Assad toughs it out against US-Turkish ultimatum to halt military crackdown
As his tanks and artillery stormed the eastern Syrian town of Deir al-Zour, killing 100 civilians in one day, the US and Turkey Sunday night, Aug. 7 began to turn the screw on President Bashar Assad: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked Turkey's foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu to press Syria to "return its military to the barracks," during his visit to Syria Tuesday.
debkafile: Behind the demand was an ultimatum that if Assad continued on his present bloody path, NATO member Turkey would intervene militarily in the crisis.
However, the Syrian ruler with backing from Tehran spurned the ultimatum even before the Turkish minister reached Damascus. "He will be given an even tougher message to take home," said one of Assad's top advisers.
debkafile's Iranian sources report that in the last few days, Tehran has repeatedly warned Ankara that Iran will not stand aside for a military operation against Syria and would come to the aid of the Assad regime. It was indicated that Turkish attacks on Syrian military targets would bring forth Iranian attacks on the Turkish army and American bases in Turkey.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah recalled his ambassador to Damascus Monday, demanding an end to the bloodshed. "What is happening in Syria is not acceptable for Saudi Arabia," he said in a written statement read out on Al Arabiya satellite television.
Our military sources report that Assad was not deterred from pushing on Monday with his assault on the oil town of Deir al-Zour for the second day. For the first time in the five-month crackdown on protesters, the Syrian military are using self-propelled heavy artillery against rebel targets in a wide radius around the town to prevent the approach of rebel reinforcements.
Although he knew the US-Turkish ultimatum was coming, he embarked on his Deir el-Zour operation Sunday in order to present Washington and Ankara with a fait accompli.
Sunday, Aug. 7, disclosed that Ankara's threat of military intervention was back in play.
After capturing the northern town of Hama in a bloody military assault, Syrian President Bashar Assad Sunday, Aug. 7, sent a whole division of 200 tanks and dozens of armored vehicles to blast their way into another rebellious city, Syria's oil center of Deir el-Zour in the Euphrates Valley, a town of half a million inhabitants. At least 70 people were reported dead in one day.
debkafile's military sources report that while Hama is a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, Deir el-Zour is the urban center of some 2.1 million members of assorted nomadic Bedouin tribes. They too are Sunni Muslims though of different sects. The Baqqara tribal federation is the largest, numbering 1.2 million, followed by the Fadan Walad and the Fadan Kharsa of the Euphrates Valley and the al Shammar Karsah of Deir al Zour and its environs.
Unlike the protesters of Hama, these tribesmen lack anti-tank weapons for battling Syrian armor and so their town may not hold out against the Syrian onslaught beyond two or three days. The tribesmen have meanwhile run for cover to the dense papyrus groves of the river bank and the narrow wadis of the Iraqi al Anbar province just across the border. From these hiding places, our military sources expect them refugees to organize protracted guerrilla warfare against the Assad regime and Syrian army.
debkafile recalls that these are the very tribes which from 2003 to 2006 joined al Qaeda in bloody warfare on US forces in central Iraq, preventing Anbar and the central Iraqi towns of Falujja and Ramadi ever being completely subdued and constantly convulsed by suicide attacks.
It was only when President George W. Bush agreed to implement the Awakening Councils plan put forward by Gen. David Petraeus, the current CIA Director, which involved substantial monthly payments to the tribal chiefs for warfare against al Qaeda that, Al Anbar was pacified.
Aware of the menace posed by these tribes, Syrian security services last week – ahead of the Deir el-Zour offensive – captured the Baqqara tribal chief Sheikh Nawaf al-Bashir as hostage against the tribes joining the uprising against the regime. Syrian military intelligence will find him a tough nut to crack – even for a heavy bribe.
The upshot may well be that although the Syrian army finally subjugates Deir al-Zour and Abu Kemal on the Iraqi border its forces will be cornered by Sunni tribes which control the road networks around the two eastern towns and prey to their raids.
Assad's offensive against the two towns also places at risk Syria's small oil fields and pipeline system. Their daily product of $8-10 million is his primary source of revenue for sustaining his war on the uprising and they will certainly become a prime strategic target for the resistance.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan decided to send his foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu to Damascus Tuesday, Aug. 9, after declaring Saturday that Turkey's patience with its neighbor "was running thin and his country could not remain a bystander to the violence… but must do what is necessary."
Davutoglu will "deliver our message in a more determined way," said Erdogan. "…a new process will take shape according to their response and actions."
"We do not see Syria as a foreign problem, Syria is our domestic problem because we have a 850-kilometer border with this country, we have historical and cultural ties, we have kinship," Erdogan said.
This was the last warning from Ankara – and therefore NATO – that Turkey was about to intervene militarily in Syria, after maintain army units on the Syrian border for weeks.
Friday, Aug. 5, Russia's NATO ambassador Dmitry Rogozin accused NATO, of which Turkey is a member, of planning a military campaign against Syria to help overthrow the Assad regime "with the long-reaching goal of preparing a beachhead for an attack on Iran." Click here for debkafile report