Western intelligence: 7 m. Syrians in revolt – too many for Assad to suppress
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report April 30, 2011, 10:35 PM (GMT+02:00) Tags: Syria Syrian uprising Bashar Assad Mahar Assad Iran Obama Turkey Slaughter at Moaret Al-Noman near Homs
After shelling, tank assaults and siege left 100 protesters dead in the last 48 hours without quelling the unrest, Western intelligence sources believe it has careered beyond President Bashar Assad's ability to hold the menace to his regime at bay – and estimate shared by Ankara. It is likely to keep on spreading and evolve into armed rebellion. Those sources estimate the uprising as already encompassing 6-7 million Syrians (out of a population of 26 million) and a third of its area.
There are centers of dissent in the north, south and center, including the coastal strip. The outlying towns of Damascus the capital are in rebel hands. President Assad has thrown into the crackdown on the uprising every military asset he can spare without further jeopardizing his regime.
At the end of the week, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was worried enough to send a delegation of intelligence chiefs to Damascus to warn Assad that after his bloodbath had claimed up to 800 lives in six weeks, it must be stopped or his regime would go down.
Friday, April 29, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Interior Minister Osman Gunes, Dep. Chief of Staff Gen. Aslan Guner, MIT Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan and Ambassador to Syria Omer Onhon put their heads together in Ankara on the crisis in neighboring Syria. They were all pessimistic about Assad's chances of survival and concluded the uprising against him had gone too far to stop.
Saturday morning, April 30, debkafile reported: US President Barack Obama signed an executive order Friday April 29 imposing sanctions on members of the Assad family for brutality against civilian protesters after learning that pro-Iranian officers and intelligence chiefs within the ruling family and top military command were conspiring to overthrow President Bashar Assad.
They accuse him of being too slow and too soft (sic) in suppressing the popular uprising and are pushing for more direct Iranian intervention before it develops into a full-blown armed rebellion.
The conspirators targeted by the new American sanctions are the president's brother Maher Assad, commander of the Republican Guard and the Army's 4th Division, which is responsible for the ongoing massacre in Daraa; Bashar's cousin Atif Najib, head of the Political Security Directorate for Daraa Province; and Gen. Ali Mamluk, director of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate.
The sanctions order also named the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) for aiding the Syrian crackdown.
Mahar Assad claims his brother should have rooted out the uprising against the regime much earlier on by swifter and harsher physical action before its ringleaders had a chance to turn to armed rebellion, debkafile's intelligence sources report. He has warned the president that the level of suppression pursued in the last six weeks has left the dissidents able to set up armed cells in Syrian cities and bring their defiance of the authorities to a standoff. Before long, he says, armed resistance will take hold in Damascus too.
Already Friday, protesters took on troops in at least two places, debkafile's military sources report. In Daraa, which is still fighting after weeks of brutal repression, protesters were able to kill at least six officers and troops and take two hostage; in Homs in the north, three Syrian police officers went down under demonstrators' bullets.
Those centers of unrest also felt the hard edge of the military savagery which Friday left at least 62 demonstrators dead and hundreds injured in more than 50 cities across the country.
But the conspirators insist it is not enough: They want Assad to crack down harder with the help of intensified Iranian intelligence and logistical intervention. The opposition is already receiving a constant flow of weapons organized by Saudi intelligence and smuggled in from Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon. The quantities are beyond control of Syrian army and security forces. More direct help from Iran is essential.
debkafile sources report that until now Assad has restricted incoming Iranian aid to ammunition and anti-riot equipment – fresh supplies of which Iranian military aircraft landed in Damascus in the last 24 hours. But he denied landing permission to another Iranian flight which carried 200 members of Revolutionary Guard special units trained to break up demonstrations in urban areas. That plane returned to Tehran.
According to our Washington sources, Atif Najib, the former Horon Baath party's security chief whom Assad named to suppress the Daraa-centered uprising, and Ali Mamluk, back Maher in pushing hard for tougher action against the uprising. They are clamoring for direct Revolutionary Guards intervention and are in direct communications with IRGC officers over the president's head.
debkafile's Iranian sources name their Iranian contact as Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who has set up a secret operational base close to the Syrian border – either in Iraq or Lebanon – to keep Iran's hand on developments in Syria and watch out for a military coup in Damascus.
These events prompted the US president to link Syrian and Iranian intelligence for the first time in a single executive order. Administration officials in Washington admitted that the new sanctions were symbolic more than practical since none of the officers named have bank accounts, property or business ties in the US.
It was a signal, they said, to Tehran and the plotters in Damascus that the US was onto the schemes taking shape in the hidden corners of the Syrian regime and keeping a close watch on events.