Posted tagged ‘Syria war’

Putin summons Assad to Sochi, takes charge of shaping post-war Syria

November 21, 2017

Putin summons Assad to Sochi, takes charge of shaping post-war Syria, DEBKAfile, November 21, 2017

President Vladimir Putin and Syria’s Bashar Assad agreed in Sochi on Monday, Nov. 20, to start addressing Syria’s political situation now that the “terrorists” are defeated and the war is drawing to a close.

Putin insisted that diplomacy for a Syrian post-war settlement should go forward under UN aegis. Assad replied that he hoped for “Russia’s help in ensuring that the Syrians themselves lead the process, with help from outside, but not ‘interference.’”

The Syrian ruler would accept an external UN frame, but is clearly opposed to any outside attempts by the UN or anyone else to interfere in the country’s internal political dialogue or try to impose solutions on the parties.

That much is evident from the official accounts of the Sochi meeting. Its real content may be quite different. It stands to reason that Putin leaned hard on his guest to make sure that Assad toed the Moscow line.

The Russian president then announced he would be spending the next day in telephone consultations on Syria’s future with US President Donald Trump and a number of Middle East leaders. Word on what transpired at the Sochi interview and in those phone calls will most likely emerge in reports from Moscow and Damascus in the coming days.

Meanwhile, DEBKAfile’s Middle East and Russian sources fill in some of the context:

  1. Putin and Assad may have shaken hands in token of the Syrian war’s end, but both are perfectly aware that it is not yet over. One main stage, the defeat of the Islamic State and liberation of the territory it occupied, is more or less in the bag. But although most Syrian rebel groups have been broken, the civil rebellion persists.
  2. There is no indication of a silent contest said to be afoot between Russia and Iran for the domination of post-war Syria. For now, they complement each other, which each assigned a slice of territorial influence. The Russian army controls parts of the Mediterranean coastland, while Iran is extending its control of the Damascus region and Syria’s two border regions with Lebanon and Iraq and their highway connections. Close teamwork is also apparent on the battlefield with Russia actively supporting Iran and Hizballah.
  3. The Sochi meeting was only the beginning of a long and difficult diplomatic process that could go on for many months, if not years, punctuated with ups and downs, pauses and outbreaks of hostilities.
  4. Bashar Assad survived more than seven years of a vicious and grueling war and emerged as the winner. He may well try to repeat this feat in the diplomatic contest over Syria’s political future.

On Wednesday, Nov. 22, the next steps in Syria will be discussed at a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian leaders. (It is not yet clear if attendance will be at head-of-state or foreign ministerial level). Syria will not be present. Therefore, this trilateral forum will be in charge.

On the same day, Saudi Arabia has scheduled a meeting of Syrian opposition leaders in Riyadh.

A week hence, on Nov. 28, the UN-sponsored conference on the Syria crisis convenes in Geneva in which the US has a major stake..

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones

November 11, 2017

Syrian drone over Golan followed Trump-Putin disagreement on Syrian buffer zones, DEBKAfile, November 11, 2017

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

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The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, likely with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s flexibility on the buffer zones for keeping Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces far from its borders.

The Syrian UAV which flew over the Golan demilitarized zone Saturday, Nov. 11, was a direct result of the failure of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to reach an agreement in time for the Danang summit in Vietnam on the political and military future of Syria. They were at odds in particular on the depth of the buffer zone to be carved out between Syria and Israel. This is reported exclusively by DEBKAfile’s sources.

The Syrian UAV was sent over the Golan, presumably with Russian approval, to probe Israel’s reactions and find out how far into Israeli air space the drone would be permitted to enter. This probe was to be taken as a measure of Israeli flexibility and willingness to accept a buffer zone between IDF positions and Syrian/Iranian/Hizballah forces of less than 30-40km deep.

Israel struck back and launched a Patriot missile defense system which intercepted the Syrian drone before it crossed the border and reached Israeli air space over the Golan. No breach of Israel’s sovereignty was allowed to occur.

Neither did a “high-ranking IDF source” need to offer reassurance that the Russian liaison apparatus was kept in the picture, since the Russian officers in Syria must have tracked the UAV and taken note of the message Israel relayed by shooting it down.

Our sources add that the Trump administration, as well as Moscow, is pushing Israel hard for flexibility as to the depth of the Syrian buffer zone. But the Netanyahu government has not so far given way, in the knowledge that Tehran fully intends to maintain military strength together with its proxies, including Hizballah, in post-war Syria.

The BBC revelation of Friday, Nov. 11, supported by large satellite images, that Iran is building a permanent base in Syria just 50km from the Israeli-Syrian Golan border, was intended to show that Israeli leaders don’t mean what they say. The site cited by “Western intelligence sources” is El-Kiswah, 14km from Damascus, where Syrian military facilities already exist

The British report contains several quotes of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s declarations that Israel will not permit Iran to establish a military presence in Syria that threatens its borders.

The May government has a bone to pick with Netanyahu on other issues. The Brits, whom both Washington and Moscow have cut out of decision-making on Syria’s future, were also taking a dig at them both by showing that Tehran is out of their control.

The buffer zone is not the only topic on which Trump and Putin are in discord on the shape of post-war Syria.

The plan for a US-Russian deal on a final accommodation was meant to ride on the momentum of the recent military successes in pushing ISIS back from eastern Syria and into western Iraq. Both presidents felt that these victories were too good not to use for working together on Syria’s future. Therefore, when ISIS strongholds in Al Qaim, Iraq and Abu Kamal, Syria fell to joint Iraqi-Syrian-Hizballah-pro-Iranian Shiite militia forces in the last two weeks, both the US and Russia were eager to seize star roles as victors by forging a final accord for ending the Syrian war.

However, the US and Russian teams working on a draft accord found the gaps between them too great to bridge at this time. They are at loggerheads on major issues —  such as the political future of Bashar Assad — how long he would remain president and how much power must he hand over to Syrian opposition groups in a government coalition. Neither do they see eye to eye on the disposition of foreign armies to remain in the country, specifically Iran’s role in the new Syria.

Last Friday, Nov. 10, DEBKAfile reported that the differences between Trump and Putin on the Syrian issue had prevented the release of a statement of accord. The US president insisted that without an accord there would be no formal sit-down at the Vietnam Asian summit.

Nonetheless, the negotiating teams did achieve progress on two points, our sources report: It was decided to expand the de-escalation zones already operating in Syria and also to boost the joint US-Russian Monitoring Center based in Amman – not only to prevent accidental clashes between Russian and US forces, but also between their local allies.

ISIS last stronghold in Syria Abu Kamal falls to Hizballah-Iraqi Shiite force

November 10, 2017

ISIS last stronghold in Syria Abu Kamal falls to Hizballah-Iraqi Shiite force, DEBKAfile, November 9, 2017

Since both Hizballah and the PMU were fighting under the same officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, their victory presented Tehran with full control over the central segment of the Syrian-Iraqi border. One of its prime strategic objectives in Syria has been to open up an overland bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean via Iraq.

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The Syrian town of Abu Kamal was captured from ISIS Thursday, Nov. 8, by a non-Syrian army – a combined Hizballah-Iraqi Shiite militia force fighting under Iranian command, DEBKAfile’s military sources report.

The last push into the fallen ISIS bastion was conducted by Hizballah units, which first crossed the Syrian border and headed east into Iraq to fight jihadist targets in the Iraqi province of Anbar.

Crossing in the opposite direction, from east to west into Syria, were the Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMU). They joined Hizballah and together mopped up the last remnants of ISIS resistance in the Syrian-Iraqi border area (which bisects the Euphrates Valley).

Hizballah played the dominant role in this operation. A Syrian commander in the eastern sector praised Hizballah as “the foundation in the battle of Abu Kamal.” He also attested to the hundreds of elite troops of the Iran-backed Shiite group who took part in the battle.

While the commander hailed Syria’s victory over the Islamist terrorists, he refrained from spelling out the fact that the Lebanese Hizballah constitutes 80 percent of the fighting strength in the east. Our military sources report that this force consists of the Lebanese Shiite group’s Al-Amin Brigade and Radwan Elite Force.

Since both Hizballah and the PMU were fighting under the same officers of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, their victory presented Tehran with full control over the central segment of the Syrian-Iraqi border. One of its prime strategic objectives in Syria has been to open up an overland bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean via Iraq.

Israeli leaders, who declare tirelessly that Iran and its proxies will not be permitted to deepen their military grip on Syria, made no effort to thwart this achievement and have yet to respond.

Our military sources note that the Abu Kamal victory has placed the Hizballah terrorist organization’s feet on the Syrian-Iraqi border in the east as well as the Syrian-Lebanese border running through the Qalamun range in the west. (see map.) Hizballah now acts as doorkeeper on two of Syria’s borders.

The attached map also depicts how Iran and its Hizballah and Iraqi militias now stand foursquare along the central segment of the Syrian-Iraqi border

Why Russian-made air-defense missiles miss Israel Air Force raiders

November 3, 2017

Why Russian-made air-defense missiles miss Israel Air Force raiders, DEBKAfile, November 3, 2017

[Russia’s] three-tier air defense system can respond to attacks from planes and missiles approaching Syria, but not when missiles or guided bombs are aimed at Syrian targets from outside its borders, such as over Lebanon or the Mediterranean. The Israeli Air Force is using this flaw to bomb targets in Syria without being exposed to the risk of being shot down or intercepted by Russian air defense batteries.

The Russian system appears to lack the capacity to differentiate between the Israeli planes when they drop bombs or missiles or identity the types of ordinance used – both of which are essential data for determining which air defense systems are best suited to activate in response.

DEBKA’s military sources add: This may not be the only flaw in Russia’s air defenses; the Israeli Air Force may also be exploiting others. At the same time, the Israelis may possibly be allowed to get away with it thanks to a Russian decision to turn a blind eye to their maneuvers against Syria and Hizballah. If that is the case, Israel had better be prepared for them to change their minds at some point and use all the resources to put a stop to Israeli aerial incursions.

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In the last fortnight, missiles fired by Syria’s Russian-made air defense systems twice missed hitting Israeli air force planes – the first time on Oct. 16, when Israeli planes flew over Lebanon, and the second time on Wednesday, Nov. 1, when Israeli jets were reported to have struck Syrian military targets near Homs.

These incidents gave Western and Russian military experts their first glimpse of some of the aerial tactics employed by Israel, and also some of the operational flaws inherent in the Russian-Syrian air defense network spread out across Syria.

That network works on the “air defense bubbles” method, which is called in professional parlance “anti-access/area-denial-A2/AD exclusion zones.”  It is composed of anti-air missiles systems designed to hit flying objects at a wide range of altitudes and distances, and is supported by two tiers of ground-to-ground and shore-to-sea missiles. The entire set-up is backed by ship-to-air missiles installed on Russian warships cruising nearby.

The “bubble” is equipped with long-range surveillance radar, which gathers data and beams it to the stationary or mobile command center, which then selects the appropriate missile battery for downing or intercepting hostile aircraft or missiles. Available too is “engagement radar,” which guides the missile on its way to target.

A variety of advanced Russian air defense systems have been installed in Syria. Among them are the Pantsir-S1 or Buk-M2E, the S-400, S-300 and S-200. Integrated in the bubble of advanced weapons are 6 Syrian battalions which include ageing Russian-made SA-2 and SA-5.

The Russians operate the network from an air defense command at their air base at Khmeimim in Latakia, together with the joint command they have set up with Syria.

Russian sources claim that the Israeli Air Force, for its Oct. 16 flight in Lebanese skies, lofted different types of fighter-bombers, including the new F-35 stealth plane and a number of F-16 and F-15 jets. After a Syrian SA-5 battery east of Damascus shot missiles at those planes and missed, Israel conducted a separate air raid to destroy the battery. Western experts say the Russians are not certain whether they used cruise missiles or GPS-guided bombs. The Russians say their command center heard of the Israeli air strike after it had started, too late to activate an anti-air missile.

What the Russian argument reveals is that its three-tier air defense system can respond to attacks from planes and missiles approaching Syria, but not when missiles or guided bombs are aimed at Syrian targets from outside its borders, such as over Lebanon or the Mediterranean. The Israeli Air Force is using this flaw to bomb targets in Syria without being exposed to the risk of being shot down or intercepted by Russian air defense batteries.

The Russian and Syrian systems were unified under a joint command after a massive US Tomahawk cruise missile attack on Syria’s air base at Shayrat on April 7. In the ensuing seven months, the unified command has discovered its inability to strike back at hostile aircraft flying just beyond Syrian airspace, which release their ordnance without warning.

The Russian system appears to lack the capacity to differentiate between the Israeli planes when they drop bombs or missiles or identity the types of ordinance used – both of which are essential data for determining which air defense systems are best suited to activate in response.

DEBKA’s military sources add: This may not be the only flaw in Russia’s air defenses; the Israeli Air Force may also be exploiting others. At the same time, the Israelis may possibly be allowed to get away with it thanks to a Russian decision to turn a blind eye to their maneuvers against Syria and Hizballah. If that is the case, Israel had better be prepared for them to change their minds at some point and use all the resources to put a stop to Israeli aerial incursions.

 

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel

September 27, 2017

No good deed goes unpunished for Israel, American Thinker, Michael Berenhaus, September 27, 2017

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

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Israel courts Syrians with humanitarian aid on border” (9/12/17) is yet another Washington Post article that tells a true, touching story yet spins it 180 degrees because of the paper’s antipathy toward Israel.  Israel takes in its neighbor’s war casualties and is vilified for the deed.  Talk about no good deed going unpunished! 

The article admits that “[m]ore than 600 Syrian children have been bused to Israeli hospitals for treatment in the past year.”  And “Israel has now treated more than 3,000 wounded Syrians, military officials say, though a Syrian medic on the other side of the border said the number traveling for care appeared to be higher.” 

But then there are the digs.  “Israeli officials stress the humanitarian aspect of the program, but it has another aim: to create a friendly zone just inside Syria as a bulwark against Israel’s arch enemy.”  The Washington Post provides no evidence to support this. 

The headline of the second page of the article on A13 reads, “Israeli aid to Syrians is humanitarian and strategic.”  But even according to the Post’s own reporting, “[i]t was in 2013, Israeli military officials say, when the first Syrians approached the Israeli fence on the Golan Heights.”  The Post provides no evidence that contradicts Israel’s official report.  The Post then adds its own spin by saying Israel’s motive for helping the wounded was “strategic.”  In a court of law, such conjecture would be deemed inadmissible.  Further, if the Syrians initiated the plea for help, what does that say about the motivations of the Israeli people?

According to the Post, “Israel has transferred 360 tons of food, nearly 120,000 gallons of gasoline, 90 pallets of drugs and 50 tons of clothing as well as generators, water piping and building material, the IDF says.”  Israel also has given supplies and medical care in areas ranging from as far away as Haiti and most recently Florida (See here.)  Was this also strategic?

 Moreover, is this reporting of Israel consistent with how The Washington Post reports on other countries providing humanitarian aid or disaster assistance?  Or does The Washington Post single out Israel when it comes to this sort of critique?  Without a doubt, the latter!

The Washington Post can’t help but be negative on Israel.  The Post states, “Israel has been in a state of war with its northern neighbor [Syria] for nearly 70 years.”  Hardly!  The truth: Syria and most surrounding Arab or Muslim nations have been at war with Israel for nearly 70 years.

Israel can’t get a break at The Washington Post.  Israel is less than 1% of the Middle East, and the moment it declared independence in 1948, five Arab armies and the local Arabs, now known as Palestinians, attacked the nascent Jewish state with the goal of genocide.  And they didn’t hide that goal!  They bragged about the impending genocide.  Fortunately, the Jewish state won.  Had it not, it would have meant back-to-back Holocausts for the Jewish people.

The Post described a seven-year old girl whose mother said a Syrian “local commander told them to go to Israel” for treatment.  Does this sound like a plot hatched by Israel for disingenuous reasons?

Even the Syrians who were treated by Israel understand the situation better than the Post.  The article ended with this: “‘At first I was afraid, but then I saw that the treatment was superb,’ the 36-year-old woman said.  ‘We were told they are the enemy, but in reality, they are friends.'”

 

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.

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders

August 12, 2017

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders, DEBKAfile, August 12, 2017

Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

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The transformation of a small, strategic wedge of land between the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders is going forward apace without arousing much interest – even in Israel, where it should cause the most concern, DEBKAfile reports.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, two Russian army companies of Ingushet troops from the northern Caucasus set up a command post in the Syrian village of Tal al-Shahm, 13km from Israel’s Golan border. Its commander, Col. Alexei Kozin, has thus taken charge of Syria’s border with Israel. As DEBKAfile reported last month, his task is to set up 10 control checkpoints along that border.

This border area was designated as one of four de-escalation zones agreed on between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

According to understandings reached between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, the UN separation force (UNDOF) will return to its Fawar base opposite Quneitra as a buffer between IDF and Russian forces. Its past history in this role between IDF and Syrian forces was never exactly impressive.

A piece of diplomacy consistent with this process was contributed by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, Aug. 11. It was an assurance that Russia would take into account Israel’s interests in Jerusalem in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It also fits in with the surprising statement from Washington on the same day, namely, that Donald Trump, although in the midst of a fearsome crisis with North Korea with military overtones, is planning to send his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel-Palestinian peace broker Jason Greenblatt, on an early visit to the Middle East to continue this mission.

To see how these disparate elements fill out the whole picture, we turn 70km east from Quneitra on the Syria Golan to the battles ongoing at Sweida in southeastern Syria opposite the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Russian troops moved into the key town of Daraa, abutting on the Jordanian border on July 13. Like in Quneitra, a month later, they set up command posts to monitor the first de-escalation or ceasefire zone to be set up under the Hamburg accord.

The Russian troops’ assignment was to stop the fighting there and execute the withdrawal of the combatant forces, the Syrian army, Iran, and its foreign Shiite militias, including Hizballah, to a distance of 40km from the border.

But that arrangement never stood up.

Nearly four weeks later, on Wednesday night, Aug. 9, on the same night that Russian troops moved into Quneitra, the Syrian army and Hizballah launched a major offensive in Sweida province. Three days later, by Saturday, they had forced the local rebel forces to retreat into Jordan and seized 57km of Syria’s southern frontier with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Neither the Russians nor the American interfered with the Syrian-Hizballah-led push, although the Russians took responsibility for maintaining the ceasefire, and US special forces were and still are posted to the east of Sweida at Al-Tanf in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

(See attached map)

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Syrian-Hizballah offensive violated the ceasefire deal. Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

The Sweida episode demonstrated how the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance sees its way to using the Trump-Putin ceasefire zones accord as an open door for seizing control of southern Syria and grabbing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

The Syrian rebel movement is disintegrating at an alarming rate following the “Jubeir earthquake,” as it has become known – another momentous event which Western and Israeli front pages have chosen to ignore.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Mniser Adel al-Jubeir reportedly informed a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders invited to Riyadh that his government was pulling its support from their fighting militias, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to reduce US military action in Syria solely to the war on ISIS – and therefore end US resistance to the Assad regime.

Saudi officials did not deny the report, only termed it “inaccurate.”

But meanwhile, the decisions by Riyadh and Washington to abandon the anti-Assad cause spread like wildfire among Syrian rebel groups. Many responded by laying down their arms and surrendering.

The fate of the rebel movement after six years of cruel warfare against the dictator Bashar Assad should be an object lesson to other recipients of American and Russian promises. Therefore, Lavrov’s pledge to take Israel’s interests in Jerusalem into account should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was most likely shooting a line to allay Israeli skepticism about the prospect of Russian troops keeping Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah troops at bay from its northern border – even through this pledge was underwritten by Washington.

Instead of taking the two powers at their word, Israel need only watch what is going on in the last few hours just across the border at Sweida, to appreciate the value of such promises.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.