Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has broached a new Russian-Saudi-Egyptian alliance which, backed by Israeli firepower, would seek to end to Syria’s civil war. According to DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources, Sisi huddled with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue Tuesday, August 12 at the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Sisi has emerged in the past months as the most prominent Arab leader to openly support the embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and his three-year war against the rebels, a stance few Western intelligence officials have picked up on.
Our sources relay that the Egyptian president pitched the new axis by drawing a connection between the current war in Gaza and the strife in Syria, explaining to Putin that Israel’s assault on Hamas is only the first step of nascent cooperation between Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
He explained that Operation Protective Edge has given Egypt and the Saudis the chance to take on the Muslim Brotherhood in one corner of the Middle East – via an IDF campaign against its Hamas offspring in Gaza – while also tackling the Brotherhood’s Al Qaeda backers in its Sinai Peninsula hinterland.
There is no reason, said Sisi, why this campaign should not be carried over to Syria for vanquishing the fundamentalist Islamists fighting Assad.
US loath to take action in the Mid East
Vaunting his close understanding with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Egyptian president asserted that persuading him to cut off Israel’s military helpline to the anti-Assad rebels in southern Syria would be a cinch. Assad would gain a victory and America’s cautious operation against Assad would come to an end – or so Sisi assured Putin.
For six months, those rebels have been undergoing training in Jordan at the hands of US and Jordanian military instructors, before being shuttled back into southern Syria. There, they were expected to make it up to the southern outskirts of Damascus and establish a rebel stronghold for Washington’s use as a bargaining chip with the Assad regime.
But our sources say this effort has been rather haphazard and, although the US has funneled tens of millions of dollars into the scheme, it refuses to go the whole hog and is deliberately holding back heavy weaponry from the rebels. Without the promised anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, the fighters are sitting ducks for the Syrian Army.
The administration of US President Barack Obama talks big about the danger of the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) and its rapid advances through Syria and Iraq, but Sisi claimed to Putin that this is nothing but lip service. (See a separate item in this issue on US action in Iraq).
Just as Washington hasn’t armed Iraqis and Kurds against IS, it has done nothing to counter the Islamic fundamentalists in Syria. As a result, the Egyptian president continued, Al Qaeda and its ilk feel free to roam from place to place as they please, imperiling Mid East nations, but also posing a threat to southern Russia and the Caucasus.
Saudis find a new use for Assad: a bulwark against Al Qaeda
This angle appears to have piqued Putin’s interest, because many anti-Russian Islamist fighters from the restive Russian republics of Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Dagestan have been drawn into joining the expanding jihad.
DEBKA Weekly has also learned that Sisi offered the Russian president an update on his tête-à-tête with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Jeddah two days earlier, reporting that the king had approved the plan to offer Putin a leading role in the evolving alliance.
Saudi Arabia sank well-nigh $2 billion in the Syrian war, in the hope of drawing the US president into an active and direct commitment to Assad’s downfall. It didn’t work. So now, the oil kingdom has reversed course and decided to bankroll its erstwhile nemesis, President Assad, who is now perceived as a fitting instrument for curbing Al Qaeda.
Sisi has been in touch with Assad, the sources add, mainly via top-secret messengers. He was able to inform Putin that he had persuaded the Syrian president to take three steps to further the objectives of the fledgling alliance:
1. To abstain from opening a second front against Israel in support of Hamas – or even launching limited or token military action from the Syrian border, for the duration of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
2. Assad was asked to intercede with his ally, Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah to ascertain that he, too, would not strike Israel from Lebanon, in token of his support for his embattled fellow-terrorist Hamas.
3. To hold back comments sympathetic to Hamas from Damascus, so as not to interfere with the new grouping’s effort to condemn the Palestinian fundamentalists to isolation in the Arab world.
Sisi’s circuitous flight home followed a chain of world crises
And indeed, thus far, no word has been uttered in Damascus on the Gaza war, surely a one-time occurrence in the history of Israel-Arab conflicts.
Our ears on the ground say the Russian president promised to seriously think over Sisi’s invitation to join the grouping taking shape in the Middle East. They would meet again soon, he said, most likely in Cairo.
On his way home from Sochi on Wednesday August 13, Sisi’s official plane, an Airbus 340-200, was forced to choose a careful flight path to Cairo.
It was decided to circumvent Turkish air space, in view of the diplomatic crisis between Cairo and Ankara. The two countries have been at odds since the July 2013 ouster of former President Mohammed Morsi and Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with close ties to Turkey.
It was also necessary to avoid Ukrainian airspace, in consideration of the clashes during which Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
As a result, the Egyptian presidential aircraft finally reached Cairo via Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece.