US military officials said on Wednesday, March 7, that contrary to the prevailing impression, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed not only their dispute over an attack on Iran at their White House meeting on March 5, but devoted considerable attention to the Syrian crisis, focusing on the hundreds of surface-to-surface missiles armed with chemical and biological warheads possessed by Syria. The peril of the Assad regime launching them now tops America’s chart of the threats looming over Israel and Turkey, those sources told debkafile.
The US president accordingly prevailed upon his Israeli guest to hurry up and patch up relations with Turkey, which he was willing to assist, because it would take a combined US-Turkish-Israeli military effort to ward off an attack by Syria’s poisoned missiles. Indeed, if the Syrian conflict is not solved, America might be forced to turn its missile shield against Bashar Assad’s missiles before they are needed against an Iranian attack.
The hazard could be accelerated by three elements, say American sources:
1. Assad might decide to respond with extreme violence to foreign military intervention in Syria, even an operation confined only to drawing the civilian population into security zones safe from the attacks of his security services.
On Tuesday, March 6, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan reverted to his call for security zones, and last week, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman offered humanitarian aid to Syria’s beleaguered civilian population. Both such actions, say the American sources, might well be taken by Assad as provocations deserving of reprisal by missiles – first those carrying chemical warheads, then biological ones.
Minister of Home Front Defense Matan Vilnai said Tuesday when he dedicated 14 public shelters at the two largest Druze communities in the Carmel district, Daliat al-Carmel and Usufiya, that “the Haifa district of the Home Front command is expected to be very important in the next war and we anticipate that hundreds of missiles will be fired at the home front.”
These shelters can accommodate 3,000 people.
2. Assad might respond to an Iranian request to take part in a preemptive strike launched by Tehran or Iranian retaliation for attacks on its nuclear facilities by the US or Israel.
3. Assad might transfer the unconventional missions to Iran’s Lebanese surrogate, the Hizballah – in which case, the US, Turkey and Israel would have no option but to smash them.
US military sources say that although Israel possesses a strong air force and special forces able to sabotage Assad’s chemical and biological missiles, the United States and Turkey would have to pitch in with military resources to destroy them completely.
That arsenal is being closely watched by US surveillance drones after the lessons from the Libyan war when at least 5,000 advanced anti-aircraft missiles were spirited out of Qaddafi’s weapons stores, some of them smuggled into Gaza for Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Testifying to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, the Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Assad regime had ““approximately five times more sophisticated air defenses than existed in Libya covering one-fifth of the terrain” and “about ten times more than we experienced in Serbia.” He also has chemical and biological weapons.
His words reinforced the testimony presented Tuesday to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee by two senior American generals. Marine Gen. James Mattis, head of the US Central Command which covers the Middle East and Gulf region, said: “Syria has a ‘substantial chemical and biological weapons capability and thousands of shoulder-launched missiles.”
Admiral William McRaven, head of the US Special Operations Command, also spoke to the committee about Syria’s weapons of mass destruction and American preparations to deal with this menace.
Those briefings were the first assessments of Syrian chemical and biological weapons capabilities to be given publicly by the heads of America's armed forces. This was the direct result, US sources say, of the candid and open conversation on the subject between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu Tuesday.