(Sheikh Maskin-Syrian Army’s 82nd Brigade base)
Israel’s military and political leaders became intensely anxious Tuesday, Dec. 29, when they saw how concentrated Russian air strikes were swiftly dislodging anti-Assad rebels from southern Syria and beginning to open the door for the Syrian and Hizballah armies to come dangerously close to the Israeli border.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that Russian air strikes in other parts of the country have tapered off. Instead, heavy Russian bombardments are giving the combined Syrian-Hizballah force its first chance to recover Sheikh Maskin, the southern town housing the Syrian Army’s 82nd Brigade which has been passing from hand to hand for months. If the rebels lose that fierce battle, the way will be clear for the combined pro-Assad force to advance on the two key southern towns, Deraa and Quneitra on the Golan.
The rebel groups assaulted by the Russian air force Tuesday included moderate, pro-Western, pro-Israeli militias, such as the Southern Front and the First Column. Both suffered heavy casualties.
IDF unease as a result of Russia’s aerial intervention in the fighting in southern Syria is rising in proportion to the current military tensions with Hizballah. If the Lebanese Shiite terrorists manage to get the late Samir Quntar’s anti-Israel terror Front for the Liberation of Golan up and running, the Israeli air force would be severely hampered in launching its own strikes against this enemy by the dozens of Russian bombers using the same patch of sky without pause.
On the face of it, Moscow and Jerusalem make a show of their smooth air force collaboration in Syrian air space. But this picture is wide of the situation: The Russian air force omitted to notify Israel ahead of its massive bombardment close to its border Tuesday.
Some Israeli official circles suspect that Moscow is deliberately bringing Israel under pressure to accept a deal for southern Syria. One of President Vladimir Putin’s main objects from the outset of Russian’s military buildup in Syria was to eradicate the rebels in the South and the threat they posed to the Assad regime in Damascus.
More than once, Putin suggested to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that they work out a Russian-Israeli deal for that part of Syria. The Israeli leader was unresponsive, mainly because Israel is bound by prior understandings to coordination with the US, Jordan and moderate Syrian rebel groups. A deal with Moscow would counter those understandings.
However, The concentrated air strikes in the border region is intended by the Kremlin, according to some views, not just to push the rebels out, but to twist Israel’s arm for settling the issue with Moscow.