Syria’s President Bashar Assad has moved to an underground bunker, and sent his family to “secure places,” ahead of an anticipated US attack, Israeli television reported Saturday night.
“Assad is in a bunker,” the Channel 2 news report said, adding that the president in the past few days has been overseeing the evacuations of military command centers, ordering the relocation of sensitive equipment, and doing his utmost to minimize the damage of the looming US attack. Some forces and equipment have been moved to school and university campuses, including the campus of Homs University, the report said.
The movement of personnel away from likely targets was actually good for the US, a former Israeli army intelligence chief said, since it would likely reduce the casualty toll, and it would also reduce Assad’s incentive to retaliate.
If the US attack is not too devastating, Assad will emerge from the bunker “and say ‘I’ve won,’” said Gen. (ret.) Aharon Zeevi Farkash. “He’ll say ‘I stood up to [the US]. Now I can continue fighting the rebels.’”
One target Assad cannot move, and that is very likely to be attacked, Farkash said, is the SSRC, the Scientific Studies and Research Center in Damascus, at the heart of Assad’s chemical weapons industry.
Key airports would likely be among the US targets, Farkash added.
Farkash predicted a US strike involving about 100 Tomahawk missiles.
Another former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, noted on Friday that only a threat to fire 250 or 300 Tomahawks, and leave Assad without an air force, and with no chemical weapons industry — reducing his advantages in the civil war and drastically weakening his prospects of survival — might just prompt the Syrian president to agree to send his chemical weapons stocks to Russia and avert an attack. But this scenario was most unlikely, Yadlin said.
Syria expects a US attack “at any moment,” a senior Syrian security official said Saturday, hours after UN inspectors probing a suspected chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21, left the country. And “we are ready to retaliate at any moment,” said the official.
A Kuwaiti paper cited by Israel Radio Saturday quoted Gulf sources as saying that the US planned to strike on Saturday, or Sunday at the latest. The paper quoted diplomatic sources as saying that America will launch strikes in Syria from various bases, including those in Turkey and Cyprus.