Intelligence analysts in Washington, Moscow, Ankara and other Middle East capitals, including Jerusalem, see a real possibility of Bashar Assad going to war with Israel to make the international community and the Muslim world look away from the bloody excesses of the military campaign he is waging against his people. His first priority must then be to polish off the uprising against his regime in short order so that his army is not forced to contend with several foes at once – the enemy within fighting to topple him, Israel, Turkey and NATO (US). The last two are already breathing down the back of his neck.
This assessment derives from the Syrian ruler's overweening confidence in the ability of his army to dispose of the uprising in the space of days. And while analysts in the US, Turkey and Saudi Arabia reckon it would take weeks rather than days, they realize it is impossible to stand by for much longer and make do with empty condemnations and ineffectual sanctions while the Syrian people is cruelly martyred.
Middle East rulers, including Assad himself, were not too impressed with the new term US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton coined Tuesday, August, 16, for articulating US policy on Syria: "Smart power," she called it: "It's not just brute force, it's not just unilateralism, it's being smart enough to say: 'You know what? We want a bunch of people singing out of the same hymn book."
Smart power equals no power, they grumbled. Even after Barack Obama pointed a tardy finger at Bashar Assad and finally told him to step down, as he did Hosni Mubarak, it was too little and too late to have much effect.
Better scrutinize the viability of proactive modes against the Assad regime.
Sanctions and Libya-style air strikes are non-starters
For sanctions to bite powerfully enough to bring the Syrian economy to collapse, these experts maintain, they must target not only Syrian oil and gas exports and its national bank, but also the Central Bank of Iran (Iran Bank Markazi).
US officials, current and past, explained this week that this measure had the potential to freeze Iran out of the global financial system and "make it almost impossible for Tehran to clear billions of dollars in oil sales every month."
Since Syria routes its oil and arms transactions though Iran's central bank, sanctions against Bank Markazi would hit both their economies where it hurts them most.
However the Obama administration does not appear to be thinking along those lines.
Those sources calculate that after diplomacy ran its course with the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's ill-fated attempt to talk Bashar Assad round in Damascus on Aug. 9, the military option moves to center front.
The US and NATO countries including Turkey rule out air strikes against Syrian command and control centers and the field units bombarding Syrian cities because a) none of their air fleets are based near enough to Syria to carry out an air campaign and b) Syrian air defenses are among the largest and most sophisticated of any Middle East country.
Arming the anti-Assad protesters is option of choice
In 2007, a year after the Israeli-Hizballah war in Lebanon, Israeli military officials described Syria's anti-aircraft arsenal as the densest in the world, because Damascus never stops buying more and more Russian hardware. One estimate puts its stock at 200 batteries of assorted types.
In the four years since that conflict, Syria has taken delivery of Russian Pantsir-S1 (NATO-coded SA-22 Greyhound), which is a combined short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon.
It has a maximum range of 20,000 meters and can hit flying objects at heights of up to 15,000 meters—including all types of aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles and air-to-ground precision guided weapons. The system is also effective against stealth aircraft.
Since air and ground offensives against the Syrian army are both out of the question – apart from a limited incursion of Turkish military forces into northern Syria to establish a narrow buffer zone – the military options are reduced to outfitting the opposition fighting the Assad regime in Syria with the tools and manpower for beating back his army.
According to this plan, NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) emirates are to furnish the Syrian rebels weapons for self-defense against Syrian armored assaults. Instruction in their use will take place in Turkey or in the buffer zone – provided Ankara goes through with this plan.
Sunni Muslim "volunteers" on tap
The GCC states will also round up thousands of Muslim "volunteers" to fight alongside the rebels in Syria. They would be detached from the international Muslim Legion Saudi Arabia is recruiting and funding.
(See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 495 of June 3: The New Saudi Muslim Legion – A Sunni Rapid Response Force Available to Muslim Regimes).
They will also divert to the anti-Assad campaign in Syria some of the thousands of the Pakistani military and security personnel Riyadh has imported in recent months for propping up Sunni emirs in the Persian Gulf, notably Bahrain.
Washington's security and intelligence agencies have discovered that expanded military cooperation among the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states can be a useful vehicle for helping the Syrian people fight its ruling regime.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources report that the bones of an arms supply apparatus have been in place for four months from two main sources: European countries and NATO have been spiriting arms into Syria – albeit irregularly and with no way of determining their end-users. Saudi intelligence has been running a more organized GCC supply line bringing the protesters larger quantities of arms through Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan.
The plan evolving now is to rationalize the system with a central depot in Turkey for supplies from all the various sources and a mechanism for determining who receives them.
Ingredients for Mid East war held ready to hand
It is taken into account that, in the course of the five-month uprising to unseat him, Bashar Assad has always managed to stay a step or two ahead of his enemies and will continue to do so.
Before the grand plan for injecting thousands of volunteers and masses of weapons into Syria is up and running, he is expected to preemptively employ the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah for heating up the Lebanese-Israel border or even spark an all-out conflagration between the two long-time foes which would quickly ignite the Golan border between Syria and Israel.
In Washington, Syria watchers in the National Security Council and the Pentagon don't rule out Turkey being drawn into this multiple conflict. Once Turkey allows Muslim "volunteers" and weapons to transit its territory, Damascus will reduce Ankara to enemy status.
Assad may content himself with a minor military operation against Turkey sufficient to prevent its troops creating a Turkish-protected buffer zone inside northern Syria. On the other hand, if Iran pitches in with reprisals against Turkey, as it has threatened to do more than once in recent weeks, sources in Washington see the possibility of Saudi Arabia stepping in to hit Iranian military targets in the Gulf and inside Iran.
And the inflammable Middle East will again be embroiled in a full-scale regional war.