Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi has begun supplying Bashar Assad with arms, including missiles, after concluding a secret deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his consent to pick up the tab, debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reveal. The first batch of short-range Egyptian-made surface missiles has reached the Syrian forces fiercely battling rebels for weeks for the recovery of the strategic town of Zabadani without breaking through (See picture showing missile with Egyptian factory markings.)
It is not clear if the Egyptian missiles have also been passed to the Hizballah forces fighting with the Syrian army, considering that El-Sisi and Hizballah are at daggers drawn.
Our sources also reveal that the Egyptian arms consignments are freighted from Port Said to the Syrian port of Tartus by Ukrainian cargo vessels. These ships are today the most popular means of transport for clandestine and Black Market arms freights across the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas.
Sums and quantities are yet to be determined, but Western intelligence sources report that Ukrainian vessels called in at Egyptian ports at least three times from July 22 to Aug. 22 and sailed off to Syria laden with weapons.
It is a deal that may affect the fate of the Assad regime from five, often conflicting, perspectives:
1. By providing Assad with an additional source of weapons, Cairo is reducing his dependence on Iran. This suits the Syrian ruler very well at this time, because he is fully aware of Tehran’s latest steps to draw Gulf rulers and Moscow into supporting a plan for ending the Syrian war, by installing a provisional government in Damascus and so easing his exit.
2. A certain parting-of-the ways has developed between Moscow and Tehran on how to terminate the Syrian conflict. By sending Assad arms, Cairo casts its vote for Moscow’s perspective in preference to Tehran’s.
3. El-Sisi is now diametrically opposed on Syrian policy to the GCC led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates who are patrons of the rebel movement dedicated to toppling Assad.
4. He is also on the opposite side to Israel and Turkey. Israel backs the rebels fighting in southern Syria to create a barrier against the encroachment of Hizballah and Iranian Al Qods Brigades up to its northern border and the Golan. Turkey and the US have reached terms on Syrian policy. Saturday, Aug. 30, Turkish jets carried out their first air strikes in Syria against the Islamic State, as part of its deal with the US.
5. The Russian-Egyptian understanding on the Syrian question is a signpost that clearly marks the way to deepening military and strategic relations between Moscow and Cairo.
Taking the lead on a resolution of the Syrian question, the Kremlin staged a discussion last Tuesday, Aug. 18, with three Arab visitors: Jordan’s King Abdullah, UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Egyptian president. It was led by Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister in charge of Middle East Affairs, and followed by individual tête-à-têtes between Putin and each visitor in turn.
The Russian and Egyptian leaders did their best, according to debkafile’s Moscow sources, to draw the Jordanian and UA rulers over to their pro-Assad policy, or at least accept common ground for a measure of cooperation. In effect, Putin and El-Sisi were out to convince Jordan and the US to back away from the Syrian rebel cause and the Saudi line. Their future actions may indicate how far they succeeded.