It was commonly assumed that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Vladimir Putin discussed the forthcoming Geneva nuclear accord with Iran when they met in Moscow on Nov. 20. But according to debkafile’s intelligence and counter-terror sources, they focused on two quite different topics.
One was possible Russian-Israeli military and intelligence cooperation against al Qaeda elements in Syria in which both are keenly interested. Israel is shoring up its defenses against potential cross-border terrorist attacks mounted from al Qaeda bases in Syria, while Putin has gone to great lengths to secure the high-prestige Winter Olympics taking place at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi Feb. 7-23.
The other topic of conversation was Moscow’s interest in a stake for Russian oil and gas companies in laying the pipelines for the export of Israeli offshore Mediterranean gas to European markets.
By mutual consent, the Iranian issue on which they are deeply divided was scarcely touched on.
Two weeks after their conversation, the ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, announced Monday, Dec. 4, the formation of a special unit to deal with “Syrian radicals”- both within the North Caucasus republic and abroad.
He added: “Members of the special unit will be ready to interfere in the Syrian conflict if such operation is authorized by the Russian president.”
debkafile’s counter-terrorism sources explain that President Putin is loath to drop a Russian intervention force into Syria and risk upsetting his sensitive understandings with the Obama administration on Syria. He is therefore planning to send out a Chechen force to deal with the Chechens and other North Caucasian jihadists who are fighting under the al Qaeda flag in Syria and now gearing up, according to Russian and Syrian intelligence, for a spectacular attack on the Sochi Olympic Games.
According to some reports, Al Qaeda in Syria has got hold of sarin nerve gas and is ready to use it.
This was confirmed by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in an article he published in London on Dec. 8.
He quoted “a large number of American intelligence officials” who said that “the chemical attack on the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta on Aug. 21, in which more than 150 people died, may not have been carried out by Bashar Assad’s army but by Jabhat al Nusra [Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch].”
A senior intelligence consultant told the reporter: “Already by late May… the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta.”
debkafile reports that both these organizations have enlisted many Chechen and North Caucasian members to fight in Syria.
The sources quoted by Hersh charged President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry with “deliberate manipulation of intelligence.” One high-level intelligence officer called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ruse. “When the attack occurred, al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad,” according to Seymour Hersh.