Thursday, January 31, 2013

Too Late to Play the Jewish Card?

Assad famously asserted that regime and public shared hatred of Israel would keep the people in line. He was wrong. But will Assad attempt to provoke a war with Israel to try to rally his army to fight for the regime?

Syria and Iran are saying Israel bombed a target in Damascus despite rebel claims that they attacked the facility. But because Israel did attack a convoy of arms heading for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad is claiming Israel attacked Syria--and promises a response:

Damascus could take "a surprise decision to respond to the aggression of the Israeli warplanes", Syrian ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdul-Karim Ali said a day after Israel struck against Syria.

"Syria is engaged in defending its sovereignty and its land," Ali told a website of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

Iran and Russia are voicing support for Syria. Iran already pledged that an attack on Syria is an attack on Iran. Were these guys waiting for a pretense to do something?

The revolt is too far along for Assad to rally the Sunni Arabs to his side. Sixty thousand dead will do that.

But with much of the army sitting out the fight because they aren't trustworthy enough to fight Sunni Arab rebels, might Assad try to get the army fighting on his side against Israel? Get them fighting for Assad for something acceptable, and maybe he can commit them to secondary tasks that support the loyal troops who fight the rebels.

Would this work? Could Assad order the army to engage Israeli troops along the Golan Heights in a limited engagement in order to rekindle a fighting spirit among his dispirited and questionable Sunni Arab troops?

Unless Syria simply plans to lob missiles at Israel in the hope that the threat of wider war will get everyone to demand a ceasefire now, while it isn't too late to save Assad's regime.

This would be risky since Israeli air power could tear up Syrian air bases and command-and-control facilities.

And Israel might strike chemical depots in an escalation. Which might prompt a Turkish-led intervention to secure them and prevent Syria from turning its sights on Turkey.

Perhaps the Russians will announce the deployment of marines and paratroopers to Syria.

Assad can't win the way he is fighting. That's for sure. But what might Assad do to change the game to one he can win? And what are the Russians and Iranians prepared to do to save Assad?