TEL AVIV — Russian military forces “enable” the Bashar Assad regime in Syria to maintain air superiority, providing Assad with the “total military freedom of action” necessary to carry out offensives against urban areas, according to an intelligence document declassified by the French government.
The document reportedly formed some of the basis for the U.S.-led allied strikes on reported Syrian chemical weapons facilities on Friday night.
The French assess that Assad “has conserved a clandestine chemical weapons program since 2013.” The document accuses Assad of using chemical weapons attacks as a tactic to terrorize rebels and to “flush out enemy fighters sheltering in homes.”
The French intelligence services conclude “beyond possible doubt” that a chemical attack was carried out against civilians in Douma April 7, 2018. The French assess that there is “no plausible scenario other than that of an attack by Syrian armed forces as part of a wider offensive in the Eastern Ghouta enclave.”
The French document stops short of blaming Russia for the chemical weapons attacks, but it accuses Moscow of “enabling” Assad’s assaults on urban zones.
The document states:
As a reminder, the Russian military forces active in Syria enable the regime to enjoy unquestionable air superiority, giving it the total military freedom of action it needs for its indiscriminate offensives on urban areas.
It also says Russia aided Assad’s forces in their assault against Douma one day before the chemical weapons attack. The French say that Russia was involved in surrender negotiations with anti-Assad rebels.
Negotiations with Jaysh al-Islam began in March but were not fully conclusive. On 4 April, part of the Jaysh al-Islam group (around one quarter of the group according to estimates) accepted the surrender agreement and fighters and their families were sent to Idlib (approximately 4,000 people, with families).
However, between 4,500 and 5,500 Jaysh al-Islam fighters, mostly located in Douma, refused the terms of negotiation. As a result, from 6 April onwards, the Syrian regime, with support from Russian forces, resumed its intensive bombing of the area, ending a pause in ground and aerial operations that had been observed since negotiations began in mid-March. This was the context for the chemical strikes analyzed in this document.
Regarding Assad’s alleged clandestine chemical weapons program, the French assess “that Syria did not declare all of its stockpiles and capacities to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) during its late, half-hearted accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in October 2013.”
The French document urges immediate attention be paid to the following four questions posed by the APCW to Assad’s regime but which remain unanswered:
- “possible remaining stocks of yperite (mustard gas) and DF (a sarin precursor);
- undeclared chemical weapons of small caliber which may have been used on several occasions, including during the attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April2017;
- signs of the presence of VX and sarin on production and loading sites;
- signs of the presence of chemical agents that have never been declared, including nitrogen mustard, lewisite, soman and VX.”
A U.S. official told AFP that the airstrikes targeted chemical weapons production facilities.
Trump announced the allied airstrikes during a televised address to the nation on Friday night. “A short time ago, I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapons capabilities of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said.
“A combined operation with the armed forces of France and the United Kingdom is now under way. We thank them both. This massacre was a significant escalation in a pattern of chemical weapons use by that very terrible regime.”
Trump further warned that Russia “must decide if it will continue down this dark path or if it will join with civilized nations as a force for stability and peace.”
Trump on Saturday declared of the strikes: “Mission accomplished!”