Russian Air Strikes Tell US and Israel: South Syria is Next, after Aleppo
There was no apparent tactical reason for Russia to suddenly resume air strikes in southern Syria Sunday, Nov. 26 after a three month pause. Nothing amiss was happening on the ground. Still, the Russian jets targeted Syrian rebel concentrations outside Daraa and Jasim to the north, causing heavy casualties.
It was clear that President Vladimir Putin was moved by his own strategic calculations, DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report. His purpose was to put the United States and Israel on notice that, after the substantial headway made by Russian-backed Syrian government forces against rebel-held parts of Aleppo this week, South Syria was due next for the same treatment. Moscow remained determined to restore the Assad regime’s authority to southern Syria as well as the north.
At the same time, it is worth noting that, while the Syrian army and its pro-Iranian Hizballah and other allies could, had they wished, have wiped out all the rebel positions in Aleppo, they held back from going all the way to victory by an order from the Russian military command in Syria. They were told instead to split the shrunken rebel-held areas into two enclaves and keep them under siege, to prevent the transfer of weapons, ammunition and fighters between them. The insurgents would remain extremely vulnerable to the coup de grace.
Moscow was acting in response to a request from US President elect Donald Trump’s transition team (that was first revealed by DEBKA Weekly 733) not to let the Syrian army and its allies win the day in Aleppo, but to keep situation a hairs’ breadth short of the final decisive blow.
But Assad’s generals are meanwhile querying this restraint and threatening to move forward
Another of Moscow’s rough messages was addressed to Ankara.
On Nov. 24, Turkish troops outside Al-Bab, an Islamic State-occupied town 55km north of Aleppo, were suddenly bombed from the air, sustaining several fatalities.
It is not clear which air force bombed them, the Russian or the Syrian.
But President Recep Tayyip Erdgoan understood he was being cautioned by Moscow against moving his army south towards Aleppo. To underscore the warning, Putin picked up the phone to the Turkish president and made himself clear.
Similarly, the heavy Russian air attack in the south looked like a signal to the incoming US president, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan, urging them to make haste and agree on an arrangement for he South, or else Moscow would step in to impose its will, like in Aleppo.
The Russian step is fraught with menace for Israel and Jordan. Lacking troops on the ground, Moscow is liable to open the southern floodgates for the Syria army to surge in, along with Hizballah and the other pro-Iranian Shiite militias imported by Tehran from Pakistan and Afghanistan. These Shiite groups are commanded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Israel would find a Hizballah terrorist presence reaching its border through the Syrian back door, with Russian connivance. A new Russian-trained and armed Druze militia is also being prepared for this front.
This hot brew is the last thing the US, Israel and Jordan need in southern Syria’s incendiary border complex.