In the last week of December 2012, Russian intelligence sent a coded personal message to Syrian President Bashar Assad warning him that Israel is not just onto his plan to transfer three groups of Iranian-supplied weapons stored in Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon – but is ready to thwart it.
The message from Moscow told the Syrian ruler that the moment the trucks start moving out of the arms deports, Israel will strike them.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources, the Russian spy and surveillance ships docked permanently in the open sea opposite Israel’s Mediterranean coast gathered this information from Israel’s signals traffic.
The weapons are distributed among three secret locations in different parts of Syria, hidden there for the last two years against Israel’s standing threat to forcibly prevent them from reaching Hizballah bases in Lebanon.
One of these hidden stores is located at the southwestern Syrian town of Zabadani in the Rif Dimashq Governorate near the Lebanese border, situated in a valley enclosed by high mountains on both sides. The second is the Jamraya military complex near Damascus, which the Israeli Air Force struck Wednesday, Jan. 30. The third is in Homs in western Syria, 162 kilometers north of Damascus.
Two-month inflammable standoff between Syrian, Israeli armies
Upon receipt of Moscow’s warning, Assad placed the Syrian army, air force and navy units not directly engaged in battle with the rebels on the highest war alert opposite Israel, triggering parallel full preparedness on the Israeli side of the border (described in detail in the item on Israeli military activity versus Damascus and Beirut).
The inflammable standoff between the two armies has been going on for two months.
This week, US, Russian, Iranian, Syrian, Israeli and Hizballah spies were piecing together the current situation, according to our military and intelligence sources:
1. Assad is being squeezed hard by his Iranian friends to get the three weapons arsenals out of Syria to Hizballah in Lebanon. Iranian National Security Adviser Saeed Jalili made sure Assad was clear on this when they talked at length in Damascus Sunday, Feb. 3.
This means that Israel’s air strike on the waiting convoy of trucks at the Jamraya facility did not achieve its main objective, which was to put a stop to the arms transfers to Lebanon.
At the same time, the Syrian ruler is determined to get his own back on Israel for the attack.
Iran squeezes Assad on arms for Hizballah
2. Iran’s insistence is not altogether understood in the US and Israel, but Assad is too dependent on Iranian assistance and support to refuse to comply. If Tehran held up – or even slowed down – its arms deliveries to the Syrian army of such basics as rifles, shells for tank guns and bombs for his air force, defeat would soon stare the Syrian ruler in the face.
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps are furthermore reported to be training two paramilitary organizations, Jaysh al Sha'abi and the Shabiha, boasting 50,000 fighters in all – to support the exhausted Syrian army. Assad is increasingly dependent on these militias for holding his own in the war.
The US and Israel therefore take it for granted that, at any moment, the Syrian ruler will obey Tehran and start pushing the sophisticated Iranian-supplied weapons into Lebanon by one means or another. At some point, he will also seek a limited strike against Israel.
Assad is spoiling for retaliation against Israel
3. On the Lebanese side of the border, extensive Hizballah preparations for the intake of the new weapons are being filmed by US and Israeli military satellites and spy planes. Their militiamen are busy digging tunnels for storage and silos to hold the Iran-made surface missiles and interceptor missiles. They are situated in the valleys winding through the Anti-Lebanon Mountains – al-Jebel ash-Sharq – running northeast to southwest along the Lebanese-Syrian border, parallel to the Lebanon Mountains (“anti” used here in the Greek sense of “opposite”).
The first vehicles carrying weapons moving from Syria to Lebanon, possibly within hours or days, would bring forth Israeli military action – and therefore its next clash of arms with Syria and Hizballah.
4. The same applies to a limited Syrian attack on Israel. All that Assad is waiting for, according to US and Israeli intelligence estimates, is a break in the downpours of rain, hail and heavy cloud enveloping this part of the Middle East up until this week. The clear skies forecast for this weekend portend stepped-up military activity at these flashpoints.
Assad’s choice of Israeli targets is the subject of intense speculation; He may go for a missile strike against an Israeli military base or a terrorist attack on a military facility near their shared Golan border. The Syrian ruler is not expected to be deterred by the predictability of an Israeli counter-offensive against an unpredictable strategic target in Syria.
Assad is beset by his own quandary. In two years of savage combat, the Syrian army has proven its military superiority over the rebel movement. But he has no way of exercising this preponderance in terms of controlling his disintegrating country. And so rule is in danger of slipping out of his hands.