Syria warns of ‘surprise’ military capabilities
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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem (pictured) said his country's military capabilities would "surprise" the world on Tuesday, and warned that any action against it would serve the interests of Israel and al Qaeda.
Syria vowed on Tuesday it will fight off any Western military strikes with what it called "surprise" defences, while raising the spectre of Islamists benefitting from such intervention.
"We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal. The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves," said Foreign Minister Walid Moualem.
"We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone,'' he said. “We will not hesitate to use any means available.”
Moualem said US strikes would help al Qaeda and called Western leaders "delusional" if they hoped to help the rebels reach a balance of power in Syria.
"The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and secondly Al-Nusra Front," an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group in Syria, he said.
Moualem was speaking at a news conference as the US and its allies edged closer to launching strikes against the Syrian regime amid accusations it used chemical weapons against its own people in an attack on August 21.
Moualem challenged Washington to present proof to back up its accusations and he also likened the allegations to false American charges in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the US-led invasion of that country.
"We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge them to show what proof they have," Moualem said. “They have a history of lies – Iraq.”
The United Nations, meanwhile, said its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria had delayed a second trip to investigate the alleged attack near Damascus by one day for security reasons. On Monday, the team came under sniper fire.
Assad allies waiting in wings
Moualem said on Tuesday he was confident that Russia, a key ally of the Bashar al-Assad regime, would not abandon Damascus. "I can assure you that Russia has not abandoned Syria. Our relations continue in all fields, and we thank Russia for its support," he said.
The intensity of the pro-Assad response will depend greatly on the type of action taken against his regime, analysts say.
Iran and Russia are Assad's principal international allies, while Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah has fought alongside Syrian army forces against rebels in the country.
"Everything depends on the nature, the extent and the goals of a Western strike and, for the moment, I expect nothing more than a warning strike," Joseph Bahout, a Syria expert and professor at Sciences Po in Paris, told AP.
"In this scenario, neither Hezbollah nor Iran will go too far. We can expect 'lateral and indirect' moves like aggression towards UNIFIL [the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon] or anonymous rockets against Israel but, in the end, it will not be anything new."
But if Western powers attempt to overthrow the regime, Bahout says “an extreme response, particularly from Iran,” cannot be ruled out.
A top Iranian military chief warned on Sunday that the US will face "harsh consequences" if it intervenes in Syria over the chemical attack claims.
"For the moment, Iran is launching warnings, but if the Americans decide to intervene, they will fall into their [Iran's] trap," said Amir Mohebian, an analyst and journalist based in Iran.
"Iran will sit back and watch as the Americans and their allies sink into a quagmire."
Moscow meanwhile has warned that a military intervention in Syria could have "catastrophic consequences" for the region, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said his country would not get involved in a military conflict.
Russian news agency Interfax said on Tuesday that Damascus government had enough air defence systems to rebuff attacks.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)