Russian President Vladimir Putin is concerned about Israel’s repeated attacks in Syria, he said, after talking for an hour and-a-half with President Barack Obama early Tuesday, Sept. 29, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Putin agreed that Israel’s security concerns must be taken into account in Syria, but he was worried by the IDF’s periodic strikes on positions in the embattled territory.
Sunday night, the IDF hit Syrian military targets with powerful Tamuz artillery rockets after two errant Syrian rockets landed on the Golan.
debkafile’s military sources report that they hit the artillery command post of the Syrian army’s 90th Brigade, which is stationed outside Quneitra. Syrian and Lebanese sources say the Syrian deputy commander was injured.
The message the Russian president issued, straight after his meeting with Obama, was that Moscow would not put up with Israeli strikes in Syria, even in response to an attack.
This comment and the events leading up to it raise four questions:
1. Why did Putin take the trouble to respond in person to a trivial incident like a cross-border exchange of fire on the Golan directly after his highly-important talks with Obama?
2. Why was he so concerned by this incident? It occurred just a week after the Russian president and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had agreed in Moscow to set up a coordination mechanism to prevent clashes between IDF and Russian forces. And in any case Russian forces were not involved.
3. What was behind statement issued by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon after the incident, in which he stressed with unusual emphasis Israel’s zero tolerance of Syrian rocket infractions of its sovereignty?
4. The two highly-charged statements were obviously occasioned by much more than errant cross-border fire from the Syrian side of the Golan.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that the answers to these conundrums are embodied in one individual, Brig. Gen. Saeed Azadi, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, whose presence and operations in Syria are a closely guarded secret.
Or at least they were until Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag at his meeting with Putin last week at the Russian presidential residence outside Moscow. The prime minister disclosed his knowledge that Gen. Azadi had come to replace Gen. Ali Allah Dadi, who died on Jan 18 in an Israeli air strike against a convoy carrying Iranian Guards and Hizballah commanders traveling near Quneitra. They were there to survey a site for mounting a terrorist campaign inside Israel.
The Israeli air strike nipped this plan in the bud. But Iran and Hizballah never gave up, and Gen. Azadi was assigned to finish setting up the terror machine and getting it up and running.
A week ago, Netanyahu gave Putin notice that Israel would not let this happen – even if this meant disposing of another Iranian general.
The Russian leader explained that Israel’s attacks on Iranian military targets presented a problem because they weakened Bashar Assad.
As matter stand therefore, Russia and Israel are on a collision course: While Israel views Gen. Azadi as a menacing adversary, Putin regards him as part of the Russian-Iranian axis in Syria and wants Israel to keep its hands off him. This point is of such paramount importance to the Russian leader’s plans for Syria that he made a big deal of it at the highest international forum – almost as a sequel to his first meeting with President Obama in more than a year.
He was signaling strongly that the arrangement for the Russian and Israeli armies to coordinate their operations in Syria is unworkable and he was losing patience with Israel’s “security concerns” in so far as they impeded his plans with Iran for Syria.
debkafile’s military sources add: The Syrian rocket fire Friday and Saturday was not in fact “errant” as the IDF spokesman maintained. The rockets were fired on the orders of Iranian Brig. Azadi as a demonstration that Israel’s warning to Putin was a waste of time and he meant to go forward with his operation regardless. Netanyahu and Ya’alon conveyed their message of resistance to this operation by instructing the IDF to hit back with the Tamuz rocket, a system powerful enough to give the other side pause and present Putin with an unforeseen complication in his Syrian venture.