By DEBKA FILE —
As the already unthinkable pace of slaughter in Syria accelerates further, Western military sources warned Saturday, July 14, that not only Israel, but additional strategic targets in Middle East lands deemed enemies by Bashar Assad should prepare for him to launch surface-to-surface missile attacks. The assaults would start out with conventional warheads, but as the regime continued to be hammered, the beleaguered ruler might well arm the next round of missiles from his huge stockpile of mustard gas – not to mention sarin nerve poison and cyanide.
Western intelligence sources say Assad has a list of targets ready to go. Analyzing the Syrian war game taking place last week, they calculated that Wednesday and Thursday, July 11 and 12, the Syrian army practiced shooting missiles at strategic centers in Israel, Turkey and Jordan.
But while most Western officials now confirm that Assad has moved his WMD warheads and shells out of storage, they are already divided on what it means. Some US officials are soft-pedaling the menace, offering the theory that the Syrian ruler is only safeguarding his unconventional weapons from falling into rebel – or what he calls “terrorist” – hands.
Other Western intelligence watchers, especially in Britain, believe he is preparing a campaign of ethnic cleansing at centers of revolt and report that chemical weapons have already been transferred to Homs, Latakia and Aleppo for operational use.
That is one game-changing predicament facing the West. It would quickly assume a regional dimension if Turkey, Israel and Jordan were to come under Syrian missile assault. Air and missile reprisals against Syrian military or regime centers would carry the danger of Hizballah retaliation from Lebanon leading to direct attacks from Iran. Before going down that road, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan – who are not on speaking terms – would certainly confer with US President Barack Obama.
Even then, their consultations would not necessarily lead to action.
For example, three weeks have gone by since Syria shot down a Turkish Air Force reconnaissance jet and yet after, close consultation with Washington, the Erdogan government was persuaded to leave the incident without response. Administration officials explained to the Turks that covert warfare carried a price in failure and casualties.
This US attitude might well embolden the Syrian ruler to risk his arm with limited missile strikes against Turkey and Israel and bank on the Obama administration twisting their leaders’ arms behind their backs to prevent them making any serious response.