Archive for the ‘Palmyra’ category

US & Russia to free Palmyra after Trump sworn in

January 15, 2017

US & Russia to free Palmyra after Trump sworn in, DEBKAfile, January 15, 2017

(What does the Islamic Republic of Iran think about a joint US – Russian military operation against the Islamic State in Syria? — DM)

usrussianforceseng480

Our sources report that the US and Russian armies are already in the process of exploring common ground for their “engagement” from their war-rooms outside Amman: The US Central Command (Forward) and the Russian-Jordanian command center not far away.

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Some of the ambiguity and mystery surrounding the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin may disperse after the new US president takes office Thursday, Jan. 20, because one of their first joint military actions is ready to go.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose exclusively that a combined US, Russian, Syrian and Jordanian force is preparing for a major operation to liberate the Syrian heritage town of Palmyra from the Islamic State.

Its capture by this allied force would have important ramifications: It would isolate the ISIS forces dug in in northern and central Syria and disconnect them from the jihadists who control extensive areas in the east and the south, including the Euphrates Valley which runs from Syria to Iraq.

From Palmyra, the key offensive for ousting ISIS from its Syrian capital, Raqqa, would move a sep closer. The Islamic State would also be distanced from directly menacing Jordan’s borders with Syria and Iraq.

This menace came closer last week when ISIS commanders decided to make a grab for the eastern Syrian town of Deir ez-Zour, after they saw Syrian government forces leaving their bases in the town and heading north to Palmyra. Until then, ISIS had occupied part of the strategic town, while keeping the government-held part and the big Syrian air base nearby under siege for the past two years.

The allied operation to liberate Palmyra will be the first joint US-Russian military venture embarked on by the Trump administration. It will be a litmus test for the ability of the new US president and the Russian president to work together.

This was what the president-elect was referring to when he commented last Wednesday, Jan 11: “Russia can help us fight ISIS. If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks, that’s called an asset, not a liability.”

The next day, he was publicly contradicted by his nominee for Pentagon chief, Gen. James Mattis, who is no admirer of Putin. But the general went on to add: “I’m all for engagement, but we also have to recognize reality and what Russia is up to.”

Our sources report that the US and Russian armies are already in the process of exploring common ground for their “engagement” from their war-rooms outside Amman: The US Central Command (Forward) and the Russian-Jordanian command center not far away.

Syrian government army officers have arrived in Jordan for the first time since the civil war erupted in 2011, and were housed in the Russian war room. The operation to recover Palmyra is by now in advanced stage of coordination.

Read DEBKA Weekly for more exclusive coverage of US-Russian military collaboration against ISIS as it unfolds after Jan. 20. If you are not yet a DEBKA Weekly subscriber, click here to sign on and catch the coming issue out next Friday, Jan. 21.

ISIS seizes big Russian-Syrian T-4 air base

December 12, 2016

ISIS seizes big Russian-Syrian T-4 air base, DEBKAfile, December 12, 2016

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Islamic State forces pushed their assault forward to retake the central Syrian town of Palmyra Monday, Dec. 12. By evening, they had entered the big Russian-Syrian T-4 air base outside the town, carrying off substantial quantities of Russian armaments. Reporting this, DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the booty they snatched included different types of ground-to-ground missiles as well as anti-tank and anti-air rockets.

Russian forces manning the base were hurriedly evacuated from Palmyra and the T-4 base, after the worst defeat Russian armed forces had ever experienced at ISIS hands in Syria. Military circles in Moscow commented grimly that the Russian army had suffered “a major disgrace” in Palmyra.

According to our sources, long convoys of ISIS fighters backed by tanks taken booty from the Syrian army, first forced the Syrian 11th Tank Division to abandon the strategic Jhar Crossroad. After that, the way was clear for the jihadis’ column to reach the T-4 base.

DEBKAfile reported on the ISIS terrorists’ fresh momentum Sunday.

Judging from the rash of reports claiming US-Iraqi military progress in the Mosul offensive against ISIS and the extra American special operations forces personnel posted to Syria for an impending US-Kurdish operation to capture the ISIS Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, the Islamic State ought to be cowering under siege, finally defeated – or at least on the run.

But the facts tell another story. ISIS is on the offensive – so far in the Middle East. Over the weekend, Islamist terrorists accounted for dozens of deaths and injured hundreds more.

Sunday, Dec. 11, at least 25 people worshipping at the Coptic St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s church adjacent to St, Mark’s cathedral in Cairo were killed and scores injured. The Coptic pope often leads the prayers there. DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources reveal that the attack was carried out by Islamist terrorists from Raqqa who bided their time until they struck in the Egyptian capital. Saturday, six Egyptian troops were killed by another Islamist bomb near the Giza pyramids.

On the same day, ISIS fighters pushed back into the ancient Syrian town of Palmyra, nine months after their expulsion.

The Raqqa terrorist stronghold is clearly alive and kicking on more than one front. A number of contributing factors enable the Islamic State to unleash a fresh spate of terror.

1. The US-Iraqi-Kurdish drive has stalled without driving ISIS out of Mosul or choking off the terrorist fighters’ freedom to move between Mosul and Raqqa, their Syrian bastion.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who arrived in Baghdad Sunday, Dec. 11, was assigned by the Obama administration to make a last effort to reactivate the Mosul campaign. His chances of success are slim. The military coalition which launched the campaign two months ago has lost a vital component, the Kurdish Peshmerga, which backed out three weeks ago. The Iraqi military units which captured some of the city’s outskirts stopped short when they reached the strongest defense lines set up by the Islamic State and have been unable to break through, even with US air support.

The pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite front which undertook to seize Tal Afar in order to sever the ISIS connecting link between Iraq and Syria are parked outside, having been warned by Turkey not to set foot in the town.

Added to these setbacks, the US CENTCOM which is running the aerial war in Iraq is at loggerheads with the Iraqi Air Force command and has practically grounded all Iraqi warplanes.

Even if Carter can wave a magic wand and resolve all these issues, the momentum and high hopes that actuated the Mosul campaign when it started have been lost and can hardly be recovered before Barack Obama leaves the White House.

At least two of the incoming president Donald Trump’s designated security advisers – Defense Secretary Gen, James Mattis and National security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn – have criticized the operation in is current form.

2. What is happening in Raqqa doesn’t fit the designation of an offensive. At most, small Kurdish and Syrian rebel groups are mounting sporadic raids against ISIS fighters on the town’s outskirts, with the support of the Obama administration. Our military experts say that Raqqa can’t be captured from the Islamist terrorists by conventional means – mainly because it is spread over a large area of mostly empty desert. ISIS has taken advantage of this terrain to distribute knots of defenders across a vast area ranging hundreds of kilometers from northern to eastern Syria up to the winding, heavily overgrown banks of the Euphrates River.

So when Ash Carter announced Saturday that he would be sending another 200 Special Operations Forces into Syria to join the battle for Raqqa, he had no idea that he, the Russians and the Syrians were about to be caught off guard by a fresh ISIS initiative to reoccupy Palmyra, the ancient Syrian two from which they are thrown out in March.

This was a poke in the eye for Russian President Vladimir Putin who proclaimed Palmyra’s capture from ISIS as a signal coup for the Russian army in its war on Islamist terror.

3.  He might well commiserate with Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi. For two years, the Egyptian armed forces have been fighting an uphill battle to crush the ISIS groups infesting the Sinai Peninsula. The jihadists constantly elude punishment with the help of supportive Bedouin tribes.

Every few months, they pose a real threat to the stability of the El-Sisi regime by striking inside Cairo, the capital, with some terrorist atrocity, for which they are aided by the Muslim Brotherhood underground and Palestinian Hamas extremists in the Gaza Strip.

The bombing of the Coptic church Saturday was unusually the work of jihadists deployed from Raqqa, Syria.  Egypt has reacted by placing extra guards at Christian sites and declaring three days of national morning for the disastrous bombing attack on Egypt’s largest minority.

The new Islamist drive is looking ominously like the onset of the Christmas-New Year holiday terror onslaught the Islamic State has threatened to unleash in the Middle East and beyond. US and European security services have been placed on high alert in the belief that returning jihadis are programmed to strike at home.

Assad’s troops enter Palmyra after massive Russian air blitz to smash ISIS

March 27, 2016

Assad’s troops enter Palmyra after massive Russian air blitz to smash ISIS, DEBKAfile, March 27, 2016

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad drive a tank during their offensive to recapture the historic city of Palmyra in this picture provided by SANA on March 24, 2016. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad drive a tank during their offensive to recapture the historic city of Palmyra in this picture provided by SANA on March 24, 2016. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Vladimir Putin after all took the momentous decision for Russian carpet bombing to level the Islamic State forces holding Palmyra since last May, and so clear the way for Bashar Assad’s troops and allied forces to enter the heritage city Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27 and take control of several districts. Television footage showed waves of explosions inside Palmyra and smoke rising from buildings, as Syrian tanks and armored vehicles fired from the outskirts.

But just as the Iraqi army, even with foreign assistance, never completely captured Ramadi or Baiji from Islamist forces, so too Assad’s forces can’t hope for complete control of the strategic town of Palmya. After pulling back to the east, ISIS forces will continue to harass the Syrian army and town with sporadic raids. And government forces will stay dependent on a Russian air umbrella to hang on.

The big question DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources were asking Sunday was what brought president Putin to give this groundbreaking military success to the Syrian ruler, just days after he withdrew Russian air support in southern Syria and opened the door for an Islamic State advance. He did this in an effort to break Assad’s resistance to the US-Russian deal for a political solution of the Syrian conflict by August.

Our sources offer two likely motivations:

1. Palmyra is strategically important to the Russian command because its fall to government forces opens the way to ISIS headquarters at Raqqa, 225 kilometers away.

2. Palmyra is also the gateway to Deir ez-Zour, 188 kilometers distant on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq. For the Russian military command, the importance of Deir ez-Zour outweighs that of Raqqa, because it is the key to control of the Euphrates Valley and access from Syria to Baghdad.

While these considerations bear heavily on Moscow’s strategic calculations, they have little direct impact on Assad’s overriding objective, which is to hold on to power. While the Syrian ruler may hope for acclaim for achieving a major success against ISIS, the laurel wreath belongs to Russian pilots. His forces essentially performed  a ground operation in Palmyra in Moscow’s interest and goal, which is to strengthen the Russian grip on his country.

On Saturday, DEBKAfile set forth the background for these events.

Cracks in the united US-Russian front over the Syrian ruler’s fate surfaced – even before the ink was dry on the joint announcement issued in Moscow Friday, March 25, by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, setting  August as the deadline for a political solution of the five-year Syrian conflict.

Shortly after Kerry’s departure for Brussels, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters, “Washington now accepts Moscow’s argument that Assad’s future shouldn’t be open for negotiation right now.” However, taking exception to the phrase “right now,” State Department spokesman John Kirby immedieately snapped back, “Any suggestion that we have changed in any way our view of Assad’s future is false.”

Did this exchange spell another Washington-Moscow impasse on the future of the war and the Syrian ruler? Not exactly; Our military and intelligence analysts report that the two powers are in accord on the principle that Assad must go, but are maneuvering on the timeline for the war to end and the Syrian ruler’s handover of power.

The Americans want it to be sooner. The transition should start in August and result in adding opposition parties to the regime in positions of real influence.

President Barack Obama, when he conducts his farewell Gulf tour in April, would like to show Saudi Arabia and Gulf emirates that he has finally kept his word to them to evict Bashar Assad from power before he leaves the White House next January. The US would also be better placed for bringing the Syrian opposition into line for a negotiated deal.

But Putin prefers a delay because he has problems to solve first. The six-month long Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict turned the tide of the war. The Syrian army and its Iranian and Hizballah allies were able to stabilize their positions and even score some important victories against rebel forces in central and northern Syria. Last year, Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were definitely on the same page and fully coordinated.

That cordial relationship was thrown out of kilter by the Kremlin’s decision to work with the White House for bringing the disastrous Syrian war to an end and terminating the Assad era.

From November, Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s frequent visits to Moscow on liaison duty petered out.

Khamanei is adamantly opposed to Russia and the US commandeering the decision on Assad’s departure and its timetable. He is even more outraged by the way Putin has moved in on Syria and made it Russia’s home ground in the Middle East.

The rift with Tehran prompted Putin to announce on March 14 the partial pullback of his military forces from Syria. It was a threat to pull the rug that had turned the tide of the war in favor of Damascus and Tehran.

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Reluctant to burn those boats, Moscow has been juggling its balls in the air, trying not to drop any. At first, he suspended Russian air cover for government-led battles. The Islamic State immediately seized on this opening in the south and advanced on the towns of Nawa, Sheikh Maskin and Daraa.

Moscow hoped that this setback would teach Bashar Assad to toe the Russian line.

Then, in the second part of last week, Putin ordered the Russian air force to renew its air strikes in the east in support of the Syrian army’s march from central Syria on the historic town of Palmyra. Friday and Saturday, the Syrian army and its allies were battling for control of the UNESCO World Heritage city, nearly a year after the Islamic State overran it and vandalized its historic remains.

DEBKAfile’s military sources stress that their capture of the reconstructed ancient Citadel perched on a hill over the city would have been beyond their strength without Russian air support. Finishing the job and recovering the entire city of Palmyra will depend heavily on Russian air strikes continuing to hammer the jihadist occupiers.

Putin faces a momentous decision. He has already taught Assad and Tehran a harsh lesson: with Russian air support, they win battles, but not without it, as their failure in the south has demonstrated.

Will he help Assad win Palmyra?

Crowning the Syrian dictator with such a striking victory would stiffen his resistance to American pressure for him to quit in short order. He would stand out as the only Syrian war leader capable of pushing ISIS back. But if the Russian leader decides to cut off air support in mid-battle for Palmyra, Assad and Iran will be forced to face the fact that without active Russian military support, they are in hot water.

The Syrian ruler would then have to accept his approaching end. That is the dilemma facing Putin.

Assad’s fate hangs on the Palmyra battle – and on Russian air support

March 26, 2016

Assad’s fate hangs on the Palmyra battle – and on Russian air support, DEBKAfile, March 26, 2016

Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad drive a tank during their offensive to recapture the historic city of Palmyra in this picture provided by SANA on March 24, 2016. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad drive a tank during their offensive to recapture the historic city of Palmyra in this picture provided by SANA on March 24, 2016. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE.

Cracks in the united US-Russian front over the Syrian ruler’s fate surfaced – even before the ink was dry on the joint announcement issued in Moscow Friday, March 25, by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, setting  August as the deadline for a political solution of the five-year Syrian conflict.

Shortly after Kerry’s departure for Brussels, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told reporters, “Washington now accepts Moscow’s argument that Assad’s future shouldn’t be open for negotiation right now.” However, taking exception to the phrase “right now,” State Department spokesman John Kirby immedieately snapped back, “Any suggestion that we have changed in any way our view of Assad’s future is false.”

Did this exchange spell another Washington-Moscow impasse on the future of the war and the Syrian ruler? Not exactly; Our military and intelligence analysts report that the two powers are in accord on the principle that Assad must go, but are maneuvering on the timeline for the war to end and the Syrian ruler’s handover of power.

The Americans want it to be sooner. The transition should start in August and result in adding opposition parties to the regime in positions of real influence.

President Barack Obama, when he conducts his farewell Gulf tour in April, would like to show Saudi Arabia and Gulf emirates that he has finally kept his word to them to evict Bashar Assad from power before he leaves the White House next January. The US would also be better placed for bringing the Syrian opposition into line for a negotiated deal.

But Putin prefers a delay because he has problems to solve first. The six-month long Russian military intervention in the Syrian conflict turned the tide of the war. The Syrian army and its Iranian and Hizballah allies were able to stabilize their positions and even score some important victories against rebel forces in central and northern Syria. Last year, Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were definitely on the same page and fully coordinated.

That cordial relationship was thrown out of kilter by the Kremlin’s decision to work with the White House for bringing the disastrous Syrian war to an end and terminating the Assad era.

From November, Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s frequent visits to Moscow on liaison duty petered out.

Khamanei is adamantly opposed to Russia and the US commandeering the decision on Assad’s departure and its timetable. He is even more outraged by the way Putin has moved in on Syria and made it Russia’s home ground in the Middle East.

The rift with Tehran prompted Putin to announce on March 14 the partial pullback of his military forces from Syria. It was a threat to pull the rug that had turned the tide of the war in favor of Damascus and Tehran.

4

Reluctant to burn those boats, Moscow has been juggling its balls in the air, trying not to drop any. At first, he suspended Russian air cover for government-led battles. The Islamic State immediately seized on this opening in the south and advanced on the towns of Nawa, Sheikh Maskin and Daraa.

Moscow hoped that this setback would teach Bashar Assad to toe the Russian line.

Then, in the second part of last week, Putin ordered the Russian air force to renew its air strikes in the east in support of the Syrian army’s march from central Syria on the historic town of Palmyra. Friday and Saturday, the Syrian army and its allies were battling for control of the UNESCO World Heritage city, nearly a year after the Islamic State overran it and vandalized its historic remains.

DEBKAfile’s military sources stress that their capture of the reconstructed ancient Citadel perched on a hill over the city would have been beyond their strength without Russian air support. Finishing the job and recovering the entire city of Palmyra will depend heavily on Russian air strikes continuing to hammer the jihadist occupiers.

Putin faces a momentous decision. He has already taught Assad and Tehran a harsh lesson: with Russian air support, they win battles, but not without it, as their failure in the south has demonstrated.

Will he help Assad win Palmyra?

Crowning the Syrian dictator with such a striking victory would stiffen his resistance to American pressure for him to quit in short order. He would stand out as the only Syrian war leader capable of pushing ISIS back. But if the Russian leader decides to cut off air support in mid-battle for Palmyra, Assad and Iran will be forced to face the fact that without active Russian military support, they are in hot water.

The Syrian ruler would then have to accept his approaching end. That is the dilemma facing Putin.

Iranian Rev Guards ready to intervene in Syria to save Assad. Soleimani: Expect major events in Syria

June 3, 2015

Iranian Rev Guards ready to intervene in Syria to save Assad. Soleimani: Expect major events in Syria, DEBKAfile, June 3, 2015

elite_forces_Revolutionary_GuardIranian Revolutionary Guards elite forces

Tehran is believed to be preparing to dispatch a substantial Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) special operations unit to Syria to tackle the separate rebel and ISIS advances closing in on the Assad regime, Western and Arab intelligence sources report. They say the Syrian army is already setting aside an area in northern Syria for the Iranian troops to take up position.

If this happens, DEBKAfile’s military sources note that it would be the Revolutionary Guards first direct intervention in the nearly five-year Syrian war. Up until now, Tehran has carefully avoided putting Iranian boots on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. The only place where Iranian forces are directly engaged in battle is at Iraq’s main refinery town of Baiji, where small infantry and artillery units have been trying – without success thus far – to dislodge ISIS forces from the refinery complex.

In the other Syrian and Iraqi war arenas – and elsewhere – Tehran follows the practice of using local Shiite militias as surrogates to fight its wars, providing them with training and arms. The Guards have also brought Shiite militias over from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

That Tehran is about to change course to save Bashar Assad was indicated in a surprise statement Tuesday, June 2 by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, supreme commander of Iranian forces fighting outside the country. After urgent consultations in Damascus with President Assad and his military chiefs, the Iranian general said enigmatically that “major developments” are to be expected in Syria “in the next few days.” Another source quotes him more fully as saying: “In the next few days, the world will be pleasantly surprised [by the arrangements] we [the IRGC] working with Syrian military commanders are currently preparing.”

DEBKAfile, which Sunday, May 31, exclusively disclosed Soleimani’s post-haste arrival in Damascus, now reports from its military sources that Hizballah military chiefs were summoned to Damascus to attend those consultations. On his way to the Syrian capital, those sources also reveal that the Iranian general stopped over at the Anbar warfront in western Iraq near the Syrian border.

The IRGC expeditionary force, according to Gulf sources, will have to initial objectives to recover Jisr al-Shughour in northwestern Syria and Palmyra. The first has been taken over by Syrian rebels of the Army of Conquest, a band of Sunni militias sponsored by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar; the second was captured by the Islamic State last month.

The recovery of the two cities and their return to Syrian government control would deflect the immediate threats posed by opposition and Islamist forces to the highways from Homs to Damascus and the Mediterranean port of Latakia. This, in turn, would relieve the Assad regime of much of the military pressure threatening its survival.

Filling the Vacuum in Syria

May 28, 2015

Filling the Vacuum in Syria, The Gatestone InstituteYaakov Lappin, May 28,2015

  • The idea that, because Sunni and Shi’ite elements are locked in battle with one another today, they will not pose a threat to international security tomorrow, is little more than wishful thinking.
  • The increased Iranian-Hezbollah presence needs to be closely watched.
  • A policy of turning a blind eye to the Iran-led axis, including Syria’s Assad regime, appears to be doing more harm than good.

As the regime of Bashar Assad continues steadily to lose ground in Syria; and as Assad’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah, deploy in growing numbers to Syrian battlegrounds to try to stop the Assad regime’s collapse, the future of this war-torn, chaotic land looks set to be dominated by radical Sunni and Shi’ite forces.

The presence of fundamentalist Shi’ite and Sunni forces fighting a sectarian-religious war to the death is a sign of things to come for the region: when states break down, militant entities enter to seize control. The idea that, because Sunni and Shi’ite elements are locked in battle with one another today, they will not pose a threat to international security tomorrow, is little more than wishful thinking.

The increased presence of the radicals in Syria will have a direct impact on international security, even though the West seems more fixated on looking only at threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS), and disregards the possibly greater threat posed by the Iranian-led axis. It is Iran that is at the center of the same axis, so prominent in entangling Syria.

The threat from ISIS in Syria and Iraq to the West is obvious: Its successful campaigns and expanding transnational territory is set to become an enormous base of jihadist international terrorist activity, a launching pad for overseas attacks, and the basis for a propaganda recruitment campaign.

It has already become a magnet for European Muslim volunteers. Their return to their homes as battle-hardened jihadists poses a clear danger to those states’ national security.

Yet the threat from the Iranian-led axis, highly active in Syria, is more severe. With Iran, a threshold nuclear regional power, as its sponsor, this axis plans to subvert and topple stable Sunni governments in the Middle East and attack Israel. Iran’s axis also has its sights set on eventually sabotaging the international order, to promote Iran’s “Islamic revolution.”

This is the axis upon which the Assad regime has become utterly dependent for its continued survival.

Today, the radical, caliphate-seeking Sunni organization, ISIS, controls half of Syria, while hardline Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah units can be found everywhere in Syria, together with their sponsors, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel, fighting together with the Assad regime’s beleaguered and worn-out military forces.

The increased Iranian-Hezbollah presence needs to be closely watched. According to international media reports, an IRGC-Hezbollah convoy in southern Syria, made up of senior operatives involved in the setting up of a base designed to launch attacks on the Golan Heights, was struck and destroyed by Israel earlier this year. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan too hasreason to be concerned.

1088Lebanese Shi’ite Hezbollah fighters are deeply involved in Syria’s civil war. (Image source: Hezbollah propaganda video)

Syria has become a region into which weapons, some highly advanced, flow in ever greater numbers, allowing Hezbollah to acquire guided missiles, and allowing ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front to add to their growing stockpile of weaponry.

Other rebel organizations, some sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar, are also wielding influence in Syria. These groups represent an effort by Sunni states to exert their own influence there.

Despite all the efforts to support it, the Assad regime suffered another recent setback when ISIS seized the ancient city Palmyra in recent days, making an ISIS advance on Damascus more feasible. To the west, near the Lebanese border, Al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the Al-Nursa Front, also made gains. It threatened to enter Lebanon, prompting Hezbollah to launch a counter-offensive to take back those areas.

These developments provide a blueprint for the future of Syria: A permanently divided territory, where conquests and counter-offensives continue to rage, and the scene of an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe, producing waves of millions of refugees that could destabilize Syria’s neighbors. Syria is set to remain a land controlled by warring sectarian factions, some of whom plan to spread their destructive influence far beyond Syria.

Events in Syria have shown that the notion that air power can somehow stop ISIS’s advance is a fantasy. More importantly, they have also illustrated that Washington’s policy of cooperation with Iran in a possible “grand bargain” to stabilize the region, while failing to take a firmer stance against the civilian-slaughtering Assad regime, is equally fruitless.

A policy of turning a blind eye to the Iran-led axis, including Syria’s Assad regime, appears to be doing more harm than good.

Assad pulls air force out of Deir ez-Zour, the third Syrian air base surrendered to ISIS

May 27, 2015

Assad pulls air force out of Deir ez-Zour, the third Syrian air base surrendered to ISIS, DEBKAfile, May 27, 2015

ISIS__fighting__between_Homs_and_Palmyra_27.5.15ISIS in combat between Homs and Palmyra

Just a week after losing the big Palmyra air base to the Islamic State – and with it large stocks of ammo and military equipment – Syrian military and air units Wednesday, May 27, began pulling out of the big air base at Deir ez-Zour. This was Bashar Assad’s last military stronghold in eastern Syria and the last air facility for enabling fighter-bombers to strike ISIS forces in northeastern Syria and the western Iraqi province of Anbar.

His surrender of the Deir ez-Zour base is evidence that the Syrian president has run out of fighting strength for defending both his front lines and his air bases. He is also too tied down to be able to transfer reinforcements from front to front. He is therefore pulling in the remnants of his army from across the country for the defense of the capital, Damascus.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Islamic State now has in its sights the Syrian army’s biggest air facility, T4 Airbase, which is located on the fast highway linking Homs with Damascus 140 km away.

It is home base for the bulk of the air force’s fighters and bombers. In its hangars are an estimated 32 MiG-25 fighters, as well as smaller numbers of MiG-25PDS interceptors, designed for combat with the Israeli air force, MiG-25RBT bombers-cum-surveillance planes; MiG-25PU trainers, which are routinely used to strike rebel forces in crowded built-up areas, and advanced MiG-29SM fighter jets.

Stationed there too are 20 advanced Su-24M2 bombers, the strategic backbone of the Syrian air force.

T4 Airbase also holds the largest Syrian stocks of guided bombs, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

In the last few hours, air crews have been frantically removing these warplanes from T4 and distributing them among smaller bases in central Syria, at the cost of their operational effectiveness.

In the space of a week, therefore, Bashar Assad has lost three of his major air bases, including Palmyra, where Iranian and Russian air freights had been landing regularly with fresh supplies of ordnance and spare parts for his army.

Our military experts say that this bonanza frees ISIS to cut off the eastern, northern and central regions from the capital, and deprive the Syrian and Hizballah units battling for control of the Qalamoun Mts of air support against rebel and Islamist forces.

If they manage to take T4 as well, the Islamists will be able to prevent US jets from taking off for strikes against them in Syria, or bombing the their forces which have seized long stretches of the fast highway from Homs to Damascus.

Cartoon of the day

May 25, 2015

(Tip of the hat to joopklepzeiker.– DM)

Historic sites

Richard Engel on Obama’s Strategy Against Islamic State: The Definition of Stupidity

May 21, 2015

Richard Engel on Obama’s Strategy Against Islamic State: The Definition of Stupidity, Washington Free Beacon via You Tube, May 21, 2015