Ultimatum for Assad as US Special Forces Land in Syria


15 April 2003

Although President George W. Bush and administration spokesmen have carefully skirted any explicit threat of military action against Syria, DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Sunday night, April 12, small teams of American undercover troops were already inside Syria marking out the hideouts of Saddam’s close family, his top lieutenants, military leaders and the directors of his banned weapons programs. US special forces troops were additionally directed to locate the men who drive the operational arms of the Hizballah, Jihad Islami and Hamas terror groups.

Twenty-four hours later, Monday night, three events brought Syria even closer to becoming the object of direct American action, additionally placing France in Washington’s sights - albeit for a different kind of punishment. Syria faces imminent economic sanctions at best – although, since experience shows they never work, military action is very much on the cards. France stands to pay a diplomatic and financial price for certain actions that have come to light.

DEBKAfile’s Washington sources describe the White House as particularly incensed over the following pieces of intelligence:

A. Documents coming to light in Baghdad directly incriminate Syria as a full partner in the financing, development and concealment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs. A source familiar with the new data reveals that Syria was not only a full partner but active in every stage of these programs to the point that they deserve to be called Iraqi-Syrian, not just Iraqi, undertakings.

Well before the UN weapons inspectors came on the scene last year, the Syrian president Bashar Assad took it upon himself to conceal the banned weapons, one by one, as they came off the production line. Syria’s support for Iraq in the UN Security Council and the attacks leveled by foreign minister Farouk a-Sharah against Washington, for venturing to accuse Iraq of concealing weapons of mass destruction, were staged to misdirect attention from the biggest political, intelligence and military fraud perpetrated since the Cold War ended.

Washington’s indignation over these discoveries has been manifested in a torrent of warnings to, and charges against Damascus in the last three days. Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld took the opportunity of the warm welcome he gave the visiting Kuwait ruler on Monday, April 14, to produce intelligence that Syria had conducted chemical weapons tests in the last year.

He could have said more. According to DEBKAfile’s Washington sources, the defense secretary was also informed that in the same period Syria test-fired missiles fitted with chemical warheads from Aleppo in the north to Djebel Druze in the south near the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordan border junction. Damascus carried out the test on behalf of the Iraqi-Syrian partnership for developing unconventional weapons.

B. The details of the comprehensive military collaboration treaty Assad secretly concluded with the now deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein that were first exposed in DEBKAfile in September 2000 are only now emerging in full. Under its terms, Syria was bound to furnish an escape hatch for fleeing Iraqi military, political, scientific and intelligence top echelons working on the banned weapons programs, as well as providing concealed locations for production to continue. Damascus was therefore committed to taking over the shared WMD projects from the point they were interrupted by a war emergency in Baghdad.

C. This discovery relates to the aid rendered Syria by France. DEBKAfile’s exclusive intelligence and military sources reveal that, from Monday night, April 14, groups of Iraqi military and scientific leaders have been transferred from Syria to France. This came about as a result of President Chirac consenting to help Assad live up to his commitments to Saddam Hussein and keep their forbidden weapons out of sight and their existence denied.

These discoveries led the Bush administration to slap down before Damascus a three-part ultimatum:

1. First, in view of Syria’s long record as sponsor of terror, the Assad regime is required to dismantle at once the command centers of the Lebanese Hizballah and the Palestinian Jihad Islami and Hamas Damascus headquarters and turn their leaders over to the United States. A list of names is supplied.

2. To hand over without delay all the weapons of mass destruction on its territory, whether they are “Iraqi” or “Syrian”.

3. To surrender to the Americans at once every one of the hundreds of Iraqi regime members, including Saddam kinsmen, granted asylum in Syria.

Assad’s failure to deliver would result in the United States acting to force his compliance.

Washington’s ultimatum evoked a frantic Arab reaction. Saudi foreign minister Saudi Al-Faisal went to Damascus to warn the Syrian ruler of grave consequences should he persist in defying the Americans. He advised him to call an urgent Arab foreign ministers meeting for Friday, April 18, and ask the Arab world to back him up in meeting Washington’s demands. The Syrian ruler has not yet informed the Saudi minister of his intentions.

Though not unaware of the danger hanging over his head, Assad is showing the same kind of stubbornness as Saddam Hussein his ally exhibited when he was urged by a procession of diplomatic well-wishers to show flexibility – or go into voluntary exile – so as to avert an American invasion.

A brief anecdote indicates the deceptive nature of the Syrian-Iraqi alliance. Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, the first Saddam regime official to concede his country’s defeat (“The game is over”), aroused some sympathy when he burst into tears in New York and vowed to devote his life to a peaceful future for his people. He announced he would be going to Paris.

Well, DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources have discovered that the weeping ambassador stayed in Paris only long enough to catch the next plane to Damascus, where he joined his not exactly peace-loving brother, who turns out to be the deposed vice president Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri.