Possible risks include:
There is also concern that Shiite-led Iraq could send thousands more militants to help Mr. Assad if it believed he was truly threatened, and that such a step would in turn further rally and embolden Sunni jihadists on both sides of its border with Syria.
Many diplomats and analysts consider retaliation unlikely, but the consequences could be grim. Israel has vowed that if Hezbollah attacks it again, it will respond forcefully, drawing Lebanon into war. And if Syria lobbed missiles into Israel and it responded with airstrikes through Lebanese airspace that threatened Mr. Assad further, Hezbollah would consider that further justification to attack Israel.
Even without such a direct entanglement, Lebanon could be very vulnerable. It has recently suffered its worst sectarian violence in years: a car bomb in Shiite Hezbollah territory in the Beirut suburbs, and two at Sunni mosques in the northern city of Tripoli. Lebanese authorities accused Syria on Friday of involvement in the Tripoli attacks, and intelligence officials fear such bombings could increase.
The gas-rich state of Qatar has spent as much as $3bn over the past two years supporting the rebellion in Syria, far exceeding any other government, but is now being nudged aside by Saudi Arabia as the prime source of arms to rebels.
The cost of Qatars intervention, its latest push to back an Arab revolt, amounts to a fraction of its international investment portfolio. But its financial support for the revolution that has turned into a vicious civil war dramatically overshadows western backing for the opposition.
In dozens of interviews with the Financial Times conducted in recent weeks, rebel leaders both abroad and within Syria as well as regional and western officials detailed Qatars role in the Syrian conflict, a source of mounting controversy.
The small state with a gargantuan appetite is the biggest donor to the political opposition, providing generous refugee packages to defectors (one estimate puts it at $50,000 a year for a defector and his family) and has provided vast amounts of humanitarian support.
In 2009 - the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria - Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter's North field, contiguous with Iran's South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets - albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad's rationale was "to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas."
On the face of it, Qatar has been one of the United States's most valuable allies in the Middle East over the last decade. Qatar hosts a large U.S. Air Force base in the Persian Gulf and has often provided political and financial support for U.S. initiatives in the Middle East. Indeed, Washington has often encouraged Qatari activism to legitimize U.S. diplomacy, including its political support at the Arab League of a potential U.S. strike against Syria.
But Qatar's role in the United States's Middle East policy is far more problematic than is commonly recognized. The tiny yet ambitious Gulf emirate has sought to use its immense hydrocarbon wealth to finance and arm civil wars in Libya and Syria, to support Hamas in Gaza, and to mediate disputes in Sudan and Lebanon. Its interest sometimes align with the United States's -- but too often, they do not. The launch of Al-Jazeera America, the news network its government owns, should redirect attention to Doha's goals and means.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- NATO's chief said for the first time Friday that the alliance has no plans for military action in Syria because of the alleged use of chemical weapons against its civilians.
Asked about the alleged deadly attack in a suburb of Damascus on Aug. 21, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pointed the finger at Syrian forces. "It demands cynicism beyond what is reasonable to believe that the opposition is behind a chemical attack in an area it already largely controls," he said.On Wednesday, Fogh Rasmussen said, "Any use of such weapons is unacceptable and cannot go unanswered. Those responsible must be held accountable."
But on Friday he told reporters in Denmark that NATO has no plans to intervene in Syria, which would require the approval of all 28 of its members.
Supporters of a proposed no-fly zone in Syria have pointed to the one that was established by NATO over Libya in 2011. It overwhelmed Moammar Gadhafi's air defenses and attacked tanks and military vehicles that threatened civilians.
As the United States and France prepare for a seemingly inevitable military strike on Syria, intelligence experts around the globe are sounding the alarm that the justification for intervention is far from established.
The Obama administration joined by French President Francois Hollande have vowed to punish the Syrian government for what they claim is irrefutable evidence that it unleashed chemical weapons in a suburb of Damascus, killing hundreds. But a growing number of analysts who have scrutinized military intelligence in past conflicts warn that the case linking the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad to a chemical weapons attack is incomplete.
One of the world's leading experts on chemical weapons, Jean Pascal Zanders, on Friday told The Huffington Post UK that he has significant doubts about the identity of the chemical agent widely blamed for the deaths in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
"We don't know what the agent is," said Zanders, who until recently served as senior research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, an EU agency that scrutinizes defense and security issues. "Everyone is saying sarin. There is something clearly to do with a neurotoxicant [such as sarin], but not everything is pointing in that direction."
Now THAT sounds like a completely plausible situation to me.
Many of the leaks about U.S. strike plans for Syria, a copious flow of surprisingly specific information on ship dispositions and possible targets, have been authorized as a way for President Obama to signal the limited scope of operations to friends and foes.
But a number of leaks have been decidedly unauthorized -- and, according to Obama administration sources, likely emanating from a Pentagon bureaucracy less enthusiastic about the prospect of an attack than, say, the State Department, National Security Council or Obama himself.
"Deeply unhelpful," was how one West Winger described the drip-drip of doubt.
"They need to shut the f--k up," said a former administration official. "It's embarrassing. Who ever heard this much talk before an attack? It's bizarre."
The U.N. will be holding an extraordinary press briefing at 12:30 pm EDT on Saturday. They say it will be webcast (webtv.un.org). There's a sense of inevitability in the air at the UN that military action against Syria is somehow unstoppable at this point, especially after both Kerry and Obama spoke back-to-back this afternoon about how limited action would be justified.
Saturday's briefing will focus on UN chief Ban Ki-moon's planned meeting tomorrow morning with UN disarmament chief Angela Kane, who is en route to NY from Syria at this very moment. (She was dispatched to Syria after the Aug. 21 incident to plead for access for the UN team.) Journalists will be pressing for details about how long the analysis of the samples taken by UN inspectors in Syria at the site of last week's alleged chemical weapon attack will take.
The UN was the butt of more than one comment in Washington today. First there was what Kerry said about the UN chemical investigators having nothing to say that Washington doesn't already know (see my earlier post). Later Obama slammed the UN Security Council for its "incapacity ... to move forward in the face of a clear violation of international norms." Of course, Obama is really not criticizing the United Nations here but Russia, which has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions that would have condemned President Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions.
Western diplomats tell Reuters that Russia might try to call an emergency UN Security Council meeting over the Labor Day weekend in an attempt to halt the momentum towards a military attack on Syria by arguing that everyone should wait until the UN inspectors finish their analysis of blood, tissue and soil samples taken in Syria. (They're testing for traces of chemical toxins.)
Also Friday, another Obama predecessor, former President Jimmy Carter, said "a punitive military response without a U.N. Security Council mandate or broad support from NATO and the Arab League would be illegal under international law and unlikely to alter the course of the war."
Is that a downside risk we all are willing to tolerate? What will that demand of our military?
What is the upside? Saving Obama's face is not much of an upside IMO. To him maybe it's everything
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