2013-07-13 By General Jean-Patrick Gaviard, former French Air Defence and Air Operations Commander.
The use of chemical weapons by the forces of Bashar al-Assad has been recently confirmed by the U.S., British and French authorities.
The “red line” that the leaders of these three countries had clearly set has been crossed by Damascus, without providing any real and concrete assistance to Syrian rebels. The delivery of anti aircraft guns and anti tank weapons, urgently requested by the latter, was suspended by the West for fear of these weapons might come back one day, to be used against their own forces.
Today, Western leaders are in a political deadlock, and seem to lack of effective means to strike without a serious threat of lethal operations.
But there are solutions, which can be considered.
Targeted cyber attacks on the Syrian air defense network would, for example, strongly affect the functioning of Syrian air defense batteries.
By “anesthetizing” the anti aircraft threat, it would be possible more easily to set up a no-fly zones to protect refugees along the Syrian border and who are regularly bombed by the Syrian regime.
Other solutions could be to launch cyber-attacks on government networks or infrastructure such as rail, port and airport These Syrian networks play an essential role in fueling armed forces of Bashar al-Assad.
However, the Western powers appear reluctant to engage in these type of “non-kinetic” actions although other countries have not hesitated to do so.
The Russians, for example, have probably started in 2007 cyber attacks to disrupt the Estonian banking networks and a year later the operation of Georgian government centers, before the entry of their troops in South Ossetia.
The Israelis have also been able to introduce in 2010, successfully, the virus “Stuxnet” in the systems of plants and Natanz Boucheher and thus slow down the Iranian uranium enrichment process.
In the field of cyber war, the American military has developed both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities at a high level. The British have followed in this proactive approach as well.
France has publically confined its activities to the development of defensive mechanisms and formally refusing to talk about offensive or coercive means however the military has developed such capabilities out of the public eye. To reveal the secret, the defense minister, Jean-Yves Ledrian, stated on June 3, that France was going to develop offensive capabilities in the field of cyber defense.
The Minister stated : “the offensive capacity enriches the range of options that are available to the state.”
Might there be a relationship between this announcement and possible actions of cyber warfare conducted one day soon, to support our efforts in Syria?
As the West and France develop such capabilities, why not use them in a place like Syria to protect the victims of, regime attacks?
We know that thousands of Chinese engineers have become experts in cyber war and that the Americans take this threat very seriously.
There clearly is a concern that openly using cyber means might open a Pandora’s box.
At this point, no western nation wants, at least officially to cross the threshold, certainty not in Syria to date.
Translated from the French by Second Line of Defense.
Editor’s Note: The recent French Defense White paper clearly identified the growth of cyber capabilities, both offensive and defensive, as important efforts for French defense.