Bashar Assad is beginning to face a foreign military squeeze as savage as the treatment he metes out to his people. Thursday, May 10, he found himself cornered on three sides: Two massive explosions in the Damascus district of al Qaza killed 55 people and injured more than 300, many of them local security officers serving in the reconnaissance unit of his military intelligence targeted by the attack.
On his southeastern border, he would have seen 12,000 special operations troops from 17 countries massed in Jordan for an exercise codenamed Eager Lion 2012 which was set up at speed by the US Special Operations Command Central.
He is not naïve enough to imagine the exercise was not connected with the mounting, all-round international drive to rid Syria of his tyrannical regime when all its participants, the US, NATO’s France, Britain and Canada and the GCC’s Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are all dedicated to this very goal.
A latecomer to the military effort is Turkey, whose signature appeared for the first time Wednesday on the roadside bomb which blew up a Syrian truck escorting a convoy of UN observers in the southern town of Deraa, injuring six soldiers.
Seconds later, the UN convoy passed safely. Neither the head of the UN team, Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, who rode in one of the vehicles, nor any of the monitors was hurt.
Thursday, aware of the danger closing in on him after that foretaste, Assad moved his most loyal unit, the Presidential Guard Division, into central Damascus for the first time since the 14-month uprising against him began.
Turkey jumps aboard with IAEs for Syrian rebels
Turkey, which has just joined the international military effort, is contributing intelligence and a large supply of special roadside bombs tailored for the Syrian arena and distributed to different rebel groups fighting Assad after training them in their use at Turkish military facilities.
This weapon exacted a very high toll of dead and wounded from the US forces serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the last few days, US administration emissaries visited Riyadh, Doha and Ankara with a message and a mission. The message was: You are wrong to make light of the effectiveness of the UN observer mission to Syria, they told skeptical officials. They are the small stake we have planted for the much broader international military presence that is coming later. Meanwhile, your eyes and ears inside Syria are invaluable.
Moments after the Damascus blasts, the head of the UN mission, Maj. Gen. Robert Hood, was on the scene.
Belying the impression that the Obama administration is staying clear of involvement in Syria, the emissaries’ mission was to tie up the last ends of the US-led multinational war exercise starting in Jordan on May 15, in which NATO as well as Gulf Cooperation Council members are taking part.
And indeed, in a broad hint Monday, Erdogan said he thought NATO was a better bet for Syria than the United Nations Security Council. “I am ready to ask NATO for a military intervention in Syria,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia supply anti-tank, anti-air missiles
Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also pumping tons of hardware to Syrian rebel groups, our military sources report. Qatari intelligence has smuggled into the embattled country by sea and land large quantities of anti-tank missiles, Komet E and the 9K115-2 Metis M Russian system In the last two weeks, most purchased on the Libyan market thriving since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi.
Saudi intelligence services are supplying Syrian rebels with anti-air weaponry – FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles which are personal, portable, infrared homing surface-to-air missiles, and also 9K32 Strela SA-7 surface-to-air missiles.
We have no information that Ankara, Riyadh and Doha are actively coordinating amongst each other to determine the types and amounts of arms they are pouring into Syria, but each appears to have cornered one type of weaponry – roadside bombs, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, respectively.
This division of labor will have diplomatic and military implications for the future when Syria inevitably tips over into full-scale civil war and for the coming events in the Persian Gulf and Middle East.
They are all waiting to see how President Assad stands up to the perils coming at him from the three warfronts which have evolve from the popular uprising against his rule and how his backers in Tehran and Moscow react.
Does the Syrian ruler still believe he can rely on the majority of the population to save his regime? And on the rebels’ inexperience in wielding advanced weapons systems, especially by day?
Switch to guerrilla warfare to topple Assad
His Russian and Iranian military and intelligence advisers are more worried as they watch foreign military intervention expand.
Military experts in Moscow and Tehran believe the flow of advanced missiles to the rebels is the most dangerous development to date for the Assad regime. The West and the Arab states were unable to ignite a full-dress unified rebellion inside the main Syrian cities. They have now turned to equipping anti-Assad rebels for sustained guerilla warfare outside the big cities, on the main roads, and in the rural and mountainous areas.
Russian and Iranian tacticians agree that the Syrian army, like most other regular armies, is not built to fight guerilla forces. Setting up and training counter-terror units is a long process.
This week, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Iranian sources report the arrival in Tehran of Syrian officers to confer with Iranian war planners on ways and means of combating the new perils to the Assad regime.
Tehran has meanwhile ordered the Lebanese Hizballah to launch a limited call-up of reservists serving in coastal units and outfits policing mountain smuggling routes for an all-out effort to staunch the weapons traffic into Syria.