C.J. Chivers reports: Details buried in the United Nations report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack point directly at elite military formations loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, some of the strongest findings to date that suggest the government gassed its own people.
The inspectors, instructed to investigate the attack but not to assign blame, nonetheless listed the precise compass directions of flight for two rocket strikes that appeared to lead back toward the government’s elite redoubt in Damascus, Mount Qasioun, which overlooks and protects neighborhoods and Mr. Assad’s presidential palace and where his Republican Guard and the army’s powerful Fourth Division are entrenched.
“It is the center of gravity of the regime,” said Elias Hanna, a retired general in the Lebanese Army and a lecturer on strategy and geopolitics at the American University of Beirut. “It is the core of the regime.”
In presenting the data concerning two rocket strikes — the significance of which was not commented upon by the United Nations itself — the report provides a stronger indication than the public statements of intelligence services of the United States, France or Britain that the Syrian military not only carried out the attack, but apparently did so brazenly, firing from the same neighborhoods or ridges from which it has been firing high-explosive conventional munitions for much of the war.
Looming over a tense capital and outlying neighborhoods bristling with anger and fear, Mount Qasioun is Damascus’s most prominent military position. It is also a complex inseparably linked to the Assad family’s rule, a network of compounds and positions occupied by elite units led by members of the president’s inner circle and clan.
The units based on the mountain are “as close to the Assad regime as it’s going to get,” said Emile Hokayem, an analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Mr. Hokayem added that theories that the chemicals had been launched by a rebel mole seeking to discredit the government were unlikely because of the solidity and tight control of those units. [Continue reading…]