Syrian President Bashar Assad, warning to “expect everything” as a response to any U.S. strike against his country, appeared to be hoping to use veiled threats to influence a U. S. public already wary about taking action.
His comments came in an interview with Charlie Rose on “CBS This Morning.”
When asked if “everything” included chemical warfare, Assad replied, "That depends. If the rebels or the terrorists in this region, or any other group have it, it could happen, I don't know. I am not a fortune teller.”
The Syrian dictator could have been referring to a range of possibilities.
One was perhaps Hezbollah in Lebanon, with its expanded arsenal of more than 60,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking Israel.
According to the Israeli Defense Force, Hezbollah built up its missile stockpile after the 2006 conflict with Israel and now has missiles that could reach Eilat.
In recent days, the leader of Hezbollah in neighboring Iraq threatened that Iraq's Shi'ite groups, would attack U.S. targets in the Gulf, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.
In addition, an Iraqi Shia group told the Iranian news agency it has "23,000 fully-trained and equipped martyrdom-seeking forces who can blow the U.S. interests in Iraq and the Persian Gulf at any time if the U.S. commits such a stupid act."
“I think the response, if it comes, will be not be immediate,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It will be over time and not direct. It will be indirect. It will be asymmetrical. It could come against soft targets, relatively speaking, diplomatic facilities of the United States in Lebanon and Iraq. It could come in the form of terrorist attacks, sabotage, a variety of options.”
Iran is likely to stay on the sidelines, according to Miller.
“They are not going to expend resources on a confrontation with the United States in order to save Assad and neither is Hezbollah, who will save their formidable arsenal of high-trajectory weapons…in the event the Israelis or the United States attack Iran's nuclear facilities.”
Experts say Russia also doesn't want to go to war over Syria.
“I think there's been a real fixation on this Russian naval base that's misplaced,” said Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The Russian naval repair facility and the port of Tartus is basically a large gas station. It can only hold a few ships at a time and there's a small handful of staff that work there that are not all active duty military.”
Deputy National Security adviser Tony Blinken told White House reporters Monday Assad was, in essence, bluffing.
“It's our judgment that President Assad and Syria would have very little interest in picking a fight with the U.S.,” he said.
That logic may not hold, based on past experience. The White House never expected Assad to use chemical weapons when it drew a “red line” a year ago. The State Department is not so sure.
“Assad and his regime have shown no limits to their brutality against their own people,” said State Department spokesman Marie Harf.
“Whether that's their use of chemical weapon, whether that's Hezbollah, whether that's people coming to Syria and perpetrating terrorist attacks throughout the region. I don't want to venture to guess what Bashar al Assad means when he says certain things.”