Syria: Update. Opposition sources say government forces attacked the hills around Ma’aloula village early on Monday under the cover of heavy shelling. The Christian village is reported to be almost empty after most of its residents fled following the arrival of the foreign-backed militants last week. According to a resident, who left the area in the past days, only around 50 people remain there.
Militants from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and the Qalamun Liberation Front are reported to be in control of some parts of the historic village, which is located about 70 kilometers northeast of Damascus.
Comment: Since 1999 this village has been on UNESCO’s Tentative List of World Heritage sites.
Politics. The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday.
Syrian Foreign Minister Mu’allim said, “We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative.” He said Syria had agreed because this would “remove the grounds for American aggression.”
Before leaving Moscow, the Foreign Minister made several astounding announcements reported by Russian media. He said,
— Syria is willing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention;
— Syria is ready to disclose the location of its chemical weapons;
— Syria is willing to halt production of chemical weapons, and,
— Syria is willing to show its facilities to representatives of Russia, the United Nations and other states.
Comment: These are astonishing concessions because they signify that the Asad government is willing to agree to never wage war with Israel. Syrian forces never stood a chance of fighting Israel — either attacking or defending — without the threat of chemical weapons delivered by North Korean-made/designed missiles or without some other force multiplier, such as nuclear weapons.
In 2007 Israel destroyed Syria’s vestigial plutonium weapons program, when it destroyed the reactor under construction with North Korean assistance. Since then, Syria’s only deterrent and equalizer against Israel has been its chemical weapons and delivery systems.
No media analysts have appreciated the significance and implications of Mu’allim’s announcements. They represent a partial disarmament agreement and a de facto non-aggression or peace agreement, deals Israel could never achieve on its own. This is a once in a century opportunity.
The exchange of value requires the US to agree to not attack Syria. There are some profound ramifications.
American strategists must recognize that this deal is only good so long as the Ba’athist government survives in Damascus. Thus, the US promise to not attack Asad would amount to a protection agreement because the Islamists and the moderate Islamists will not make a similar guarantee. Yesterday, even so-called moderate rebel groups announced that they recognized Israel as their enemy and would attack it if they came to power.
The US protective umbrella would also apply to Israel for the same reason it applies to the US. If the Islamists win, Israel would be under a chemical warfare threat. That threat goes away only if the Ba’athist government remains in power.
Russia Today carried an unconfirmed report that the Syrian rebels intend to launch a chemical attack against Israel from within Syrian government-held territory to trigger even wider foreign intervention.
News coverage. Thus far, American international affairs analysts have been particularly dull in not seeing the strategic implications of the Syrian offers, apparently because they are focused on the Russian role. The most they could muster by way of so-called analysis was that this is the first time Syria has admitted having chemical weapons and you can’t trust the Russians.
The Syrian proposals are not the actions of a state actor that is trying to hide its guilt. They are prima facie indicators of innocence to back up Syria’s consistent assertion that it launched no chemical attack on the 21st of August. Syria is so desperate to prove its innocence that it is willing to make itself vulnerable to an extraordinary degree.
Authenticity in war preparations and negotiations is measured by the payment of real costs — financial, military vulnerability aka confidence measures, political and social. What Syria has offered involves significant costs that can be verified.
At a minimum the Syrian offer should be accepted instantly and put to the test.
Special NightWatch Comment: Many international analysts have indulged in the worst forms of mirror-imaging and other analytical fallacies
Underestimation. Concerning the Syrian offers to control its chemical weapons, so-called analysts have ascribed to Syria difficulties that the US or Europe expect to encounter in accounting for chemical weapons. The rationale is that if we can’t do it, no one else can. That is one of the oldest fallacies of intelligence analysis. It is the fallacy of underestimating the enemy.
During the past 30 months of fighting, no rebel group has captured a Syrian chemical weapons storage facility. Syria claims to be in control of its weapons and that claim appears to be supported by the facts.
Misdirection. Goebbels practiced the principle that if a lie is told often enough everyone will believe it eventually. Since 21 August, US and European news have moved beyond “allegations” of a Syrian government attack to confident assertions that the Syrian government made the attack, despite no new evidence. See Alexander George, Propaganda Analysis.
The US still has not proven who executed the attack or what chemical was used, but politicians and people who should know better quietly and subtlety have dropped the qualifiers. The tactic of repetition is being used to persuade the public about a case that is still highly questionable. This is misdirection and it is always deliberate.
Deception. If a person searches the web diligently, a person can compile an order of battle of named chemical warfare brigades of the so-called Syrian rebels. A person could also find an analysis that the rebels launched limited chemical attacks against only two sites and all the rest are video manipulations. In a digital world, the tail can wag the dog.
Russia-UN-Syria: The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a document, “On the briefing at the UN ‘Human rights and armed conflicts: Threat of the USA to use force against Syria and the international law.'” It was posted on the Foreign Ministry website on 10 September.
The briefing “Human rights and armed conflicts: Threat of the USA to use force against Syria and the international law” took place during the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council at the UN office in Geneva on 9 September. International experts, Syrian public and religious figures, as well as Anastasiya Popova, correspondent of the Russian TV channel Rossiya 24, who has for a long time worked in Syria, spoke at the briefing.
All the speakers confirmed that the military scenario in relation to Syria bypassing the UN Security Council would become a gross violation of the international law. It was stressed that the international community did not support the USA’s idea to deliver strikes on Syria. In particular, the results of the G20 summit in St Petersburg prove this. It was underlined that foreign intervention would result in civilian casualties and a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and the region as a whole, and would play into the hands of extremists. It was marked that the American leadership should bear responsibility for illegal threats to use force against Syria. Calls on the UN to prevent the attack were voiced.
Convincing evidence was presented that the video and the photographs of the victims of the chemical attack in the suburb of Damascus on 21 August had been fabricated beforehand. The evidence of numerous witnesses, who unanimously said that it had been militants who used chemical weapons in the region of the eastern part of Guta, was shown to the audience. The results of the probe of the incident carried out by activists and witnesses’ evidence were submitted to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
Comment: Most UN members are willing to submit their evidence to independent review.
Russia Today reported there is proof the footage of the alleged chemical attack in Syria was fabricated, Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib, mother superior of the St. James Monastery in Qara, Syria, told RT. She added that she plans to submit her findings to the UN.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, Iran sent a letter this spring to the US government stating that it sent two prior letters to the US Government – on 18 July 2012 and on 1 December 2012 – warning that the Syrian so-called rebels had chemical weapons and Iran would hold them and the US responsible for their use.
Iran issued a fourth warning this weekend. “There is ample intelligence that takfiri [extremist] groups are in possession of chemical arms,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday during a visit to Iraq, according to state-run PressTV. “Extremists and takfiris are a threat to the whole region.”
Final NightWatch Comment.
The bluster about US credibility and so on is another example of American pundits engaging in mirror-imaging. The argument is that the US looks weak for one or other reason. But that is mainly in American eyes, looking at the American government.
That is not how foreigners see the US. They are capable of distinguishing the world-shaking military and economic power of the United States from the vagaries and vicissitudes of its government. The discussion of credibility is essentially marginal. Nobody outside of some people in the US makes the mistake of thinking the US is weak.
All other nations recognize that no country on earth can or has ever wielded the power of the United States, especially the military power. So while Russia, Iran, China or North Korea might test the temerity of a particular US government, foreign leaders know the US to be unpredictable in using its power. They remain wary of crossing the US because the potential consequences are beyond imagining.
Precedents might or might not matter, depending on the facts. That is the consistent core of the American way of crisis management.
North Korea, for example, might poach on the margins and probe, but Kim Jung Un will never gamble 60 years of nation building – the entire national patrimony – on his guess about a US president’s leadership proclivities. If he guesses wrong, he knows the US has the power and capability to pulverize,literally, 60 years of North Korea. That is how others look at the US in the NightWatch experience.
It is essential that new American intelligence analysts never sell short the power and cleverness of the United States. The rest of the world does not.
Phi Beta Iota: In fairness to many analysts, they are not dull, merely castrated. The US political system has no use for intelligence with integrity. Until the public understands and demands the value that public intelligence in the public interest yields, governments will continue to be corrupt and in constant betrayal of the public trust.