NEW YORK - The United States has for now abandoned efforts for a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian conflict, and instead it is stepping up aid to the rebels and also trying to rally a coalition of like-minded countries, including Israel, to forcibly bring down President Bashar al-Assad’s government, The New York Times reported Sunday.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta is headed to Israel in the coming days to talk with his counterparts about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, the Times said. The administration is not advocating such an attack, US officials said, because of the risk that it would give the Syrian regime an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.
The White House, it said, is now holding daily high-level meetings to discuss a broad range of contingency plans - including safeguarding Syria’s vast chemical weapons arsenal and sending explicit warnings to both warring sides to avert mass atrocities - in a sign of the escalating seriousness of the Syrian crisis following a week of intensified fighting in Damascus, and the killing of Assad’s key security aides in a bombing attack.
The administration has had regular talks with the Israelis about how Israel might move to destroy Syrian weapons facilities, Obama administration officials said.
These officials insisted they will not provide arms to the rebel forces. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already financing those efforts. But American officials said that the United States would provide more communications training and equipment to help improve the combat effectiveness of disparate opposition forces in their widening, sustained fight against Syrian Army troops. It’s also possible the rebels would receive some intelligence support, the officials said.
By enhancing the command-and-control of the rebel formations, largely by improving their ability to communicate with one another and their superiors and to coordinate combat operations, American officials say they are seeking to build on and fuel the momentum of the rebels’ recent battlefield successes.
“You’ll notice in the last couple of months, the opposition has been strengthened,” a senior Obama administration official was quoted as saying. “Now we’re ready to accelerate that.” The official said that the hope was that support for the Syrian opposition from the United States, Arab governments and Turkey would tip the balance in the conflict.
Senior administration officials say the changes are in response to a series of setbacks at the United Nations Security Council, where Russia has staunchly refused to engineer the removal of Assad.
“You’re looking at the controlled demolition of the Assad regime,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But like any controlled demolition, anything can go wrong.”
Obama has come under criticism from some Republican hawks, who say that the United States should intervene militarily in Syria, and from the Republican presidential aspirant Mitt Romney, who has said that he would arm the Syrian opposition - a course which the administration has not taken.