On Tuesday June 25, the Syrian Army took the town of Tel-Kalah at the northernmost point of the Syrian-Lebanese border intersection, divesting the rebels of their biggest supply base in northern Syria.
In the last few days, their situation has gone from bad to grave, owing to six circumstances:
1. The chiefs of the myriad rebel militias in Aleppo and northern Syria are too deeply fractured to be able to cooperate on the battlefield. Each unit and faction is making its own arrangements for supplies and weapons.
This week, Western media, mainly in Britain, depicted Gen. Abdul al Aygedi as senior rebel commander for Aleppo. DEBKA Weekly's military sources report, however, that the Aleppo sector doesn’t have a single overall rebel commander. It’s every militia for itself, with no officer in place to coordinate their operations against the Syrian, Hizballah and Iraqi armies preparing a major onslaught to drive them out of Syria’s second city.
2. Western intelligence officers, positioned on the Turkish-Syrian border to keep track of the arms shipments from Libya as they cross into Syria, are at a loss. When they asked Turkish agents for information, they were told that no one knows in whose hands those weapons are ending up.
Promised US arms undelivered to the rebels
3. The Saudis were first to draw conclusions from the rebels’ disarray in northern Syria. Our intelligence sources report that Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan ordered his agents to break off contact with, and halt the cash flow, to the rebel commanders and militias in northern Syria, and focus henceforth on keeping rebel factions in the South supplied with arms and other assistance.
This route goes through Jordan rather than Turkey.
4. Washington has apparently not delivered on President Barack Obama's pledge of June 14 to send the Syrian insurgency small arms, RPGs and mortars as “military support.” Asked this week when the American arms had arrived, one Syrian field commander answered angrily – “I haven’t received a single item. So this is very difficult for me.” Asked when delivery was expected, another officer said – Never!
Their bitterness was compounded when they learned from the media of Wednesday, June 26, that the CIA had started moving “small arms, ammunition and possibly certain types of antitank missiles” to Jordan for delivery in August.
Rebel leaders say they need the arms now. By August, it will be too late for the new intake to be much use in the imminent battle for Aleppo.
Iranian officers in forward combat positions
5. Iranian officers and soldiers are seen in increasing numbers since early last week in northern and southern Syria, DEBKA Weekly's military and intelligence sources report. They are quite openly filling operational positions with the Syrian army and Hizballah forces.
6. Another important omen of the impending battle for Aleppo was Moscow’s sudden announcement Wednesday of the evacuation of Russian military and diplomatic personnel from Syria, including the naval base leased to the Russian Navy in Tartus. The withdrawal process took two weeks. A high defense official said: “Russia decided to withdraw its personnel because of fear that an incident involving the Russian military could have larger consequences.”
He made it clear that 16 warships remained “on post” in the eastern Mediterranean and that Moscow will continue to send arms, especially anti-aircraft weaponry, to the Syrian government. The only Russian army personnel staying in the country were those instructing Syrian officers in the use of incoming advanced weapons systems.
It is estimated in Washington and Jerusalem that the Russian personnel were whisked out of Syria in anticipation of a very bloody battle over Aleppo, with Bashar Assad and rebel forces preparing to use chemical weapons in large quantities. President Vladimir Putin evidently preferred to distance Russian personnel from combat of this extreme savagery, in which many civilians, including women and children, would be sacrificed.
The Russian personnel from Syria and additional rapid intervention forces were removed to bases on the Black Sea and southern Russia and remain on standby. At the first sign of a Western military presence in Syria, they will be flown back to Syria by air or landed by sea.
Netanyahu to Golani troops: Scare the enemy to death!
Unrelated to the developments in northern Syria, the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade conducted a surprise drill on the Golan on the same day as Moscow disclosed the Russian evacuation from Syria. The exercise was observed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. Netanyahu’s comments sounded more like threats than pep talk for the troops. This exercise was no exercise in theory, he said, but preparedness to respond to “a constantly changing, inflammable situation.”
He said the country counted on its soldiers to break their adversaries and “scare the enemy to death. That is the only way to win,” he said.
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources say that the exercise and the prime minister’s bellicosity were reactions to the signs that the Syrian ruler, puffed up by his military advances, is ready to open his threatened second warfront – this one for the launching of a terrorist campaign against Israel from the divided Golan. Assad may hope that a limited campaign against Israel will steal world attention from the atrocities he is preparing to inflict on the population of Aleppo, Syria's largest city, to wrest it from the rebels.