Continued from page 1

There are other targets such as surface-to-air missile batteries, bases for helicopter gunships and munition bunkers scattered around Damascus. Two other targets: special forces training camps in the mountains of al Dreij between Damascus and the Lebanon border, and in Jebal Druze near Jordan.

War planners might choose to hit a military academy in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial center, or coastal defense battalions with anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles along the Mediterranean coast.

All told, Mr. Assad rules an army of three corps encompassing 13 divisions of about 15,000 troops each, operating to protect the capital and the borders with Lebanon and Jordan. His most loyal are maneuver forces deployed to where the rebels are trying to take ground.

Mr. Holliday, a former Army intelligence and infantry officer, said the civil war has caused a transformation in Syria’s armed forces.

“Defections and attrition have exacerbated the regime’s central challenge of generating combat power,” he wrote. “These dynamics have weakened the Syrian Army in some ways but also honed it, such that what remains of these armed forces is comprised entirely of committed regime supporters.”

Added to the mix are pro-regime bands of militias that have carried out some of the most brutal attacks. They are backed by Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The fact that Mr. Assad is using his army as a maneuver force and relying on bands of unconventional fighters makes it difficult to target them with cruise missiles, which usually strike stationary targets. Strike fighter jets can find and hit moving targets, but the Obama administration has stressed that any attack will be limited — in effect, ruling out tactical sorties over Syria.

Norman Polmar, a leading naval researcher, said that four destroyers can fire 80 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

“The 1,000-pound warhead can destroy the palace, ministries, command centers, storage depots, hangars, bridges,” he said. While that would not end the fighting, “it could make life very uncomfortable for Assad.”