When Obama proclaimed his red line on Syria and chemical weapons, he assumed the issue would not come up. He made a gesture to those in his administration who believe that the United States has a moral obligation to put an end to brutality. He also made a gesture to those who don't want to go to war again. It was one of those smart moves that can blow up in a president's face when it turns out his assumption was wrong. Whether al Assad did launch the attacks, whether the insurgents did, or whether someone faked them doesn't matter. Unless Obama can get overwhelming, indisputable proof that al Assad did not -- and that isn't going to happen -- Obama will either have to act on the red line principle or be shown to be one who bluffs. The incredible complexity of intervening in a civil war without becoming bogged down makes the process even more baffling.

Obama now faces the second time in his presidency when war was an option. The first was Libya. The tyrant is now dead, and what followed is not pretty. And Libya was easy compared to Syria. Now, the president must intervene to maintain his credibility. But there is no political support in the United States for intervention. He must take military action, but not one that would cause the United States to appear brutish. He must depose al Assad, but not replace him with his opponents. He never thought al Assad would be so reckless. Despite whether al Assad actually was, the consensus is that he was. That's the hand the president has to play, so it's hard to see how he avoids military action and retains credibility. It is also hard to see how he takes military action without a political revolt against him if it goes wrong, which it usually does.

Today U.S. Navy warships are positioned for a strike against Syria using long range Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles .

If it does come down to an open confrontation here is what it is going to look like. On the one side there is the United States leading the charge, along with the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. These are the countries that will commit troops in one manner or another.

They have the sophisticated weaponry such as Cruise and Tomahawk missiles that can be launched from ships and airplanes hundreds of miles away and can be programmed to enter through an open window or go vertically down a chimney.

With the participation of the US Air Force and the Navy’s air wing, the allies will have total superiority of the skies with unmatched sophisticated warplanes, bombers, stealth fighters and stealth bombers, and unmanned drones, as well as the most advanced warning radar systems in the world. Syria’s outdated MiG and SU fighters and bombers, remnants from the Soviet era, are badly in need of maintenance and upgrading and will not be able to match the allies’ air superiority.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington, DC-based think tank, Syria has 160-240 MiG 21/25, 135-225 MiG 23/29 and 80-110 SU 22/24 attack aircraft.

The anti-Assad allies are equipped with US or Western European made aircrafts such as the F16, the British Tornado or the French Mirage 2000 currently in use by the Emirates Air Force.

And of course the US-led alliance has the oil and the natural gas, two very powerful weapons in their own right. Those are likely to quickly become the center focus point in this war, if it ever came to pass. More on that in a moment.

On the opposing side there is Syria and its sole supporter in the region, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah. While China is opposed to a military intervention, its position in case of armed conflict is still unclear.

There is nothing unclear about the oil, except the near certainty that it could become the first major casualty of this war.

In its efforts to pressure Iran the U.S. Navy is very likely to try and prevent Iranian oil tankers from passing through the Straits of Hormuz on their way to refineries in India, given that Iran lacks adequate facilities to refine its own oil.

If that were to happen, it is almost certain that Iran would move to block the strategic straits by sending its fleet of ultra-rapid watercraft to sink one or two oil tankers and in the process block the world’s busiest oil route, from where more than half of the world’s consumption of oil, transit. The result could be an immediate shortage of oil on the world markets. Prices at the pump would skyrocket and some industries would be forced to close.

The outcome of this conflict could alter the very face of the Middle East as we know it today, redrawing the straight lines in the sand first placed there by Messieurs Sykes and Picot when they drafted their secret agreement in the closing days of World War I.

Military planners are able to predict with surgical precision the start of a war, but no one can accurately foresee the outcome. Still in doubt? Ask those who planned the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

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