Claiming that “the rules of the games have changed,” a political and media adviser to President Bashar Assad claimed Thursday that Syria was ready for war with international forces if hostilities were to break out.
“We are not afraid of war and we will be prepared for it if it happens,” Buthaina Shaaban told Lebanon’s Hezbollah-affiliated Al Mayadeen TV station.
Her statements came against a backdrop of heightened tensions between Syria and Russia on the one side and the US — and possible its European allies — on the other. Washington has threatened to punish Syria militarily for the chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta over the weekend in which some 40 people died.
Syria, with Russia’s backing, has denied responsibility for what happened in the rebel enclave.
Shaaban said that Syria and Russia had made preparations for a US attack, and claimed the cards were now stacked in Damascus’s favor, with the Syrian regime in a much better situation now that it had been in the past.
She charged that Israel was interested in prolonging Syria’s civil war but that a Syrian government victory over the rebels would change the region and the world, and that Israel would be “the biggest loser.”
US President Donald Trump responded Wednesday to a Russian threat to shoot down missiles aimed at Syria by tweeting, “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”
British Prime Minister Theresa May has called an emergency cabinet meeting for Thursday and The Telegraph newspaper reported that she has already ordered British submarines to move within missile range of Syria, while French President Emmanuel Macron is to decide on a response in the coming days, having insisted he does “not want an escalation” and that any response would focus on Syria’s chemical capabilities, not on allies of the regime.
Israel Radio reported Thursday that the Syrian government had sent text messages to citizens to prepare for the possibility of attack and that long queues had formed outside bakeries and other food stores.
The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Wednesday that Syrian pro-government forces were evacuating major airports and military bases in advance of an attack. Satellite photos showed that most of the Russian warships using a base at Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast had upped anchor and left.
Tension between Israel and Syria and its close ally Iran have risen this week as Tehran threatened retaliation for a deadly airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday huddled with key defense officials about the security situation on the country’s northern borders.
Netanyahu also ordered Likud ministers to refrain from publicly commenting about the security situation because of the “sensitivity of the circumstances.”
Russia, Syria, Iran and the United States have all said Israel carried out the predawn Monday missile barrage on the T-4 Air Base near Palmyra in central Syria. Israeli officials refused to comment on the strike, which reportedly killed at least 14 people, including at least seven Iranian military personnel.
On Tuesday, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened Israel over the air raid.
“The crimes will not remain unanswered,” Ali Akbar Velayati said during a visit to Syria, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Israel has regularly expressed its concern about the Iranian presence in Syria, fearing the long-term establishment of hostile forces in the neighboring country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Wednesday asked Netanyahu to avoid any steps that could increase instability in Syria.
Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel would continue to counter Iran’s efforts to build up its military presence in the war-torn country.