Addressing senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on efforts to oust Bashar Assad, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday, April 17: “You better be damn sure, as sure as you can be, before you get into something. Because once you’re into it, there isn’t any backing out, whether it’s a no-fly zone, safe zone … whatever it is,” Reuters quoted him as saying..
“Once you’re in, you can’t unwind it. You can’t just say, Well, it’s not going as well as I thought it would go so we’re gonna get out”.
These words carried the opposite message to the Pentagon statement issued a short time earlier, which announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was ordering the deployment of up to 200 troops to Jordan. The troops, which will come from the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, "create an additional capability" beyond what has been there.
The group will give the United States the ability to "potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered."
The new deployment will include communications and intelligence specialists who will assist the Jordanians and "be ready for military action" if President Barack Obama were to order it, Defense officials said.
SOS pleas from Jordan’s King Abdullah to Obama
Clearly scratching his head over the mixed signals coming from the administration, Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wondered aloud if the Obama administration was sending a muddled message.
After huddling briefly with Mr. Hagel and General Dempsey, America’s top soldier, Sen. Levin told reporters that he had asked them if the United States was looking for a way to send a tough message to Mr. Assad.
“Their answer is yes,” he said. “That’s not what came out today in their testimony. We didn’t hear it.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources disclose that the White House decided to post the 200 troops to Jordan in response to urgent phone calls from King Abdullah to the White House starting in early April. The Jordanian king said: “The Syrian army is about to attack Jordan. You (the US) must immediately activate the US-Jordan-Israel-Turkey military cooperation pact to halt a Syrian attack, and execute the joint US-Arab-Israeli intervention in Syria which we decided on when you visited Jordan in the third week of March.”
The mood in the palace in Amman and Jordan’s high command was described by US intelligence agents on the spot as verging on panic. A senior Jordanian officer confided to an American contact that the Hashemite throne and military were in dire peril, unlikely to survive a Syrian assault that would certainly be backed by Iran, Hizballah and Iraq-based Shiite terrorist networks.
Panic in Amman
As weeks went by with no clear answers from the White House, King Abdullah called Jerusalem and spoke with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu several times. Netanyahu promised him Israel would come to Jordan’s aid if it came under Syrian attack.
Concerns for the kingdom were aggravated by a transcript reaching Washington, Jerusalem and Amman Wednesday, April 17, of an interview with President Bashar Assad for the Syrian channel al-Ikhbariya to air that night. It showed Assad grimly determined to attack Jordan as punishment for providing a base for Western and Gulf States' support for the Syrian rebels.
In especially harsh tones, Assad accused Syria's southern neighbor of allowing thousands of armed fighters to cross into Syria to join the war against him and warned that the Syrian conflict would spill over into Jordan.
A Syrian defense emissary had been dispatched to Amman in recent weeks, he said, to investigate the reports of fighting strength crossing the border and rebel training camps maintained in the kingdom. The envoy was greeted with "total denial" of both charges, said Assad, and went on to say, “It makes no sense for thousands of men to be able to cross into Syria with full military gear(from Jordan) without being stopped or arrested, whereas not a single person armed with a simple weapon is allowed to cross into Palestine to join the resistance.”
Syrian, Iraqi Shiite and Hizballah terrorists
His declaration – "The fire will not stop at our border and everybody knows that Jordan is as just as exposed as Syria” – seriously raised the fear that the Syrian ruler, rather than detaching army contingents to attack Jordan, would use small Syrian commando units trained for this mission and draw on allied terrorist groups, such as the radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Badr Brigades and the Lebanese Hizballah.
They would be smuggled out of Syria into Iraq and infiltrate Jordan from there bent on sowing terror, chaos and subversion in the royal capital.
There is little America, Israel or Turkey would be able to do against these tactics, except to try and seal the capital off from the incoming tide of terror and safeguard the Hashemite throne.
This development threatens to draw Israeli into very dangerous waters, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say. Up until now, Israel tried to stay out of involvement in the Syrian conflict while at the same time keeping a wary finger on the pulse of the turbulent events on its northern border.
Limited military and medical aid was extended to the rebel groups in southern Syria which keep their distance from Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and other radical Islamists. Israel hoped that a close watch on the Golan border would prevent the Syrian war sliding into Israel proper.
But if the war does spill over into Jordan, Israel’s western neighbor, control of events may slip out of Israeli hands because Jordan-based terrorist groups will be set loose to cross into Palestinian areas of the West Bank and be able to set up convenient bases for striking into Israel’s heartland.
Jordan’s peril may force Israel to intervene in Syria
With this danger in mind, Prime Minister Netanyahu Thursday morning, April 18, told a BBC interviewer:
“Israel has a right to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands in Syria. The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria – these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers," he said.
"They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.”
In other words, chemical weapons, Israel’s sole declared casus belli for intervention in the Syrian war until now, is no longer the only one. Syrian military intervention in Jordan would force Israel to take up arms against the aggressor.
Middle East capitals, Moscow and Tehran are waiting on tenterhooks for President Obama’s response to the new peril. Sending 200 US troops to Jordan is too weak a signal to convince Assad that substantial American strength is on the way and make him pause before attacking Jordan. So will the US president bite the bullet and act resolutely to preempt the Syrian ruler in time to save Jordan? Or will such a step be preceded by a joint US-Israeli-Turkish-Jordanian military operation in Syria?
The answers await events.