Over the past 24 hours, Syria has been portraying a “business as usual” attitude. Occasionally, a low-ranking Syrian official may utter a meaningless statement — in Syria, even the prime minister is not part of the decision-making circle — regarding the country’s intention to strike “the Zionists” in case of an attack on the “motherland,” but in actuality, there are no substantive preparations for war against Israel.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is also no indication of any ruptures among the Syrian leadership. No demand to replace Bashar Assad has yet been aired. Defying him plainly remains out of the question.
Preparations have been made, however, for absorbing a severe military blow by the American army. The Syrian army has seen an extensive mobilization of troops and arms in recent days; the evacuation of headquarters, guard positions and missile bases; and the scattering of critical weapons systems, such as Scud missile and missile launchers, throughout the country.
The bloody routine in Syria continues as well, in the form of attacks on opposition positions in Damascus, Daraa, Homs and elsewhere. On Friday morning, a Syrian military airstrike left dozens of people dead.
The Syrian Air Force constitutes the regime’s most significant advantage against the opposition. Therefore, the assumption among Israeli officials is that Assad will be wary of a confrontation with the IDF — a step which would essentially result in the loss of his air force. Assad is not keen on suicide, as he has demonstrated more than once over the past two and a half years.
It should be noted that Israeli intelligence in the last decade has been very effective with regard to Syria. And up until now, at least on the Israeli side, there is no indication that Assad plans to attack Israeli targets in the event of an American assault. (As for Hezbollah, the likelihood of the terror group attacking Israel is very low as well, due to the fact that any such act would not be currently beneficial to the group’s Tehrani masters.)
Much depends on the work of the UN inspectors who crossed the border from Syria into Lebanon on Friday afternoon, a day earlier than planned. The inspectors are expected to determine whether or not a chemical attack took place on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus.
If the inspectors do not provide overwhelming evidence of Syrian government involvement in the chemical attack, if they have no “smoking gun,” then there can be no certainty of an international coalition coming together alongside the US to attack Assad.
Without such a coalition, the pressure on Obama not to attack would only increase. If Obama chooses to lead a military adventure into Syria without conclusive proof and without international backing, he will be harshly criticized (especially in the liberal circles that elected him) for dragging the US into yet another unnecessary war. But if Obama ignores this 13th alleged chemical attack by the Syrian regime against civilians since his famous “red line” speech last year, his credibility will be further diminished throughout the Middle East, and especially in Iran.
For now, it seems that Obama would rather attack Syria and absorb the criticism at home. The alternative would mean the abandonment of the Syrian people. And it would send a message to Iran that it can seek and acquire a nuclear bomb.