House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Monday, July 16, in a newspaper interview: “I am convinced that the administration needs to be much more aggressive in its contingency planning regarding (Syrian) chemical weapons from an operational standpoint. You have to go into this thinking, ‘What if [Assad falls] tomorrow? Are we ready?’
“I can’t talk about the operational details. But I don’t believe that we’re ready. If the regime were to fall this week, I think we’d be in serious trouble.”
The congressman’s comments echo the current tactical-intelligence consensus in Washington that the Syrian president would only use these weapons as a last resort for saving his presidency and regime from a rebel victory.
After analyzing the military situation in Syria this week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources dispute this consensus for several reasons:
1. The Syrian President and his military chiefs are not waiting for a last-resort moment. They have already settled on the limited use of chemical weapons against rebel concentrations and specific Middle East targets. The Free Syrian Army-FSA chief, Col. Riad al-Asaad, said on Wednesday, July 18, that he had received information that the Syrian Army was preparing to wield chemical weapons in places under rebel control.
He reported that the FSA had begun issuing chemical masks to its fighters and the Syrian soldiers who deserted the army and joined their ranks.
Syria’s CW brings top US official to Jerusalem
Thursday, July 12, the Syrian army used its large missile exercise to test-fire Scud D missiles designed to carry the sarin nerve gas and cyanide.
Friday, July 13, US military sources revealed that Syria had moved its chemical weapons out of storage and transferred them to missile and artillery units.
That day too, US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, “We have repeatedly made it clear that the Syrian government has a responsibility to safeguard its stockpiles of chemical weapons. The international community will hold accountable any Syrian officials who fail to meet that obligation.”
She pointedly directed her warning at the Syrian field officers in command of the chemical weapons.
2. Following this development, which the administration called “incredibly dangerous for our national security,” President Barack Obama there and then sent his National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to Israel.
Donilon arrived Saturday morning, July 14 and went straight into closed-door conference with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, and IDF Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
Donilon warned this elite security group that Assad might well decide to launch his chemical weapons for war – first against the insurrection against his regime and later against his foreign foes.
Jordan was in line as his first objective.
US weighs an Israeli air strike to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons
One option discussed was a preemptive Israeli Air Force raid to demolish Syria’s chemical weapons stores. US sources do not divulge what was decided. However, the Pentagon is known to object to any such operation on the same grounds as the Obama administration’s resistance to an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations: that it would unite the people behind the regime.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East sources refute this argument and stress that this consideration is not borne out by the reality of popular sentiments – either in Syria nor Iran.
The US official spent Saturday and the following day up until his departure for Washington getting the US and Israel in step for action in the event of Jordan coming under unconventional weapon attack from Syria.
Jordan obviously lacks the military resources for contending with a chemical attack or for hitting back. Any reprisal would be up to Israel.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources report the American national security adviser wanted to be clear about the circumstances that would prompt an Israeli response and its scope.
Iran and Hizballah prefer terror to chemical warfare against Israel
3. His talks with Israeli leaders were based on the information from intelligence sources reaching Washington, Jerusalem, London and Paris attesting to a decision in Damascus, Tehran and Hizballah to unleash a stepped up terrorist campaign against Israel worldwide.
Their attempt to blow up an El Al plane and a busload of Israeli tourists in Limassol Tuesday, July 10 fell flat with the Hizballah operative assigned the mission nabbed by the Cypriot police.
But a week later, on July 18 in Bulgaria, a suicide killer blew up another bus as it drove Israeli tourists out of Burgas airport. Seven people were killed and more than 30 injured.
These attacks are seen as the opening shots of the broad-based terror campaign just ahead, starting with Israel but also moving onto American, Turkish, Saudi and Jordanian targets.
Iran and Hizballah strongly favor a plan for attacking Israel’s Tamar natural gas field, 80 kilometers west of Israel’s big Mediterranean port of Haifa, the center of national oil and petrochemical industries (see attached map).
Tamar is rapidly developing into a major suppler of gas for Israel’s electricity infrastructure before the end of 2012, to replace the Egyptian gas cut off by terrorist sabotage.
Blowing up Tamar would hit two Israeli birds with one stone: It would cause Israel serious strategic and economic damage by hitting a major fuel source, while also drawing one-third of its missile ship fleet from positions around Iran and keep those warships tied down to safeguarding Israel’s other gas fields in the Mediterranean.
Jordan is marked out as first chemical warfare victim
Syrian and Iranian policy-makers plumped for terrorist tactics against Israel rather than chemical warfare for fear of a harsh Israeli reprisal that could leave Syrian government and military centers in ruins, presenting the anti-Assad rebel movement with an unforeseen prize.
It was therefore decided to put the chemical option on a back burner and hold it in reserve for bringing out if the Assad regime’s fortunes underwent a sharp decline and a sword was already at his jugular.
(See the next item on the Syrian war situation)
Instead, Damascus and Tehran chose Jordan as their first victim for a chemical attack.
Aware of this, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said Tuesday, July 17: “Jordan has taken precautions to ward off a possible Syrian chemical attack. The matter is of grave concern to us, and we have taken all necessary measures to confront that. We will not allow anything to threaten the internal security of the kingdom.”
Since these comments were made in Amman at a joint press conference with visiting British Foreign Secretary William Hague, a potential Syrian chemical attack on the Hashemite Kingdom and its consequences was a hot topic of conversation between them.
Will Syria be the first country to fight a civil war with chemical weapons?
4. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and military sources reveal that the Syrian rebels are equipped to respond in kind if the Syrian army resorts to this unconventional weapon against them: The Free Syrian Army-FSA has got hold of heavy mortar shells loaded with poison chemicals smuggled from Libya.
Syria might therefore attain the questionable distinction of becoming the first country in history to fight a civil with chemical weapons.
Most military and intelligence experts agree that once they are used inside Syria, Damascus would have far fewer qualms about pursuing chemical warfare against his foreign enemies – starting with Jordan and moving on later to Israel.
This is why on Wednesday, July 18, the Israeli Home Front Command started a two-day drill in Haifa focusing on a potential chemical missile revenge attack on the Haifa High School of Technology’s scientists and the city. The scenario included the conversion of the city’s main stadium which holds 50,000 seats into an evacuation center for victims.