WASHINGTON – U.S. military analysts say any Western strike against the Syrian government is unlikely to draw an immediate counterattack by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
That, however, does not make the response of the Syrian government – or its allies Iran, Hezbollah and Russia – any easier to predict.
Assad possesses few if any real defenses against long-range precision missiles launched from U.S. ships far away. Russia and Iran, which have navies capable of engaging those U.S. ships, are not expected to do so, defense and diplomatic experts said.
Still, the consequences of a U.S. strike could be complex: the Assad regime could intensify its assault on outgunned rebels; Iran or Hezbollah could launch attacks on Israeli or Western targets; or al-Qaida or other jihadist fighters could exploit a moment of government weakness to gain new ground.
Separately, rebels might be tempted to exaggerate any more limited use of chemical agents by the Syrian government in the future, or even to stage further attacks and blame the regime, just as Syria and Russia have accused them of doing in the Aug. 21 attack that sparked international outrage.
Russia may broaden its weapons supply to Assad and pull back from plans to work alongside the United States to settle the Syrian conflict peacefully. Iran may use the attack as pretext to refuse any negotiation over its disputed nuclear program.
Several analysts said that the most likely outcome is that there is little discernible reaction, at least not right away.
“What does the day after look like? We’re likely to see something from a very limited response within the region to maybe nothing at all,” said security analyst Mark Jacobson of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
In every case, the nations with the most reason to retaliate also have bigger problems or longer-term aims that argue against getting into a tit-for-tat with the United States, analysts and diplomats said.