A multi-level analysis of the US cruise missile attack on Syria and its consequences
The latest US cruise missile attack on the Syrian airbase is an extremely important event in so many ways that it is important to examine it in some detail. I will try to do this today with the hope to be able to shed some light on a rather bizarre attack which will nevertheless have profound consequences. But first, let’s begin by looking at what actually happened.
I don’t think that anybody seriously believes that Assad or anybody else in the Syrian government really ordered a chemical weapons attack on anybody. To believe that it would require you to find the following sequence logical: first, Assad pretty much wins the war against Daesh which is in full retreat. Then, the US declares that overthrowing Assad is not a priority anymore (up to here this is all factual and true). Then, Assad decides to use weapons he does not have. He decides to bomb a location with no military value, but with lots of kids and cameras. Then, when the Russians demand a full investigation, the Americans strike as fast as they can before this idea gets any support. And now the Americans are probing a possible Russian role in this so-called attack. Frankly, if you believe any of that, you should immediately stop reading and go back to watching TV. For the rest of us, there are three options:
- a classical US-executed false flag
- a Syrian strike on a location which happened to be storing some kind of gas, possibly chlorine, but most definitely not sarin. This option requires you to believe in coincidences. I don’t. Unless,
- the US fed bad intelligence to the Syrians and got them to bomb a location where the US knew that toxic gas was stored.
What is evident is that the Syrians did not drop chemical weapons from their aircraft and that no chemical gas was ever stored at the al-Shayrat airbase. There is no footage showing any munitions or containers which would have delivered the toxic gas. As for US and other radar recordings, all they can show is that an aircraft was in the sky, its heading, altitude and speed. There is no way to distinguish a chemical munition or a chemical attack by means of radar.
Whatever option you chose, the Syrian government is obviously and self-evidently innocent of the accusation of having used chemical weapons. This is most likely a false flag attack.
American and Russian sources both agree on the following facts: 2 USN ships launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Al Shayrat airfield in Syria. The US did not consult with the Russians on a political level, but through military channels the US gave Russia 2 hours advance warning. At this point the accounts begin to differ.
The Americans say that all missiles hit their targets. The Russians say that only 23 cruise missiles hit the airfield. The others are “unaccounted for”. Here I think that it is indisputable that the Americans are lying and the Russians are saying the truth: the main runway is intact (the Russian reporters provided footage proving this) and only one taxiway was hit. Furthermore, the Syrian Air Force resumed its operations within 24 hours. 36 cruise missiles have not reached their intended target. That is a fact.
It is also indisputable that there were no chemical munitions at this base as nobody, neither the Syrians nor the Russian reporters, had to wear any protective gear.
The missiles used in the attack, the Tomahawk, can use any combination of three guidance systems: GPS, inertial navigation and terrain mapping. There is no evidence and even no reports that the Russians shot even a single air-defense missile. In fact, the Russians had signed a memorandum with the USA which specifically comitting Russia NOT to interfere with any US overflights, manned or not, over Syria (and vice versa). While the Tomahawk cruise missile was developed in the 1980s, there is no reason to believe that the missiles used had exceeded their shelf live and there is even evidence that they were built in 2014. The Tomahawk is known to be accurate and reliable. There is absolutely no basis to suspect that over half of the missiles fired simply spontaneously malfunctioned. I therefore see only two possible explanations for what happened to the 36 missing cruise missiles:
Explanation A: Trump never intended to really hit the Syrians hard and this entire attack was just “for show” and the USN deliberately destroyed these missiles over the Mediterranean. That would make it possible for Trump to appear tough while not inflicting the kind of damage which would truly wreck his plans to collaborate with Russia. I do not believe in this explanation and I will explain why in the political analysis below.
Explanation B: The Russians could not legally shoot down the US missiles. Furthermore, it is incorrect to assume that these cruise missiles flew a direct course from the Mediterranean to their target (thereby almost overflying the Russian radar positions). Tomahawk were specifically built to be able to fly tangential courses around some radar types and they also have a very low RCS (radar visibility), especially in the frontal sector. Some of these missiles were probably flying low enough not to be seen by Russian radars, unless the Russians had an AWACS in the air (I don’t know if they did). However, since the Russians were warned about the attack they had plenty of time to prepare their electronic warfare stations to “fry” and otherwise disable at least part of the cruise missiles. I do believe that this is the correct explanation. I do not know whether the Russian were technically unable to destroy and confuse the 23 missiles which reached the base or whether a political decision was taken to let less than half of the cruise missiles through in order to disguise the Russian role in the destruction of 36 missiles.
What I am sure of is that 36 advanced cruise missile do not “just disappear”. There are two reasons why the Russians would have decided to use their EW systems and not their missiles: first, it provides them “plausible deniability” (at least for the general public, there is no doubt that US signal intelligence units did detect the Russian electronic interference (unless it happened at very low power and very high frequency and far away inland), and because by using EW systems it allowed them to keep their air defense missiles for the protection of their own forces. Can the Russian really do this?
Take a look at this image, taken from a Russian website, which appears to have been made by the company Kret which produces some of the key Russian electronic warfare systems. Do you notice that on the left hand side, right under the AWACs aircraft you can clearly see a Tomahawk type missile turning around and eventually exploding at sea?
How this is done is open to conjecture. All that we are told is that the missile is given a “false target” but for our purposes this really does not matter. What matters is that the Russians have basically leaked the information that they are capable of turning cruise missiles around. There are other possibilities such as an directed energy beams which basically fries or, at least, confuses the terrain following and or inertial navigation systems. Some have suggested a “kill switch” which would shut down the entire missile. Maybe. Again, this really doesn’t matter for our purposes. What matters is that the Russian have the means to spoof, redirect or destroy US cruise missiles. It sure appears to be that for the first time these systems were used in anger.
[Sidebar: for those interested in seeing what such a system looks like here is a short video made by the Russians themselves showing how such a system is deployed and operated:
In terms of technical details, or we are told that this system can jam any airborne object at a distance of 200km]
I would note that those who say that the Russian air defense systems did not work don’t know what they are talking about. Not only did Russia sign an agreement with the US not to interfere with US flight operations, the Russian air defenses in Syria are NOT tasked with the protection of the Syrian Air Space. That is a task for the Syrian air defenses. The Russians air defenses in Syria are only here to protect Russian personnel and equipment. This is why the Russians never targeted Israeli warplanes. And this is hardly surprising as the Russian task force in Syria never had the mission to shut down the Syrian air space or, even less so, to start a war with the USA or Israel.
However, this might be changing. Now the Russians have withdrawn from their agreement with the USA and, even more importantly, have have declared that the Syrians urgently need more advanced air defense capabilities. Currently the Syrians operate very few advanced Russian air defense systems, most of their gear is old.
Legal aspects of the attack:
The US attack happened in direct violation of US law, of international law and of the UN charter. First, I would say that there is strong legal evidence that the US attack violated the US Constitution, Presidential War Powers Act and the 2001 Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) resolution. But since I don’t really care about this aspect of Trump’s criminal behavior, I will just refer you to two pretty good analyses of this issue (see here and here) and just simply summarize the argument of those who say that what Trump did was legal. It boils down to this: “yeah, it’s illegal, but all US Presidents have been doing it for so long that they have thereby created a legal precedent which, uh, makes it legal after all“. I don’t think this kind of “defense” is worthy of a reply or rebuttal. So now let’s turn to international law.
Most people think that crimes against humanity or genocide must be the ultimate crime under international law. They are wrong. The ultimate crime is aggression. This is the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trial on this topic:
To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
So, following the long and prestigious list of other US Presidents before him, Donald Trump is now a war criminal. In fact, he is a “supreme war criminal”. It only took him 77 days to achieve this status, probably some kind of a record.
As for the UN Charter, at least for articles (1, 2, 33, 39) ban the kind of aggression the USA took against Syria.
I think that there is no need to dwell on the total illegality of this attack. I would just underscore the supreme irony of a country basically built by and run by lawyers (just see how many of them there are in Congress) whose general population seems to be totally indifferent to the fact that their elected representatives act in a completely illegal manner. All that most American people care about is whether the illegal action brings victory or not. But if it does, absolutely nobody cares. You disagree? Tell me, how many peace demonstrations were there in the USA about the totally illegal US aggression on Yugoslavia? Exactly. QED.
Political consequences (internal)
My son perfectly summed up what Trump’s actions have resulted in: “those who hated him still hate him while those who supported him now also hate him“. Wow! How did Trump and his advisors fail to predict that? Instead of fulfilling his numerous campaign promises (and his own Twitter statements) Trump decided to suddenly make a 180 and totally betray everything he stood for. I can’t think of a dumber action, I really can’t. I have to say that Trump now appears to make Dubya look smart. But there is much, much worse.
The worst aspect of this clusterf**k is how utterly immoral this makes Trump appear. Think of it – first Trump abjectly betrayed Flynn. Then he betrayed Bannon…
… You think Kim Jong-un with nukes is bad? What about Obama or Trump with nukes? Ain’t they much, much scarier?
So what can the world do?
First, the easy answer: the Europeans. They can do nothing. They are irrelevant. They don’t even exist. At least not in the political sense.
Some countries, however, are showing an absolutely amazing level of courage. Look at what the Bolivian representative at the UNSC dared to do:
And what a shame for Europe: a small and poor country like Bolivia showed more dignity that the entire European continent. No wonder the Russians have no respect for the EU whatsoever.
What Bolivia did is both beautiful and noble. But the two countries which really need to step up to the plate are Russia and China…