THE CASE FOR A SYRIAN NO FLY ZONE: THE REASONS CONTINUE TO MOUNT

There are some new developments in the Syrian conflict that will undoubtedly be used as ammunition for proponents of a no fly zone over parts of that country. You can read more about the case for a Syrian no fly zone, and the military options on available, in a recent Aviationintel piece linked here. The three new developments that have to be taken into account concerning this topic are as follows:

  • IRAN IF FLYING IN MILITARY HARDWARE INTO SYRIA TO SUPPORT ASSAD VIA IRAQI AIRSPACE: By all accounts, Assad still controls the vast majority of the Syrian Air Force and the country’s air defense oriented missile units, and seeing how there is absolutely no deterrence from foreign powers via a no fly zone over Syria, Iran has been flying arms and logistical support directly to Assad’s forces in an attempt to bolster his weakening rule. What makes the situation worse is that Iraq, which absolutely lacks any tactical aircraft capable of defending its own borders, has been more prone to cozying up to Iran than to interdict its military operations, nothing is being done to stop the overflights. The US wanted to keep a contingent of US fighters in the country until Iraq’s F-16s had arrived and its pilots had been deemed up to snuff, but the military pact that would have allowed that to happen was rejected by the Al-Malaki Government. Sadly, America was stupid enough not to just give Iraq a handful of F-16s years ago, as we were in that country for over eight years. A similar situation will happen in Afghanistan when it comes to air support for its own ground forces once the US pulls out, as the USAF continues to bungle the Light Air Support (LAS) procurement initiative which will now most likely only see aircraft deployed too late to make a difference. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/05/world/middleeast/iran-supplying-syrian-military-via-iraq-airspace.html?pagewanted=all
  • ASSAD HAS MOVED SOME OF HIS WMD ARSENAL AND NOBODY CAN GIVE A STRAIGHT ANSWER AS TO WHY: This is a huge deal, as reported in my piece linked above, the US and our allies may not have choice to intervene in Syria if a power vacuum takes hold, as that country’s large WMD stockpile could get looted and wind up in the hands of virtually any irrational actor in the region. Conversely, Assad could use these weapons as a last-ditch effort to pacify his own populous. We saw this in Iraq during the mid 1990’s and said “never again.” Sadly, that position may be worth its weight in air as we are currently doing nothing to directly stop this from happening. If it does happen our response will come too late. In this case some say that Assad’s forces are moving the weapons to keep them more secure, while others say that they have no clue exactly why these weapons are being moved. Considering the blurry answers surrounding the Benghazi Consulate attack by the Obama Administration (read more here), I don’t think we can take anything that comes from administration officials (aside from maybe SecDef Penetta) as fact, as it is clear that currently everything is being done to nullify the public’s impression of growing foreign policy troubles during the end-game of the election. http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/09/28/panetta-says-intelligence-shows-syria-moved-some-chemical-weapons/
  • ASSAD IS USING “BARREL BOMBS” AGAINST HIS OWN PEOPLE: These are nasty improvised explosive devices that can be dropped from planes or helicopters. Basically they are a mix of TNT, fuel and shrapnel, such as nails and bolts, that are meant almost exclusively to kill and maim people. Furthermore, these weapons are indiscriminate and highly inaccurate. This is a sign of just how desperate and brutal this situation has become. Compared to Libya, the threat to innocents from the air is not even equatable. The next step for Assad would be fire-bombing cities or using WMD against rebel held areas, not good to say the least. Politically speaking, although getting involved with the Syrian is unpopular, having pictures stream out of that country of thousands of innocents killed by nerve agents will be far, far worse.

Once the election is over here in the US I think that the chances of intervention in the Syrian conflict will go up dramatically, as the alternative of doing something to late, or nothing at all, may be totally unacceptable and could lead to a wider conflict. This does not mean we need to follow the Libyan model, there are other ways of evening the playing field for the rebels and protecting innocent lives from airborne bombardment, while also keeping a close watch on Syrian WMD stockpiles, than conducting a prolonged air to ground campaign. Once again, please read my past article for more information about this precarious situation: http://aviationintel.com/2012/08/27/no-fly-zone-over-syria-good-idea-or-bad-idea/

We shall see what the foreign policy Presidential debate brings out of the candidates regarding this issue later this month, lets just hope that the situation in Syria does not change dramatically for the worse in the meantime. Stay tuned for further developments…

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9 Responses to THE CASE FOR A SYRIAN NO FLY ZONE: THE REASONS CONTINUE TO MOUNT

  1. Corsair8X says:

    No-fly zones do nothing about WMD which are generally delivered by ground forces/assets, not by air.

    Even with aircraft and training, Iraq intervening which is very unlikely would only serve to create a new situation in Iraq/Iran, leading to many more of the civilian deaths and displacement that you seek to avoid in Syria.

    This is to say nothing of the possibility of civil war in a country that is more like Lebanon than Lybia. The civil war in Lebanon was something like 12 years, fed by many of the proxy players that would line up to continue in Syria this time. The point here is that the sides in this conflict have yet to even form.

  2. Amir says:

    If you really care about people you should suggest that west should stop helping rebels and stop intervening in that country. If that happens the war will be ended in less than a month

  3. RealityBites says:

    None of these things changes anything. A civilian is just as dead from an air dropped HE bomb as this barrel bomb thing. The US must stop trying to foment “Arab Spring” which results in one man one vote one time, as formerly semi stable states like Egypt and Libya are thrown into complete chaos with the inevitable result being that the only organization that can pull it back together are radical islamists. Its all going to blow up in our faces. The WMDs Assad holds are also plenty safe if his regime doesn’t fall. We arent smarter than everyone else on these things and not every place will work as democracy – this fantasy must stop. Did you miss the part of the video where it showed the row of obviously executed uniformed Syrian military that the rebels captured? Where is the outrage about that? Once the islamist rebels take over you will see that 10000 fold except the victims will be those unfortunates who are of the “wrong” Muslim sect, any non-Muslims, and anyone that does not want to accept the Caliphate the islamists openly seek. Measured against that these horrible little dictators are a better outcome.

  4. nico says:

    I find intriguing how CIA is generally felt to be behind the power curve, was with US leadership caught completely off guard from Arab spring and uprisings across the region but at the same time, so many believe that CIA is behind the same uprisings! Which one is it? because you can’t have both.

    Certain politicians in US would have wanted the US govt to stay behind Mubarak and prop up his regime. The fact that the guy was in his 80s,sick, rapidly becoming unpopular doesn’t seem to faze them. Egypt is a country of 80 million, I seriously doubt USA thru CIA, can control or influence this country. The fact also the CIA can influence events inside Syria is pretty laughable when we haven’t had any relations with Syria since 2001 but now, the country is being over run with CIA operatives?

  5. Henry says:

    I really like this site, but I think I speak for the majority of Americans when I say I DON’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT SYRIA. Have we not had enough meddling in the middle east? FWIW, I am ex-naval aviation, OEF/OIF vet. Those actions were pointless (and worse), just as any incursion into Syria would be.

  6. aviationintel.com says:

    First off, this is not a political blog, this topic is a touchy one, with many quality viewpoints when it comes to intervention. This is magnified by a decade of war with results that are totally questionable. I am not going to say if I am for or against an action in Syria, although I have never been a proponent of a robust air to ground campaign like the one in Libya. Reliable access over Syrian air space means much more than a no fly zone or bombing campaign. It allows for higher fidelity surveillance and much less invasive options if Assad were to fall and the country were to experience a total power vacuum resulting in loose WMDs. Once again, if this is the case we, or other players in the region (Israel, Jordon, Turkey etc which will make the situation so much worse) will have very little choice in the matter when it comes to stepping into the fray. We cannot deny this possible eventuality, so it is worthwhile addressing it. Further, there are many in power actually calling for this action now. Some individual responses:

    Corsair8X: No, this is not accurate and modern history in the region proves it. Google the Halabja gas attack. Artillery is another form of delivery, although it is also impossible to stop or truncate this method without having control of the air. Furthermore, Assad’s forces are using air attack constantly as well as tanks and artillery, why should we think that this would change during a chemical offensive? Assad’s forces could withdrawal to a safer buffer before aerial gas bombardment begins. Syria is known to have robust aerial delivery systems for its WMD stockpile. Per your twitter comments, if you would like to challenge my knowledge of air warfare be my guest but if you read my body of work on this site I doubt that you will find weaknesses in my understanding.

    Amir- Depending on the application of air power, a true no fly zone enforced by LO assets, which is highly non-invasive to the public at large and restricts Assad’s ability to project air power alone would not necessarily mean that Rebel forces would be on any sort of path to a decisive victory, it would simply give concerned nations options before it is to late concerning WMD stability. Will it decrease Assad’s asymmetric advantage in the process? Yes, but not decisively. Please, try to look beyond the Libyan “coalition” model. I do understand your opinion and I do see it as entirely valid, just putting some circumstances out there.

    Realitybites- No, a standard HE weapon compared to a nail bomb has drastically different effects on target. They are not the same thing. Other than that I understand you point. Like I said, try not to look at these pieces like position papers. This is different than many other foreign policy sites when it comes to opinion, I try to put options out there that may not exist in the mainstream, of-course doing nothing is one, but like I said we may not have that easy of a choice.

    Nico- The CIA is a canvas for which hatred towards America is freely painted upon. The Agency has not helped themselves in this regard at times, with a record of looking at short term goals over long term stability in the region etc. All subjective, but yes you cannot have it both ways.

    Henry, thanks for your service, feel free to share your experiences and thoughts anytime with Aviationintel through comments or direct email. Totally valid position as I have said above. I think many readers would be surprised with my actual positions on these matters, but the WMD thing does change the game a bit here, and we KNOW they are there, not taking slimy dissidents false information as gospel on the matter as in the justifications for OIF. I am just trying to put forth the least invasive concept for dealing with the issue before we get behind the 8-ball and have to spend much more treasure and blood sorting it all out after, or during the fact.

    As always guys great comments. I always enjoy a lively and thoughtful discussion. Its amazing, I get no trolls on this site, strong opinions yes, but all worthwhile and thoughtful, and for that we are all smarter and I thank you.

  7. Corsair8X says:

    First, I’m happy that you at least acknowledge that this is a touchy subject. Ordinarily, this a complex situation at best. But as I’ve said before, Syria is more Lebanon than Libya so we need to acknowledge that fact first. In other words, we need to move well beyond planes are cool and they can solve problems. 

    In very little time it appears your argument has expanded from no-fly zone to bombing campaign. You have suggested an air-to-ground response in your reply. So just in the course this discussion your no-fly zone has already suffered from scope creep. So let’s dispel wit the notion that you are talking about a no-fly zone. You are not. You may have intended to, but this has never been true. It’s nothing more than a foot-in-the-door argument. 

    And that’s why I mention the delivery of chemical weapons. Far from challenging your knowledge of aviation, there are other delivery systems that will be used *in addition to* air delivery that your no-fly zone does not address. And that is just one facet of this issue that will cause the scope of the operation to expand. So once again, we have moved far from the original concept. Your own reason for the no-fly zone dictates that it will be anything but. So to your point about expertise, there is a reason why Air Force generals don’t dictate foreign policy. Let’s look at Hap Arnold’s suggested response to the Cuban missile crisis as indicated by the White House tapes. 

    You also mention that control of the air means that one can track the movement of WMD in a possible power vacuum. This is absolutely true however without boots on the ground how do you enforce? Again, your reasons dictate that there will be scope creep. I won’t say that your reasons are not correct because it is a very important thing, but please acknowledge that a no-fly zone alone will not address this. 

    And even though you don’t address this in your response, can we just drop the notion of Iranian arms transport? You seem to suggest that somehow Iraq would assist in some type of air embargo that is far too likely to lead to an escalation in the region. And that is assuming that they would even agree to such folly. I think that it is unlikely as they could easily see the danger of a conflict at a time that they are weak and trying to rebuild. 

    I wish there was a track record of successful interventions in the middle east that one could look towards for support, but there just isn’t one. That alone should give anyone pause. But airplanes alone are not going to solve the problem nor deal with the aftermath.

    If you get your way, then I do hope I’m wrong. 

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Corsair- Man, we are at a dead end. READ THE LINKED PAST POST, and the one linked to that even, it’s all there. There is no mission creep from my discussion, I lay out some different capabilities that could be brought to bear to minimize air to ground interaction in setting up a NFZ. Furthermore, in any NFZ scenario at a minimum you do fire back when fired upon or painted in some cases otherwise it is a suicide mission, and no this is not necessarily “my way” search for an argument somewhere else. The boots on the ground aspect is addressed as well. Hap Arnold and nuking a country vs a non-a2g oriented NFZ? Come on man. Last time I am responding to this as the argument is forcing a false dialogue based on the materials I have provided. You want to hear- “we should not go into Syria at all under any circumstances,” I address the fact that we might regardless of that valid opinion.

  8. Mr S says:

    Criticizing the fiasco in Bengazi itself a result of intervention as you call for further intervention is odd. The only strategic WMD is nuclear that what goes into ICBMs that can reach CONUS note Israel even Israeli is more focused on Iran despite being closer to the action. Factor in this rebels are affiliated and in some cases led by know terrorist outfits who more likely than a state to use chem weapons and the govt has my support waiting this one out

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