US President Barack Obama has ordered the US Navy and Air Force to accelerate preparations for a limited air offensive against the Assad regime and the imposition of no-fly zones over Syria, debkafile reports. Their mission will be to knock out Assad’s central regime and military command centers so as to shake regime stability and restrict Syrian army and air force activity for subduing rebel action and wreaking violence on civilian populations.

debkafile’s sources disclose that the US President decided on this step after hearing Russian officials stating repeatedly that “Moscow would support the departure of President Bashar al-Assad if Syrians agreed to it.” This position was interpreted as opening up two paths of action:

1. To go for Assad’s removal by stepping up arms supplies to the rebels and organizing their forces as a professional force able to take on the military units loyal to Assad. This process was already in evidence Friday, June 8, when for the first time a Syrian Free Army (which numbers some 600 men under arms) attacked a Syrian army battalion in Damascus. One of its targets was a bus carrying Russian specialists.

2. To select a group of high army officers who, under the pressure of the limited air offensive, would be ready to ease Assad out of power or stage a military coup to force him and his family to accept exile.

The US operation would be modulated according to the way political and military events unfolded.

Washington is not sure how Moscow would react aside from sharp condemnations or whether Russia would accept a process of regime change in Damascus and its replacement by military rule.