There is little logic in the Netanyahu government’s public assurances that the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad would not risk a major showdown with Israel for fear of an IDF response powerful enough to overthrow his regime. This argument fails to take into account the calculus in Washington: President Barack Obama would not countenance, at least in the initial stage, an Israeli military strike on a scale greater than the limited operation he is contemplating for his own armed forces in the wake of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons attack on Damascus last Wednesday, Aug. 21. Israel would therefore not be allowed to endanger Assad’s rule.
Assad’s Russian advisers are no doubt briefing him on this Israel-Syrian equation.
According to debkafile’s military sources, Israeli strategists prefer to believe that Syria will choose Jordan for a conventional missile strike in reprisal for a US attack – rather than go for Israel.
This assumption was refuted by the words of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem Tuesday, Aug. 27, at a press conference he held in response to US allegations of his government’s responsibility for using chemical weapons in East Damascus.
Accusing the US Secretary of State John Kerry of telling lies and fabricating evidence against his government, Moallem insisted it had not used chemical weapons or delayed permission for the UN team to launch its investigation under guaranteed security in government-controlled sites. That team only arrived Saturday, Aug. 23, and was not ready for its mission before Monday, Moallem insisted.
He went on to question US objectives in seeking to attack Syria, and answered his own question by saying: “Anything that happens in this area is in Israel’s interest. Such aggression will first of all benefit Israel, secondly, the military efforts of Al Nusra, al Qaeda’s armed group in Syria. “So the Americans would be serving Israel first and Al Qaeda second.”
As for Jordan, Moallem stressed Syria’s friendly and neighborly ties with the Hashemite kingdom. “We have no thought of acting against Jordan,” he said, and advised Amman not to let itself be persuaded to give up its friendship with Damascus.
debkafile’s military sources add: Washington may avoid the need to punish Syria for a potential attack on Jordan by harnessing the Saudi Air Force. In response to a joint US-Amman invitation, Saudi warplanes could cross through Hashemite airspace and blast targets in Syria. They would use intelligence input and coordination support from US air commands.
The Saudi air base at Tabuk near the Jordanian border was reported Tuesday to have placed its F-15 squadrons on the ready. A French squadron of Rafale bombers is also based at Tabuk.
The situation could take a different turn if Syria targeted the US forces deployed in Jordan.
For all these reasons, Israel is more likely than Jordan to be first in line for Syrian payback for a US attack. IDF commanders are well aware of this danger and are gearing up for the challenge. Part of their planning may be to stage the first Israel-Syrian military confrontation in Jordan and over its skies and not just in Israel.
That Israel is under explicit threat was made amply clear in statements coming Tuesday from Syria, Hizballah, Iran and implicitly, Russia. When Moallem said Tuesday that Syria would defend itself in the case of a US strike “using all available means,” he felt safe in including Syrian allies in this category.
Those allies are evidently resolved not to stand by idly if Syria is attacked.
The nature of their promised assistance to Bashar Assad was no doubt conveyed to Barack Obama’s intermediaries, UN Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Feltman and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, Monday, when they met Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani Monday, to promote the US president’s bid for an understanding on Syria – as reported exclusively by debkafile.
So the US president must by now know how many players will jump in and where, in consequence of an American attack on Syria. This means that Washington may find it impossible to keep the operation within the predetermined confines desired by the US president.
Jerusalem as well as Washington realizes how widely the fallout may spread, but Israeli leaders are keeping this prospect under their hats to avoid public panic.