WASHINGTON – Syrian leaders expect limited military attacks from the United States and others in a “coalition of the willing” after Washington concluded President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons last week, killing upwards of 1,500 people.
The U.S. said that it has sufficient information to point to the Syrian regime as the perpetrator of the chemical weapons attack and is making ready a military response.
It is possible that the White House will declassify some of the information it says points to the Syrian government as the source of the chemical attack.
This prospect emerged as concern mounts on what the military response will be.
The U.S., Great Britain, France and Turkey say there is no need to obtain approval of the United Nations Security Council, and that none will be sought.
Russia and China, which back the Syrian government, have warned against taking action without approval of the international body.
Conflicting information, however, continues to be made public as to the source of the chemical weapons attack.
WND has published numerous videos showing that foreign fighters of the Syrian opposition not only have that capability but were actually firing artillery rounds that appeared to be filled with chemical weapons.
In addition, the Syrian government published other videos showing captured canisters of chemical components necessary to make such weapons.
The U.N. earlier this year had undertaken a preliminary investigation and had concluded that a chemical-filled artillery attack on the Syrian city of Aleppo that killed a number of civilians and some 15 Syrian military personnel was conducted by foreign fighters originating out of Turkey.
To back up this assessment, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had turned over evidence to the U.N. revealing that chemical weapons produced by supporters of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had made the chemicals and hauled them to Turkey to be loaded into artillery and mortars.
While there is evidence to show that foreign fighters and the Syrian opposition battling government forces have the capability to use chemical weapons, new reports are surfacing that the Syrian military unit controlled by Maher al-Assad, the brother of the Syrian president, had fired artillery rounds with chemical warheads.
The result was a reported 1,500 deaths in last week’s chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus.
These sources say that the Syrian military component, which allegedly fired the chemical weapons, was the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, a division under the command of the Syrian president’s brother.
Various reports say that a signals intelligence element within Israeli intelligence, Unit 8200, had picked up conversations between the division and senior Syrian officials in the days leading up to the chemical weapons attack.
After the Israeli intelligence unit had picked up these conversations, they undoubtedly were passed along to the U.S. intelligence community, which then passed the information to policymakers.
This would be the type of information that would constitute a “smoking gun” for U.S. policymakers.
It helps explain Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments in the past few days urging the U.S. to take action against Syria.
The type of military action that likely would be selected would be a limited punitive strike against critical military targets. However, none of the targets would include the Syrian government’s chemical weapons depots, which are believed to be dispersed throughout the country.
The concern is that prevailing winds would send clouds of poison gas over highly populated areas. Sources add that such an approach would require more “boots on the ground” of Special Forces to take over the facilities and result in inevitable “mission creep.”
Instead, the limited response would include command and control facilities across the country, and other high-value targets, including the military unit which launched the initial poison gas attack.
In addition to Maher al-Assad’s 4th Armored Division, other target prospects include the defense ministry, the Air Force Intelligence Directorate, the Political Security Directorate, the Interior Ministry, Republican Guard headquarters and the three Syrian army corps.
There are unconfirmed reports that U.S. Special Forces already are in Syria marking targets.
Separate reports say that a British air base in Cyprus is showing considerable activity.
There already are carrier task forces in the area. With standoff weapons, including Tomahawk missiles fired from submarines, and other U.S. warships in the Mediterranean Sea, the U.S. also could fly high altitude long range B-1s and B-2s to avoid Syrian air defense systems, which have been provided by the Russians.
Sources suggest any attack should avoid Friday, a Muslim holy day. Instead, it could occur the first of next week, since a two- to four-day military campaign would bang into the Muslim holy day.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has made it clear, however, that military action would be limited and not designed for regime change.
However, there is a slippery slope in any military engagement as it is easier to start a war than to stop one. This is being reflected in what would follow limited U.S. and allied action.
Sources said that Russia and Iran have threatened some form of retaliation if Syria is attacked even with limited military action. Russia said that military intervention in Syria would have “catastrophic” consequences for the region, and called for “prudence” from the international community.
“Attempts to bypass the Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for military intervention in the region, are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and North Africa,” according to Alexander Lukashevich of the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“We are calling on our American partners and all members of the world community to demonstrate prudence and strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the U.N. Charter,” he said.
Iran, which also is a major backer of the al-Assad regime, has gone so far as to threaten Israel and Turkey should Syria be subject to U.S. and allied military action.
Several high-ranking officials of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah resistance group, which supports the al-Assad regime, also have warned of “dire consequences” from a military attack on Syria, adding that such a move would definitely engulf the region in the “flames of war.”
Senior Hezbollah officials added that a full-fledged war would ensue in the Middle East. A pro-Hezbollah supporter, Lebanese Sheikh Afif Nabulsi, said that a military strike against Syria would mean that U.S. interests throughout the Middle East would be targeted.