Syria: intervention imminent?
Turkey on June 24 called a NATO meeting to discuss a response to the shooting down of one of its warplanes by Syrian forces the previous day. Ankara accuses Syria of shooting its F-4 Phantom over international waters without warning, and denies it was on a spy mission. While acknowledging that the plane briefly entered Syrian airspace, Ankara says it was on a routine test of Turkey’s own radar system. Damascus says the jet was shot down less than a mile from Syria's coastal province of Latakia. (BBC News, LAT, June 24; Reuters, WSJ, June 23)
The crisis comes on the heels of growing signs of a consensus for intervention among NATO and its regional allies—and the grooming of the Free Syrian Army as proxies. From The Guardian, June 22:
Saudi officials are preparing to pay the salaries of the Free Syria Army as a means of encouraging mass defections from the military and increasing pressure on the Assad regime, the Guardian has learned.
The move, which has been discussed between Riyadh and senior officials in the US and Arab world, is believed to be gaining momentum as a recent flush of weapons sent to rebel forces by Saudi Arabia and Qatar starts to make an impact on battlefields in Syria.
Officials in the Saudi capital embraced the idea when it was put to them by Arab officials in May, according to sources in three Arab states, around the same time that weapons started to flow across the southern Turkish border into the hands of Free Syria Army leaders.
Turkey has also allowed the establishment of a command centre in Istanbul which is co-ordinating supply lines in consultation with FSA leaders inside Syria. The centre is believed to be staffed by up to 22 people, most of them Syrian nationals.
From The Telegraph, June 15:
[S]enior Free Syrian Army representative met in the past week at the US State Department with the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford and Frederick Hoff, special coordinator for the Middle East, sources have confirmed.
The rebel emissaries, armed with an iPad showing detailed plans on Google Earth identifying rebel positions and regime targets, have also met with senior members of the National Security Council, which advises President Obama on national security policy.
FSA representatives in Washington have compiled a "targeted list" of heavy weaponry, including anti-tank missiles and heavy machine guns that they plan to present to US government officials in the coming two weeks.
From CNN's Security Clearance blog, June 14:
The U.S. military has completed its own planning for how American troops would conduct a variety of operations against Syria, or to assist neighboring countries in the event action was ordered, officials tell CNN.
In recent weeks, the Pentagon has finalized its assessment of what types of units would be needed, how many troops, and even the cost of certain potential operations, officials tell CNN.
Multiple military officials say initial planning is complete with a full understanding of what types of troops and units would be needed. This has been done so that if President Obama were to ask for options the military would be ready to present them. But officials say additional detailed work would have to be done before forces could be deployed.
The planning comes as the U.S. has become increasingly concerned that the violence in Syria is verging on civil war. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the recent series of bombings have heightened the worry.
Dempsey said it reminded him of the escalating violence during the Iraq war.
Inevitably, the desperate will take their allies where they can find them, and the Syrians on the receiving end of the Assad regime's bombs and bullets may well welcome NATO intervention. But we warned a year ago that the Syrian opposition had better beware of their cause being exploited by those who mean them no good. We hope they are going into the next phase of the conflict with their eyes wide open...