The US-led attack on Syria's chemical weapons facilities did not achieve most of its objectives and will not deter President Bashar Assad, according to Israeli intelligence assessments.
"If President Trump had ordered the strike only to show that the US responded to Assad's use of chemical weapons, then that goal has been achieved," according to a senior defense establishment official. "But if there was another objective—such as paralyzing the ability to launch chemical weapons or deterring Assad from using it again—it's doubtful any of these objectives have been met."
Another intelligence official added that, "The statement of 'Mission Accomplished' and (the assertion) that Assad's ability to use chemical weapons has been fatally hit has no basis."
Officials in Israel's defense establishment, including in the Mossad, estimate Assad has been able to keep 5-10 percent of his chemical weapons stockpiles after the signing of an agreement to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons in September 2013, and he has been making attempts to hide what's left.
After US President Donald Trump began making threats last week of an imminent strike, the Syrians have made additional efforts to move away, scatter and hide planes, launching measures and munitions.
According to Israeli appraisals, since the signing of the 2013 agreement, Syria has used chemical weapons in about 100 instances, with 100 additional inconclusive cases. Assad has reportedly used sarin and mustard gas in these attacks, but not VX, the most lethal of the chemical weapons in his possession, as he is believed to be saving it as a "doomsday weapon." The Syrian president also makes frequent use of chlorine, which the US failed to include in the original agreement.
Based on the information gathered so far, only some of the chemical weapons facilities known to Israel were destroyed in the US-led attack.
However, an Israeli official noted, "Even if all of them had been destroyed, they don't include all of the chemical weapons, some of which is difficult to tell where the Syrians had hidden them."
The fact there were no reports of chemicals leaking following the strikes only serves to bolster assessments that the major stockpiles haven't been hit.
In addition, the Syrian Air Force only suffered a minor hit, and so the Syrian ability to drop these chemical weapons on their targets has hardly been compromised.
The bottom line, the officials said, is that "only a partial damage was caused to the chemical weapons stockpiles and launch capabilities."
In addition, Israeli intelligence officials believe "Assad has not been deterred from using chemical weapons again" due to Trump's declaration that American forces would leave Syria soon and comments from other American officials that there were no future attacks planned.
"If you want to shoot—shoot, don't talk," quoted a diplomatic source. "In the American case, this is mostly talk. They themselves show actions are not going to follow," he criticized.
Israeli officials believe the United States has been intentionally underplaying its ability to operate against Syria, so it doesn't have to do so. On several occasions, Israeli officials have pointed to their American counterparts that the United States has the ability to do more for the Syrian people and were met with shrugs and bizarre assertions that this was not possible operationally.
Ronen Bergman, a writer at large for The New York Times Magazine and a senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs at Yedioth Ahronoth, is the author, most recently, of “Rise and Kill First : The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”