Syria Intervention Looks Inevitable
Western military action in the Syrian civil war now appears likely.
The Telegraph‘s Tim Ross and Ben Farmer report that “Britain is planning to join forces with America and launch military action against Syria within days in response to the gas attack believed to have been carried out by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces against his own people.”
Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets.
Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.
As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people “with impunity”.
Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity “is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed”, he said.
British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war.
Meanwhile, AFP reports, world defense chiefs are gathering in Jordan to discuss the situation.
Senior military officers from Western and Muslim countries were gathering in Jordan Monday to discuss the regional impact of the war in Syria, Jordanian officials said.
State-run Petra news agency quoted a Jordanian military spokesman as saying that the meeting comes at the invitation of Jordan’s chief of staff Meshaal Mohamed al-Zaban and General Lloyd Austin, head of Centcom, the US command responsible for 20 countries in the Middle East and Central Asia.
US army chief General Martin Dempsey would take part, as would chiefs of staff from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Canada, said the official, cited by Petra.
A Jordanian government official confirmed the meeting, saying it would be held on Monday and Tuesday.
And the Assad regime’s last-ditch concession allowing UN weapons inspectors in appears in vain. Lauren Williams for The Daily Star:
Pressure is mounting on the United States and its allies to respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack outside the Syrian capital that officials say was probably perpetrated by the government, even if they cannot establish responsibility with certainty.
U.N. weapons inspectors were to begin moving in to the site of the attack that medical agencies say killed hundreds in the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, after Syria Sunday bowed to pressure to grant them access.
But a U.S. official said the agreement to grant access had come too late to be credible, casting doubt over the team’s ability to establish culpability.
Syria confirmed it had agreed to allow the inspections, and the U.N. said Damascus had agreed to a cease-fire while a U.N. team are at the site.
Restricted access in the days following the attack and continued government bombardment of the affected areas have made detailing a clear picture of what exactly happened last Wednesday difficult. But medical samples, along with videos of the attack and witnesses’ testimonies, have been collected, and Western powers have made increasingly assertive claims that they believe President Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible.
France followed the United States and the United Kingdom Sunday in concluding the government was behind it.
French President Francois Hollande told his U.S counterpart Barack Obama Sunday that “everything was consistent” with the conclusion that Damascus was responsible.
Meanwhile, a senior U.S. official said there was very little doubt that the Syrian government had used a chemical weapon against civilians.
“Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident,” the U.S. official said.
“At this juncture, any belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team would be considered too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other international actions over the last five days,” the official said.
Britain also said that evidence of an attack could have already been destroyed ahead of a visit.
Scott Shane and Ben Hubbard of the NYT add:
Moving a step closer to possible American military action in Syria, a senior Obama administration official said Sunday that there was “very little doubt” that President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces had used chemical weapons against civilians last week and that a Syrian promise to allow United Nations inspectors access to the site was “too late to be credible.”
he official, in a written statement, said that “based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident.”
The statement, released Sunday morning on the condition that the official not be named, reflected a tougher tone after President Obama’s meeting at the White House on Saturday with his national security team, during which advisers discussed options for military action.
While administration officials emphasized that Mr. Obama had not decided to take action, they said he was determined not to be drawn into a protracted debate over gaining access for the United Nations investigators, because of doubts that they could now produce credible findings.
Officials say that a list of possible targets for a military strike has been circulating in the White House since late last week. The list, which the Pentagon originally prepared months ago for Mr. Obama, includes both chemical-weapons sites and broader military and government targets, depending on the type of action the president orders. If strikes are carried out, the targets would probably be hit by cruise missiles fired from Navy ships.
This is some incredibly belligerent rhetoric if the use of force is simply an option on the table rather than a fait accompli. I suppose it could be an aggressive bluff aimed at convincing Assad that action is inevitable if he doesn’t capitulate. But Assad has given every indication that he sees no option short of keeping the family business alive.