Arab media show damage caused by air strikes to Syrian army compound in Damascus
Arab media carried conflicting reports wich described Israeli warplanes striking in and around Damascus overnight Tuesday, Nov. 29, with “four long-range Popeye” missiles fired from Lebanese air space on the government-held town of Al-Saboorah, a western suburb of Damascus, near the highway to Beirut.
A Lebanese newspaper reported that a Syrian army ammunition depot was destroyed in one of the raids, while other strikes hit and damaged a Hizballah arms convoy bound for Lebanon on the Damascus-Beirut Highway. There was also speculation, later denied, that one of the air strikes aimed at assassinating a senior Hizballah figure.
None of these reports were confirmed by Israel or any other official source.
Even so, Israel’s reported military action against enemy targets in Syria is bound to have repercussions in the next 24 hours, since, whatever took place, broke out of the secret overarching understandings on Syria reached provisionally this month between US President elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Those understandings hinged strongly on joint US-Russian cooperation in the war on the Islamic State in Syria, supported by the coalition fighting for the Assad regime, namely, the Syrian army and its allies, the Lebanese Hizballah and foreign Shiite militias under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
As the sub-text of the “big power” understandings, an outline was drafted between the next US administration, Moscow, Jerusalem, Amman and the UAE on arrangements for stabilizing Syria’s southern borders with Israel and Jordan.
Talks on these arrangements were first disclosed in an exclusive debkafile report on Nov. 21, after they had already produced the unheralded return of the UN observers to the Golan demilitarized zone outside Quneitra.
But then, Sunday, Nov. 27, Russian warplanes staged a sudden series of airstrikes against Syrian rebel concentrations in the very region under discussion, southern Syria. After a three-month pause in these attacks, Moscow appeared to have waited for major Syrian government progress in Aleppo, to go against those understandings and send Russian jets into action over Jasim and Daraa in order to wipe out the rebel forces holding out in the South. Heavy casualties were sustained by those forces.
The Russian action was seen by the incoming Trump administration and Jerusalem as presaging the next danger-fraught step: To round out the raids, the Syrian army would come flooding into the South, along with Hizballah and other Shiite militias fighting under Iranian Revolutionary Guards command.
Tuesday saw two further ruptures in the trilateral understandings on Syria.
Assad announced he was gearing up for a decisive victory in Aleppo, notwithstanding a request from Trump’s advisers to Putin to hold back from the final step and refrain from retaking every last eastern district from rebel hands..
This was followed by an unforeseen statement by Erdogan: “The Turkish military launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.”
This sentiment pivoted sharply away from the secret Trump-Putin understandings endorsed by the Turkish leader that was contingent on Assad remaining in power.
Although Erdogan is notorious for his wildly unpredictable decision-making, it is more than likely that before going public on his radical change of heart on Assad, he was in touch with the new national security team taking shape in Washington. If that was the case, then Donald Trump was using Erdogan to notify Putin that the entire architecture of their understandings on Syria was now at risk.
If the Arab media reporting on Israeli air attacks on Syrian military and Hizballah targets in Damascus from Lebanese air space are confirmed, Jerusalem will be shown to have followed Ankara in backing away from those short-lived, understandings, opting instead for an independent policy in its own security interests with regard to Syria.