DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 13, 2017, 9:48 AM (IDT)
There were two unclaimed explosions in Damascus overnight Thursday and early Friday (Jan.12-13) – one at an officers club in Damascus and the second at Mezzeh airport, which Syria alleged was the work of the new Israeli S-35 stealth aircraft firing across the border from a point over the Sea of Galilee.
There was no claim to either of the attacks.
The standard Israeli policy of striking any Iranian arms shipments for Hizballah in Lebanon when they cross through Syria would not longer be applicable to any such air strike, if indeed one was launched..
The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah deploys 9,000 elite fighters in Syria to fight for Bashar Assad. Its Iranian arms supplies no longer need to risk being trucked through Syria to Lebanon; they can be delivered directly to Hizballah bases in Syria without exposure to Israel air strikes.
Indeed, should the pro-Iranian Hizballah decide to go back to shooting missiles at Israel – or using Iranian-supplied unconventional weapon – it has new launching pads readily available in Syria from those very bases. They are located in the Qalamoun mountains in western Syria and at Zabadani, a Syrian ghost town near the Damascus-Beirut highway, which the Lebanese terror group has made its military center.
Both would be obvious targets for Israel to attack rather than Damascus’ Mezzeh airport.
Tehran, having grasped from bitter experience that Mezzeh is under close surveillance by Israeli intelligence, no longer uses its facilities. Instead Iran flies arms shipments for Hizballah to Beirut by commercial aircraft, which Israel prefers not to attack, or overland through Iraq to northwestern Syria, where the consignments are picked up and transferred to Lebanon by sea.
So if an Israeli F-35 air strike on the Damascus airport should be confirmed, its target would not have been Iranian and Hizballah military supplies. Mezzeh is the site of a sterile zone set aside for the exclusive use of President Bashar Assad, his family and his top military and intelligence chiefs. It also houses laboratories for developing and manufacturing unconventional weapons, as well serving as the main command center for the 4th Division, whose Republican Guard unit protects the president, his family and members of the ruling caste.
In the first attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday night at the officers’ club in the heavily policed Kafra Sousa district of Damascus. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured. Located there are the homes of many Assad loyalists in the security and military establishments, as well as top secret facilities.
The ability of a suicide bomber to penetrate one of the most heavily secured locations in Damascus and blow up at an exclusive regime watering hole raises questions about the inner workings of the Assad regime.
Some unknown hand struck into the heart of that regime in the space of a few hours – not once, but twice.The Assad regime used its standard scapegoat, Israel, for covering up embarrassing and inexplicable occurrences.
However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that the regime has reached an awkward crossroads. The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct. They are deeply immersed in preparing the Syrian peace conference they are sponsoring which is scheduled to open at Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23.
If Moscow coordinates its Syrian strategy with anyone, it is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but even then only to a limited extent.
The Syrian ruler and Iran, after being sidelined by the Russians, are following their example. Both have taken to holding their cards close to their vests and operating under in close secrecy.
In an attempt to pierce the resulting aura of mistrust spreading over the staunch Iranian-Syrian alliance, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest confidants, was sent to Damascus Sunday, Jan 8, to find out what is going on there
The mystery deepened further Friday morning, when Syrian state media ran photos of a big blaze – which may or may not be authentic – to illustrate the alleged Israeli attack on Mezzeh airport.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 9, 2016, 8:05 AM (IDT)
The fledgling “initiatives” reverberating this week in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Jerusalem and the G20 summit were nothing but distractions from the quiet deals struck by two lead players, Russia and Turkey to seize control of the region’s affairs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew nothing would come of his offer on the G20 sidelines to US President Barack Obama to team up for a joint operation to evict ISIS from Raqqa. And, although Moscow was keen on hosting the first handshake in almost a decade between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), neither were known to be ready for the last step toward a meeting.
But the game-changing events to watch out for took place in Hangzhou without fanfare – namely, the Obama-Putin talks and the far more fruitful encounter between Putin and Erdogan.
According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Mid East sources, Putin virtually shut the door on further cooperation with the United States in Syria. He highhandedly informed Obama that he now holds all the high cards for controlling the Syrian conflict, whereas Washington was just about out of the game.
Putin picked up the last cards, our sources disclose, in a secret deal with Erdogan for Russian-Turkish collaboration in charting the next steps in the Middle East.
The G20 therefore, instead of promoting new US-Russian understanding, gave the impetus to a new Russian-Turkish partnership.
Erdogan raked in instant winnings: Before he left China, he had pocketed Putin’s nod to grab a nice, 4,000-sq.km slice of northern Syria, as a “security zone” under the control of the Turkish army and air force, with Russian non-interference guaranteed.
This Turkish zone would include the Syrian towns of Jarablus, Manjib, Azaz and Al-Bab.
Ankara would reciprocate by withdrawing its support from the pro-US and pro-Saudi rebel groups fighting the Assad army and its allies in the area north of Aleppo.
Turkey’s concession gave Putin a selling-point to buy the Syrian ruler assent to Erdogan’s project. Ankara’s selling-point to the West was that the planned security zone would provide a safe haven for Syrian refugees and draw off some of the outflow perturbing Europe.
It now turns out that, just as the Americans sold the Syrian Kurds down the river to Turkey (when Vice President Joe Biden last month ordered them to withdraw from their lands to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River or lose US support), so too are the Turks now dropping the Syrian rebels they supported in the mud by re-branding them as “terrorists.”
The head of this NATO nation has moreover gone behind America’s back for a deal with the Russian ruler on how to proceed with the next steps of the Syrian conflict.
Therefore, when US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva Thursday and Friday, Sept. 8-9, for their sixth and seventh abortive sit-downs on the Syrian issue, there was not much left for them to discuss, aside from continuing to coordinate their air traffic over Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.
Washington and Moscow are alike fearful of an accidental collision in the sky in the current inflammable state of relations between the two powers.
As a gesture of warning, a Russian SU-25 fighter jet Tuesday, Sept 6, intercepted a US Navy P8 plane flying on an international route over the Black Sea. When the Russian jet came as close as 12 feet, the US pilots sent out emergency signals – in vain, because the Russian plane’s transponder was switched off. The American plane ended up changing course.
Amid these anomalies, Moscow pressed ahead with preparations to set up a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.
Putin is keen to succeed where the Obama administration failed. John Kerry abandoned his last effort at peacemaking as a flop two years ago. But it is hard to see Netanyahu or Abu Mazen rushing to play along with the Russian leader’s plan to demean the US president in the last months of his tenure – especially when no one can tell who will win the November 8 presidential election – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or what policies either will pursue.
All the region’s actors will no doubt be watching closely to see how Turkey’s “Russian track” plays out and how long the inveterate opportunists can hang together.