U.S. prepared to destroy Syria’s air defenses if planes are attacked

The Associated Press reports: The United States would retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air defenses if he were to go after American planes launching airstrikes in his country, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.

Officials said the U.S. has a good sense of where the Syrian air defenses, along with their command and control centers, are located. If Assad were to use those capabilities to threaten U.S. forces, it would put his air defenses at risk, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the administration’s thinking on the matter.

On Saturday, the New York Times reported that in the event that Syria fired at U.S. planes: “Mr. Obama said he would order American forces to wipe out Syria’s air defense system, which he noted would be easier than striking ISIS because its locations are better known. He went on to say that such an action by Mr. Assad would lead to his overthrow, according to one account.”

Foreign Policy reports: Syria has “no reservations” about dealing directly with the United States on airstrikes, Faisal Mekdad, the country’s deputy foreign minister, told NBC News last week, adding that the countries are “fighting the same enemy” in the Islamic State. “When it comes to terrorism, we should forget our differences … and forget all about the past,” Mekdad said. “It takes two to tango…. We are ready to talk.”

The Syrians shouldn’t hold their breath, Obama officials say. And yet rumors persist that there’s a lot more than chitchat about terrorists going on between the two countries. According to a report in the Syrian newspaper Al-Watan on Monday, the United States is giving the Syrians intelligence about the location of Islamic State fighters through a third party, which the publication didn’t name. Haaretz reported that “Western diplomatic sources” had confirmed the intelligence sharing, which includes “movements of Islamic State convoys, meetings of the organization’s leaders, and weapons and ammunitions armories that IS fighters have seized in Iraq or on Syrian territory.”

“According to the sources, Washington will ultimately be forced to admit the cooperation indirectly, due to the precise attacks by the Syrian army on [Islamic State] sites, which are hard to find without precise intelligence information,” the Israeli publication claimed.

Syrian airstrikes have targeted Islamic State members, but there’s no evidence that the Americans told the Syrians where to aim. A U.S. official, who declined to speak on the record when discussing intelligence matters, dismissed any suggestion that Washington was working with Assad.

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