After Muammar Qaddafi’s death in Libya, the spotlight has swung round to Damascus and Brussels and two questions: Will NATO forces intervene in Syria as they did in Libya? And will Bashar Assad suffer the same fate at his enemies' hands as Qaddafi did in Libya?
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, President Barack Obama told NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “We gave him (Qaddafi) ample opportunity and he wouldn’t do it. Qaddafi’s death sends a strong message around the world to dictators that people long to be free.”
The next day, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe reinforced the impression left by Obama’s remarks by saying: “This will end with the fall of the (Assad) regime, it is nearly unavoidable, but unfortunately it could take time…”
Both seemed to be suggesting that Assad’s fall would not come about through a NATO offensive as in Libya, but at the hands of his own people.
Li Hongmei, a Chinese analyst who often reflects the official Beijing line wrote on Wednesday: “Libya acts as an outlandish model (for the West) which has satisfied the appetite of the powers involved for the unchallenged position (of) superior military might, as well as its logic: Might is Right. But, whether or not NATO would recalibrate its focus upon Syria is not merely a question… whether or not the Libya military model could be replicated elsewhere, and how far the proxy war can go.”
Iran and Hizballah rule out NATO intervention – but are prepared
However, Syria's only partners in the Arab and Muslim world, Iran and Hizballah of Lebanon, seem to take the opposite view, that barring a radical change in the Syrian equation, the US and NATO would not venture to wage war on Syria.
Saturday, Oct. 22, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said: “I think and we believe that there should be no interference (in Syria) from outside.”
Three days later, on Oct. 25, Hizballah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah had this to say: “What’s happening in Syria is not a call for reform and change; it’s a bid to oust the regime, which has been fighting the US and Israel.”
He ruled out any military interference in Syria noting, “The West would not venture to wage any military war against Syria, because it is Israel's neighbor, and they fear this would affect the security of Israel. External interference will not achieve any goal in Syria now because of the majority’s support for the regime.”
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources remark that Iranian and Hizballah leaders feel the need to assure themselves that the US and NATO are not poised to attack Syria, but they are whistling in the dark and are immersed meanwhile in military preparations for this very contingency.
Those preparations, far from focusing on rescuing Bashar Assad and his regime, are geared to preserving the Iranian-Hizballah grip on Lebanon whatever becomes of the Syrian ruler. They are predicated on three unfolding scenarios.
1. A possible direct NATO strike against Syria by air and the sea:
If the Western alliance does go to war on the Assad regime, it would be expected to follow the Libyan pattern of first blasting government centers in the capital along with military command centers and infrastructure. This intervention would be held back until after a full-scale guerilla war evolves to a pitch that cannot be suppressed without the Syrian army capturing entire cities from rebel control.
Two northern cities Homs and Hama are close to this situation.
With every passing day, the Syrian military is moreover plagued by widening strata of defections at the rate of dozens or even hundreds of soldiers and officers dropping out of their units to fight with the opposition.
The troops remaining loyal are exhausted after eight months of fighting and killing protesters. They are further demoralized by seeing the protesters' ranks swelled day by day by well-trained, highly-motivated fighters at the expense of their own depleting strength.
2. Expanding weapons smuggling:
The heads of Assad's military and intelligence services have failed totally to halt the smuggling of weapons pouring into opposition hands from two friendly sources: Jordan, where smugglers cross the Yarmouk River and drop their consignments in the restive Horan area of southern Syria whence they are distributed to central and eastern Syria; And Lebanon: The weapons smuggled through the central and northern sectors of the Lebanese-Syrian border bolster the rebels fighting the regime in northwestern Syria.
The consignments are organized, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report, by agents of Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, who coordinates the kingdom's intelligence operations in the Arab Revolt, and the Qatari intelligence chief Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.
Both exponentially increase the number and quality of arms pumped to the Syrian rebels every two or three weeks. Today, the Syrian army is confronted with protesters armed with a large number of anti-aircraft weapons, especially rocket-propelled grenades – RPGs – and more advanced hardware on the way.
The Syrian ruler has no diplomatic channel for interceding with the Saudi and Qatari rulers to get the flow of weapons shipments to his enemies stopped. His relations with Riyadh and Doha are severed. He was not invited to the state funeral of Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdel Aziz this week. But his uncle, sworn enemy and opposition leader Rifaat Assad was.
This week Syrian armored forces and commandos increased their raids into Lebanon in pursuit of deserters and gunrunners. Washington confirmed for the first time Thursday, Oct. 27, that Syrian forces have been entering Lebanon in the last few weeks.
But that is just the beginning. In the view of Tehran and Hizballah, the Syrian military will be drawn into seizing ever larger parts of Lebanon and then Jordan as the only way to stanch the arms smuggling. This would provoke NATO, Saudi Arabia, the GCC Gulf security pact nations and Israel into military intervention.
3. Increasingly painful economic sanctions:
The economic sanctions imposed on Syria, especially by its European trading partners, are increasingly squeezing the Assad regime. Its grave cash shortage, as reported in earlier issues, has forced Damascus to borrow money from Iranian and Russian banks to at least cover the armed forces' payroll.
Assad may opt for instigating a Middle East war as a desperate shift to fight his way out of a tight corner. The Syrian ruler characteristically reacts to adversity with aggression. And in fact in recent months he and his associates have threatened more than once to ignite the entire region, including targeting Tel Aviv, if the Assad family goes to the wall.
It seems to Hizballah and its Iranian masters that the Syrian ruler is more likely to go on the offensive before -rather than after – he is attacked by NATO.