The Missile, the Poison Gas and the Sheer Effrontery: Mordechai Kedar, Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017 — A very short length of rope connects the launching of an anti-aircraft missile towards IAF jets on the night of March 17th and the murderous use (once again!) of the poison gas which the Syrian regime is not supposed to have by the "Butcher of Damascus."
Following Gas Attack, Israel Reassesses Syrian Threat: Ben Caspit, Al-Monitor, Apr. 5, 2017 — The horrifying images of the gas attack in Idlib on April 4 shocked many in Israel and led to a wide range of responses in the country, including a call for an emergency Cabinet session by Minister Naftali Bennett.
The New York Times Takes Trump’s Bait on Syria: Noah Rothman, Commentary, Apr. 5, 2017— If President Donald Trump wanted to confuse his opponents and dilute any serious criticisms of his approach to the situation in Syria, he could have done no better than to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the crisis.
The Deal Trump Shouldn’t Make With Russia: Mark Helprin, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2017 — The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failures in the Middle East.
Trump: Syria is Now My Responsibility: Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017
America Must Send a Strong Message to Syria that Using Chemical Weapons in War is Not Acceptable: Dennis Ross, New York Daily News, Apr. 4, 2017
Syria’s Children Die Choking. The West Tut-Tuts, Briefly, and Moves On. This is Now Normal: Terry Glavin, National Post, Apr. 5, 2017
Iran Sponsored Shi'a Militia Launches Terror Group to Fight Israel: IPT, Apr. 5, 2017
Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017
A very short length of rope connects the launching of an anti-aircraft missile towards IAF jets on the night of March 17th and the murderous use (once again!) of the poison gas which the Syrian regime is not supposed to have by the "Butcher of Damascus." The rope has the words "made in Russia," on it, and the poison gas is just a continuation of the brutal behavior of the Russian armed forces who have been helping Assad. And since Russia has veto power in the Security Council, the world, even if it so wishes, is unable to force Putin to give an accounting of his army's actions in Syria and it certainly does not have the power to act against Russia in non-military fashion – by boycotting it, for example.
Although this latest atrocity took place during President Trump's term of office, the responsibility for its occurrence rests squarely on the former president's shoulders. Obama ignored the previous chemical weapons attacks, over 20 of them, and allowed Assad to get off the hook via an "agreement" according to which he was to dismantle his chemical weapons stores. There was no provision in the agreement for making sure Assad gave up his entire arsenal of CBW (chemical and biological weapons) nor did it have any means of preventing the renewed manufacture of chemical weapons once Assad dismantled a portion of them. All these mistakes were made during Obama's terms of office, and since then, Syrian citizens have been suffering from their reverberating outcomes.
With Russia's back, Assad feels free to do whatever he wishes, anything at all, legal or illegal, letting the end justify the means, including chemical means. He needs to remain the ruler in order to keep his head attached to his neck, even if he is left with only a small part of the country, from the coast eastward to the Idlib Mountains, where his defenders say he will establish an Allawite state on the ruins of Syria. Assad strides unhesitantly on the skeletons of the people he has killed, on a road built by the Iranians, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias who came to eliminate the Sunni majority in Syria and replace it with Shiites, some local and some imported from Iran and Afghanistan. An ethnic purge of the Sunni majority is going on in Syria, and it involves using whatever means are at Assad's disposal. Exile, mass murders, all achieved using conventional weapons – or gas, the poison gas he doesn't have anymore after "destroying" the arsenal, leaving a significant amount intact and possibly the ability to manufacture more.
Assad is flexing his muscles, waiting to see whether the new US president has any red lines – and if so, what he might do if Assad crosses them. He is checking just how far he can go, how much patience Trump has, whether he has to be taken seriously, and just how seriously. If Trump does nothing, Assad will conclude that Trump is an Obama clone with regard to Syria and not worth taking to heart. Trump is facing his first test right now, with North Korea's nuclear threats vis a vis South Korea in the background, closely followed by Japan and the US, Russian plans for Ukraine and China's aspirations for control of parts of the China Sea. In my humble opinion, the chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun that left over a hundred dead and several hundreds injured, many of them children, is – unfortunately – the chance that the god of history has given the new American president. If I were one of Trump's advisors, I would tell him to call a press conference in the White House and read the following letter, live, to the entire world:
"To the Butcher of Damascus, Mr. Bashar Assad, "For the past six years you have been massacring your citizens, people whose only sin is their wish to live in a state that cares about them, and not in a state which sees itself as their enemy. You, who have turned Syria into a slaughterhouse for its people, have lost all legitimacy, if you ever had any, because you have failed in the primary and central mission of any president: ensuring that his citizens can live their lives. That concept has vanished without a trace, leaving no justification for the continuation of your regime. In the name of Syria's citizens, in the name of all mankind, you are hereby removed from your position forthwith. You have 48 hours to get out of Syria, and as Commander in Chief of the US armed forces I have already given the order to be ready for an operation that will leave you a dead man. If you are still on Syrian soil at the end of that time period, I will give the order to act. Don't call me to get a time extension because you won't get one, you simply don't deserve it."
A credible threat of his nature will get the entire world to its feet with one question: "What is going to happen if Assad does not give in to the threat and ignores Trump's ultimatum? Putin will have to either enter into a confrontation with the United States or convince Assad to "take a short leave" in Moscow until Trump calms down. The North Koreans will wait impatiently to see the results of Russia's threats, because they are next in line after Assad to be threatened similarly by Trump about their military nuclear plans. Iran will also be on alert during those fateful 48 hours after Trump's speech because Iran's rulers know exactly what Trump thinks of them and of the nuclear agreement Obama had them sign in 2015.
An ultimatum of this nature could give the United States deterrent power once again after Nobel Peace Prize laureate Obama, the human rights knight in shining armor, intentionally and purposefully made it disappear. If Assad gives in to the ultimatum, Trump will come out a real winner. If Assad refuses to leave and an American operation eliminates him – Trump will be an even greater winner. I do not expect Putin to battle Trump to keep Assad in power, because Russian interests are not dependent on Assad the man but on the Alawite ethnic group and the ports Russia has taken over in Syria. Russia is also interested in what becomes of the natural gas on the bottom of the sea facing Syria's coast. Syria's gas resources are much larger than those of Israel.
The Syrian catastrophe has to teach Israel one important lesson: No one will stand by Israel's side if the country suffers a CBW attack. Assad certainly won't care about Israel's citizens any more than he cares for his own. Israel must face Assad, his friends and supporters from the, north and east. And present them with a credible threat, backed by clear American support saying that any harm to any Israeli citizen by Syria will lead him straight to hell. Although Israel does not have to take part in the Syrian chaos, it must make its point crystal clear, and stand guard carefully, with not only a finger, but a whole hand, on Syria's pulse.
Al-Monitor, Apr. 5, 2017
The horrifying images of the gas attack in Idlib on April 4 shocked many in Israel and led to a wide range of responses in the country, including a call for an emergency Cabinet session by Minister Naftali Bennett. The Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) Intelligence Division and the Mossad seem to have suffered the greatest shock, however, since they are responsible for assessing the chemical weapons capabilities of the Syrian regime. The fact that the regime is suspected of using sarin nerve gas against the population casts their current assessments into doubt and challenges Israel's working assumption about when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might use any chemical weapons still in his possession. Just two weeks ago, two senior intelligence sources told Al-Monitor that Assad has very limited chemical weapons capacities, mainly chlorine gas. These weapons were described as "neutralizing," i.e., they can kill their targets but not on a wide scale. Photos from Idlib contradict this statement.
Before Syria reached a chemical weapons disarmament agreement with the world powers in September 2013, the IDF assessed that Assad would only use his chemical weapons against Israel if his regime found itself "with its back against the wall." The disarmament agreement, which was only signed after US President Barack Obama deliberated over whether he should embark on military action against Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, was received with optimism in Israel.
Both the IDF's Intelligence Division and the Mossad concluded that the agreement had been fulfilled in its entirety, and that Assad did, in fact, forgo this strategic asset. According to intelligence sources, Assad was concerned that an American cruise missile and aerial assault would lead to the final collapse of his regime. In other words, he did have "his back against the wall," and decided to give up his chemical weapons arsenal to survive. Israel believed that the Syrian regime kept only "residual" chemical capabilities, i.e., something symbolic, or an "emergency supply" of chemical weapons, to be used only if Assad is forced to flee for his life. The same Israeli assessment also claimed that some 98% of Assad's arsenal of sarin or VX nerve gas (about 1,300 tons) no longer existed. If it was, in fact, Assad, who used nerve gas in Idlib on April 4 (no one else is capable of launching such an attack), these assessments by Israeli and other sources have been invalidated.
This has long-term implications. After reaching an agreement that Syria would rid itself of its chemical weapons stockpiles, it seemed obvious to Jerusalem that Israel was out of danger when it came to the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against its population. This assessment of the situation led Israel to abandon existing procedures to defend civilians from chemical weapons. Until then, every Israeli citizen received a chemical weapons defense kit from the government, which included a gas mask and other equipment. It was a convoluted and expensive setup, which was difficult to maintain (every newborn needs new equipment, mask filters must be replaced, etc.), but it remained in force as long as Israel felt threatened. And so, ever since 2013, this defense procedure was abandoned, and the manufacture of gas masks in Israel came to a halt. The April 4 incident in Idlib raises questions about that decision.
A senior Israeli source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Assad is well-aware that if he dares use chemical weapons against Israel in his current state, he will be wiped off the map by morning." Yet even this statement sounds problematic now. Assad is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it looks like the April 4 massacre in Idlib will pass without Assad suffering as much as a scratch. The Syrians deny that they used gas, the Russians claim that the Syrian regime bombed a rebel gas factory and the Americans blame Trump. That's it.
The shock in Israel on April 4 was resounding. As a people, Jews are especially sensitive to the use of gas, even if it happens beyond their borders in a hostile nation. Images of children suffocating from nerve gas sent shockwaves through the media and led to responses by everyone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to opposition leader Isaac Herzog. Former head of Military Intelligence Maj. Gen. (Res.) Amos Yadlin even called for Israeli military intervention. Yadlin, who heads the Institute for National Security Studies and maintains close ties with the military establishment, later explained that he meant an aerial response, not necessarily overt, which would target Syria's chemical weapons division and even attack the aircraft allegedly responsible for the gas assault.
Within a day, the mood started to calm down. One senior Israeli military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, "Ultimately the basic situation hasn't changed. So it is possible that Assad does have a small supply of nerve gas, amounting to a few dozen or perhaps a few hundred kilograms. And it is possible that his recovering self-confidence allowed him to use the weapons locally, in Idlib. That still doesn't change the basic situation in the region." Not everyone agrees with this assessment. It is safe to assume that quite a few meetings about the situation took place in Israel's various intelligence agencies and divisions the night of April 4. If Assad really is capable of using nerve gas during a local incident in Idlib, it indicates that this is a different, new and more dangerous Assad, as one senior Israeli source told Al-Monitor.
And there is another issue. Who can now assure Israel that Assad has not managed to transfer some of that residual nerve gas to Hezbollah? A transfer of chemical weapons can be very low key, without any long convoys or heavy trucks. Hezbollah could then use Iranian technology to install the gas on its missiles. The result would be a very different Hezbollah than what Israel has been used to until now. These horrific scenarios still sound unfounded, but in the Middle East, unfounded scenarios sometimes turn into reality. At this stage, there can be almost no doubt that Israel will need to reassess its intelligence and working assumptions and reconsider what steps to take in response to the WMD held by Assad, and especially by Israel's most imposing enemy today: Hezbollah.
Commentary, Apr. 5, 2017
If President Donald Trump wanted to confuse his opponents and dilute any serious criticisms of his approach to the situation in Syria, he could have done no better than to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for the crisis. In a statement condemning the slaughter of civilians in what appears to be the worst regime-ordered chemical attack since 2013, the president observed that Obama had drawn a “red line” over this same sort of thing but “did nothing.” Instantly, partisan battle lines were etched into the sand. The New York Times editorial board was one of many liberal outlets that felt compelled to defend Barack Obama’s Syria policy. In the process, they water down their criticisms of Trump’s approach to the nightmare in the Levant. That serves Donald Trump’s interests just fine.
The occasion of an attack using weapons of mass destruction in Syria that killed at least 70—including ten children—and injured over 400 is an inopportune moment for a president to pass the buck to his predecessor. Trump’s statement represented a crass attempt at obfuscation, and an abdication of an American president’s responsibility to eschew prevarications. As a political tactic, however, Trump’s maneuver succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings. President Barack Obama does deserve blame for the crisis in Syria. His administration has earned censure for compounding the disaster in a craven effort to avoid intervention into that conflict at almost all costs. Of course, Donald Trump is similarly committed to avoiding engagement in the Syrian civil war. By triggering the protective instincts of Obama’s loyal progeny, Trump has deflected criticism from his disengagement and forced the left to defend Obama’s.
The New York Times editorial board was in bountiful company when they jumped at the president’s bait. They were right to note that the world risks becoming inured to the images of children frothing at the mouth, writhing in agony as the struggle to breathe through chemically-scarred lungs. This attack was, however, of an order of magnitude greater than previous attacks. The Times editorial board observed that this makes no tactical sense, considering that the Assad regime has all but won the Civil War. They and their Russian and Iranian allies have, by and large, neutralized pro-Western rebels and secured the concession that the Trump administration no longer believes Assad’s ouster is a prerequisite for peace. The Times was on secure ground when it called the timing of this attack, coming less than a week after Assad’s survival was virtually assured by Washington, conspicuous.
The piece could have stopped there. The Times also might have gone on to note that Trump’s passing of the buck back fails to meet the measure of an American president. If they were feeling especially saucy, the opinion-page editors might have observed that Trump actually advised Barack Obama to do precisely what he is today criticizing: ignore the “red line” for action against the Assad regime. But they didn’t. Instead, the New York Times’ editorial board felt obliged to defend Obama’s record in Syria, muddying their argument and rendering it dismissible in the process.
The Times noted that Trump’s explicit assertion that Assad’s ouster is no longer an American priority is only the verbalization of an implicit Obama-era policy. The editorial further observed, oddly, that Obama shifted toward that view “only after repeated efforts to work with Russia on a political solution.” Indeed, it is not despite but because of those efforts that Assad is today so entrenched. “Mr. Trump ignored the fact that instead of taking military action, which Congress mostly opposed, Mr. Obama worked on with Russia on a deal under which Mr. Assad agreed to dismantle his chemical munitions.” Remember, this is Barack Obama’s defense. Barack Obama’s primetime address to the nation on the night of September 10, 2013, may be remembered as the most pivotal moment of his presidency. It was the night in which he made a prosecutorial, compelling case for military action against Assad, then announced that he had no intention of doing anything about it. Obama instead declared that both Congress and Russia would rescue him from having to deliver on his threats…
[To Read the Following Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Wall Street Journal, Mar. 29, 2017
The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failures in the Middle East. With American financing rather than resistance, Iran has thrown a military bridge from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, a feat the U.S. could not equal at the height of its powers when it unsuccessfully tried to construct the Central Treaty Organization in the 1950s. Worse still, Mr. Obama’s “executive agreement” with Tehran gives it a U.S.-guaranteed path to nuclear weapons. As Mr. Obama denuded the Mediterranean of armed American naval vessels and backed off supposed red lines, Russia re-established itself in the Middle East after having been almost completely excluded during the previous nine presidential terms. The result of such astounding American incompetence has been genocidal wars and the metaphorical transformation of the regional security situation from gunpowder into nitroglycerin.
It threatens to become even worse, in that with the presence of rival great powers, the processes at work may leap the bounds of their containment in the Middle East and unravel the long peace of Europe. Because of the March 7 meeting of the American, Russian, and Turkish military chiefs, and simultaneous Russian signals that it is ready, for a price, to abandon its support of Iran, Iran—as documented by the Middle East Media Research Institute—is in a state of “shock.” It knows that it cannot stand against the might and favorable geographic position of a combination of these forces and the proximate Sunni states. President Hassan Rouhani recently rushed to Moscow, but his meetings there were conspicuously opaque about the future of Iran in Syria.
Excluding Iranian troops and arms from Syria and Lebanon would be a major achievement, which could have been a feature of the Obama foreign policy before Russia reinforced in Syria. American, Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian air power might easily have laid an air blockade across the 1,000 miles from Tehran to Damascus, and kept the few roads in wide-open country clear of overland supply. Needless to say, Iran would have found the sea route unavailing. Even now, with a Russian air component in western Syria, it is unlikely that Moscow would risk breaking a blockade any more than it attempted to breach the 1962 quarantine of Cuba, for the reason that it could not then and cannot now project power into the area of contention with even a small fraction of the force that would resist it. As the Soviets did in the Cuban crisis, Russia might resort to nuclear bluffing, but it would be only that. Its interests in the Levant, which, given its lack of power projection and capable allies, it cannot exploit, would not be worth an empty threat that it would then have to withdraw.
Nonetheless, nuclear brinkmanship is hardly to be considered lightly. So, given that the U.S. failed to capitalize on its open opportunities before Russia came on the scene, should it not now take the opportunity to begin putting Iran back into its cage by striking a deal with Russia? No, because this is not the only way to do so, and the price, if indeed Russia would fully cooperate, would be to bless the developing Russian alliance with a mischievous and eminently separable-from-NATO Turkey, and, much more consequently, the lifting of sanctions related to Crimea and Ukraine. That Russia is shy of the madness of Iran and foresees such a trade as (from a column in Kommersant) opening a “window of opportunity for Donald Trump’s diplomacy,” has been suggested by various Kremlin ventriloquist dummies. According to a U.S. intelligence report, the ever injudicious Vladimir Zhirinovsky proclaimed on the eve of the U.S. election that if Mr. Trump won, “Russia would ‘drink Champagne’ in anticipation of being able to advance its positions in Syria and Ukraine.”…
[To Read the Following Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Trump: Syria is Now My Responsibility: Arutz Sheva, Apr. 5, 2017—US President Donald Trump condemned on Wednesday the chemical weapons attack in the Idlib province of Syria on Tuesday. As he welcomed the King of Jordan Abdullah II to the White House, Trump called the attack a “horrible thing, unspeakable,” and “a terrible affront to humanity.”
America Must Send a Strong Message to Syria that Using Chemical Weapons in War is Not Acceptable: Dennis Ross, New York Daily News, Apr. 4, 2017—Bashar Assad has struck again. The Syrian regime has carried out an air attack using Sarin gas in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Early reporting from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights suggests as many as 100 are dead, many of them children. As if it was not enough to drop chemical weapons on the town, the regime then targeted, with an airstrike, the clinic where the victims of the chemical assault were being treated.
Syria’s Children Die Choking. The West Tut-Tuts, Briefly, and Moves On. This is Now Normal: Terry Glavin, National Post, Apr. 5, 2017 —Within 24 hours of a Tuesday morning chemical weapons attack that left the corpses of several dozen innocents strewn in the streets of Khan Sheikhoun, a bomb-cratered town in the Syrian province of Idlib, everything was back to normal again. The single most horrific poison gas atrocity since the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad was allowed to get away with murdering more than 1,000 civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in August 2013, and it took less than a day to show that nothing of consequence has changed.
Iran Sponsored Shi'a Militia Launches Terror Group to Fight Israel: IPT, Apr. 5, 2017—An Iranian supported Shi'a militia, Al-Nujaba, says it formed the "Golan Liberation Army" to fight Israel, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reports. "This army has been trained and has detailed plans. If the Syria regime asks us to, we are ready to act to liberate the Golan [from Israel] along with our allies," Al-Nujaba spokesman Hashem Al-Mousawi said in a March 8 interview with Iran's Tasnim news agency.