To give you an overview of the latest news we’ve organized the latest Syrian developments in a bullet-point summary below.
• U.S. Senate Committee Approves a Syria Strike, in a divided vote (10 in favor, 7 against), the first in a series of steps toward Congressional endorsement of an attack on the Assad regime. The next steps: the House of Representatives must do the same before both chambers debate the measure next week. The Obama administration says it’s quite confident it will get the congressional approval it seeks, but it’s still possible politics could slow or stop the momentum. The New York Times charts how Obama faces a barrier in his own party, while public opinion in the U.S. (which is against a Syria strike) will weigh on lawmakers when they convene next week.
• US-Russia Showdown Looms at the G20. At a palace near St. Petersburg today, Russian President Vladimir Putin will host U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders in a meeting meant to tackle the global economy. But the possibility of a war on Syria – which, by the way, has been affecting the global economy – is heavy on collective minds. A staunch ally of the Assad regime, Putin is fiercely against a strike on Syria. He said striking without a U.N. Security Council resolution (which Russia has the power to block) would be an act of aggression. As in the Security Council, China is backing up Russia’s position going into the G20 meet.
There is always the narrow chance of an eleventh hour negotiation that could blunt the need for a Syria strike – a serious Russian (or Syrian) move back to the negotiating table. The U.N.’s Syria Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will be in the house to try to make that happen. But for now, analysts at Chatham House see no Russian retreat at the G20, while the Assad regime shows no sign of softening. (Verbatim: “The Syrian government will not change position even there is World War III.”)
• There’s Disputed News of a High-Level Defection in Syria, with claims and counterclaims over the departure of former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib, a high-profile figure from Assad’s own Alawite sect. The opposition Syrian National Coalition says he has defected and fled to Turkey; Syrian state television says Habib is at home in Damascus. Habib’s defection would be a blow to the Assad regime; Habib is seen as a rare figure who could help lead the country through a post-Assad transition.
• A Strike on Syria Would Significantly Reduce Assad’s Military Power, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a hearing of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. It would not be a “pin prick,” he said.
U.S. officials and defense experts told Reuters an operation can sting, even without the element of surprise. The analysis puts an emphasis on Assad’s fixed targets, like airfields and command and control centers. It also quotes the de facto dean of Washington military analysts, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (who wrote an early Syria strike analysis here). The Washington Post looked at what a Syria strike would probably target, centering on Defense Ministry facilities in and around Jamraya, north of Damascus. “Target No. 1 could be the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) … Syria’s equivalent of Los Alamos National Laboratory in the United States.”
It’s also worth noting a BBC analysis from earlier this week that wondered how the U.S. might target chemical weapons in Syria without making a deadly mess out of them. It raised the possibility that “so-called “Agent Defeat Weapons” are probably available to U.S. commanders. They operate in various ways, but the essential feature is intense heat, like a super-incendiary bomb, which destroys the chemical or biological agent in situ. “The temperatures needed are dramatically high, within the range of 1,200C to over 1,500C.”
Suggested Reads from Our Editorial Team:
New York Times/Nicholas Kristof: The Right Questions on Syria
BBC News Video: The Syrians Prepared to Die for President Assad
Today’s Zaman: Turkey Sends Military Reinforcements to Syrian Border
The National: US Action in Syria Must Level the Playing Field
Washington Post: As Syria Deteriorates, Neighbors Fear Bioweapons Threat