US President Obama recently vetoed a detailed Franco-Saudi plan for ending President Bashar Assad’s rule by means of a massive air strike against his palace that would at one fell swoop wipe him, his family and top leadership circle out, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report.
Their plan was for the presidential palace situated atop Mount Qassioun northeast of Damascus to be devastated by French warplanes taking off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off Syria’s Mediterranean coast and Saudi and United Arab Emirates bombers flying in through Jordan.
They would bomb the palace for 12 hours in several sorties while at the same time American fighter jets launched from a US aircraft carrier cruising in the Mediterranean or Red Sea would shut down Syria’s air defenses, which are considered among the most sophisticated and densely-arrayed in the region.
US warplanes would also keep the Syrian Air Force grounded and prevented from repulsing the incoming bombers.
This plan was presented to President Obama separately by Nicolas Sarkozy before he was voted out of office and Saudi Defense Minister Prince Salman, who arrived at the White House on April 12 for a personal presentation. The prince maintained that there is no end in sight for the Syrian conflict; it would only spread and ignite the rest of the Middle East. The peril could only be rooted out at source by a single, sharp military strike that would remove Assad and his close clan for good. This would be the only acceptable kind of Western-Arab armed intervention in Syria and it had the added advantage of being effective without bringing foreign boots to Syrian soil.
In early May, Sarkozy was still trying to talk Obama around to the plan. He spent his last days in the Elysée Palace in long telephone conversations with the White House in which he drove home three points:
1. Because Assad has concentrated his family, top military command and intelligence chiefs at a single nerve center behind the fortified walls of the Qassioun Palace, the snake’s head can feasibly be cut off at one stroke.
The case of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was different because, unlike Assad, he never stayed long in one place and was constantly on the move.
2. Once that nerve center is destroyed, Syrian army and intelligence would be bereft of their sources of command. Their troops may remain in their bases and wait for news, while their officers may use the sudden political vacuum in Damascus to try and seize power. In either case, the Syrian military would be free of its orders to crush the anti-Assad revolt.
3. The French, Saudi and UAE air forces lack a central command center capable of coordinating a major combined air operation and therefore depend on the United States to provide this essential component. American military input is also vital for paralyzing Syria’s air defenses by applying its cyber warfare capabilities to disrupt the radar systems of Syria’s anti-air missile batteries.
Our Washington sources report that Obama consistently resisted repeated French and Saudi efforts to jump aboard their initiative.
The Saudi defense minister at one point in their conversation told the US president harshly that it was time for the Americans to stop talking and start acting. But Obama remained unmoved.
These events, revealed here by DEBKAfile, provide the background for Presidents Barak Obama and Francois Hollande’s divergent responses Tuesday, May 29, to the al-Houla atrocity and its 108 brutally murdered victims.
The White House repeated its objection to military intervention in Syria “at this time,” because it would only “increase the carnage.” A military option was left on the table.
That was standard Obama-speak for the crisis in Syria, behind which he remains determined to stay out of armed action for unseating President Assad and instead seek a deal with the Russians on the Syrian ruler’s fate as part and parcel of a comprehensive accord on Syria and Iran’s nuclear program.
President Hollande was at first quoted as saying he does not rule out armed intervention in Syria. Elysée sources later watered down this statement with the qualifier: …”only with UN Security Council approval.” On top of the American hurdle, Moscow and Beijing rushed Wednesday, May 30, to reiterate that they would oppose (veto) any Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Syria, so effectively nipping the French intention in the bud.
Bashar Assad accordingly had no qualms about sending UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan off empty-handed from a final bid to salvage his peace mission: The world powers have left him sitting pretty in his palace, unconcerned about his future and free to pursue one of the most vicious anti-opposition campaigns of modern times.