DEBKAfile's Washington sources report exclusively that President Barack Obama has finally resolved to stamp down hard on Syrian President Bashar Assad in person as the man responsible for the inhuman Syrian crackdown on protest against his regime and the massacre of hundreds of dissenters. Before his much-awaited speech on US relations with Middle East Muslim nations Thursday, May 19, Obama is preparing to impose sanctions on the Syrian president. The White House is working on the final text of the announcement but has already decided to recall the newly-appointed US Ambassador to Damascus Robert Ford for consultations.
An American ambassador was last recalled from Damascus in 2005. It took five years for Obama to appoint Robert Ford to the post in late 2010.
The administration has also decided to authorize the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to report to the UN Security Council that Syria was building a plutonium reactor for military purposes at Deir A-Zour, which it was bombed by Israeli in September 2007. Damascus has refused to cooperate with the nuclear watchdog in making the site available for inspection. The IAEA is therefore urged to seek the same Security Council for Syria as those imposed on Iran for its nuclear activities.
Barack Obama was finally convinced that Assad must be stopped without delay by the horrifying discovery of hastily-dug dug mass graves near the protest center of Daraa in southern Syria. The civilian death toll from Assad's savage three-month crackdown on dissent is now well past 1,000.
It is taken into account, DEBKAfile's military sources report that tough American measures targeting Assad will bring forth heightened Syrian-Israeli border tensions, potentially in the form of a limited Syrian military strike into Israel or Lebanon or both. Indeed his cousin Rami Makhlouf threatened that instability in Syria would cause instability in Israel.
The expectation of trouble to come was strengthened by the information reaching Washington that Syrian military intelligence and Ahmed Jibril's PFL-General Command had organized the forcible crossing of the Israeli border on the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, Sunday, May 15, of thousands of Palestinians streaming out of the camps in which they are held near Damascus. The operation was also synchronized with the Lebanese Hizballah.
According to this information, Syria and the PFL-GC are planning another mass incursion in the same format for June 5, the 44th anniversary of the 1967 War, when Syria lost part of the Golan after attacking Israel.
In advance of the event, the Israeli Defense Forces and Lebanese army have reinforced the units guarding their borders and are on a high state of preparedness.
The IDF's engineering corps has embarked on a crash operation for building a proper defense system with physical obstacles along the 220-kilometer Israeli-Syrian border in place of the fragile fence that crowds of Palestinians trampled on May 15.
Washington's impatience with Syria was evident in the harsh tone of the White House rebuke of Syria as "inciting protests on the Golan Heights" and therefore responsible for the clash and loss of life which resulted: "The Jewish state has the right to prevent unauthorized crossing at its borders," said White House spokesman Jay Carney Monday.
The White House's allusion to Israel's borders in the Golan context was deliberate, our Washington sources report.It signposted Barack Obama's intention to emphasize the importance the US attaches to Israeli border security as a matter of policy when he meets Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House Friday, May 20 and again when he addresses the conference of the US-Israeli lobby AIPAC Sunday, May 22.
According to our sources, too, the US President has no intention of outlining a Middle East peace plan for dictating to Israel in his address to the Muslim world Thursday, May 19.
This suggestion which is the subject of heated debate in Israel did not originate with US administration sources but political opposition elements at home which have an interest in pushing the Netanyahu government to the wall.