Friday

20th Oct 2017

Strike on Syria is technically feasible, former French general says

  • A Russian-made SA-17, said to pose a potential threat to Nato pilots (Photo: wikipedia)

A Nato strike to disable the Syrian army is technically feasible according to experts, such as former French air chief Jean Rannou. But it could make the country's internal situation worse.

Nato member countries would begin by using satellite technology to spot Syrian air defences. A few days later, warplanes, in larger numbers than Libya, would take off from the UK base in Cyprus and spend some 48 hours destroying Syrian surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) and jets. Alliance aircraft would then start an open-ended bombardment of Syrian tanks and ground troops.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The scenario is based on analysts in the French military, from the specialist British publication Jane's Defence Weekly and from Israel's Channel 10 TV station.

The Syrian air force is said to pose little threat. It has around 60 Russian-made MiG-29s. But the rest - some 160 MiG-21s, 80 MiG-23s, 60 MiG-23BNs, 50 Su-22s and 20 Su-24MKs - is out of date.

Its latest SAMs could shoot down a handful of Nato pilots. In the past three years, Syria deployed hundreds of Russian-made SA-17s, which come up on radars for a very short time before firing. Israel in 2007 bombed a suspected nuclear site in Syria using a cyber attack to cut electricity to air defences. The SA-17s are believed to be cyber-insulated and Israel might not share its secret with Nato, however.

Syria in 2006 bought around 30 Russian-made Pantsyr-S1 anti-aircaft cannon. But these are said to be in Iran. It has stocked up on modern SA-18 missiles from Belarus and Russia. But these are short-range weapons that would only pose a danger to Nato helicopters in a later stage of the operation.

There are also assymetric threats - Nato countries have troops in Unifil, the UN mission in neighbouring Lebanon, which could become targets.

Syria is said to have two Scud missile brigades armed with conventional and chemical warheads (VX, Sarin and Mustard gas), as well as M600 chemical-ready missiles, which it could fire at Israel in retaliation.

Assad allies, Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, could also attack Israel. But experts say Hezbollah would not start an Israel-Lebanon war to save Syrian President Bashar Assad. And Hamas is seeking international support for the Palestinian bid to gain UN membership.

"I don't see any purely military problems. Syria has no defence against Western systems ... [But] it would be more risky than Libya. It would be a heavy military operation," Jean Rannou, the former chief of the French air force, told EUobserver.

He added that action is highly unlikely because Russia would veto a UN mandate, Nato assets are stretched in Afghanistan and Libya and Nato countries are in financial crisis.

Another reason is the political situation in Syria, however.

Rannou noted that unlike Libya, the Syrian opposition is not a credible ally: "Are people in Syria ready to govern the country if Assad falls? I think that's why no one is ready to go further - because the country, the region is too fragile."

Robert Baer, a former CIA officer in Syria, said there is small hope a Nato strike would bring peace: "Any force used on Syria would be a total shot in the dark, a hope the military under attack will turn on the regime. But when has this ever happened? It didn't with [late Iraqi leader] Saddam or [Libyan leader] Gaddafi."

Baer previously told this website the turmoil in Syria is more complicated than the image in mainstream media - of a downtrodden Sunni Muslim majority calling for reforms by the Shia Muslim ruling elite.

Alastair Crooke, a former MI6 officer and high-level EU advisor who runs an NGO in Beirut, backed up Baer's views.

"Syrians want change. But whether Westerners believe it or not, most people in Damascus, in Aleppo, the middle classes, the merchant classes and the [sectarian] minorities believe Assad is the only person who can bring in reforms," he said. "They fear two things above all else - civil war and Western intervention ... They would like to avoid the example of Libya because it would lead them into civil war."

Crooke said two important forces behind events are Sunni radicals and Syrian exile groups in France and the US.

He said the radicals follow the teaching of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a late Jordanian Islamist, who aimed to create a Sunni emirate in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria called Bilad a-Sham. They are experienced urban guerillas who fought in Iraq and have outside finance. They infilitrate protests to attack Assad forces, as in Jisr al-Shagour in June, where they inflicted heavy casualties.

Crooke said the exile groups aim to topple the anti-Israeli regime. They are funded and trained by the US and have links to Israel. They pay Sunni tribal chiefs to put people on the streets, work with NGOs to feed uncorroborated stories of atrocities to Western media and co-operate with radicals in the hope that escalating violence will justify Nato intervention.

"There is a huge difference with [the revolution in] Egypt," he added. "But the picture you see in the European and American press is that you are dealing with peaceful protests and that Assad has nothing better than to do than to kill his own people."

Former CIA officer questions EU motives in Syria

EU and US intervention in Syria is designed to harm Iran and to protect Israel and Lebanese Christians, not Syrian people, according to Robert Baer, a retired CIA officer with experience of the region.

EU countries wary of oil sanctions on Syria

EU sanctions on Syrian oil and gas are a distant prospect for now. But the bloc is looking to add more regime members and security-sector companies to its blacklist.

EU welcomes watered-down UN text on Syria

EU foreign ministers have welcomed a UN statement calling on "all sides" to stop Syrian violence. But US diplomats say EU oil sanctions are needed to exert pressure on the regime.

US and EU call for Syrian leader to go

EU countries will on Friday discuss top-up sanctions against Syria after the White House and leading European countries said President Bashar Assad must relinquish power.

Macron puts trade policy on summit table

France's president wants a "political discussion" on EU trade policies at Thursday's summit, amid domestic concerns over Canada and South America deals. But his colleagues are likely to avoid a lengthy debate.

EU gives thumbs up to US data pact

Commission gives 'thumbs-up' to controversial Privacy Shield deal with US on data sharing after a year's operation - but notes room for improvement.

News in Brief

  1. Italian regions hold referendums on more autonomy
  2. EU leaders refuse to mediate Catalonia conflict
  3. Dutch PM: Brexit is 'still a bad idea'
  4. Commission to issue proposal on civil protection
  5. Tusk: 'No space' for EU intervention in Catalonia
  6. Austrian PM calls Brexit talks speed 'big disappointment'
  7. PM Muscat: journalist murder 'left a mark' on Malta
  8. Belgian PM: No crisis with Spain over Catalan remarks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEJC Applauds the Bulgarian Government for Adopting the Working Definition of Antisemitism
  2. EU2017EENorth Korea Leaves Europe No Choice, Says Estonian Foreign Minister Sven Mikser
  3. Mission of China to the EUZhang Ming Appointed New Ambassador of the Mission of China to the EU
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Should Seek Concrete Commitments From Azerbaijan at Human Rights Dialogue
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Calls for New Austrian Government to Exclude Extremist Freedom Party
  6. CES - Silicones EuropeIn Healthcare, Silicones Are the Frontrunner. And That's a Good Thing!
  7. EU2017EEEuropean Space Week 2017 in Tallinn from November 3-9. Register Now!
  8. European Entrepreneurs CEA-PMEMobiliseSME Exchange Programme Open Doors for 400 Companies Across Europe
  9. CECEE-Privacy Regulation – Hands off M2M Communication!
  10. ILGA-EuropeHealth4LGBTI: Reducing Health Inequalities Experienced by LGBTI People
  11. EU2017EEEHealth: A Tool for More Equal Health
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Tourism a Key Driver for Job Creation and Enhanced Competitiveness

Latest News

  1. May on mission impossible in Brussels
  2. EU seeks to shut down sea route from Libya
  3. Digital debate will be first test of Tusk's new policy crowbar
  4. EU Parliament: EU migrant quotas do have a future
  5. EU countries praise Tusk's new summit plans
  6. Commission employs double standards in Spain
  7. Legal study sounds alarm on 'Baysanto' merger
  8. Health MEPs want to phase out glyphosate by 2020

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. CECENon-Harmonised Homologation of Mobile Machinery Costs € 90 Million per Year
  2. ILGA-EuropeMass Detention of Azeri LGBTI People - the LGBTI Community Urgently Needs Your Support
  3. European Free AllianceCatalans Have Won the Right to Have an Independent State
  4. ECR GroupBrexit: Delaying the Start of Negotiations Is Not a Solution
  5. EU2017EEPM Ratas in Poland: "We Enjoy the Fruits of European Cooperation Thanks to Solidarity"
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina and UK Discuss Deepening of Global Comprehensive Strategic Partnership
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceEHLA Joins Commissioners Navracsics, Andriukaitis and Hogan at EU Week of Sport
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Representative Office Opens in Brussels to Foster Better Cooperation
  9. UNICEFSocial Protection in the Contexts of Fragility & Forced Displacement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Support Start-Ups
  11. ILGA EuropeInternational Attention Must Focus on LGBTI People in Azerbaijan After Police Raids
  12. European Jewish CongressStrong Results of Far Right AfD Party a Great Concern for Germans and European Jews