The Iranian-made Syrian drone downed by US F-15 fighters in southeastern Syria on June 8 was presented by American media as a “pro-regime” drone. It was in fact, as debkafile’s military sources can disclose, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Shahed-129, which was fired as a part of a complicated ruse to dupe the US commanders while pro-Iranian forces surreptiously moved in on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
The Americans had drawn a line in the Syrian Desert sand 55 km outside the Al-Tanf border crossing embedded in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle, which is under the control of US, Western and Jordanian special forces, together with a US-trained Syrian rebel group. The Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the US military command in Syria and Iraq were confident that by securing this perimeter, their forces would keep the pro-Iranian advance at bay and the border safe.
When the hostile drone flew past this line, it was shot down. But the Americans were reluctant to let the incident escalate into a major clash, while the Iranians were smarting under the Islamic State attack on Tehran’s national sites. And so they played it down. The next day, therefore, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis reported that “hostilities between the coalition and the pro-regime forces had been avoided thanks to Russian influence. He went on to say: “The calm we see today is largely due to their efforts.”
What brought the Russians onstage?
The sequence of events which unfolded over 48 hours in the Syrian Desert is revealed here by our military sources. The drone was fired as a deliberate provocation to cross the 55-km line enclosing the US-controlled border garrison, on the orders of the Iran’s Gen. Qassem Soleimani. It was intended as a diversion from the real action.
The Russians entered the picture at this stage with an attempt to cool the situation and restore calm. While they were busy assuring the Americans that the Syrian army, Hizballah and its other pro-Iranian allies would refrain from crossing the 55-km line, Qassem moved a large-scale force up to a point just a few hundred meters from the American line.
By Friday, June 9, as Russian de-escalation diplomacy with the Americans wound down, Soleimani’s forces were found to have quietly reached new positions on both sides of the border.
1. He had moved those forces to a point 56km north of Al-Tanf to a rendezvous with pro-Iranian Shiite militias which had come from southern Iraq. That rendezvous breached the Iraqi-Syrian border and attained Iran’s strategic goal of opening up a land bridge between Iraq and Syria.
2. A second pro-Iranian force captured and cut off the roads from northern Syria to the southeastern town of Deir ez-Zor, thereby segregating US and pro-American forces in the north from the American garrison in the south.
Our sources cannot confirm for certain what part the Russians played in Iran’s underhand maneuver. Were they in on it, or were they hoodwinked by Soleimani like the Americans? However, the bottom line of this incident is that Syria’s neighbors, Israel and Jordan, face a new and distinctly troubling downturn in the strategic situation on their borders. The next arena of potential US-Iranian confrontation is building up in Syria’s oil-rich Deir ez-Zor region.