The elimination of Bashar Assad’s top security tier, leaders of his brutal campaign of suppression against the Syrian uprising sent shock waves reverberating across the Middle East where armies have gone on high alert. It now transpires that their deaths were not caused by a suicide bomber but a 40-kilogram bomb hidden in Syria ministers’ conference room at the heavily fortified National Security building, which killed at least four of the eight top officials present: Assad’s brother-in-law Security Chief Assif Shawqat, Defense minister Gen. Dawoud Raijiha, Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ibrahim Shaar and ice-Presidential aide and former defense minister Gen. Hasan Turkmani. The last two died of their wounds.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented: “The violence in Syria is rapidly spinning out of control.” Emergency consultations are taking place at the White House, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department to try and assess how the Syrian crisis will develop and above all Assad’s response to the almost knock-out blow his inner circle has sustained.
Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak urgently summoned intelligence and security officials to discuss possible implications of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Syria. They include IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and heads of the Northern Command, Military Intelligence, the Planning Division and the various IDF branches.
Neither Washington nor Jerusalem has reported military alerts. However, debkafile’s military sources report that US forces in the region, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey have placed their armies on a high state of readiness until it is clear which way the Assad regime jumps after the disaster it sustained.
The two questions uppermost in their minds are:
1. Will the Syrian army, security apparatus and intelligence services hold up under the shock of losing their top echelons?
2. Will President Assad respond violently? He has in the past declared that if there is no calm in Syria, neither would there be in Israel and threatened to set the entire Middle East on fire if his regime is jeopardized.
Only last week, Syria staged a large-scale missile exercise during which, on July 12, a Scud D capable of carrying of chemical gas warheads was tested.
The next day, US military sources reported that Syria had moved chemical weapons out of storage and distributed them to missile and artillery units.
The Syrian president, bereft of his top allies, must decide on his own how to react and against which of his many enemies. It is already becoming clear that the Syrian rebels lacked the expertise for a high-quality terrorist operation of the kind that decimated Assad’s inner circle. He will certainly pin the blame on a foreign intelligence agency as perpetrator, in which case he is likely to lash out against the United States, Israel, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Qatar.
Taking advantage of the regime’s sudden weakness, the streets of the outer suburbs of Damascus suddenly filled with people celebrating. In other parts of the capital, tanks and artillery barrages thundered against rebels fighting in Damascus for the fourth day.
debkafile reported earlier Wednesday: Bashar Assad’s survival is in serious question after the deaths of his top allies, the deadliest blow to his regime in the 17-month Syrian uprising, striking deep inside the president’s inner circle and family: Shawqat was married to his sister. It took place on the fourth day of fierce fights with rebel forces which seized parts of Damascus and are battling superior government forces backed by heavy tank, artillery and machine gun fire and helicopters.