In an interview with Charlie Rose to be aired by US PBS Monday night, Sept. 9, Syrian President Bashar Assad denied he had anything to do with the chemical attack last month near Damascus. He also suggested that he was not necessarily expecting the United States to intervene…
This remark, say debkafile’s intelligence sources, was the most telling phrase in the interview. It was a hint that the situation had opened up and that something new was afoot.
Our sources report that the Obama administration apparently delayed military action against Syria to put before the Syrian ruler a secret new proposal for discussing an end to the crisis. The European powers are pushing hard for this option. So Bashar Assad may be holding the key to whether or not the US goes forward with an attack on Syria. On the other hand, the door on US military action has not yet closed.
The slowed-down momentum toward military action was also noticeable in the remarks heard from US Secretary of State John Kerry after he lobbied European leaders to back US action against Syria.
Before arriving in London Sunday, he commented: “There is no decision by our president [about turning back to the UN Security Council].” He will “take under advisement our friends’ proposal” to wait for the UN experts report on its findings from the Aug. 21 chemical attack.
The story carried Sunday by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper also appeared to be pushing the Obama administration back from precipitate action against Syria. The paper cited the BND intelligence service as saying that President Assad may not have personally authorized the chemical weapons attack. To support this theory, the paper noted that for the last four and a half months, Syrian commanders asked the presidential palace to allow them to use chemical weapons, but were always denied.
According to the opposite theory posited by the same German paper, the BND had plenty of evidence of Assad government responsibility for the chemical attack, including a phone call its eavesdroppers intercepted in which a Hizballah official told the Iranian Embassy in Damascus that Assad had ordered the attack.
This may be taken as a double signal from Berlin to President Barack Obama, which offered evidence going two ways: leaving Assad personally off the hook for the chemical attack, if Obama chooses to follow through on the secret talks for a deal; while, on the other hand, providing enough evidence to justify military intervention.
debkafile’s sources note that in the Charlie Rose interview, Assad does not explain why he may not be expecting the US to intervene in his country, nor does he make any mention of secret diplomatic initiatives on his desk. But his words indicate he may be open to suggestions – hence his insistent denial that “he had anything to do with the chemical weapons attack last month near Damascus.”
Interestingly, he didn’t deny that the attack happened – only that he was involved in any way. He then challenged Washington: “The administration should provide what it says is mounting evidence that Assad – and not the rebels fighting to oust him – used chemical weapons,” he reportedly told Rose.
With so many balls up in the air, debkafile’s Washington sources postulate three likely developments
1. The secret diplomatic negotiations going through European middlemen will progress;
2. They will break down for some reason;
Or, 3. President Obama will order the US military assault on Syria to go forward, notwithstanding the talks.
As far as Israel is concerned, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are still holding their cards very close to their vests. So the security- political inner cabinet which sat Sunday night to discuss the situation ended without reaching any decisions.
Ya’alon said later: “We are ready for all eventualties – either from a US attack on Syria or its abstention from an attack. Whichever is decided is bound to affect us. Our neighbors, especially the Syrian regime, understand that anyone challenging us will meet the full might of the IDF.”
The minister added that the guidelines to Israeli citizens were unchanged: to carry on normally and go ahead with their plans for the holidays.
What happened next was the deployment for the first time in Jerusalem of an anti-missile Iron Dome battery.