Following the Douma sarin attack, eyes have once again focused on the prospect of military action against the Assad regime. President Trump expressed revulsion at the attack and continues to threaten military action through his Twitter account.
In March of 2018, the Israeli government officially admitted that it conducted an air strike against Syria’s nascent nuclear program in 2007. Haaretz published an extremely detailed article with accounts from those involved. The admission is a rare step for a nation that often prefers ambiguity over transparency and gives us an interesting glimpse into the workings and status of both the Israeli military as a fighting force and for U.S-Israel relations.
Below is a list of observations I made while reading the article.
Israeli Denials Are Often About De-escalation
From the article is it clear that the mission was kept secret for 11 years for political reasons, not military security. After the bombs fell, Israeli military intelligence and Mossad were much more concerned that embarrassing Basher Al-Assad than revealing operational secrets. Face-saving Military retaliation was the overriding concern, not revealing Israeli operational methods.
Israel Is Still Using The Prussian Method
Although by far the most competent military in the region, the Israeli Defense Forces are not a hegemon. As a military of conscripts and reservists, the IDF cannot be constantly mobilized. A mobilization that gets the IDF up to fighting strength could also alert enemies to its intentions. If Israel massed troops in the Golan to defend against Syrian retaliation, they risked tipping off the Syrians and compromising the mission.
Israel then, is still operating on a Prussian-style doctrine where it focuses power where it is needed quickly, rather than an American-style doctrine where a professional military is kept ready to deploy at all times.
Israel Consulted With The United States Before The Strike
In American discourse, Israeli military actions are often framed as completely independent actions. that is, they are taken regardless of external influences, and often in spite of them. This article makes clear that the U.S government was consulted months before the operation and was kept in the loop almost until the decision to bomb the reactor was made.
If this holds true for more recent strikes the U.S government could still be privy to sensitive information. Israeli air strikes against regime and Iranian targets in Syria are a possible example.(although these are also mostly unconfirmed.)
The United States Benefits
In Syria, the U.S used Israel as both a source of intelligence and a means of achieving a strategic objective while minimizing political costs to itself. It is clear from the report that the United States saw an attack on Syria’s reactor as politically unviable given the failure of intelligence (in both senses) in Iraq. The U.S could not afford another blunder, so it fell on the State of Israel to play policeman.
George W. Bush’s statement “a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do” is indicative of his intentions. He (and by extension the U.S government) was clearly willing to give Israel a free hand to protect itself and police the region while shielding the United States and the Bush administration from the political consequences.
Israel Has Self-Imposed Restraints
In contrast to its hyper-aggressive public persona, the Israeli government was extremely concerned about the environmental and human damage that could have resulted from the destruction of an operational reactor. The Haaretz article makes clear that this was a serious bone of contention within Olmert’s government and that Israel may have thought twice about blowing up the reactor if it had gone hot.
Syria Does Not Want War With Israel
In 2007 Assad’s army was at full strength. Despite this, and the recent Israeli failure in Lebanon, Assad allowed his reactor to be destroyed without so much as firing a shot in return.
The reason for this quite becomes obvious one looks at the course of the Syrian Civil War. In 2007 The Syrian army was unprepared to do much more than terror bomb civilians and kill protesters. As is the case in many dictatorships, the military is a tool of domestic politics, rather than an all-purpose fighting force. Its raison d’être is to protect the regime. In a direct confrontation with Israel, Syria would have been crushed, and Assad knew it.
About a week ago retired Navy Vice Admiral named Robert Monroe penned possibly the worst opinion piece I have ever read. Entitled “Only Trump can restore America’s ability to win a nuclear war” the article was riddled with factual inaccuracies and terrible policy perceptions.
Here I’m going to take a few quotes from the article and demonstrate exactly why it’s such rubbish.
On January 5th a swarm of thirteen drones operated by Syrian rebels attacked two Russian bases in Syria. While the attack was unsuccessful, it was the first of its kind, and indicative of the type of warfare that we can expect to witness in the future in regard to unmanned vehicles. While militants have used small drones to attack government forces before, they were never used en masse in a “swarm”.
In this capacity, they have the power to transform warfare.Read More »
The non-use of nuclear weapons has been a phenomenon of the past 70 years. Since the atomic strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no nuclear weapons have been fired in anger despite massive stockpiles, hair-trigger alerts, and the nuclearization of every weapon from ICBMs to 155mm artillery. This peculiar behavior has been analyzed and rationalized over years, giving rise to theories concerning escalation spirals, limited nuclear war, mutually assured destruction and disarmament.
Read More »
In recent months the debate over ballistic missile defense has become highly mathematical. With advocates and detractors pitting their numbers against each other. I contend that such arguments misunderstand the nature of ballistic missile defense and armed conflict in general.
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has set off a firestorm in the Middle East and the Islamic world. Across the spectrum, states, terrorist organizations and U.S allies have repudiated the move as a threat to the peace process or a provocation. Protests have erupted in the West Bank and Gaza with some Palestinian factions calling the move a “declaration of war and Hamas calling for a third Intifada.” Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat went as far as to declare it the end of the decades long U.S brokered peace process and refused further negotiations until the decision is reversed. PA President Mahmoud Abbas made his own fiery speech denouncing the move and proclaiming Jerusalem to be the “Capital of Palestine” (fun fact. I got slightly nauseous typing that).
Following a two and a half month hiatus the North Koreans are back to testing missiles.
Fired on a lofted trajectory North Korea’s new Hwasong 15 ICBM flew 4,475 km high and 950 km downrange on its maiden flight. If the missile were fired on a normal trajectory it would have a range of 13,000 km; long enough to strike my house in the D.C suburbs and the entirety of the continental United States.Read More »
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is in danger of being scrapped. Widely known as the “Iran Deal” the agreement was designed to block Iran’s path toward a nuclear bomb by limited their ability to produce the necessary fissile material.
By all accounts, including by the Trump administrations own admission, the deal been complied with. However, Iran hawks and the President have been seeking to scrap the deal citing Iran’s belligerence, growing regional power and sponsorship of terrorism. Recently, Trump announced that he plans to decertify the deal, sending it back to the U.S Congress to work out.
North Korea has developed and begun deploying nuclear armed ICBMs capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the western United States. Tensions are rising and Kim Jong Un and Trump are now sparing over a threat to the U.S territory of Guam issued by the regime to fire a salvo of IRBMs at the waters surrounding the American island.