Syria Round-Up: Tests, Posturing, and Politics
Threats and posturing seem to be filling the void as the world waits for Congress to decide whether to authorize an American military strike in retaliation for Syria's use of chemical weapons.
An unnamed Syrian military source, described as a lieutenant colonel, says dictator Bashar al-Assad is ready to send 1,000 missiles into Israel if Syria is attacked. Assad gave an interview to France's Le Figaro in which he predicted a "regional war" and "Chaos and extremism will spread."
While many Israeli officials doubt the threats, Israel has moved its Iron Dome missile defense batteries into population centers surrounding Tel Aviv to go along with Iron Dome bases near borders with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria. Early this morning, Israel tested a new missile defense system that officials claimed was planned before the latest tensions.
Reports out of Lebanon, meanwhile, indicate that Hizballah – which has been fighting alongside Syrian troops in defense of Assad's regime – has deployed its forces in anticipation of a possible conflict with Israel. Iran, Syria's key ally and Hizballah's patron, also issued threats, with a ranking parliamentarian vowing that "the flames of outrage of the region's revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime."
A nerve gas attack killed an estimated 1,400 people near Damascus Aug. 21. U.S. officials say hundreds of children were among the dead. Syria's civil war has left more than 100,000 people dead.
The chances of a U.S. strike increased Tuesday, with House Republican and Democratic leaders verbally endorsing the idea following a White House meeting. While President Obama has described a limited military action, a U.S. attack on Syria could mean more than cruise missiles launched at military targets. A new U.S. Cyber Command may target Syrian "electronic command and control systems," reports Bill Gertz in the Washington Free Beacon.
Cyber attacks on American interests might be part of any Syrian response, as well. A group loyal to Assad is believed responsible for taking down the New York Times' website for 20 hours last week.
The FBI is stepping up scrutiny on Syrians and Assad supporters inside the United States to determine if there is a threat of domestic terrorist attacks in response to any American attack on Syria, the New York Times reports. Hundreds of Syrians are expected to be questioned this week, and advisories also have been sent to state and local law enforcement agencies.
That prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to issue an advisory claiming to "strongly support law enforcement," but recommending people not cooperate with the FBI without an attorney being present.