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Pentagon hawks plan military strike for ‘regime change’ in Syria

Diplomats alarmed by US military strategy to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Hawks in the US administration are pressing for military intervention to topple the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

One well-placed American diplomat, speaking to Exaro on condition of anonymity, said that the US Department of Defense has drawn up secret plans to bring about ‘regime change’ in Syria.

But the Pentagon’s plans are causing consternation in the US diplomatic community, he said. His comments came as two former UK ambassadors to countries in the Middle East warned the West against direct military intervention in Syria.

There is no doubt that there is external support being provided to the revolutionaries

Bob Ayers, a former US intelligence officer

The diplomatic source, who is familiar with US government planning in recent conflict zones, said that hawks in the Pentagon believe that the American military can pull off a repeat of what they see as a success in helping to bring about the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya.

He said: “The plan is to launch military action as soon as the US government has persuaded the American and European public of the need to strike.”

US diplomatic staff were being prepared for roles in Syria after military action, he said.

However, he added that many of them have grave doubts about the strategy, and raise questions about whether Libya really counts as a success for military intervention.

The Russian government claims to have seen intelligence indicating advanced plans for a Western military incursion, with the main effort coming from Turkey.

But Turkish officials have reportedly made clear that their country will not intervene in Syria except under an international umbrella provided by the United Nations security council and Nato, with the backing of the Arab League.

Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, has urged Russia to use its influence on Assad to curb the fighting. She said that the Russians “are telling me they do not want to see a civil war, and I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war.”

At the same time, Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, warned at the end of May that a Russian veto at the security council would not necessarily prevent international action if the UN-brokered peace plan fails.

However, Bob Ayers, a former US intelligence officer who worked for the Pentagon, thinks that the US will not take direct military action.

He believes that Assad will be overthrown within six months though insurrection, mainly as a result of military defections to the rebels.

Ayers, now an associate fellow at Chatham House, the international-affairs think-tank, told Exaro: “There is no doubt that there is external support being provided to the revolutionaries. I would not consider that to be intervention per se, but they are certainly getting external support.

“They are getting weapons; they are getting communications support from external sources. I think that there is going to be an increasing number of people from the regular military forces who will defect to the revolutionaries, swap sides.”

Nehad Ismail, a journalist who worked for five years as a presenter for Arab News Network, a London-based TV channel owned and run by rival members of Assad’s family, including the Syrian president’s uncle, Rifaat, and the uncle’s sons Ribal and Siwar, said that ground troops were unnecessary to bring about regime change.

He supports indirect military intervention. He said that safe havens, including no-fly zones, should be set up on the borders of Syria, with Turkey in the north, Lebanon in the west and Jordan in the south.

The oppositional Free Syrian Army should be given anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons, he said. Saudi Arabia had supplied arms to the rebels, he believes, with US approval.

He predicted Assad’s fall before the end of the year. Assad would not back down, but “knows he is in a hole”.

“By their actions, they are inviting the United Nations to take action against Syria. So, at some stage, there will have to be some external forces to stop this regime, or topple it, because it is not doing anything to alleviate the situation.”

However, specialists in security or in the Middle East told Exaro that direct military intervention was unlikely.

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