Archive for the ‘Syrian military’ 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.

Syrian/Hizballah troops cross Euphrates to east

September 16, 2017

Syrian/Hizballah troops cross Euphrates to east, DEBKAfile, September 16, 2017

It is worth noting in this regard that, in recent weeks, Israel’s generals and colonels have suddenly dropped references in their discourse to Iran and Hizballah as existential threats.

This may be the time to remind them of an unfortunate precedent. In the months leading up to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel’s leaders brushed aside the Egyptian and Syrian armies as threats to the state’s survival –  only to find defeat at their hands staring the IDF in the face in the early days of that war.

No less dangerous would be a war fought by the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran, with powerful Russian military support. By establishing a foothold on both banks of the Euphrates River and both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border, Iran has taken a step towards pursuing its avowed goal of Israel’s destruction.

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Shortly after the US-led coalition threatened to strike any Syrian Arab Army units if they crossed the Euphrates River, Syrian and Hizballah troops were marching across imported Russian pontoon bridges to reach the river’s eastern bank. By Friday, Sept. 15 they were able to establish a bridgehead there.

The attached photo shows the pontoons being lifted and set in place in a manner which recalls the method by which the IDF  was able to cross the Suez Canal for a landing in Egypt towards the end of the 1973 war.

Throughout the three-day operation, the Syrians and Hizballah worked under the cover of more newly-arrived Russian armaments, the MiG-29SMT (Nato-codenamed “Fulcrum),  whose landing in Syria was announced on Wednesday. This twin-engine jet fighter aircraft is a match for the F-18 in service with the US Air Force as well as the Israeli Air force’s F-15, F-16 and F-16 fighters.

The day the MiG-29s arrived in Syria, British Maj. Gen. Rupert Jones, Deputy Commander in Chief of the US-led Coalition in Syria, threatened to strike any units of the SAA if they crossed the Euphrates River.

The crossing operation, as well as deepening Russia’s military involvement in Syrian and Hizballah offensives, is a major boost for Iran’s objectives, with grave strategic implications for the US and Israel.

1. For the Trump administration, it trampled the principle Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin established exactly two years ago, i.e., for eastern Syrian across the Euphrates to be assigned to American military control and the west to the Russians.

2.  US satellites and reconnaissance planes watched the Russian army trucking the pontoons east and saw them being thrown over the river for the crossing. Nonetheless, no orders came from the White House or the Pentagon to make good on the coalition’s threat of a strike and to interfere.

3. Established on the east bank of the Euphrates, Syrian and Hizballah troops are in position to go forward for the operation to capture the Syrian-Iraqi border town of Abu Kamal from ISIS. They have moreover opened the way to link up with the Iraqi Population Mobilization Units (PMU), a surrogate of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

4. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that PMU units are already heading for this rendezvous on the Iraqi-Syrian border. This step is tantamount to opening up an Iranian-controlled military corridor between Iraq and Syria by cutting deep into the US-ruled region of eastern Syria.

5.  As recently as Thursday night, Sept. 14, President Donald Trump declared: “We are not going to stand for what they [Iran] are doing “

6.  The US president was not alone in refraining from lifting a finger to stop “what they are doing.” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu likewise chose words over deeds. “Israel would not tolerate an Iranian presence on its northern border with Syria,” he reiterated Friday, Sept. 14, on his arrival in New York to address the UN General Assembly and meet Donald Trump.

But already Iran and its pawns were creating an accomplished fact, with massive logistical and military assistance from the Russian army.

It is worth noting in this regard that, in recent weeks, Israel’s generals and colonels have suddenly dropped references in their discourse to Iran and Hizballah as existential threats.

This may be the time to remind them of an unfortunate precedent. In the months leading up to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Israel’s leaders brushed aside the Egyptian and Syrian armies as threats to the state’s survival –  only to find defeat at their hands staring the IDF in the face in the early days of that war.
No less dangerous would be a war fought by the Syrian army, Hizballah and Iran, with powerful Russian military support. By establishing a foothold on both banks of the Euphrates River and both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border, Iran has taken a step towards pursuing its avowed goal of Israel’s destruction.

Shoigu in Damascus, Tehran for anti-ISIS drive

September 13, 2017

Shoigu in Damascus, Tehran for anti-ISIS drive, DEBKAfile, September 13, 2017

Our military sources point out that now, because ISIS is concentrating on battering the Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces and stalled their advance to the Euphrates Valley, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, consisting mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia, have found that the road from Raqqa to Deir Ez-Zour is open and are overtaking the Russian-backed forces. The SDF is advancing rapidly with US helicopters providing them with fuel so their vehicles can press forward.

Ahead may be decision to commit more Russian military forces to the war against ISIS or explore a path to a breakthrough in talks with the Americans.

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After a tense conversation with Bashar Assad in Damascus Tuesday, Sept. 12, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources discovered the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had flown secretly to Tehran the next day. He then proceeded directly to Sochi to brief President Vladimir Putin on his mission, which was to pull together the Russian-backed Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah operations against ISIS on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that Shoigu’s visits capped this effort by Moscow.

The bright prospects of success in breaking the ISIS’ long siege of Deir ez-Zour announced at the beginning of the week dimmed on Tuesday and Wednesday, when the claims of a major victory proved unexpectedly premature.

As of Wednesday evening, Syrian army units were still locked in battle for control of the main road from Damascus to Deir Ez-Zour, and were still about 15km away from the city. Reports that the ISIS siege on the large Syrian airbase adjoining Deir Ez-Zour had been lifted were also premature.  On Wednesday night, ISIS forces were still attacking the base’s perimeter in an attempt to break through.

In other words, the lofty claims in recent days by senior Russian officers, President Assad and Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, claiming the war was won, aside from small scattered battles, were over-hasty.

Our military sources point out that now, because ISIS is concentrating on battering the Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces and stalled their advance to the Euphrates Valley, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, consisting mainly of Syrian Kurdish fighters from the YPG militia, have found that the road from Raqqa to Deir Ez-Zour is open and are overtaking the Russian-backed forces. The SDF is advancing rapidly with US helicopters providing them with fuel so their vehicles can press forward.

As of Wednesday evening, the SDF was just 6 km away from Deir Ez-Zour, ahead of the Russian-backed armies which were taking the brunt of ISIS attacks.

When he saw this happening, Russian President Putin sent his defense minister over to Damascus and Tehran to look for ways to break through to the next operations scheduled for attacking ISIS strongholds on the Syrian-Iraqi border. Ahead may be decision to commit more Russian military forces to the war against ISIS or explore a path to a breakthrough in talks with the Americans..

Iran buildup in S. Syria – riposte for IDF drill

September 12, 2017

Iran buildup in S. Syria – riposte for IDF drill, DEBKAfile, September 12, 2017

 

An Iranian military buildup indeed appears to be taking place on Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel, in response to Israel’s mock thrust into Lebanon. But they are moving in on areas outside the de-escalation zones which are manned by Russian officers. Their tactic therefore is to entrench themselves in other parts of the southeastern Syria so that Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces form a continuous, impermeable line along Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

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Lebanese sources claimed that on Monday, Syria had fired S-200 missiles against two Israeli F-15 fighter bombers flying over the southern Lebanese port town of Sidon – but missed their targets. The Syrian missiles, they claimed, had been fired from “an air defense base in southern Syria.”

This report was not confirmed by any other source. But it was accompanied by a photo on various Syrian social media, which claimed to depict the firing of these missiles and also presented a Lebanese military spokesman as saying that the Syrian missiles were fired at precisely 11.30 a.m. when the Israeli planes were over Sidon.

The Lebanese and Syrian media accounts are clearly coordinated.

If this episode actually happened, it would be a game changer, in that for the first time, Syria would have launched missiles from one of its bases against a purported Israel warplanes flying over Lebanon.

Even if the two allies were just sending a message to Jerusalem by drumming up an incident, it gains substance from its timing, i.e. five days after an Israeli air strike on Syria’s chemical and missile weapons development facility, the Scientific Studies and Research Center near Masyaf, 38 km west of the central town of Hama.

Syrian military sources are moreover reporting an onrush of Iranian officers, troops and military advisers to southern Syria. According to one official, “Many Iranians are deployed as advisers and police in southern Syria, especially in the de-escalation zones.” Another Syrian official put it more plainly. “We have seen a big increase in the number of Iranian soldiers this month.”

|DEBKAfile’s military sources confirm that these reports are partially correct. An Iranian military buildup indeed appears to be taking place on Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel, in response to Israel’s mock thrust into Lebanon. But they are moving in on areas outside the de-escalation zones which are manned by Russian officers. Their tactic therefore is to entrench themselves in other parts of the southeastern Syria so that Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah forces form a continuous, impermeable line along Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

On Sunday, Sept. 11, units of the Syrian army’s 5th Corps moved in on large sections of the Jordanian border, including parts close to Israel.

Neither the IDF nor the Jordanian army interfered with any of these potentially menacing steps. They are seen by DEBKAfile’s military sources as a combined Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah comeback for the IDF exercise, to demonstrate that, while Israel shows itself capable of invading Lebanon, the three allies have meanwhile become firmly ensconced on its northern border.

The next day, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted: “We have won the war in Syria. Our martyrs, wounded, captives and people are changing equations and writing the region’s history, not just Lebanon’s.”

US-Russian pincer for ISIS in Euphrates Valley

September 10, 2017

US-Russian pincer for ISIS in Euphrates Valley, DEBKAfile, September 10, 2017

The US and Russia have just agreed to each provide air support for a conjoined pincer movement to pin the Islamic State down in its last strongholds of Abu Kamal and Mayadin in the Euphrates Valley, DEBKAfile reports from exclusive intelligence sources.

The number of jihadists assembled there, mainly from Mosul and Raqqa, is estimated at 10,000.

The new US-Russian understanding, our military sources say, provides a roadmap for twin offensives – one led by Syrian regime, Hizballah and pro-Iranian militia armies; the second, by the pro-US Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF),  the Kurdish YPG and the Syrian Arab Shammari Sanadid Brigade. The first will fight under Russian air cover and the second under US air support. The tribesmen are fighting with the blessing of Saudi Arabia.

The two columns will advance through two separate corridors.

The Russian-backed formation will head east from the town of Ash-Shula along the M20 highway. En route, they are tasked with completing the capture of Deir ez-Zour, after breaking through the ISIS siege last week, and mopping up ISIS fighters outside the town. After that, they will head northwest to their final destination, the border town of Abu Kamal.

The US-backed force will set out from the northern Syrian Kurdish province of Hasakeh and push on to the Khabur River, a tributary of the Euphrates. (See map.)  After crossing the Khabur, they will head along the Euphrates bank for the same destination, Abu Kamal.

Since the Russian and US air forces will both be operating in a very tight space, the US war room at the CENTCOM commander center in Baghdad and the Russian Hmeimim Air base in Syrian Latakia, will be coordinating aerial operations closely enough to prevent accidental collisions.

An agreement was reached between the US and the Syrian regime to drop references to “de-escalation zones”  and instead talk about “deconfliction.”

Although the two powers have reached an unprecedented measure of accord for working together with their respective allies and proxies for a concerted effort to wipe out the last ISIS strongholds along the Syrian-Iraqi border, nonetheless certain areas are still unresolved:

1. Which of the two will take charge of the oil fields of Deir ez-Zour? Control of this oil-rich region region is a valuable strategic prize for the winner.

2. Which of the two formations will actually lead the battles for Abu Kamal and Mayadin?

3.  And which of the two will be left in control of the Syrian-Iraqi border running through the Euphrates Valley?

Leaving any of these these points up in the air is a recipe for major clashes between the pro-Russian and pro-US forces which have banded together pro tem against the Islamic State’s last stand.

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out

July 12, 2017

Russians enter Daraa, Syrians/Hizballah move out, DEBKAfile, July 12, 2017

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

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Russian troops stepped into southern Syria for the first time Wednesday, July 13, when they entered the embattled town of Daraa to start enforcing the partial ceasefire agreed by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg on July 7.  DEBKAfile’s military sources report this exclusively.

The Russians, including military police and Chechen paratroopers, were sighted getting out of the vehicles of their convoy and taking up positions in the center of Daraa. As they moved into the town, our sources report that tank units of the pro-regime Syrian army’s 5th Armored Division were seen driving out, along with Hizballah.

Their withdrawal cut short the Syrian military’s Operation Big Dawn against the Syrian rebels in Daraa, which breached the ceasefire Monday, July 11 – less then 24 hours after it went into force.

The Russian deployment in a southern Syrian border town Wednesday was the first step in their posting along Syria’s Israeli and Jordanian borders, as agreed between Washington and Moscow. President Trump had assented to this arrangement to bolster the first stage of the Syrian ceasefire going into effect in the de-confliction zone of the southwest.

Jordan also assented, in the interests of de-escalating tensions on its border with Syria.

The Russian troops and Chechens in Russian military police uniforms were armed only with light weapons. On July 5, Putin’s special envoy for Syrian affairs, Alexander Levrentiev, said that the Russian troops deployed in Syrian ceasefire zones would be lightly armed for self-defense. Most would consist of Russian military police. This description was intended to cover the presence of Chechen paratroops, who were seconded to the Russian police force for this mission.

Israel has so far objected to any Russian military presence along its borders with Syria, even in the capacity of ceasefire monitors, preferring Americans to police the truce in the Qunetra region. If that proved unfeasible, then Israel would leave the Syrian rebels controlling this area in place.

But our sources predict that, after the arrival of Russian troops in Daraa to preserve the ceasefire, both Washington and Moscow will lean hard on Jerusalem to accept Russian troops at Quneitra too, that is, opposite the Golan.

New Syrian-Hizballah offensive defies ceasefire

July 10, 2017

New Syrian-Hizballah offensive defies ceasefire, DEBKAfile, July 10, 2017

The Assad regime, for its part, felt free to resume combat because the Trump-Putin ceasefire deal had not set out demarcation lines as dividers between the opposing armies, leaving that task to US and Russian officers on the ground to take up.

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Less than 24 hours after the US-Russian sponsored ceasefire went into force in southwest Syria, it broke down early Monday, July 10, when large-scale Syrian army and Hizballah forces launched a general offensive on Syrian rebel forces in the Al Suweida province. This region was listed with Quneitra and Daraa as one of three demilitarized locations to be covered by the truce.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Syrian’s army’s 5th Armored Division led the offensive which the Syrian army’s general command designated “Operation Big Dawn,” to mark it as the opening of a new phase in the war in southern Syria.

Our military sources described the attack as focusing on the northern rural areas of Al Suweida province to provide the Syrians and Hizballah with a pretext for claiming they are not part of the town and therefore not part of the ceasefire agreement reached by Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Hamburg last Friday, July 7.

In the early hours of their drive forward, Syrian and Hizballah troops captured 11 villages and small towns, including Tal Asfar and Al-Qasr, which lie 33km from the town of Suweida, 70km from Daraa on the Jordanian border and 78km east of Quneitra and the Israeli Golan border.

They forced the rebels defending them to retreat; most belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces, who were trained and armed by the US and Jordan.

According to our sources, Damascus decided to terminate another short-lived ceasefire in the six-year Syrian war when the Jordanian army and intelligence took advantage of the pause in fighting to transfer large quantities of weapons and military equipment to allied Syrian rebel forces defending Daraa. Under no illusions about the sustainability of the US-Russian ceasefire deal, Jordan moved fast to bolster its Syrian allies for the next round of fighting.

The Assad regime, for its part, felt free to resume combat because the Trump-Putin ceasefire deal had not set out demarcation lines as dividers between the opposing armies, leaving that task to US and Russian officers on the ground to take up.

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

New US base in S. Syria for tussle over control

June 6, 2017

New US base in S. Syria for tussle over control, DEBKAfile, June 6, 2017

The ingathering of major military forces in this part of Syria is ominous: The deployment of a US forward base in the Syrian Desert, and the arrival of the most senior Iranian and Syrian commanders at the head of elite units augur the approach of a major showdown for control of southeastern Syria and its strategic multiple border assets.

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In readiness for a prospective showdown for control of southeast Syria, US Special Forces have set up a forward base at Al-Zukf in the Syrian Desert, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report. The location is 70km northwest of the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border triangle and the Al Tanf crossing, which is controlled by US, Western allied and Jordanian special forces, together with a US-trained Syrian rebel unit, which calls itself the Revolutionary Commando.

(See the map at the top of this article.)

American sources say the Al Zukf base was set up for two objectives: One is to block the path of the Syrian army-Hizballah armored column, which has been advancing for the past fortnight from Al-Suweida in southeastern Syria toward the Al-Tanf crossing.

The other US objective is to capture the key town of Abu Kamal, a distance of 200km northwest of Al-Tanf, from Islamic State control.

However, the overriding goal of the US advance base is to thwart the Syrian, Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces from gaining control of 300km of the Syrian-Iraqi border and so being able to open up Tehran’s coveted direct land bridge to the Mediterranean through Iraq.

The US force is not alone in its bid for control of this strategic area. It is getting pretty crowded.

The Syria Army’s 4th armored division rolled this week into the southern Syrian town of Daraa close to the Jordanian border and around 330km west of the new Al-Zukf base. The division moved in with high-grade Russian-made T-90 tanks complete with its high command, headed by Bashar Assad’s younger brother, Gen. Maher al-Assad. The general and staff officers were sighted carrying out inspections of Daraa’s terrain in advance of the resumption of hostilities. Parts of this potential battlefield are no more than 1,000 meters from the Jordanian border.

Our intelligence sources also reported that, this week, further north, al-Qods chief, Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts, crossed into Syria from Iraq along with his operations staff. They joined the Palmyra-based command and control of the Syrian force, which is heading out of the town in two columns for two towns – Deir ez-Zor, which is surrounded by Islamic State forces, and Abu Kamal, which is under ISIS control. Elements of Russian elite forces and Hizballah are fighting along with the Syrian troops.

The ingathering of major military forces in this part of Syria is ominous: The deployment of a US forward base in the Syrian Desert, and the arrival of the most senior Iranian and Syrian commanders at the head of elite units augur the approach of a major showdown for control of southeastern Syria and its strategic multiple border assets.

“Syrian 5th Corps” is new Shiite foreign legion

December 4, 2016

“Syrian 5th Corps” is new Shiite foreign legion, DEBKAfile, December 4, 2016

fifth_corps

The new Shiite foreign legion or international brigade presents a major headache for Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It provides a cover for Iran and Hizballah to sneak troops right up to their borders. Whenever this happened in the past, Israel and Jordan pushed back hard. But this will be more difficult once the Fifth Corps is set up as an integral part of the Syrian army.

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Syria and its allies came closer than ever to taking Aleppo on Friday, Dec. 2, when they captured the Tariq al-Bab district to gain control of 60 percent of the rebel-held eastern part of the city.

Drawing on the lessons of this success, the winning forces have begun building a military outfit modeled on the format of the victorious coalition. It is designated the “Fifth Corps” of the Syrian army, but DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources can identity the new unit as the framework for an international Shiite brigade or foreign legion.

It is the brainchild of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian Mid East operations, who is in Iraq at present, supervising the Shiite militias on the Mosul front. However, his officers are overseeing its construction of the new military legion. It is composed of the remnants of the Syrian army’s First and Second Corps, which took a bad beating in the five years of conflict, the Hizballah expeditionary force in Syria and the Shiite militias which Tehran imported from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight for Bashar Assad.

The new framework aims to field 50,000 to 70,000 fighting men.

Its command structure is already taking shape in a form that is new for the Syrian army and indeed any other fighting force in the region. Syrian, Hizballah and foreign Shiite officers will make up this command, but not direct their own forces, only mixed units composed of Iranian, Syrian, Shiite and Hizballah servicemen.

It will be the first Shiite army or foreign legion ever seen in the Middle East.

An oblique reference to the novel force came from a Hizballah source this week who said: “The Fifth Corps is an important turning-point for the ties between allied forces within the same axis – Syria, Iran, Russia and Hizballah.”

Russia? DEBKAfile’s sources have heard no hint of the Russians joining the new Shiite legion. But Hizballah has been spreading reports in the past fortnight about its deepening ties with Russian officers, mainly on the Aleppo front, and their supposed appreciation of the Lebanese Shiites’ fighting prowess.

The Syrian high command has meanwhile moved forward on the new scheme with a decision this week to send the entire next class of military recruits to the new Fifth Corps.

The new Shiite foreign legion or international brigade presents a major headache for Syria’s neighbors, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. It provides a cover for Iran and Hizballah to sneak troops right up to their borders. Whenever this happened in the past, Israel and Jordan pushed back hard. But this will be more difficult once the Fifth Corps is set up as an integral part of the Syrian army.

Western and Arab observers following the Syrian war believe that, as soon as they finish off the rebels in Aleppo, the new foreign legion’s forces will turn south to repeat the exercise there with Russian support.

The Russian bombardment of rebel concentrations outside the southern towns of Jasim and Daraa Sunday, Nov. 27, was seen a message from Moscow to Jerusalem and Amman that southern Syria is now in line for the next battle.