The first US-Turkish backed steps for creating safe havens in Syria and possible strategic bombardment of the Syrian army have brought the Middle East close to two dangerous junctures: The Syrian army’s use of chemical weapons, and an outbreak of hostilities between Hizballah and Israel, debkafile’s military sources report.
The creeping Western involvement in the Syrian conflict was not previously acknowledged and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah rarely figured publicly as a fighting prop of the Assad regime.
That is until the dam burst Friday and Saturday, Sept 7-8.
The United States then admitted that US officials and intelligence agents were training and aiding Syrian rebels from positions on the Turkish border – and therefore directly intervening in their operations.
This admission came on the heels of the debkafile disclosure of Sept. 6 that Turkish officers backed by US agents had taken command of two Syrian rebel brigades.
Britain and France came next to report they were sending aid directly to the Syrian opposition, a more cautious admission than the American reference to officials and agents, but clearly on the same track, which adds up to their direct intervention in Syria for the creation of safe havens.
French and British foreign ministers attending a European Union meeting in Cyprus called Friday night for sanctions against Hizballah, meaning that mounting Western pressure on Assad has been extended to his Lebanese ally.
But the big event thus portended is still to come.
It will now be up to the Syrian rebels, backed and steered by a US-led Arab-Western-European-Turkish coalition, to fight for the safe haven, purge it of forces and militias loyal to Assad and expand it for control of large tracts of territory in eastern and western Syria.
Despite fairly large-scale defections, the bulk of the Syrian army still maintains its allegiance to the Syrian ruler and doesn’t appear ready to turn against him.
The rebels therefore face a long, arduous and hazardous haul before they can secure a substantial safe haven – unless it can be shortened by a step now under consideration in Washington, London, Paris, Ankara and at least two Arab capitals: aerial bombardment of the Syrian army’s toughest backbone, the 9th Division commanded by the Syrian ruler’s brother, Gen. Maher Assad.
The same treatment could be meted out to smash Hizballah bases and strategic centers.
The thinking in some circles in Washington is that Russia’s disengagement from its support of the Assad regime and cutoff of essential weapons, have opened the way to severing the military bonds tying Assad, Hizballah and Tehran together. As long as those bonds are viable, it will be that much harder to bring Assad to heel and subjugate his armed forces.
The revelation by British military sources Friday, Sept. 7 that 150 elite officers and troops of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards had flown into Syria was intended as a warning to Tehran that the time had come to pull its hand out of the Syrian fire.
This rush of events may bring closer to reality the action feared most by Western powers, Israel, Turkey and Jordan that, as his enemies close in, Assad will bring out his chemical and bioogical weapons.
Consciousness of this approaching threat led Washington sources to disclose Friday that Syria’s chemical arsenal was bigger and more widely scattered than suspected hitherto. It was also an admission that Washington was no longer fully apprised of the scale of this arsenal or its locations.
Last week, Israeli media were too preoccupied with the likelihood of war with Iran to notice that Israel and Hizxballah had moved up to the brink of a major clash. The war alert declared by Israel’s armed forces in mid-week had only partly eased by Saturday.