22nd Mar 2018

Intelligence experts: Nato has options on Assad

  • Houla massacre. The Israeli source said Assad is 'a legitimate target' for assassination (Photo: FreedomHouse2)

A former Israeli intelligence chief has said EU and Nato countries can do more on Syria than complaining about Russia or imposing sanctions.

The contact, who asked not to be named, spoke to diplomats and press in the EU capital last week.

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He said the Sunni Muslim opposition is not going to win by itself.

Assad's generals, secret police chiefs and his diplomatic corps are still loyal, while important minorities - such as Alawite Muslims, Druze Muslims and Christians, as well as businessmen in Damascus and Aleppo - do not want Sunni rule.

Outside the country, Russia, Iran, Shia Muslims in Iraq and Shittes and Christians in Lebanon, also want him to stay.

"When you see a real general, preferably an Alawite general, defect, then you will know he is on his way out ... Unless the Druze clearly change position, he is quite stable," the contact noted.

The West has been saying for the past year it cannot do to Assad what it did to Libya's Colonel Gaddafi because Russia is refusing to give it a UN mandate.

On Friday (15 June) the EU reacted to news that the UN monitoring mission is suspending operations by imposing another embargo on imports of luxury goods to Syria.

But the Israeli contact believes the West does not need UN permission to make Assad loyalists think "a tsunami" is coming to sweep him away.

Potential measures include: moving a Nato aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean; Turkish military exercises on the Syrian border; moving Turkish army divisions to the border; conducting Nato reconaissance flights in Syrian airspace; sending messages to Assad generals via intelligence contacts that "the world is serious" about regime change.

"Sometimes a stick in the air is better than a stick on the head," the contact said.

If it comes to Libya-type intervention, he noted that Assad's Russian-made anti-aircraft defences are no match for Western air power and that his army will not use its chemical weapons.

"[Assad] knows that if he uses chemical weapons today then the end is tomorrow. Even if he knows the end is tomorrow, he will not use them today. Look at the example of [late Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein: Israeli citizens were issued with gas masks [during the Gulf War] but nothing happened," he said.

Why not kill Assad?

He added that Assad has become "a legitimate target" for assassination, but the West "still has hesitations about whether to cross the Rubicon."

For his part, Michel Koutouzis, a Paris-based intelligence expert, told EUobserver it would be impossible to kill Assad without tacit Russian approval.

"Intelligence services know each other. They talk to each other. You can kill your own people [such as Russia's poisoning of ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London]. But this [Assad] would be outside the rules of the game," he said.

He also said Turkey could remove him "overnight" by closing dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and shutting off Syria's drinking water.

But he warned that if the West or if Saudi Arabia arms the opposition, they would transform the situation from a regime massacre to a sectarian civil war, with no 'innocent victims' for outsiders to help.

A Turkish contact told this website: "I am not sure that it is technically feasible or politically acceptable in any circumstances to cut off the water supply of the innocent Syrian people."

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