft such as helicopters and fighters as can be struck on the ground and bombing the runways to render them unusable. This is followed up by keeping air resources at the ready twenty-four hours a day in order to scramble and take out any aircraft that take to the skies within Syria and attacking those which have threat capability against the rebel forces. This direct approach could lead to some very serious responses. The Russians could deploy the S-300 and S-300M air defense missile systems in Syria and even man them with Russian troops. These are top of the line and very capable systems which could pose a serious threat to any United States or NATO planes sent over Syria. Putin might even go so far as to dispatch Russian fighter jets with Russian pilots to engage the United States and allied aircraft. Russia already has at least one known missile destroyer sitting just off the coast of Syria in addition to the Russian naval base in Tartus, Syria. This is just two of a myriad of responses the Russians could potentially take as a response to a United States applied no-fly zone over Syria, what about Iran and Hezballah?
Iran is a completely different story and much more of an unknown enigma. Much of the Iranian weapons capability comes in the form of missiles and rockets. The majority are ground-to-ground types but they also possess capabilities in ground-to-air and both ground-to-ship and ship-to-ship. Their navy consists mostly of fast attack craft armed with ship-to-ship missiles, torpedoes, and automatic cannons or heavy machineguns. The initial threat the Iranians could apply in response would be the closure of the Straits of Hormuz using various anti-ship mines backed up with land-to-sea-missiles already in place along the coastal region, fast attack craft patrolling the waters, longer range missiles stationed inland, and anti-ship artillery placed along the coastal areas. Simultaneously, the Iranians could mount a mass fast attack craft assault on the United States fleet positions with the targeted intent of taking out any aircraft carriers in the area. Such an attack could be coordinated with missile and artillery support from bases throughout Iran as well as anti-ship batteries along the coasts and on the Iranian owned islands in the gulf. Where such an attack may prove suicidal for many of the attacking Iranian ships, the United States would very likely also take some damage with the possibility that such damages could be quite costly and dear. One American warship sunk would likely be more costly than all the Iranian losses in such a confrontation and there would also be the propaganda victory that Iran would claim and would likely be believed and hailed as a sign from Allah across the Muslim World. There is one other unknown about Iran and that is concerning their nuclear program. The Iranians could very well already have a deliverable nuclear weapon, be it an actual twenty kiloton bomb or a smaller yield EMP styled device. Such a weapon might even be deliverable by a missile and could already be in place on a ship off the coasts of the United States or in Venezuela just waiting for the command. This is a potential about which the United States has only rumors and intelligence from satellites and other countries as it is highly doubtful that the United States has any HUMIT placed within Iran.
The final piece of the puzzle is an even greater unknown that Iran, that is Hezballah. It is known that Hezballah has infiltrated and is in league with the Mexican drug cartels. What is unknown is how extensive the Hezballah has positioned assets within the United States. The one truth about Hezballah is that until the 9/11 attack by Osama bin Laden, Hezballah had murdered the most American citizens of any terrorist organization. It was Hezballah who blew up the Marine barracks in Lebanon on October 23, 1983. Where Hezballah is not likely to be a significant threat against American military might, they are extremely capable in dispensing terror in a well-planned and systematic manner which would maximize the effects causing the maximum panic. Their style is to use explosions often to kidnap victims and then either hold them for ransom or simply to kill them one by one over an extended period making sure to make each execution as grizzly and horrid as possible while gaining it word-wide publication using both the old media and the internet. Most of the effect of a Hezballah assault would be mental stress, fear, and intimidation. Hezballah does have the capability to use explosive devices of massive effect and has shown the ability to utilize their assets to maximize their impact. A Hezballah assault would be a steady number of attacks likely spread over a prolonged period with varied lengths of time between attacks and seemingly unpredictable locations. Their initial series of attacks would be dispersed and occur in a swarm and they would repeat the use of swarms of attacks in a short period in order to cause trepidation that there would be a series of bombings or attacks to follow any single attack thus maximizing the public’s fears.
The main reason not to enter into the Syrian civil war has little to do with the problems that retaliation by Syria, Russia, Hezballah, or Iran might unleash. The reality is there are no good guys on any side in this war. There are no allies of the United States or Europe. We would be backing the least offensive of the sides but they would still be offensive. The other problem would be Bashir al-Assad’s response to the United States imposing a no-fly zone over Syria. Bashir al-Assad would resort to using his missiles of which he has a rather large supply. He would use these missiles against any United States assets in Iraq that were within his range as well as the fleet in the Mediterranean Sea and then also on Jordan, Turkey and of course Israel. Along with al-Assad striking Israel, we could also count on Hezballah unleashing thousands upon tens of thousands of missiles on Israel. The odds are Israel would strike back at Lebanon and leave Syria to Turkey, the United States and NATO. Israel has proven they have no dog in the Syrian civil war. But in Lebanon Israel has interests which simply put is to remove Hezballah from controlling the Lebanese government. There may even be the possibility that Iran may use some of the Iraqi assets and mount an attack on Saudi Arabia while all this was taking up everybody’s attentions. The basic truth is that there is no happy side to entering into the Syrian imbroglio, only heartache and great amounts of loss and pain. This is one fight where the best manner to employ is not to fight. Plan all President Obama wishes but the Congress should be demanding that the United States take a pass on Syria but instead they are egging the President on to engage in this evil and deceptive involvement. Mr. President, Please, just say no.
Beyond the Cusp