Archive for the ‘Russian airstrikes’ category

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens

September 18, 2017

Syrian/Hizballah may call up Russian air strikes as cooperation deepens, DEBKAfile, September 18, 2017

Russian air crews in Syria are under new orders to respond directly and immediately to Iranian and Syrian demands for air bombardments, without confirmation from the high commands in Latakia or Moscow.

This has enormously empowered Syrian and Hizballah officers on the ground for taking the war into their own hands. It led directly to Russian planes suddenly bombing a pro-US Syrian force in the Deir ez-Zour province of eastern Syria on Saturday, Sept. 16, and accounts for Moscow’s repudiation of the attack after its confirmation by the Pentagon.

Before the new orders, requests for Russian air cover went through command channels and were not automatically approved.

The license now awarded to Syrian and pro-Iranian Hizballah commanders to contact the operations rooms of Russian air squadrons, without going through the main Russian air base at Hmeimim in Latakia or the Syrian high command in Damascus, dramatically boosts the autonomy of Syrian, Hizballah and Iranian commanders in the field. It also gives sharp teeth to Moscow’s decision in August to place the Russian and Syrian air defense commands under unified command.

Word of this game-changer was delivered by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, when he sat down with Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in Damascus last Thursday, Sept. 14. According to DEBKAfile’s sources, they decided the next Syrian army and Hizballah steps after crossing to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, which were to head for the Syrian-Iraqi border and prepare to seize the towns of Abu Kamal and Mayedin from the Islamic State. The time table was established and Russian air, intelligence and logistic support laid on.

The Russian defense minister then flew to Tehran – this time in secret – to discuss Russia’s new operation plans for Syria with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Military leaders.

DEBKAfile’s military sources note that the actions set in train by Shoigu have radically ramped up Russia’s military cooperation in Syria with Iran, Syria and Hizballah. They were timed to take place shortly before President Donald Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at UN Center in New York on Monday, Sept. 19.

Although their conversation was generally billed as focusing on the Iranian nuclear deal, our sources expect this major turn in the Syrian crisis to figure large in their talks. Washington clearly has no practical plans for countering the assertive Russian-Iranian advances in Syria.

Their ruthlessness was demonstrated Saturday, Sept. 16, by a Russian bombardment of the US-backed Kurdish-led SDF near Deir ez-Zour. Moscow was telling Washington that the US would not be permitted to impede the Syrian-Hizballah initiative for the capture of areas east of the Euphrates and Russia was ready to confront US-backed forces on the ground if they got in the way – while ruling a clash in the air.

The Kremlin was also putting Washington on notice that, after investing massive military and financial resources in Syria, it had no intention to let pro-American forces share in the kudos of the final victory over the Islamic State in Syria, which belonged solely to the Russian-Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah war alliance.

For now, the Russian maneuver is heading for a successful outcome. The Pentagon, aside from a lame response to the Russian bombardment, has taken no counteraction.

Ayatollah shoots down Putin’s high-flying Tupolev

August 22, 2016

Ayatollah shoots down Putin’s high-flying Tupolev, DEBKAfile, August 22, 2016

(Please see also, Iran unveils its own version of S-300 air defense system. — DM)


Monday, Aug. 22, just a week after the Russian defense ministry proudly released images of the first Russian bombardments in Syria to be launched from Nojeh airbase, which Tehran had granted Moscow near the Iranian town of Hamedan, the Iranian defense ministry snatched the concession back in a public rebuff for Moscow.

The Russians had presented its Iranian acquisition as the twin of the air base granted by Syria at Kmeimim near Latakia.

However, the Iranian defense ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi announced baldly on Monday that the Russian mission “is finished for now.” He added that the Russian air strikes in Syria were “temporary, based on a Russian request;” they were carried out with “mutual understanding and with Iran’s permission” and that the Russian mission “is finished, for now.”

Iranian sources claimed that this stinging slap to the Kremlin was prompted by mounting Iranian popular and parliamentary criticism, on the grounds that permission to a foreign power to use an Iranian base for the first time since World War II violated Article 146 of the Islamic Republic’s constitution.

Attempts by Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani and other regime officials to explain that the Russians had not been given an air base in Iran, only permission to use it to support the war Bashar Assad was waging against terrorists, an interest shared by Iran, fell on deaf ears.

A public outcry on this scale against any steps taken the ayatollahs’ regime is unusual enough to warrant exploration to uncover the hand behind it and its motives. This is all the more pressing in view of the stunning impact of the abrupt Iranian curtailment of the Russian air base venture after no more than three sorties were waged against Syrian targets: Stopped in its tracks for now – even before takeoff – is Vladimir Putin’s effort to promote his grand plan for a new and powerful Russian-Iranian-Turkish-Iraqi-Syrian pact.

The only figure in Tehran capable of raising such a public firestorm with the clout for thwarting the Russian president is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources report.

In handling the air base issue, Putin made the same mistake as US President Barack Obama. Both assumed that getting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s cooperation and sensitive diplomatic prodding would eventually win the supreme leader over.

Rouhani had hoped that by extending permission to Iran’s friend Putin for the use of the Nojeh base for air strikes against Syria, he would recover some of the standing he forfeited in Tehran by signing off on the international nuclear accord in 2015.


He took a chance when, on Aug. 16, he summoned the national supreme military council and, without prior consultation with Khamenei, announced the decision to make the Nojeh air base available to the Russian air force. This was a serious miscalculation.

The supreme leader was further incensed by the exclusive report published by DEBKA file that day that Russian air freighters were on their way to the Hamedan base with advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense missiles for guarding the site and the Tupolev-22M3 bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers deployed there.

Khamenei interpreted this to mean that the Russians were already acting to commandeer the airspace over the base deep inside Iran.

Not content with the brush-off administered to Moscow by his spokesman, Iran’s Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan chided Moscow crudely for “showing off” over the air base in an “ungentlemanly manner” and a “betrayal of trust.”

He said: “We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay.”

Realizing he was in hot water, the Iranian president tried to save face.

He arranged to be photographed for state media over the weekend, alongside the Bavar-373 missile defense system, declaring that having developed this system at home, Tehran can defend itself without recourse to the Russian high-altitude, long-range S-300s, because the Bavar-373 was just as good.

DEBKAfile’s military sources refute this claim. Indeed, the system on display which is based on Chinese technology is not operational.

However, the display did not save either Rouhani or Putin from Khamenei’s ire. Nojeh was shut down, a message the Iranian defense ministry spokesman underlined when he said Monday: Russia “has no base in Iran.”

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

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.

4 (1)

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.

Russia air strikes seal Jebel Druze against attack and refugees

February 21, 2016

Russia air strikes seal Jebel Druze against attack and refugees, DEBKAfile, February 22, 2016

2717545 10/10/2015 Russian Su-25 attack aircraft take off from the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. Dmitriy Vinogradov/RIA Novosti

2717545 10/10/2015 Russian Su-25 attack aircraft take off from the Khmeimim airbase in Syria. Dmitriy Vinogradov/RIA Novosti

While Syrian war reporting focused over the weekend on the battles around Aleppo and along the Turkish border in the north, Russia since Saturday, Feb. 20 has ramped up its air bombardment of southern cities and towns, especially Daraa and Nawa. Thousands of fleeing rebels with their families and other civilians have meanwhile been turned away from the locked Jordanian border and are heading towards the Golan opposite the Israeli border.

The heaviest Russian air strikes seen hitherto in Syria have two strategic goals.

1. To retake the key southern town of Daraa from rebel hands and restore it to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s full control.

2. To crush rebel resistance in the South and force them to accept surrender, collapse or escape in the direction of the Jordanian or Israeli borders.

The intense Russian sorties are opening the door to Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces to move into the South and reach the Israeli borders. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent Dr. Dore Gold to Moscow last week as his special emissary to explain how this affected Israel’s security. But he was unable to persuade the Russians to scale down their attacks in this sensitive border region.

Those attacks have a third goal, which is to encircle the Jebel Druze region with a “shield of fire” as protection for this ethnic minority of 750,000, most which inhabit mountain villages.

This unusual operation, the first of its kind in the Syrian war, has three objectives:

A. To shield the Druzes villages against ISIS attack from the east, namely Deir az-Zour.

B. To shut the door against fleeing rebels seeking sanctuary in the Druze enclave.

C. To show other Syrian minorities, especially the Kurds in the north, the great advantage of allying themselves with Moscow. Word of Russian protection of the Druzes has undoubtedly spread to Syria’s other minorities.

As for the rebels and refugees, Jordanian troops moved into the border crossings evacuated by Syrian rebels and closed the last crossing at Ramtha.

The exodus from southern Syria is now heading towards the Golan on Israel’s doorstep.

Israel has imposed a media blackout on this development. However, DEBKAfile’s sources warn that it will soon be impossible to keep it dark. Within a few days, many thousands of Syrian refugees will be massing at Israel’s Ein Zivan gate opposite Quneitra. Like Turkey and Jordan, Israel will have to supply large numbers of distressed Syrian refugees with tents, food, water and medicines.

Russian Magazine: Russia’s Air Force In Syria Is Winning The Battle For Assad

February 17, 2016

Russian Magazine: Russia’s Air Force In Syria Is Winning The Battle For Assad, MEMRI, February 17, 2016

(Please see also, Moscow on the Tigris: Russia Joins the Terror Nexus:

While an exhausted and burned out United States wishes international migraines like the Syrian civil war would just go away, Russia is energized by the prospect of filling the vacuum and thus once again playing a major role on the world stage. Aggressively intervening on behalf of his ally in Damascus, President Bashar al-Assad, and projecting force well beyond even the frontier states in his“near abroad,” Vladimir Putin audaciously aims to change political outcomes in a region that has been out of his country’s sphere of influence for a generation.

— DM)

Recently, the Russian campaign in Syria reached its 100th day. An article in Expert Online, the website of the influential Russian analytical magazine Expert, reviews the state of the Syria war, analyzing the activities on various fronts as well as the Russian involvement. The article, by journalist Pyetr Skorobogatyj, states that, with Russia’s help, the Syrian army is advancing slowly but surely. It stresses that the operation in Syria is not a substantial financial burden for Russia, and that it benefits Russia in many ways – including by allowing it to train pilots, test the performance of various weapons, and target Russian-speaking militants who are fighting in Syria. Most significantly, it allows Russia to establish a permanent presence in the Middle East that has an impact on all the region’s countries.

The article then reviews the military situation in Syria region by region. Focusing first on the north, it stresses that the Kurdish forces there are making headway against ISIS and are laying down the foundations for what may eventually become a Kurdish autonomy or even an independent Kurdish state. The main loser, says the article, is Turkey, who is powerless to stop these developments from unfolding.

The article states further that Russia, using its S-400 missiles, has effectively set up a no-fly-zone in the north of Syria, thus enabling the regime forces to make substantial achievements against the rebels, especially in the Latakia area. It adds that the U.S., too, is planning to establish a military base in northeast Syria, in the Malikia area.

Moving to the southern region, the article states that the stalemate between the sides there – namely the regime forces and rebel groups backed by Jordan – has ended, since Jordan has ordered these forces to stop attacking Assad’s troops. In Damascus, too, the regime is slowly flushing out the rebels, street by street and building by building. As for eastern Syria, the article concedes that ISIS still maintains a strong presence there and will be difficult to defeat.

The following are excerpts from the article.[1]

 “The Air Campaign Is Not Expensive For Moscow, And It Allows Russia To Train Pilots And Test Different Types Of Weapons”

“As the Russian campaign recently reached its 100th day,[2] [Russia’s] main goal appears to be the use of military power to force peace on the ‘rational’ [i.e., non-jihadist] rebel groups. There are a number of small [rebel] groups which have either joined Assad’s military or have stayed independent but coordinate their activities with the Syrian army. [Russia’s] largest partner [apart from the Syrian army] is the Syrian Democratic Army [SDA], a Sunni popular militia which is fighting in the north [of the country] alongside the Kurds and government troops. The Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that Russia supports the SDA with weapons, ammunition and airstrikes. ‘For its part, the patriotic opposition [i.e. the SDA] coordinates its military objectives with the Russian aviation group,’ noted Lt. General Sergei Rudskoy, Chief of Main Operations Management in the Russian Army General Staff…

“The joint military campaign of the Russian Air Force and Syrian troops seems to be [progressing] slowly but surely. [The slow pace] is due to the broad spectrum of military goals which must be met, including pressure on all ‘factions’ in order to separate [potential] ‘partners’ from ‘enemies,’ as well as the necessity to return as much territory as possible to the Syrian government’s control, in order to enable it to negotiate from a position of strength about the country’s future. In addition, all the battle fronts seem chaotic, with many parallel ‘seething cauldrons’… and with weather conditions are getting worse… All of these factors together make Russian air operations difficult, especially during the winter period. This week the ‘bad guys’ [i.e. ISIS] used the cover of a sandstorm [which hampered Russian air activity] to mount a major offensive on Deir Al-Zor, a Syrian enclave in the desert. This action resulted in a major defeat for the Syrian side. As prevailing weather conditions worsen, the… intensity of the military campaign will decrease…

“Notwithstanding, during the first 100 days of Russian Air Force and Navy operations, 217 villages and towns were retaken, and 1000 sq. km. of territory. The Russian-Syrian coalition has no need to hurry. The air campaign is not expensive for Moscow, and it allows Russia to train pilots and to test the battle performance of different types of weapons. These benefits are in addition to the political gains and to the main goal, which is to eliminate Russian-speaking fighters in theaters far away from Russia’s borders.

“In addition, thanks to the new Russian air force base in the [the Syrian city of] Latakia, Moscow has established a permanent presence in the region, controlling a very important logistic hub. This modern military base (equipped with Iskander[3] and S-400[4] missiles)… changes the military and political situation in Iraq, Iran, Israel, the U.S… and, of course, Turkey”…”

“Russia Has Set Up A No-Fly Zone Using Its S-400 Surface-To-Air Missile System”

“[Meanwhile] the goals of the main participants in the Syrian battle have become clear. In the north of Syria… the Kurds are winning. They are finally receiving extensive military support from the U.S. and covert support from Russia. They are carrying out offensive operations against ISIS and expanding their territory, which might become a future Kurdish state or an autonomous region within Syria, depending on the final agreement… The main loser is Turkey, who is unpredictable, irresponsible and unable to keep agreements. Currently, [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan can only look on as the Kurdish enclave continually grows stronger. [The Turkish President] can initiate military operations only on his own territory…

“The geopolitical value of northern Syria is understood by all parties. Russia has set up a no-fly zone [there] using its S-400 surface-to-air missile system… [while] Syria is strengthening its Al-Bab air base with Russian military advisors and the S-300[5] missile system. The Americans are not napping either, and plan to set up a military base in Malikia in north-east Syria… This will allow the U.S to carry out an independent policy without having to depend on the Kurdish state which is being established…

“The Syrian army, aided by Hizbullah’s brigades, is doing very well in the Latakia governorate. The map [below] clearly shows the movement of the fighting forces over the last few months. The dotted red line represents the front on October 7, 2015. In the first half of January 2016, government troops finally showed fighting ability against the Islamist stronghold of Salma… It was the first time that Russian military experts actively took part in the campaign, probably coordinating the attack on Salma. Support from Russian planes in the northern Latakia province allows the Syrian army to continue its advance at full speed…”

26798Military situation in Latakia and Hama areas, January 21, 2016

In The South, Jordan-Backed Rebels Have Been Ordered To Stop Attacking; In Damascus, The Government Is Flushing Out Islamists; In The East, ISIS Still Holds A Significant Area

“In the Dera province in the south, the opposing sides had [previously] agreed to maintain the status quo. Damascus was avoiding a conflict with Israel as well as with Jordan, which openly sponsored tribal forces and Islamist brigades… [Today, however,] the tactic of constant pressure [by Syrian regime troops on these forces and brigades] is producing results. The Military Operations Command [MOC] in Amman… which is coordinating rebel activities in southern Syria, has ordered [the forces it sponsors] to stop attacking [Syrian] government forces… Jordan’s logic is very simple… Syrian refugees in Jordan now total about 30% of the population, the same number as the Palestinians living in Jordan… so Jordan prefers to try to stabilize the situation in Syria rather than dream about cutting off Syria’s southern territories from the rest of the country. On the other hand, Damascus has begun to raise the issue of Israeli[-sponsored] rebels occupying the [Syrian] Golan Heights.

“In the Syrian capital, government troops are continuing to flush out Islamists and ‘bad guys’ from the city. The score is being kept not by counting streets retaken, but by counting buildings… The progress in the Damascus area is noticeable only when viewed over a long period of time. Below is a map showing the balance of forces in 2013, and beneath it a map showing the balance of forces in 2015.

26799Damascus area in 2013
26800Damascus’ area in 2015

“In addition, peace talks between the government and some rebel groups are now underway. Just recently, an agreement was made with a rebel brigade in the Al-Qadam suburb [in Damascus]. Some militants who were disarmed were moved to Raqqa and Idlib, while almost 1,500 others agreed to switch to Assad’s side…

“In spite of the relative success of government troops, ISIS still holds a significant area in the eastern part of Syria… The [ISIS] Caliphate is well-entrenched in the area it controls, with a strong force and command structure, and is not going to withdraw easily.”



[1], January, 22, 2016.

[2] The Russian campaign in Syria started on September 30, 2015.

[3] A Russia-manufactured portable short-range ballistic missile system; NATO designation name: SS-26 Stone.

[4] A Russia-manufactured anti-aircraft weapons system; NATO designation name: SA-21 Growler.

[5] A Russia-manufactured long range surface-to-air missile system;  NATO designation name: SA-10 Grumble.

In new Syrian exodus, some 50,000 refugees head to Jordanian, Israeli borders

February 10, 2016

In new Syrian exodus, some 50,000 refugees head to Jordanian, Israeli borders, DEBKAfile, February 10, 2016

An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers from the Jordanian-Syrian border. 03/02/2016. BBC News

An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers from the Jordanian-Syrian border. 03/02/2016. BBC News

Syria’s refugee crisis in the north is now repeating itself in the south, with tens of thousands of destitute women, children and elderly people fleeing their homes – not this time from beleaguered Aleppo to the Turkish border, but from the southern region of Daraa towards the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

Unlike the broad coverage of the refugee crisis on the Syrian-Turkish border, the refugee exodus from the south has received scant media attention – even from Israeli correspondents.

With the intensification of attacks in southern Syria, about 50,000 refugees are now streaming toward Jordan and another 20,000 making tracks from Israel’s Golan border at Quneitra.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, since the weather has cleared and Russian air strikes resumed against the rebels holding the northern part of Daraa, tens of thousands of civilians are on the move from the South. About 15,000 to 20,000 have reached the Jordanian border, and more than 30,000 are believed heading that way; while another 20,000 refugees may be making for the Golan town of Quneitra on the Israeli border.

Jordan has taken in 650,000 Syrian refugees in previous exoduses from the five-year old war.

A desperate SOS appeared on social media Wednesday, Feb. 10, in which the rebel-controlled Daraa Provincial Council warned that tens of thousands of civilians were in flight from Russian air strikes and the barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian warplanes and helicopters.

There was no way to bring water, food or medicines to the fleeing refugees.

Military sources monitoring the situation report that the exodus was first touched off by the fall of Alaman, 3 km north of Daraa in the last few days to Syrian and Hizballah forces. They next cut off parts of Highway 5 from Daraa to Damascus. The rebels were left with only one remaining escape route, the road to the Jordanian border, but that too is under heavy fire, forcing the refugees to go round through rough country.

As in Aleppo, the Darnah district is held by hundreds of assorted rebel militias, ranging from the US-backed Free Syrian Army to groups which have sworn allegiance to ISIS. According to our intelligence sources, it is often hard to determine which groups are taking orders from whom.

Jordan has followed the Turkish policy towards the tens of thousands of refugees massing on its border  A single crossing is operating at Ramtha, but refugees are not allowed to pass through.

The Israeli government has not yet issued any statements of policy with regard to the Syrian refugees heading for the Golan.

Concentrated Russian air strikes may open Syrian-Hizballah door to Israeli border

December 30, 2015

Concentrated Russian air strikes may open Syrian-Hizballah door to Israeli border, DEBKAfile, December 30, 2015

Sheikh_Maskin_29.12.15Sheikh Maskin-Syrian Army’s 82nd Brigade base

On the face of it, Moscow and Jerusalem make a show of their smooth air force collaboration in Syrian air space. But this picture is wide of the situation: The Russian air force omitted to notify Israel ahead of its massive bombardment close to its border Tuesday.


Israel’s military and political leaders became intensely anxious Tuesday, Dec. 29, when they saw how concentrated Russian air strikes were swiftly dislodging anti-Assad rebels from southern Syria and beginning to open the door for the Syrian and Hizballah armies to come dangerously close to the Israeli border.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that Russian air strikes in other parts of the country have tapered off. Instead, heavy Russian bombardments are giving the combined Syrian-Hizballah force its first chance to recover Sheikh Maskin, the southern town housing the Syrian Army’s 82nd Brigade which has been passing from hand to hand for months. If the rebels lose that fierce battle, the way will be clear for the combined pro-Assad force to advance on the two key southern towns, Deraa and Quneitra on the Golan.

The rebel groups assaulted by the Russian air force Tuesday included moderate, pro-Western, pro-Israeli militias, such as the Southern Front and the First Column. Both suffered heavy casualties.

IDF unease as a result of Russia’s aerial intervention in the fighting in southern Syria is rising in proportion to the current military tensions with Hizballah. If the Lebanese Shiite terrorists manage to get the late Samir Quntar’s anti-Israel terror Front for the Liberation of Golan up and running, the Israeli air force would be severely hampered in launching its own strikes against this enemy by the dozens of Russian bombers using the same patch of sky without pause.

On the face of it, Moscow and Jerusalem make a show of their smooth air force collaboration in Syrian air space. But this picture is wide of the situation: The Russian air force omitted to notify Israel ahead of its massive bombardment close to its border Tuesday.

Some Israeli official circles suspect that Moscow is deliberately bringing Israel under pressure to accept a deal for southern Syria. One of President Vladimir Putin’s main objects from the outset of Russian’s military buildup in Syria was to eradicate the rebels in the South and the threat they posed to the Assad regime in Damascus.

More than once, Putin suggested to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that they work out a Russian-Israeli deal for that part of Syria. The Israeli leader was unresponsive, mainly because Israel is bound by prior understandings to coordination with the US, Jordan and moderate Syrian rebel groups. A deal with Moscow would counter those understandings.

However, The concentrated air strikes in the border region is intended by the Kremlin, according to some views, not just to push the rebels out, but to twist Israel’s arm for settling the issue with Moscow.