As NATO in Brussels gave the go-ahead Tuesday night, Dec. 4, for the deployment of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to protect Turkey against Syrian missiles, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reported that convoys of the Syrian army’s chemical weapons units headed out of Damascus under cover of dark and turned north up the road to Aleppo. Their destination is not yet known.
The convoys were ferrying self-propelled cannons for firing shells loaded with poisonous sarin gas.
Syrian President Bashar Assad had evidently decided to ignore the warnings President Barack Obama issued Monday night that there would be consequences if he or anyone in Syria resorted to chemical warfare and each would be held accountable.
Our sources report that the Syrian ruler is aparently gambling dangerously on the Americans holding back from attacking the convoys as long as they deploy unconventional weapons, and would only react when they are used.
He is also taking advantage of the heavy winds, rain and cloud over this part of the eastern Mediterranean and counting on the weather to obstruct military operations against his chemical weapons units.
By the time the weather clears some time Thursday, the units will be in place in battle formation. Meanwhile, bombing the convoys in windy weather could cause the deadly gas to spread out of control in unpredictable directions.
In Brussels, a NATO official announced that the alliance had agreed to augment Turkey’s air-defense capabilities by deploying Patriot missiles to Turkey.
debkafile’s military sources report that by the time the missiles arrive, the Syrian chemical weapons units will almost certainly have reached their pre-planned positions. Furthermore, the Patriot air defense systems are not designed to counter artillery and would therefore be unable to stop shells loaded with poison gas.
debkafile reported earlier Tuesday, Dec. 4.
US forces in the region, Israel, Turkey and Jordan were all braced Monday night, Dec. 3 for action against Syria in case Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered his army’s chemical warfare units to go into action against rebel and civilian targets his own country. None of the Middle East capitals are talking openly about this eventuality to avoiding causing panic.
However, oblique references to the peril and preparations for action came from US officials during Monday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “We have an increased concern about the possibility of the regime taking the desperate act of using its chemical weapons.” Such a move “would cross a red line for the United States.”
Without going into specifics, Carney added: “We think it is important to prepare for all scenarios. Contingency planning is the responsible thing to do.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Prague was slightly more specific: Syrian action on chemical weapons remains a “red line” for the Obama administration, she said, and “would prompt action from the United States.”
Regarding contingencies, debkafile’s military sources report that the American force in Jordan and Jordanian units, who have been training for two months in tactics against Syrian chemical warfare units, are on a high state of preparedness. So, too, are the three special US command centers set up in Turkey, Jordan and Israel for coordinating such operations.
An American official “with knowledge of the situation” told Wired Magazine that “engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas.”
Anchored opposite the Syrian shore is the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group with 2,500 Marines. Facing it is the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s naval task force which too has hundreds of marines on its decks.
debkafile’s sources quote high-ranking officers in the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command as saying: “The coming hours and days are extremely critical for Syria. The situation on our northern front could blow up any moment.” They did not elaborate.
Later Monday, as the United Nations regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Radhouane Nouicer announced the pullout of nonessential international staff “because of the security situation,” Secretary Clinton flew into Brussels from Prague to discuss with NATO foreign ministers the deployment of Patriot anti-missile batteries at 10 points on the Turkish-Syrian border – a massive number.
NATO sources took note of the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s reply to the spreading reports. He said that the government “would not use chemical weapons, if it had them, against its own people under any circumstances.” This statement carried no promise about using such weapons against external forces, whether American, Turkish, Jordanian or Israeli.
In Istanbul, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters at the end of his one-day visit: “What we are concerned about is Syria’s future. We don’t want the same mistakes to be repeated in the near future.” He went on to say: “We shall remember how some regimes supported the militants in Libya and how the situation ended with the killing of the American ambassador in Libya.”
This was meant by the Russian president as a warning to the US not to get involved in the Syrian crisis as it did in Libya.