French President Nicolas Sarkozy has come up with a plan for putting a stop to the Syrian bloodbath by Western-Arab military intervention. Last Saturday, Feb. 18, the plan was conveyed to US President Barack Obama’s desk from Paris through confidential intelligence channels.
Before deciding on a response, the US president sent copies to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey with a request for their comments.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly publishes hereunder the first exclusive account of the eight-point Sarkozy plan for Syria from its military and intelligence sources:
1. A group of nations led by the United States will reserve a quarter of Syrian territory (185,180 sq. km) as a safe haven for protecting more than a quarter of the nation’s population (5.5 million people) under a collective air shield.
2. The operation will be exclusively airborne. No foreign boots will touch the ground in Syria. American, Turkish, French, Italian and British Air Force planes will fly out from three Middle East air bases – Incirlik and Diyarbakir in Turkey, where the US maintains substantial air force strength, and the British facility in Akrotiri, Cyprus.
3. France has offered to make its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle available but accepts that without US air power, spy satellites and operational and logistical resources, the operation will not be feasible.
A safe haven under an air shield, off limits to Syrian troops
4. The safe haven will range from Tarkush on Syria’s northern border with Turkey and include the besieged towns of Jabal Al Zaweya, Idlib, Hama, Homs and their outlying villages. Tarkush is now the scene of fierce Syrian military clashes with rebel forces, heavier even than the widely-reported pounding of Homs, because it has become a primary logistics hub for the influx of rebel fighters and arms from Turkey. Syrian forces are fighting to sever this primary rebel supply line.
5. The safe haven will be placed off limits to Syrian military and security personnel and its air space declared a no fly zone. Syrian air intruders will be challenged by the Western fighter-bombers shielding the protected area.
6. The makeup of the coalition force for saving Syria is still a work in progress. Sarkozy has obtained the consent of Britain, Italy, Turkey and Qatar and is in discussion with Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Participation of the last two would make it possible to expand the safe haven to southern and eastern Syria, to include the restive towns of Daraa, Deir a-Zour and Abu Kemal.
7. A regional Syrian administration assisted by Western liaison officers will run the the safe haven’s day-to-day affairs. The coalition will take care of the population’s food, medicines and medical care needs.
8. The Western-Arab expedition will not seek Bashar Assad’s ouster as a mission goal or engage in combat with Syrian forces outside the safe haven.
What if Russia steps in to save Assad from collapse?
In the call Sarkozy put through to the White House to explain his plan to Obama, he said he hoped that the safe haven he proposed would be a magnet for large sections of the Syrian army which had not defected but stayed in their quarters and refused to take part in Assad’s savage crackdown in defiance of orders. In the French president’s view, his plan would expedite the collapse of the Assad regime’s military support base and the regime itself.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Washington sources review key considerations giving Obama and his senior strategists pause:
– If Assad decides to mount resistance to the coalition scheme, does he have the military resources to do so?
– Can the coalition field enough forces to defend the safe haven against Syrian might?
– What are the political and military ramifications of a possible decision by Moscow to counter the US-led operation by declaring the Damascus region or other parts of Syria Russian-protected areas and deploying the Russian Air Force in defense of the Assad regime?
Eyes in Washington anxiously watched the vigorous exchanges Russian President Dmitry Medvedev conducted Wednesday, Feb. 22, with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to explore a possible alliance for thwarting Western-Arab intervention in Syria.
– Will Iran send forces to fight this intervention? Tehran has repeatedly warned Ankara against allowing the US or NATO powers to use Turkish bases for action against the Assad regime, threatening to strike back at those bases.
– Will Assad carry out his standing threat to set the Middle East on fire and burn Tel Aviv with missiles if his regime is backed up against a wall?
Our Washington sources report that Obama informed Sarkozy Thursday, Feb. 3, the day before the Friends of Syria conference was due to open in Tunis that he needed just a few days to reach a decision on the French military plan.