As American lawmakers debate the merits of Syrian intervention, friends of the Assad regime are lining up behind their ally, pledging diplomatic, intelligence and even military support if the cruise missiles start flying.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia fighting side-by-side with Assad against the rebels, will strike back at American ships if an attack takes place.
“The resistance [Hezbollah] and the armed forces are now one body,” said a senior Syrian official on Monday. “In my assessment, Hezbollah will side with Syria in certain operations targeting warships in the Mediterranean.”
The threat is not an idle one. During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, a land-based missile launched by Hezbollah struck an Israeli warship off the Lebanese coast, killing four sailors and severely damaging the vessel.
Hezbollah, a State Department-designated terrorist group with ties to Iran, also promised to launch missiles into Israel in response to an American strike on the Assad regime. Witnesses in Lebanon claim that they are already mobilizing their forces in preparation.
The U.S. destroyers and amphibious assault craft already off the Syrian coast face seaborne threats as well. Reuters reports that Russia is sending a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean “to gather current information in the area of escalating conflict.”
A CNN military analyst cautioned that the “state-of-the-art electronic reconnaissance platform” has the capability to monitor the movements and communications of American warships, and could provide the Syrian regime with crucial information on impending missile launches.
“You have to assume that they’ve set up some sort of an early-warning net with the Syrians,” he continued, “so the information is going to go right to Syrian air defense headquarters in Damascus.”
The Syrian coastal city of Tartous is home to the only Russian naval base outside of the Russian Federation, making the outcome of the conflict vital to Russian strategic interests. Additional Russian warships are currently on standby in the eastern Mediterranean.
Then there’s Iran, arguably Syria’s closest ally and a prolific provider of military aid to the beleaguered Assad regime.
While Iran has been relatively quiet in recent days, last week Iranian lawmakers and commanders threatened retaliation against Israel if an American attack occurs.