Reported US-Syrian Accord on Air Strikes

Exclusive: A problem with President Obama’s plan to expand the war against ISIS into Syria was always the risk that Syrian air defenses might fire on U.S. warplanes, but now a source says Syria’s President Assad has quietly agreed to permit strikes in some parts of Syria, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Obama administration, working through the Russian government, has secured an agreement from the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to permit U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in parts of Syria, according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.

The reported agreement would clear away one of the chief obstacles to President Barack Obama’s plan to authorize U.S. warplanes to cross into Syria to attack Islamic State forces the concern that entering Syrian territory might prompt anti-aircraft fire from the Syrian government’s missile batteries.

The usual protocol for the U.S. military when operating in territory without a government’s permission is to destroy the air defenses prior to conducting airstrikes so as to protect American pilots and aircraft, as was done with Libya in 2011. However, in other cases, U.S. intelligence agencies have arranged for secret permission from governments for such attacks, creating a public ambiguity usually for the benefit of the foreign leaders while gaining the necessary U.S. military assurances.

President Barack Obama in his weekly address on Sept. 13, 2014, vowing to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (White House Photo)

President Barack Obama in his weekly address on Sept. 13, 2014, vowing to degrade and ultimately defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (White House Photo)

In essence, that appears to be what is happening behind the scenes in Syria despite the hostility between the Obama administration and the Assad government. Obama has called for the removal of Assad but the two leaders find themselves on the same side in the fight against the Islamic State terrorists who have battled Assad’s forces while also attacking the U.S.-supported Iraqi government and beheading two American journalists.

In a national address last week, Obama vowed to order U.S. air attacks across Syria’s border without any coordination with the Syrian government, a proposition that Damascus denounced as a violation of its sovereignty. So, in this case, Syria’s behind-the-scenes acquiescence also might provide some politically useful ambiguity for Obama as well as Assad.

Yet, this secret collaboration may go even further and include Syrian government assistance in the targeting of the U.S. attacks, according to the source who spoke on condition of anonymity. That is another feature of U.S. military protocol in conducting air strikes to have some on-the-ground help in pinpointing the attacks.

As part of its public pronouncements about the future Syrian attacks, the Obama administration sought $500 million to train “vetted” Syrian rebels to handle the targeting tasks inside Syria as well as to carry out military ground attacks. But that approach while popular on Capitol Hill could delay any U.S. airstrikes into Syria for months and could possibly negate Assad’s quiet acceptance of the U.S. attacks, since the U.S.-backed rebels share one key goal of the Islamic State, the overthrow of Assad’s relatively secular regime.

Just last month, Obama himself termed the strategy of arming supposedly “moderate” Syrian rebels “a fantasy.” He told the New York Times’ Thomas L. Friedman: “This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.”

Obama’s point would seem to apply at least as much to having the “moderate” rebels face down the ruthless Islamic State jihadists who engage in suicide bombings and slaughter their captives without mercy. But this “fantasy” of the “moderate” rebels has a big following in Congress and on the major U.S. op-ed pages, so Obama has included the $500 million in his war plan despite the risk it poses to Assad’s acquiescence to American air attacks.

Neocon Wish List

Without Assad’s consent, the U.S. airstrikes might require a much wider U.S. bombing campaign to first target Syrian government defenses, a development long sought by Official Washington’s influential neoconservatives who have kept “regime change” in Syria near the top of their international wish list.

For the past several years, the Israeli government also has sought the overthrow of Assad, even at the risk of Islamic extremists gaining power. The Israeli thinking had been that Assad, as an ally of Iran, represented a greater threat to Israel because his government was at the center of the so-called Shiite crescent reaching from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut and southern Lebanon, the base for Hezbollah.

The thinking was that if Assad’s government could be pulled down, Iran and Hezbollah two of Israel’s principal “enemies” would be badly damaged. A year ago, then-Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren articulated this geopolitical position in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” Oren said. “We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran.” He said this was the case even if the other “bad guys” were affiliated with al-Qaeda.

More recently, however, with the al-Qaeda-connected Nusra Front having seized Syrian territory adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights forcing the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers the balance of Israeli interests may be tipping in favor of preferring Assad to having Islamic extremists possibly penetrating directly into Israeli territory.

Direct attacks on Israel would be a temptation to al-Nusra Front, which is competing for the allegiance of young jihadists with the Islamic State. While the Islamic State, known by the acronyms ISIS or ISIL, has captured the imaginations of many youthful extremists by declaring the creation of a “caliphate” with the goal of driving Western interests from the Middle East, al-Nusra could trump that appeal by actually going on the offensive against one of the jihadists’ principal targets, Israel.

Yet, despite Israel’s apparent rethinking of its priorities, America’s neocons appear focused still on their long-held strategy of using violent “regime change” in the Middle East to eliminate governments that have been major supporters of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, i.e. Syria and Iran.

One reason why Obama may have opted for a secretive overture to the Assad regime, using intelligence channels with the Russians as the middlemen, is that otherwise the U.S. neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies would have howled in protest.

The Russian Hand

Besides the tactical significance of U.S. intelligence agencies arranging Assad’s tacit acceptance of U.S. airstrikes over Syrian territory, the reported arrangement is also significant because of the role of Russian intelligence serving as the intermediary.

That suggests that despite the U.S.-Russian estrangement over the Ukraine crisis, the cooperation between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been extinguished; it has instead just gone further underground.

Last year, this subterranean collaboration between Obama and Putin represented a potential tectonic geopolitical shift in the Middle East. In the short term, their teamwork produced agreements that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria last September (by getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal) and struck a tentative deal with Iran to constrain but not eliminate its nuclear program.

In the longer term, by working together to create political solutions to various Mideast crises, the Obama-Putin cooperation threatened to destroy the neocons’ preferred strategy of escalating U.S. military involvement in the region. There was the prospect, too, that the U.S.-Russian tag team might strong-arm Israel into a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

So, starting last September almost immediately after Putin helped avert a U.S. air war against Syria key neocons began taking aim at Ukraine as a potential sore point for Putin. A leading neocon, Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed pages of the neocon Washington Post to identify Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and explaining how its targeting could undermine Putin’s political standing inside Russia.

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accelerate the demise of the ideology of Russian imperialism that Putin represents,” Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.” At the time, Gershman’s NED was funding scores of political and media projects inside Ukraine.

By early 2014, American neocons and their “liberal interventionist” pals were conspiring “to midwife” a coup to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, according to a phrase used by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt in an intercepted phone conversation with Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who was busy handpicking leaders to replace Yanukovych.

A neocon holdover from George W. Bush’s administration, Nuland had been a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney and is married to prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for a New American Century which prepared the blueprint for the neocon strategy of “regime change” starting with the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The U.S.-backed coup ousted Yanukovych on Feb. 22 and sparked a bloody civil war, leaving thousands dead, mostly ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. But the Gershman-Nuland strategy also drove a deep wedge between Obama and Putin, seeming to destroy the possibility that their peace-seeking collaboration would continue in the Middle East. [See’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]

New Hope for ‘Regime Change’

The surprise success of Islamic State terrorists in striking deep inside Iraq during the summer revived neocon hopes that their “regime change” strategy in Syria might also be resurrected. By baiting Obama to react with military force not only in Iraq but across the border in Syria, neocons like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham put the ouster of Assad back in play.

In a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 29, McCain and Graham used vague language about resolving the Syrian civil war, but clearly implied that Assad must go. They wrote that thwarting ISIS “requires an end to the [civil] conflict in Syria, and a political transition there, because the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will never be a reliable partner against ISIS; in fact, it has abetted the rise of ISIS, just as it facilitated the terrorism of ISIS’ predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

Though the McCain-Graham depiction of Assad’s relationship to ISIS and al-Qaeda was a distortion at best in fact, Assad’s army has been the most effective force in pushing back against the Sunni terrorist groups that have come to dominate the Western-backed rebel movement the op-ed’s underlying point is obvious: a necessary step in the U.S. military operation against ISIS must be “regime change” in Damascus.

That would get the neocons back on their original track of forcing “regime change” in countries seen as hostile to Israel. The first target was Iraq with Syria and Iran always meant to follow. The idea was to deprive Israel’s close-in enemies, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestine’s Hamas, of crucial support. But the neocon vision got knocked off track when Bush’s Iraq War derailed and the American people balked at extending the conflict to Syria and Iran.

Still, the neocons retained their vision even after Bush and Cheney departed. They remained influential by holding onto key positions inside Official Washington  at think tanks, within major news outlets and even inside the Obama administration. They also built a crucial alliance with “liberal interventionists” who had Obama’s ear. [See’s “The Dangerous Neocon-R2P Alliance.”]

The neocons’ new hope arrived with the public outrage over ISIS’s atrocities. Yet, while pushing to get this new war going, the neocons have downplayed their “regime change” agenda, getting Obama to agree only to extend his anti-ISIS bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria. But it was hard to envision expanding the war into Syria without ousting Assad.

Now, however, if the source’s account is correct regarding Assad’s quiet assent to U.S. airstrikes, Obama may have devised a way around the need to bomb Assad’s military, a maneuver that might again frustrate the neocons’ beloved goal of “regime change.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

17 comments for “Reported US-Syrian Accord on Air Strikes

  1. Abe
    September 23, 2014 at 11:33

    Syria becomes the 7th predominantly Muslim country bombed by 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate
    By Glenn Greenwald

    It was just over a year ago that Obama officials were insisting that bombing and attacking Assad was a moral and strategic imperative. Instead, Obama is now bombing Assad’s enemies while politely informing his regime of its targets in advance. It seems irrelevant on whom the U.S. wages war; what matters it that it be at war, always and forever.

    Six weeks of bombing hasn’t budged ISIS in Iraq, but it has caused ISIS recruitment to soar. That’s all predictable: the U.S. has known for years that what fuels and strengthens anti-American sentiment (and thus anti-American extremism) is exactly what they keep doing: aggression in that region. If you know that, then they know that. At this point, it’s more rational to say they do all of this not despite triggering those outcomes, but because of it. Continuously creating and strengthening enemies is a feature, not a bug, as it is what then justifies the ongoing greasing of the profitable and power-vesting machine of Endless War.

  2. September 23, 2014 at 00:55

    It makes perfect sense for all this to be true. Such a complicated mess. If it wasn’t for the Iranian involvement in Syria they would be the most willing partner to bring into Iraq and bring down ISIS. It all started when Assad refused to step down to the peaceful protesters….

  3. elmerfudzie
    September 18, 2014 at 20:23

    If Assad gave a nod of approval, it must have been in a half-Nelson. He remembers all too well what was meant by those Israeli fighter jets flying above his palace not too long ago. I could almost hear him mumbling Bush Juniors memorable phrase “either your with us or with the terrorists” and allow me to translate that quote; either you join in and be subservient to our One World, Neo-Con globalization tyranny, or you ain’t gonna have your dinner in peace.

  4. Mike
    September 18, 2014 at 11:13

    I think it’s a shame it has come to this point.
    Obama has to do something positive on the sly, to avoid slander by bloodthirsty armchair generals we know all the Neocon / Liberal Interventionist sayanim Israel Uber Alles crowd to be.
    Plus I believe if US missiles were to start falling in Syria WITHOUT this sort of subterranean agreement, Russia would then take care of her Ukrainian problem in much the same manner.

  5. Gregory Kruse
    September 18, 2014 at 10:36

    IF this source is viable, I would have to give the Obama Administration a passing grade on this one assignment. We’ll see how they do on the test. I agree with Parry that a diplomatic alliance with Russia is the safest and most promising direction to take in resolving the chaos around Israel. That being said, I don’t trust the Obama Administration or Obama himself. To me they seem to be bad students.

  6. notlurking
    September 18, 2014 at 08:28

    If see a sliver of silver lining in this situation. If Russia is indeed involved in this secret deal, then there might be a good chance of success just like the chemical weapons agreement. Fingers crossed!

  7. hillary
    September 18, 2014 at 06:53

    The whole purpose of the US/Israeli PNAC crowd is to weaken each state in the Middle East using “terrorists” and it is seen to be working well.

    “Terrorists” are destroying each government, Syrian Iraqi Libya etc etc while giving the U.S an excuse to intervene.

  8. September 18, 2014 at 00:21

    I should say you have been fed a line of Israeli disinfo here. It is characteristic of the Israelis to plant confusing and distracting stories all over the place and then reimport them into their own media, thus concealing their own original responsibility for planting the stories in the first place. And it is characteristic of the Israelis, also, to plant stories saying that the ruler of some country targeted for bombing (or more often, drone strikes) has given his tacit assent while not wishing to do so publicly. They did this with Musharraf, for instance, over and over again. They have done it with other rulers too. It really is a hallmark tactic. So I say this is disinfo.

  9. Abe
    September 17, 2014 at 22:29

    Everyone knows that the U.S. and its allies have heavily backed Islamic terrorists in Syria in an attempt to implement regime change in that country.

    But did you know that the U.S. previously carried out regime change in Syria?

    The CIA backed a right-wing coup in Syria in 1949. The reason: Syria was the sole holdout for a lucrative oil pipeline.

    In 1957, the American president and British prime minister agreed to launch regime change again in Syria, but the coup plot was discovered and stopped.

    Neoconservatives planned regime change in Syria once again in 1991.

    Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009.

    US and UK special forces training of Syrian opposition forces was well underway in 2011.

    The U.S. Has Already Completed Regime Change In Syria (1949), Iran (1953), Iraq (Twice), Afghanistan (Twice), Turkey, Libya and Other Oil-Rich Countries

  10. Joe Tedesky
    September 17, 2014 at 20:54

    I listened to John McCain lecture to Hagel and Dempsey how we must protect our ally troops the FSA by all means. There was clear evidence of McCains desire more for regime change as to destroying ISIS. I won’t dwell on this since you all know McCains story, all to well. I would only hope with all my might that the US does not use this Assad cooperation to implement a Trojan Horse inside Syria’s sovereignty.

    If events should pan out to what Mr Parry is reporting here, this could be a golden moment. Working with Russia would certainly turn back the hands on the doomsday clock. I do not feel that this is the moment to get giddy, but good news would be appreciated. I for one can be positive with my opinion, as I am tired of always seeing events through the negative lens in regard to our country’s policies world wide.

    The disappointed NEOCON’s are well over due for a good old fashion kick in the ass. The US has been held hostage by their likes for way to long. We truly do need, ‘A Change We Can Believe IN’!
    Yesterday the US Senate held a ‘ISIS Combat’ hearing. If you listen to Senator John McCain you may in my opinion be getting a glimpse of things to come. I am providing a C-Span video of that hearing. You may watch the whole over 3 hour hearing, but be sure to listen to McCain drill General Dempsey and Secretary Hagel. McCain comes on around the 1 hour spot. You will know when he (McCain) is ready to question Hagel and Dempsey when you see the security guards escort a young code pink lady out of the room. McCain seems flattered by this code pink protester.

  11. Zachary Smith
    September 17, 2014 at 20:39

    … according to a source briefed on the secret arrangements.

    My first question is why the story was instantly leaked. This certainly wasn’t an accident.

    ISIS has weapons capable of shooting down military aircraft, but would Assad be the automatic villain should a US plane go down? The rebels in the Ukraine surely were.

    And what happens if the US starts ‘improvising’ with their targets – and a Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah force gets wiped out?

    Hopefully I’m just too paranoid here.

  12. Abe
    September 17, 2014 at 18:56

    Someone’s Already Fighting ISIS: The Syrian Arab Army
    By Tony Cartalucci

    Veteran journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winner Seymour Hersh warned in a prophetic 2007 New Yorker article titled, “The Redirection Is the Administration’s new policy benefitting our enemies in the war on terrorism?” that:

    To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

    It can no longer be denied that the West is the cause of, not the solution for, the ongoing chaos now slowly burning the entire Middle East and beyond.

    It can also not be denied that the only true force in the region fighting Al Qaeda and the myriad of aliases it is operating under, is the Syrian government with the backing of its allies in Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and even as far as Russia. For the West to pose as “fighting” ISIS by creating a coalition consisting of the very nations sponsoring the terrorist organization, illustrates the audacity afforded to the West by its immense unwarranted power and influence – power and influence that must be ultimately reckoned with in order to truly resolve the violence in the Middle East and prevent similar chaos from being instigated elsewhere around the world.

  13. September 17, 2014 at 18:26

    Given that ISIL seems to be a U.S./Mossad creation, if I were Assad I think I would keep my powder dry.

    And you and I should hold onto our hats.

  14. Abe
    September 17, 2014 at 17:02

    A U.S. aircraft downed over Syrian airspace could be made to appear to be Assad’s treachery. After the false flag chemical attack in Ghouta and the false flag attack on MH-14 over eastern Ukraine, such an arrangement with the U.S. is suicidal insanity for the Syrian government.

    • September 18, 2014 at 17:28

      On the flip side, a ‘false flag’ US strike or two, on Assad assets directly in opposition to an agreement between Russia and Assad, can be easily arranged to look like the US did it.

      After all, the US has no copyright on their shenanigans …and most people know the US is behind every Color Revolution and civil unrest, world wide.

      • Terry5135
        September 20, 2014 at 08:35

        “After all, the US has no copyright on their shenanigans …and most people know the US is behind every Color Revolution and civil unrest, world wide.”

        No, but at this juncture of history, the US is the empire du jour and as such, uses such shenanigans liberally with impunity.

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