Posted tagged ‘Russia – Syria war’

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz

January 21, 2018

Kurdish militia repels Turkish Afrin invasion amid continuing Turkish air blitz, DEBKAfile, January 21, 2018ss>

Russian forces did not interfere when 72 Turkish jets Saturday night pounded 100 Kurdish YPG targets in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin. Early Sunday, Jan. 21, Kurdish and Syrian opposition sources confirmed that Turkish troops trying to enter Afrin clashed with the Kurdish militia on the northern and western edges of the enclave and were pushed back. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan continued to issue dire threats, saying, “Beginning from the west, step by step, we will annihilate the terror corridor up to the Iraqi border. No one can say a word. Whatever happens we don’t care anymore.

”The Turks have cynically dubbed their assault on the Kurds, “Operation Olive Branch.”  Kurdish leaders are reported to have opened secret negotiations with the Assad regime for opening the door to the Syrian army to enter their enclave on the assumption that Erdogan will not wish to open a new warfront with Damascus. Turkey’s deputy prime minister Bekir Bozdaq said that Ankara would preserve Syria’s territorial integrity after it achieved its objective and Turkish troops would cross back home.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Turkish army has so far not gone further than exploratory steps in its campaign against the Kurdish YPG in Afrin. A major offensive with large numbers of foot soldiers and tanks has not taken place as yet. Erdogan appears to be pulling his punches to test whether the US will come to the aid of its Kurdish allies. But the question still open is: Will he go through with his threat to capture Kurdish lands spanning northern Syria from the Turkish border to the Syrian border with Iraq? If he does and succeeds in pulling off this ambitious campaign, Turkish troops will override the region declared just a few days ago as being under American military protection and secured by a new US-trained and armed Border Defense Force of 30,000 men. Will the 2,000 US military personnel deployed in the bases there then intervene? Russia has made its position clear by refraining from interfering with the Turkish air offensive although its forces control the skies over Afrin.

Israel’s red lines in Syria long crossed by Iran

August 24, 2017

Israel’s red lines in Syria long crossed by Iran, DEBKAfile, August 23, 2017

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu set out for President Vladimir Putin Israel’s red lines against Iran establishing a permanent, expanded military presence in Syria. This theme dominated their three-hour conversation in Sochi on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Netanyahu stiffened his warning with a veiled threat that should Iran or Hizballah cross those lines, there would be a regional war.

It was the first time that the prime minister had publicly threatened to go to war against Iran and Hizballah. After talking to Putin, he said to reporters that what is new today is Iran’s attempt to “Lebanonize Syria.” in the same way as it seized control of Lebanon through its surrogate, Hizballah. “We are looking at Tehran’s future takeover of Syria through its Shiite militias.

If that happens, “we will not remain passive,” he said – nor if Syria becomes a link in Iran’s overland corridor via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. And we certainly can’t accept Iranians and Hizballah close to the Golan.

“We told President Putin plainly that we won’t put up with Iran using Syria as a military base for attacking Israel.

Putin, in the part of the meeting to which reporters had access, did not address Netanyahu’s remarks about Iran’s role in Syria, nor his warning of unilateral military action. The Russian president just repeated the standard Moscow line that foreign forces would not stay in Syria at the end of the war, but offered no timetable or guarantees.

The Russian leader would clearly prefer not to see an Israel war against Iran and Hizballah breaking out in Syria, DEBKAfile’s sources say, especially since Russian special forces, naval and air force contingents are deployed there – albeit not in large numbers.

At the same time, he may well find Netanyahu’s strong words useful for boosting Russia’s clout in Syria. If Tehran believes an Israeli war against its forces and Hizballah is potential, it will be in Iran’s interest to strengthen its military ties with Russia so as to gain its military and political backing.

For Putin, this would be a welcome change from the atmosphere of acrimony prevailing for some weeks between Iranian and Russian officers in Syria. Russian colonels have been posted at the most sensitive sectors in Syria, such as Aleppo, Hama, Homs and eastern Damascus. They are taking over both the military and civilian administration there and, in effect, shouldering the Iranian officers aside.

In Iraq, the Iranians seized control of the country from within, by setting up armed militias and getting them integrated in the national army, as Trojan horses. Tehran knows how to manage this ruse on the quiet, without drawing unwanted attention from the powers on the spot.

In Syria, the problem facing Israel is quite different. If Netanyahu shared sensitive intelligence with Putin that he had not known before, he can’t help noticing that Israel’s red lines for Iran’s expansion were crossed months ago, some of them with Russian assistance.

Four instances stand out:

1. Iran and Hizballah have already set up a chain of military bases in Syria – notably in the Qalamoun Mountains on the Syrian-Lebanese border, from which missiles can be launched against Israel.

2. Iran has already won its coveted land bridge through Iraq to Syria. Bashar Assad’s army has taken over whole sections of the Syrian-Iraqi border, and opened the door for pro-Iranian Shiite militias, Hizballah and Iraqi Shiite groups to move into strategic positions on both sides of the border.

3.  Netanyahu warned of the danger of planting an extremist Shiite entity in the heart of the Sunni Muslim region. But this is already underway. On orders from Moscow, the Syrian army’s 5th Corps is in the process of absorbing the pro-Iranian Shiite militias which fought for Assad.

The prime minister did not inform Putin of any timetable for Israeli action. But the Russian leader will take it for granted that the Israeli army will not move into Syria without a nod from the Trump administration in Washington.

For now, Putin and Trump are synchronizing their operations in Syria with better results than Netanyahu’s understanding with the US administration.

How an Iranian general duped US command in Syria

June 10, 2017

How an Iranian general duped US command in Syria, DEBKAfile, June 10, 2017

Our sources cannot confirm for certain what part the Russians played in Iran’s underhand maneuver. Were they in on it, or were they hoodwinked by Soleimani like the Americans? However, the bottom line of this incident is that Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan, face a new and distinctly troublesome downturn in the strategic situation on their borders. The next arena of potential US-Iranian confrontation is building up in Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor region.

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The Iranian-made Syrian drone downed by US F-15 fighters in southeastern Syria on June 8 was presented by American media as a “pro-regime” drone. It was in fact, as DEBKAfile’s military sources can disclose, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Shahed-129, which was fired as a part of a complicated ruse to dupe the US commanders while pro-Iranian forces surreptiously moved in on the Syrian-Iraqi border.

The Americans had drawn a line in the Syrian Desert sand 55 km outside the Al-Tanf border crossing embedded in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle, which is under the control of US, Western and Jordanian special forces, together with a US-trained Syrian rebel group. The Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US military command in Syria and Iraq were confident that by securing this perimeter, their forces would keep the pro-Iranian advance at bay and the border safe.

When the hostile drone flew past this line, it was shot down. But the Americans were reluctant to let the incident escalate into a major clash, while the Iranians were smarting under the Islamic State attack on Tehran’s national sites. And so they played it down. The next day, therefore, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis reported that “hostilities between the coalition and the pro-regime forces had been avoided thanks to Russian influence. He went on to say: “The calm we see today is largely due to their efforts.”

What brought the Russians onstage?

The sequence of events which unfolded over 48 hours in the Syrian Desert is revealed her by our military sources. The drone was fired as a deliberate provocation to cross the 55-km line enclosing the US-controlled border garrison, on the orders of the Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani. It was intended as a diversion from the real action.

The Russians entered the picture at this stage with an attempt to cool the situation and restore calm. While they were busy assuring the Americans that the Syrian army, Hizballah and its other pro-Iranian allies would refrain from crossing the 55-km line, Qassem moved a large-scale force up to a point just a few hundred meters from the American line.

By Friday, June 9, as Russian de-escalation diplomacy with the Americans wound down, Soleimani’s forces were found to have quietly reached new positions on both sides of the border.

1. He had moved those forces to a point 56km north of Al-Tanf to a rendezvous with pro-Iranian Shiite militias which had come from southern Iraq. That rendezvous breached the Iraqi-Syrian border and attained Iran’s strategic goal of opening up a land bridge between Iraq and Syria.

2. A second pro-Iranian force captured and cut off the roads from northern Syria to the southeastern town of Deir ez-Zor, thereby segregating US and pro-American forces in the north from the American garrison in the south.

Our sources cannot confirm for certain what part the Russians played in Iran’s underhand maneuver. Were they in on it, or were they hoodwinked by Soleimani like the Americans? However, the bottom line of this incident is that Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan, face a new and distinctly troublesome downturn in the strategic situation on their borders. The next arena of potential US-Iranian confrontation is building up in Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor region.

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack

April 7, 2017

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack, BreitbartJohn Hayward, April 7, 2017

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According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

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A stunning update on Friday afternoon from the Associated Press said the Pentagon is investigating possible Russian participation in the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack.

These officials also supported the dire suspicion that nearby hospitals were attacked to cover up evidence of the WMD deployment:

The officials say Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

They say a drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was bombed.

The officials say they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the attack.

The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They say they’re still reviewing evidence.

According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

Such an inquiry will not, of course, sit well with Russia, which is currently demanding a U.N. Security Council investigation of American aggression.

There have been conflicting reports about whether any Russian personnel or aircraft, particularly helicopters, were present at the Sharyat airbase. Videos can be found online purporting to show Russian helicopters at the base as recently as February, but Fox News quotes Pentagon briefers stating “no Russian aircraft were at the Sharyat airfield” when the missiles struck.

However, the Fox News report also quotes U.S. officials who said “between 12 and 100 Russian military personnel” were present at the base, complete with their own barracks, which the U.S. “took pains” to avoid blowing up. If the chemical weapons attack on Idlib province was indeed conducted from the base, it would be very difficult for the Russians to argue they were unaware a war crime was in progress under their noses.

Article On Syrian Opposition Website: The Political Solution Is Unfeasible; We Should Ignite All-Out War

October 19, 2016

Article On Syrian Opposition Website: The Political Solution Is Unfeasible; We Should Ignite All-Out War, MEMRI, October 19, 2016

‘Ali Hamidi, a Syrian journalist opposed to the regime, called on regime opponents to abandon the political solution and ignite an all-out war in Syrian order to force the world to step in and end it. Writing on a Syrian opposition website, he said that the brutal offensive waged in recent weeks by the Assad regime and by Russia against the rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo is nothing less than a holocaust and slaughter for its own sake. He leveled harsh criticism at the international community, headed by the U.S., for the situation in the city, saying that their failure to intervene does not stem from helplessness or a lack of influence but rather from a lack of willingness to stop Assad and Russia.

The following are excerpts from his article:[1]

30329Devastation in Aleppo (image: Aljazeera.com)

“It would be absurd to write anything or make any comment about the all-out war of extermination currently being waged by Russia and the Assad regime against the ‘besieged neighborhoods’ of eastern Aleppo. This is [nothing less than] a holocaust; it is the ongoing indiscriminate killing of civilians without any military justification… Its objective was and is nothing but killing for its own sake. Many of us have made efforts to find definitions and reasons for this [military] action. We have heard, for example, that its objective is ethnic and sectarian cleansing; that it is an attempt to pressure the civilians in eastern Aleppo to leave or to disassociate themselves from the militants; that it is a holy war against the Sunnis, and many other analyses that are belied by the scenes of bombing and indiscriminate killing. At this point analyses and theories fail, and the main [insight] that emerges is that [it is nothing but] the killing of anyone opposed to the Assad regime…

“Can we really say today that the world is helpless? I think that would be the greatest and falsest compliment we could bestow upon this world – for the international community was not, is not and will never be helpless. It has ability and influence, if it only wanted [to use them]. But the simple [truth is] that nobody wants to stop Assad and Russia – neither the U.S. nor Europe nor anyone else…

“In the UN Security Council session on Aleppo [on September 25, 2016], UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura expressed concern about the firing of ‘[gas] canisters’ from [rebel-held] eastern Aleppo into the [regime-held] western [parts of the city]. But he did not mention the kinds of missiles and mortars fired on the people [of the city], nor did he mention the over 300 victims [that are killed] every day as he delivered this miserable speech. Even more disturbing were the statements made by the representatives of the permanent Security Council members, who parrot hollow words of commiseration that are nothing but humiliating pleas [directed at] Russia, beseeching it to do its best to restrain Assad and restore the fragile ceasefire…

“Are we not being naïve when we wait for others to make their considerations, and hand them the keys to our cities [while we sit around,] waiting to be bombed? We wait for Barack Obama to [formulate] a policy [on Syria], when everyone is quite convinced that his departing administration will do nothing for those who are being killed in Aleppo and elsewhere, and that he and his team are not really doing anything to topple the Assad regime or to compete with Russia and Iran by supporting [the Syrian opposition]. If this is the position of the [world] leadership, there is no point in expecting anything from the countries it leads.

“Eastern Aleppo is in flames and its people are dying, and the entire world is party to this crime. Therefore, all the efforts that are currently being invested in renewing the dialogue with the Assad regime must be diverted to starting a war – an all-out war that will burn everyone. Then the world will hurry to stop it.

“The statements we hear, that only the political solution exists, are not realistic in the least. In fact, even the Assad regime does not accept them. Hence it would be folly to continue pinning our hopes on political [solutions] or on the ‘friendly’ countries. [Such suggestions] are tantamount to asking the people of Aleppo to surrender [just] in hope of being allowed to negotiating for the lives of those who still survive…

“To those who ask what alternative exists, [I say]: Why shouldn’t everyone who is dedicated to the cause [of saving syria] divert his efforts from the political channel to looking for weapons, even on the black market, so as to deliver them to the fighters in order to start an [all-out] war[?]”

 

Endnote:

[1] Orient-news.net, September 26, 2016.

Russia & Turkey carve anti-US enclaves in Syria

October 15, 2016

Russia & Turkey carve anti-US enclaves in Syria, DEBKAfile, October 15, 2016

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US President Barack Obama told Pentagon and military chiefs he met Friday, Oct. on Oct. 14, that instead of arming anti-Assad rebel groups in Syria, Washington was going back to negotiations with Moscow for cooperation in achieving a cessation of hostilities in the Syrian war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry therefore scheduled his umpteenth meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for Saturday in Lausanne. This time, the foreign ministers of Turkey, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and possibly Qatar, tagged along.

Beyond the high words, recriminations and the unspeakable horrors attending the battle for Aleppo, Obama never seriously considered providing the anti-Syrian rebels holed up in Aleppo with the anti-air weapons they need to shoot down the Russian and Syrian warplanes blitzing them – any more than UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s statement that it was time for British military involvement in the Syrian war was for real

Above all, Britain is short of the military heft for backing up hypothetical intentions.

The options for serious Western intervention in the Syrian war are constantly diminishing for the reasons outlined here by DEBKAfile’s military sources:

1.  American missiles have no way of reaching Syrian rebel groups, certainly not those still fighting in eastern Aleppo. Neither Russia, nor Turkey, whose army now controls 5,000 sq. km of northern Syria, would let them through to that destination.

2. Had Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan chosen to do so, he could have simply ordered his army to open up a route for the supply of missiles to the rebels who are hemmed in in Aleppo by Russia, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces. He is withholding that order because the military deals he concluded with President Vladimir Putin last week in Istanbul override any concerns he may have for the fate of those rebels or Aleppo’s population.

3. Those deals in a word sanctify the Turkish “security zone” in northern Syria which is covered by a no-fly zone for all but Russian and Turkish flights. They also provide for the Syrian rebels retreating from the various Syrian war zones, including Aleppo, to be taken in and absorbed in the Turkish enclave. Erdogan would thus become the senior patron of the Syrian opposition rebel movement, barring only the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other Islamic extremist groups. This would enable him to steal from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar their sponsorship roles and their influence in the anti-Assad movement.

4. Ankara’s military alliance with Moscow is steadily eroding Turkey’s ties with the United States as well as NATO. Matters have gone so far that the two capitals or in advanced discussion of the supply of Russian air defense missiles to the Turkish army.

DEBKAfile’s intelligence sources reveal that under discussion is the installation in Turkey of a system of advanced Russian missiles linked to the Russian anti-air missile shield under construction in Syria.

Turkey would thus become the first member of NATO to arm itself with a Russian anti-air missile shield.

How was this allowed to happen?

According to our sources, Putin and Erdogan are moving fast to cash in on President Obama’s repugnance for military intervention in Syria and his waning powers at the tail end of his presidency.

Furthermore –

a) Neither is configuring Syrian President Bashar Assad into their calculations. They are going forward with their plans while ignoring him and his drastically diminished army as factors worth consideration.

b)  Their objectives are similar and interlocking:  Both are intent on developing their respective enclaves in northern Syria, Moscow for a long-term military presence in the country: likewise, Ankara.

Up until now, the Obama administration stood firm against the two goals, which is why Washington and Moscow were unable to achieve any real cooperation over a secession of hostilities in the war-torn country;  even when Kerry and Lavrov struck a truce accord on Sept 9, it never held up beyond a few hours.

Most recently, Putin and Erdogan tried signaling the US president that their sole ambitions with regard to Syria’s future lie in the two military enclaves now under construction.

Obama saw this as a sufficient basis to continue withholding advanced arms from Syrian rebel groups and to go for another round of diplomacy with Russia – with Turkey hitching a ride this time on the opposite side of the table..

Hizballah high-up taken out in Syria

May 13, 2016

Hizballah high-up taken out in Syria, DEBKAfile, May 13, 2016

Mustafa_Badr_al-Din2

Arab media reports that on the early morning of Friday May 13th,  Hezbbolah’s chief commander in Lebanon Mustafa Bader Al-din was killed. Al-din is a relative of Hezbbolah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah. Arab media attribute the action to Israeli forces since it was carried out by an airstrike near Damascus’s military airport. Israeli sources refused to confirm or deny any connection  to the killing.

Debka’s exclusive military and anti-terror sources note that while it is indeed possible that Israel is behind the attack, it is also known that Al-din had numerous rivals among Iranian and Syrian top leaders.  Lately, Al-Din and Nasrallah were known to be in dispute over Al-din’s wish to withdraw large parts of Hizballah’s forces from Syria back to Lebanon and  his refusal to take part in several crucial battles in the Syrian war. Al-din claimed that President Assad as well as the Iranian leadership were assigning Hizballah forces excessively demanding operative tasks.  Furthermore, Al-din claimed that Hizballah finds it hard to cope with the high volume of losses and casualties in the Syrian war.

Debka’s exclusive sources further report that earlier this week Al-din met with the commander of the Iranian forces in Syria General Qassem Soleimani near Aleppo in northern Syria. The two clashed over the way in which the war in Syria should be conducted. Al-din claimed the Iran has been a victim of a Russian disinformation scheme under which Moscow is no longer providing aerial backup in Syria. Following what he called “Russia’s pulling out from the war”, A-din demanded not only  not to expand Iran and Hezbollah’s attacks in Syria but to narrow them down significantly.  Moreover, A-din announced, seemingly without consulting Nassrallah, that he had begun to withdraw Hezbollah forces from the various fronts in Syria and concentrated them near the Syrian-Lebanese border.

All of these appear to be a good enough reason for many parties in Teheran, Damascus and Beirut to get rid of Al-din. That said, all along Al-din never stopped planning attacks on Israeli targets.