'The worst is yet to come'

It is a new sharp turn in the Syrian conflict. In the course of three days, the Israeli Air Force carried out two strikes that targeted shipments of advanced missiles bound for south Lebanon.

American officials confirmed the strike target was Iranian Fateh-110 missiles, which Israel thought were headed for Hezbollah.

It was followed by rocket strikes on early Sunday morning against a military research center and a large ammunition depot in al-Jamraya, on the outskirts of Damascus.

“What we see in Syria shows a very high level of intelligence and military capabilities. The fact that no one is taking responsibility [for the strikes] allows room for deniability. The regime knows that it is threatened by rebels, and a confrontation with Israel would put it in a very tough spot. The rebels hate [Bashar al-] Assad much more than Israel,” former Israeli Defense Force Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio.

His analysis withstanding, the world now knows that Israel is no longer passive at its northern border, acting for the first time since the civil war began in Syria two years ago. The Israeli turn is bound to badly mar the Assad regime’s hopes about increased cooperation with Hezbollah.

Yet, nobody predicts any de-escalation of carnage taking place on Syrian territory. On the contrary, we should prepare for more comprehensive slaughter, now targeting civilians.

At a private dinner about three weeks ago, I was in solid, gloomy terms “assured” by a former Western diplomat, who not only had served a long time in Damascus but also is an expert on the religious and cultural fabric of the region, that “he [Assad] has not even started [to slaughter] for real yet; the worst is yet to come.”

The reports coming from Syria’s Alawite “heartland” about large massacres and deportations of thousands of Sunnis near Banias are signs of his prediction. It signals annihilation and ethnic cleansing. An even bigger human catastrophe is creeping in.

Those people who are most suffering, whether they are some of the 1.4 million who have left the country, or whether they remain in Syria, are noncombatants. Those ordinary people have been swept up in a war in which they play no active part. But somehow, they are the ones suffering most acutely, with loved ones lost, homes destroyed, little or no access to work and education, and a lack of food and basic medical supplies. They are seen as collateral damage by world onlookers and backers of both sides of this dreadful conflict,” wrote The Daily Star, Lebanon, in its powerful editorial the other day.

Now, with Israel militarily and Turkey politically resolute, the American administration is squeezed between a war-weary domestic public (according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, with 65 percent against) and the dangerous impacts of a non-involvement. The overall pressure on Obama is more than justified: Inaction in the region will carry bigger-than-imagined consequences.

“[I]t would seem that the only rational way out of this impasse is for the United States to fundamentally alter its objectives in Syria. But for that to happen, its aim must shift from regime disintegration to state recentralization. The latter might still end with the departure of Assad, but not necessarily, and most likely not the regime,” wrote Reza Sanati, in a sharp analysis, titled “Syrian Options Go from Bad to Worse,” in The National Interest.

Meanwhile, as The Daily Star noted, “a regime that is forced to depend on Russian, Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese help to mount a deadly offensive against civilians and lightly armed rebel groups can take true comfort in the stance of the international community. Leading countries continue to dance around the question of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and believe that after more than 70,000 people have been killed, the parties to the struggle will be able to sort out their grievances in some sort of ‘dialogue’ process or ‘transitional phase’.”

Despite international deadlock, “radical action” is urgently required to end this suffering. If the Syrian army is still too powerful, the only solution is covert action to get Assad and his barbaric circle out of the equation, as a “restoration” must be sought with whoever in the army can keep the unity of the country.