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How The Region Might React To An Attack On Syria


If the U.S. launches some kind of military action against the Syrian government, what are some of the possible consequences in the region and beyond? Joshua Foust is a former intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and joins us in our studios. Thanks so much for being with us.

JOSHUA FOUST: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Let's take this in stages. What happens the morning after U.S. military action? How do you see the Syrian government responding?

FOUST: I think a lot of that is going to depend on what gets struck. We've heard from different U.S. officials, different ideas of what they wanted to strike first; ranging from chemical weapons facilities in and around Damascus to military targets, to even what's called C2 - or command and control - targets, which is how the Assad regime actually issues commands to the Syria military.

This past week, on Thursday, there were reports coming out of Syria that the government was moving civilians into sensitive targets, to try to generate some kind of either human shield effect, or to in other ways increase the costs, the civilian costs of any kind of strike. So when that happens, it's almost a guarantee that the Assad regime is going to be condemning this in the media, and everyone's going to be more or less holding their breath to see what Russia and Iran do as the day goes on.

SIMON: Does Iran send missiles into Israel?

FOUST: We don't know yet. Iran has certainly threatened that. They threatened on - I believe - Wednesday that if there are strikes into Syria, then they will quote-unquote "destroy Israel." They've made similar threats before and never carried them out. I think it's likely there will be some sort of reprisal action.

But what actually worries me more is whether or not Iranian troops get struck. There have been a lot of reports coming out of the country - including from analysts who've traveled there very recently - that Iranian troops are setting up shop in certain chemical weapons facilities; in particular, around Damascus, which is where most of the Farsi-speaking advisers have concentrated. ]>

SIMON: Turkey, Jordan?

FOUST: Turkey has been an interesting case in Syria. They've become much more aggressive toward the regime over the last several - well, years, actually. There's a light possibility that they might try to move in from the border several miles or several dozen kilometers, to try to establish some sort of buffer because all of the Syrian refugee camps on the Turkish side of the border have become increasingly violent and have taken increasing fire from Syria.

As for Jordan, I think they're probably going to stay relatively quiet. They have so far. They've served more as a refugee camp and a logistics corridor than anything else and it's probably likely they'll continue doing that.

SIMON: What about Saudi Arabia?

FOUST: From the people I've spoken to both in the region and who've recently returned from the region, they blame the Saudis for funding a lot of those Jihadist groups. One actually said to me they're really freaking scary. They are incredibly scary people that they're funding to the point to where some western observers who travel in Syria can no longer go to places that are controlled by these groups.

SIMON: Let me reverse our focus. What would the consequences be of doing nothing?

FOUST: The consequences of doing nothing are just that the status quo remains the same, which would mean you have an increasing degradation of Syrian regime control over their own militias. There are growing reports, in particular out of Aleppo, that most of the fighting being done now is no longer by the Syrian army itself but rather with these semi-independent pro-government militias from the opposition side.

I think we will also see the continued dominance of al-Qaeda affiliated or Jihadist linked groups. They've been displacing, in a lot of rebel controlled areas in the north, control away from the more moderate or slightly more secular opposition groups and without any action that's almost certain to continue.

SIMON: Joshua Foust is a former intelligence analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency. Thanks for being with us.

FOUST: Thanks for having me.


SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.