TEL AVIV – The United States and Saudi Arabia are holding discussions about the possibility of targeting the regime of Syrian President Basher al-Assad, according to a top source in Assad’s regime.
The source said the information was intercepted by Russia.
The discussion about targeting Assad was at the heart of the visit to Russia last week by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, the source said. Moualem met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the leaders were discussing “bilateral relations,” but he declined to further comment on the matter of Moualem’s visit.
The Assad-regime source said Moualem’s meetings in Russia centered on “urgent” information intercepted by Moscow that the Saudis were discussing with the U.S. and other Western allies the possibility of striking Assad’s forces during a planned counter-attack against ISIS positions in Syria.
The source told WND that Putin and Lavrov assured Moualem that Russia “won’t stand for” any Western attack on Assad and that the Russians pledged “support” and “protection” to the Assad regime.
WND reported last week that, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials, Turkey and Saudi Arabia sought to base their cooperation in the fight against ISIS on a U.S. agreement to also target Assad’s forces.
The sources said the U.S. did not agree to expand the battle beyond ISIS to target the Syrian regime.
The Obama administration seems unlikely to acquiesce to any requests to target Assad’s forces as part of the fight against ISIS.
According to reports, Chuck Hagel’s departure as defense secretary may have come amid disagreements over whether to target Assad. Hagel reportedly raised concerns that the U.S. strategy against ISIS did not fully address the issue of the Syrian regime.
Last month, Hagel refused to confirm reports he had sent a letter to National Security Adviser Susan Rice documenting his concerns about the lack of a strategy on Assad. He did tell Pentagon reporters at a briefing that Assad “derives some benefits” from the U.S.-led coalition’s exclusive focus on ISIS.
Earlier this month, Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee there is “no change and there is no different direction” regarding the decision not to target Assad’s regime.
Meanwhile, the Middle Eastern defense officials described a planned “big counter attack” against ISIS by the end of this year or the beginning of 2015. The officials said the strategy includes more likely coalition air strikes against ISIS plus an increased number of deployed U.S. and Western advisers to train the Iraqi Army and Kurdish fighters.
The officials described numerous U.S. and Western requests to Turkey and Saudi Arabia to help train and direct thousands of rebels to fight ISIS.
The descriptions of a planned surge against ISIS mirrors reports President Obama has authorized additional troops to join the 1,400 already deployed in Iraq, with the number expected to grow to 3,100 as part of an advisory and training mission.
Further, the Obama administration has outlined a plan to train up to 5,000 Mideast rebels to fight ISIS.