CNN reports that the Syrian government has relocated the majority of its combat planes to protect them from potential U.S. strikes. CNN bases its report on comments by two U.S. defense officials.
The aircraft in question reportedly were moved to an airfield close to a base where the majority of Russian air forces helping the Assad regime are located. The theory is that President Trump is unlikely to launch an attack that might strike Russian assets. In addition, the Russians are believed to have installed advanced anti-aircraft missile systems at the base.
Assad clearly does not intend to stop air attacks against Syrian rebels and civilians. In fact, in a show of defiance, he launched attacks from the base the U.S. hit soon after the U.S. hit it.
But the purpose of our retaliatory strike wasn’t to deter Syrian air missions. Rather, it was to deter future chemical attacks. Thus, the criticism that Assad continues to launch air strikes, from the base we hit or from elsewhere, misses the point.
The real question when it comes to assessing the efficacy of Trump’s missile attack is whether Assad will launch chemical attacks in the future. No one, with the possible exception of Assad and his Russian partners, knows the answer.
However, it seems likely that, with Assad now basing most of his air assets near a Russian base, the Russians will discourage Assad from undertaking future chemical attacks. After all, Russia doesn’t want a military confrontation with the Trump administration, and it cannot be confident that Trump won’t respond to another chemical attack by going after Assad’s planes wherever they are housed.
Thus, the new proximity of Assad’s planes and Russia’s may be a sign that Trump is likely to achieve the limited purpose of his very limited missile attack.