The Assad regime suffered a major shock Wednesday Nov.16 when self-styled "Free Syrian Army" deserters firing shoulder-borne rockets and heavy machine guns struck its biggest security complex at Harasta west of Damascus on the highway to Aleppo.This was the first time an armed anti-Assad force went for a major strategic target with live ammo, far beyond ambushing military vehicles on the move and killing soldiers. It was a sign of the opposition's growing confidence in their ability to shake the high military command's support for Bashar Assad.
It also attested to the high degree of its military organization and command ability for deploying large units and sharply escalated its campaign to unseat Bashar Assad.
The outcome of the attack and extent of casualties and damage are hard to assess in view of the news blackout clamped down on the event. Arab sources report it ended only after Syrian assault helicopters were brought in.
"The Air Force Intelligence Service," targeted for the attack is a misnomer. Commanded by Gen. Jamil Hassan, who is directly subordinate to the younger Assad brother Maher, it has nothing to do with the air force. This 20,000-strong body is the regime's primary covert arm for suppressing opposition and shoring up its minority Alawite rule. Its officers are posted in every Syrian diplomatic and trade mission abroad, while its elite units specialize in cutting down the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and other foes and keeping the Kurdish, Druze and Syrian Catholic minorities in check.
The first military-style attack on the Harasta complex was also highly symbolic for the eight-month uprising. In June, this town staged a particularly bloody rally against Assad. An image which received wide international coverage depicted a blood-covered young man marching along one of its main streets shouting he is not afraid of Syrian army fire and is willing to die for the Assad family's removal.
The Syrian Army's 4th Division – the Republican Guard – which is commanded by Maher Assad went into brutal action to smother resistance in that key town.
Wednesday's potential game-changing attack was undoubtedly part of a well-laid plan to topple Assad laid by the coalition formed by Turkey, the Persian Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan. debkafile's military and intelligence sources report this would be the first concerted effort from inside the region to oust Iran's closest ally.
From Wednesday, four threats are closing in on Assad:
1. The Arab League, under the leadership of Egypt's Supreme Military Council in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, is planning to submit a motion to the UN Security Council on the Syrian crisis that would open the door to outside military intervention in the Syrian crisis. If the motion is defeated by Russia or China, the Arab League will act on its own as the paramount Arab authority in the region.
The AL took the first step in this direction Tuesday, Oct. 15, with the announcement of plans to create a force of 500 monitors for sending into Syria. The next step would be a joint Arab force to safeguard the monitors.
2. The Security Council and/or the Arab League will expand economic sanctions against Syria. Assad is already strapped for cash to sustain the military crackdown on the spreading challenge to his rule..
3. Turkey is leading the way for a pan-Arab offensive by reiterating its threat to invade Syria and establish a military buffer zone as a haven for Syrian rebels and refugees – unless the massacre of civilians stops. The Syrian opposition would then have its first territorial base inside the country under Turkish protection.
Until now, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, have limited their intervention in Syria to weapons and funding. Now they have begun paying Iran back for its subversive troublemaking in Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
From now on, the GCC proposes to make the upgrading of its support for anti-Assad rebels commensurate with the level of Iranian meddling against Arab rulers. Jordan's King Abdullah, who has forged a pact with the GCC, gave due warning of this strategy Monday, Nov. 14, when he became the first Arab ruler to openly call for Bashar Assad to step down. This call, say debkafile's sources, was a signal marking the approach of a regional conflict.