Tuesday night, April 10, after Damascus skipped the truce laid down in the UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan’s plan and escalated its attacks on the Syrian population, a change of tone was detected in the Obama administration.
debkafile’s Washington sources report that, although President Barack Obama is still flat against broad US military intervention in Syria, administration circles feel America could no longer stay aloof from what is happening there. They are thinking in terms of limited military action to show Bashar Assad and the heads of his regime and army the first American red lines against his brutal crackdown. One plan under discussion is for a US air strike against an Assad regime and/or military target would be enough to dent morale in Damascus and demonstrate to his loyal troops and the Syrian opposition that the Syrian ruler is far from infallible.
This lesson might corner Assad into complying with Annan’s six-point peace plan, especially the ceasefire and withdrawal of armored troops from Syrian cities, which he ducked Tuesday.
The pretext Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem offered Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for missing the deadline, our Moscow sources report, was that when the soldiers are pulled out of the cities, rebel forces will move into the evacuated areas; the anti-Assad uprising would flare up again at full strength across Syria.
Moallem appealed to his host to persuade the Americans to continue to abstain from military action in Syria and defend the need for Syrian units to remain in the main cities, even against a complaint by Annan to the UN Security Council accusing Damascus of flouting an agreed plan.
In consideration of this side play in Moscow, Annan was cautious in his comments to reporters on his visit to a Syrian refugee camp in southern Turkey, saying it was too soon to declare his plan a failure. He explained that the Syrian regime had not taken issue with a single one of his six proposals and the situation could improve once UN observers were on the ground. Annan offered Assad another two days up until Thursday, April 12, to implement the agreed ceasefire.
Talking to reporters In Moscow alongside Moallem, Lavrov proposed that UN observers move into Syria without delay. The team could be enlisted mainly from the UNDOF (United Nations Disengagement Observer Force) serving on the Syrian-Israeli Golan border. The Syrian minister was not in favor of the plan.
Tuesday night, the UN Security Council called on Bashar Assad to meet the Thursday deadline for a truce. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the council would meet Thursday to hear Annan’s report.
She spoke after consulting with Lavrov.
The Lavrov proposal would redeploy the main body of the Golan UN force, which maintains a liaison office in Damascus, in positions for enforcing the truce between Syrian and rebel forces in Syria’s main embattled cities, preferably by April 12. The UN 1,000-strong force has two battalions, one Austrian and one Philippine, and a small Croatian unit.
Our intelligence sources report that Assad objects to the plan because it would be tantamount to internationalizing the civil war raging in Syria and pave the way for rebels and protesters against his regime to gain UN protection.
Convinced that the Syrian ruler would never allow himself to be pushed into accepting UN intervention, the Americans continue to keep limited military intervention on the table.
They will let it simmer there until the Six-Power nuclear talks with Iran beginning Saturday, April 14, in Istanbul are well under way, so as not to give Tehran pretexts for toughening its bargaining position or pulling out of the negotiations.
Turkey too is moving closer than ever before to real military action, not just empty words. Armed Turkish assault helicopters flew Tuesday over the Syrian border. They were there to warn Damascus that if Syrian soldiers again fired across the border into Syrian refugee camps as they did Monday, April 9, they would be targeted by the Turkish gunships.
Sources in Ankara reminded local and Arab media of the existence of the mutual defense cooperation pact known as the “Adana agreement” which Turkey and Syria concluded in 1998.
Article 1 states that "Syria, on the basis of the principle of reciprocity, will not permit any activity that emanates from its territory aimed at jeopardizing the security and stability of Turkey."
Under this article, Ankara feels Turkish military intervention in Syria is legitimate. This reminder was offered the media, our military sources confirm, to provide the legal grounding for a potential Turkish military move across its border into Syria.