Moscow signaled on Wednesday, February 8, that it has started – or is about to start – supplying precision weapons to the Syrian military in order to boost its capabilities against the Islamic State organization. It came in an announcement by Ilyas Umakhanov, deputy chairman of the Russian Federation Council, who said, “Russia will continue an asymmetrical response (to terrorism) in Syria, which may include the regrouping of forces and meansand of course the supply of high-precision weapons to the Syrian government.” He added that “It is impossible to defeat terrorism only by efforts of one country. Terrorism has assumed a global character and, having achieved obvious victory in one place, there is no reason to create additional vacuums where terrorists can resume military operations.”
It is clear that Umakhanov was referring to two main topics:
- 1. Military cooperation by the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey in the war against ISIS, with the first signs already visible on the fronts in northern and eastern Syria.
- 2. Russian estimation of the need to supply the Syrian military with the most advanced weapons to ramp up its capabilities to the same level as those of the other militaries taking part in the war against ISIS in Syria.
According to Russian media reports on Feb. 8, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said recently that more than 160 types of advanced weapons have been tested in the course of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria, which started in September 2015. The reports did not specify where or when Shoigu made the comment. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal the types of weapons that the Russians have decided to send the Syrian army. They include small drones armed with precision bombs; shoulder-fired, laser-guided antitank and antiaircraft missiles; “loitering munitions” which follow their targets after being dropped from planes; small unmanned vehicles for clearing tunnels; advanced night vision equipment; laser and infrared sights; intelligence systems for locating targets; and long-range sniper rifles. Russia’s announcement was a complete surprise to the highest levels of the Israeli government and military. During the six years of the Syrian civil war, the IDF, particularly its intelligence bodies and its air force, made great efforts to prevent the flow of such precision weapons to the Syrian military and to the Iranian and Hizballah forces in Syria. But now that the Russians have announced that they will provide those weapons to the Syrian military, it is obvious that some of the arms are bound to fall into the hands of the Iranians and Hizballah.
Israel’s inaction in Syria may open Golan to Iran
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given “diplomatic priority” to stressing the perils posed by Iranian-sponsored terrorism and its nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, and placed them at the top of his talks with British premier Theresa May in London Monday, Feb. 6, and with President Donald Trump in Washington on Feb. 15. But it stands to reason that their national security and intelligence experts have advised the US president and the British premier that Netanyahu has been firmly advised up to the present day to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict by the IDF high command and his past and present defense ministers, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon. Israel therefore stands to be excluded from the practical deliberations ongoing for Syria’s future.
Jordan in contrast has stepped forward as the key Middle East player in the pacts and military understandings shaping up between the US, Russia and Turkey for throwing Iran out of Syria. Jordan’s King Abdullah swallowed his pride and took the initiative of flying to Washington last Thursday, Feb. 2, to buttonhole President Trump. From their brief conversation, he became the first Middle East ruler to win a green light from the US for an air strike against the ISIS ally, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army, which occupies the triangle formed by the Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli borders. Israel has never attacked this force in the five years since it moved into that part of southern Syria. And on the diplomatic front, the US President authorized Jordan’s attendance at the Syrian peace talks that are ongoing under Russian sponsorship at the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Jordanian delegation was deputized to act on America’s behalf to monitor the process for determining the future of Syria. Synchronously with the Jordanian air strike in southern Syria, President Bashar Assad announced that its launch makes it possible for Syrian civilians who fled from the Islamists to start returning to their homes, starting with the Quneitra region of the Syrian Golan. He was talking about 30,000 refugees. It is obvious to anyone familiar with the Syrian scene that this population shift is an open invitation for thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members and Hizballah terrorists to take the opportunity of stealing into the Golan, in the guise of returning refugees. Israel, aside from providing an intelligence service on Syria to coalition forces, finds itself left out of any say in the currently evolving peace process. While ISIS may be rooted out of this border area at some point, the Netanyahu government’s military inaction risks exposing the Golan to another attempted incursion by Iranian and Hizballah forces by covert means. The diplomatic prioritization of the Iranian threat, coupled with talks with US president Trump and deals with Russian President Putin, amount to a policy that has gone bankrupt for Netanyahu and his security chiefs. The powers who will determine what happens next in Syria are bound by military cooperation and action. Because Netanyahu’s rhetoric about the perils posed by Iran is not backed by military action, Israel has no influence on coming events, and faces the very real risk of being faced with an Iranian presence on its northern doorstep.