With no political solution to the Syrian civil war on the horizon, the Obama administration is switching gears, and rather than seeking a diplomatic way out, will now concentrate on removing the Assad regime by force.
Administration officials have been in talks with officials in Turkey and Israel over how to manage a Syrian government collapse. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is headed to Israel in the next several days to meet with Israeli defense counterparts, following up on a visit last week by President Obama’s national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, in part to discuss the Syrian crisis.
The White House is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans — including safeguarding Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities — in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, the capital, and the killing of Mr. Assad’s key security aides in a bombing attack.
The administration has had regular talks with the Israelis about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, administration officials said. The administration is not advocating such an attack, the officials said, because of the risk that it would give Mr. Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.
Administration officials insist they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.
It’s still not a good idea to give arms to the Syrian rebels. The CIA has yet to determine who the terrorists are fighting on the side of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and arming the wrong people is liable to come back and haunt us in any post-Assad Syria. There is also a concern about arming other extremists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who are maneuvering for power in the Syrian National Council, the main opposition political group.
But Syria is disintegrating. President Assad still has powerful forces at his command but his authority is being undermined as the FSA attacks Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s two largest cities. Chaos in Syria might spread to neighboring Lebanon and give Turkey problems as well. If a collapse can be engineered quickly and order restored, it would be better for the entire region.