‘The fire is approaching’: Syria and its allies threaten regional war

Brendan Bordelon | Contributor

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.

“In case of a U.S. military strike against Syria, the flames of outrage of the region’s revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime,” said an influential member of the Iranian parliament.

An Iranian general threatened that “any attack on Syria would burn down down Israel.”

There have been reports of Iranian special forces inside Syria for months actively assisting the Assad regime. A U.S. strike on Syrian targets could inadvertently kill or wound some of these soldiers, further raising the prospect of an Iranian response.

Finally there’s Syria itself, which is rapidly gearing up for the looming American assault. The Wall Street Journal writes that the Assad regime is moving soldiers into abandoned apartment buildings, as well as stationing military equipment at densely-packed intersections and alleyways to hide them from U.S. bombs.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned that he expected the conflict to widen if American intervention goes forward.

“The Middle East is a powder keg and the fire is approaching,” he said on Monday. “Everybody will lose control of the situation when the powder keg will explode. Chaos and extremism will spread. The risk of a regional war exists.”

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