At least 27 dead in Damascus bombings. Russians man Syrian air defenses

Syrian State TV reported two car bombing attacks on Air Force Intelligence and Security Police Headquarters killing at least 27 people and wounding 97 Saturday morning, March 17, accusing “terrorist gangs.” In a third attack, a bomb was planted on a bus carrying members of the Palestinian Liberation Army in the Al Yarmouk suburb of the Syrian capital. The pro-Iranian PLA operates under Syrian military intelligence command.

debkafile reports: Western military experts tracking the various centers of violence in the Middle East in the last eight days see a line connecting the outbreak of missile fire from Gaza to southern Israel, which erupted on March 9, the blasts which hit Damascus on March 17. 

They were also linked to several more incidents in the wide region of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Lebanon, Iran, and Syria as the United States, NATO members and Israel intensified their naval movements in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Those sources highlight three military developments, all involving Iran, in just over a week:

1.  Their initial premise is that the car bombings in Damascus Saturday were the work of foreign hands, possibly set up by Saudi Arabia or Qatar to revive the anti-Assad revolt, after the regime smashed the armed rebellion in its last stronghold in Idlib.  The rebels scattered, many of them to Turkey, although the protest movement was not stamped out.
This defeat went down painfully in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the rebels’ foremost arms and fund suppliers, and they may have struck Assad’s strategic support centers Saturday to inject new life in the armed revolt.
The fact that a pro-Iranian Palestinian group in Damascus was also targeted by anti-Assad Arab powers was no more a coincidence than the targeting of the pro-Iranian Jihad Islami in Gaza by the Israeli Air Force last week.  
2.  The airlift carrying aid to Assad last month, the biggest Iran had ever organized, was critical in helping him win out over the revolt.

As OC US Central Command Gen. James Mattis explained March 3 to the Senate Armed Services Committee: They (Iranians) are working earnestly to keep Assad in power. They have flown in experts. They are flying in weapons. It is a full-throated effort by Iran to keep Assad there and oppressing his own people.”
debkafile’s military sources add: This effort was made possible by Baghdad’s permission to fly over Iraq directly to Syria. According to our Washington sources, US President Barack Obama tried interceding with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to block the Iranian transport flights to Syria only to be turned down.
The massive air transport of equipment on behalf of Bashar Assad served also as a practice maneuver for Iran to staged airlifts of hardware to Middle East arenas of interest in other potential conflicts, such as hostilities between Syria and Lebanon and Israel.
This week, therefore, the Iranians took active part in two Middle East conflicts in Syria and the Gaza Strip, where Israelis were partly consoled by the performance of their homemade Iron Dome interceptor in blowing up a large number of Iran-supplied Grad missiles before they landed on their cities.
Iran’s heavy involvement in a third area Yemen attracted less attention. Tehran is keeping up a supply of arms and cash to northern and southern Yemeni tribes fighting the government with a view to gaining a foothold in Yemen ports and access to the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb Sraits, the meeting point between the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

3.  Tuesday, March 13, Deputy Russian Defense Minister Alexei Antonov vigorously denied accusations that Russian Special Forces were stationed in Syria. He would only admit that “Syria has technical experts of the Russian military,” going on to explain: “For example, where we export tanks… we have to send technical experts to train our foreign counterparts to use the equipment.”

Intelligence sources confirm that the Russian official mentioned tanks, but not the 50 Pantsyr-S1 interceptor batteries, now the backbone of Syrian air and missile defenses, which Moscow sold Syria or that Russian military crews have since mid-January taken over their operation from Syrian personnel.

This is what Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, meant when he pointed out that “Syria's air defenses were five times more sophisticated as those in Libya, making airstrikes riskier and more complicated.”
So if the US, any NATO power, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, is inclined to embark on military operations to enforce security zones in Syria under a protective umbrella of no fly-zones on the Libyan model, Gen. Dempsey warned them they would be lethally challenged by a dense network of sophisticated Russian-made air defenses operated by Russian experts. This network also shielded the Iranian airlift to Syria from attack.

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