US President Barack Obama, though widely expected to pursue direct action against Syrian ruler Bashar following the Houla atrocity, is preoccupied with what he regards as a greater threat to the world: a potential grab for the huge Syrian stock of chemical and biological weapons by Al Qaeda’s or other terrorist organizations. This is reported exclusively by debkafile’s Washington and intelligence sources.
The US president is trying to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept his new plan for the immediate assignment by the UN Security Council of 3,000 armed monitors to Syria to take charge of the six chemical and biological stores. Another 2,000 will join the team later.
To allay Putin’s suspicions of a trick to insert Western armed forces into Syria against Moscow’s will, Obama suggested that most of the monitors would be Russian or nationals of governments lining up with its support of the Assad regime.
Our sources learn that, in one of the conversations between the two presidents, Obama commented: “If only one barrel of anthrax reaches the hands of a Caucasian terrorist group, Russian will face its greatest terrorist threat in its history. Millions of Russians may perish.”
It was clear from this comment that Assad’s WMD are not stored as warheads, bombs or shells but kept in large barrels or kegs in six underground bunkers, holding Sarin (GB), Tabun (GA) and VX nerve gases, some four kinds of mustard gas and anthrax. The storage silos are spread out among Al Safir, the main Syrian missile base in the north; Cerin, a biological research center on the Mediterranean shore; military facilities at Hama and Homs; the Syrian naval base leased to the Russians at Latakia; and Palmyra, on the highway between Homs and Aleppo.
According to the information reaching US intelligence, three of these locations are situated in heavily embattled areas between the Syrian army and rebels, in addition to which, in the last two weeks, al Qaeda elements have penetrated the war-torn districts with a view to seizing some of the WMD stores.
Obama warned Putin that the jihadists have never been so close to getting hold of large quantities of such deadly unconventional weapons, especially now that the Syrian army’s 4th Division, commanded by Assad’s brother Maher, which guards those stores, is additionally assigned with suppressing the revolt and therefore inadequately manned for securing them.
If the Russian President buys his plan for 5,000 international monitors to take over the security assignment, Obama hopes he will also persuade Assad and even Tehran to accept it.
Early Thursday, May 31, the US president held a video-conference call on the subject with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, to brief them on his initiative and his talks with Putin.
debkafile’s sources in Washington and Jerusalem add that Obama also sent personal messages to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak warning them that if al Qaeda or any other terrorist groups get hold of these weapons of death, they could be smuggled into the West Bank and Gaza Strip. “Israel would be their number one target,” he said.
These messages were relayed to Israeli leaders this week through visiting senior US intelligence and government figures, with the president’s assessment that the danger of Syrian WMD falling into terrorist hands was now more acute than a nuclear Iran.
It provided the context for the IDF’s OC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yair Golan’s remark Wednesday: “Within weeks or months we may face al Qaeda attacks from Syria.”
The Russian president has not yet given Obama his answer, still suspecting an American ruse for placing Western troops inside Syria. Hence his spokesman’s statement Wednesday: “Russia is not considering changing its stance on Syria and any attempts to apply pressure on Moscow are hardly appropriate.”
Tehran, taking this to mean that Putin has not rejected Obama’s proposal, was put out enough for a forceful threat: “Western intervention in Syria would result in a regional upheaval that would undoubtedly engulf Israel," said Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani. “It would spread to Palestine and ash rising from the flames would definitely engulf the Zionist regime…US military officials should be aware of their dangerous game.”
This was taken by sources in Washington as an Iranian threat to burn Israel if Obama’s plan to post 5,000 armed monitors in Syria goes through. Iranian sources told debkafile that the threat was aimed equally at deterring Putin from cooperating with it.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, capped these veiled messages by warning the UN Security Council Wednesday night: “This becomes a proxy conflict with arms flowing in from all sides. And members of this Council and members of the international community are left with the option only of having to consider whether they are prepared to take actions outside of the Annan plan and the authority of this Council.”
By these words, the White House informed the Kremlin that if President Putin rejects Obama’s plan for posting 5,000 monitors in Syria, Washington will feel free to bypass the UN and the Russian veto and launch US-Western armed action in Syria in defiance of Moscow.