It has just been reported from Western intelligence sources monitoring Syrian field units and satellite images that the two elite Syrian army divisions safeguarding the Assad regime were issued Thursday, March 28 with protective gear for chemical warfare.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources names them as the 4th Division, which is the Syrian Republican Guard and is commanded by Bashar Assad's younger brother Maher Assad, and the 3rd Armored Division.
The 4th Division is deployed in and around Damascus to defend the Syrian capital, the president and government institutions. The 3rd Division controls a 45-kilometer patch of central Syria between Damascus and the northern town of Homs.
Officers and troops of the two divisions were outfitted with gas masks and protective suits for continuous combat under conditions of chemical and biological contamination. They were told to stay suited up at all times until further orders.
According to our sources, tank crews were ordered to check the chemical and biological filtering systems in their T-72 tanks every two hours, keeping them ready to function on the instant at zero notice.
In the last few hours, Israel has bolstered its military medical teams along the Syrian border.
The US, NATO, Israeli, Turkish and Jordanian agencies keeping an eye on the unfolding Syrian scene offer five explanations for the Assad regime’s action:
Russian exercise – a hands-off Syria warning to the West
1. Assad has decided to break the deadlock in the war with a first-strike chemical assault on the rebels, before the US, NATO, Israel, Turkey and Jordan are ready to go with their projected operation for seizing his unconventional arms arsenals. The way for this operation was prepared by US President Barack Obama during his talks last week with Israeli, Turkish and Jordanian leaders.
(See the next articles on Obama’s discussions with Israeli and Jordan leaders and Adm. James Stavridis’s Plan B for Assad’s ouster.)
2. Moscow apparently tipped him off that this Western-Arab-Israeli offensive may be imminent.
This is borne out by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order Thursday to his armed forces to stage a sizeable military exercise in the Black Sea region. The order was given without prior notice on the Russian leader’s way home from an international summit in South Africa before he even landed home in Moscow.
It was evidently a fast reflex reaction to the appeal Assad addressed to that summit Wednesday for help against a Western attack, and was meant as a Russian hands-off Syria warning to US and NATO.
3. Intelligence reaching Damascus that a chemical weapons cache hidden in Iraq has been smuggled across the border to the al Qaeda-linked Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra for use against the Syrian military. Their use will also usher in the rise of a separate Al Qaeda emirate in Syria, brother to AQAP-Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, and AQIM-Al Qaeda in the Maghreb.
Assad regime’s legitimacy under fire at Doha summit
4. By handing out chemical warfare gear to the 3rd and 4th Divisions, the Syrian ruler is also signaling the US and Israel that their invasion of Syria carries the risk of a broad chemical offensive by Assad’s forces against civilian as well as military targets.
5. Assad has caught onto the conspiracy for a coup d’etat hatched against him by Western and Arab intelligence services. They are believed to be in touch with certain Syrian generals for them and their units to cross over and join the forces advancing on Damascus when the time comes.
By handing out chemical warfare gear to his two most loyal military divisions, Assad is warning would-be plotters amongst his own generals that he will not hesitate to mark them out for chemical attack.
6. The Syrian ruler and public have treated the seating of an opposition figure in the Syrian seat at this week’s Arab League summit in Doha – without even waiting for the Syrian opposition and rebel factions to agree on a common representative – as a deadly assault on the Assad regime’s legitimacy.
It has galvanized Assad and his army into an all-out effort for a quick and victorious end to the civil war – even if this is only achievable by dint of chemical weapons.