The chemical warfare threat looming over Syria’s civil war and its neighbors has taken an epic turn with the announcement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday, Dec. 22, that “the Syrian government has “consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught and they are under control for the time being.”
He added that Russia, “which has military advisers training Syria’s military, has kept close watch over its chemical arsenal.”
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report: The Russian foreign minister’s statement was a message to Washington that the transfer of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction to one or two protected sites was under Russian control. This had removed the danger of them falling into the hands of the al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra ,which had come ominously close Friday, Dec. 21, when the Islamists spearheaded a Syrian rebel assault for the capture of the al-Safira military complex and Bashar Assad’s chemical and biological stores.
Lavrov did not go into detail about how this arsenal was removed and to which locations. But his reference to “Russian military advisers training Syria’s military” clearly indicated that Russian forces were directly involved in removing the WMD out of the reach of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists.
His assertion that they were “under control” indicated that Russia was also involved in safeguarding them.
debkafile’s Moscow sources add: Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war achieved four objectives:
1. The prevention of Western or Israel military action for seizing control of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons arsenals;
2. The prevention of Western military intervention in the civil war behind the forces dedicated to the removal of Bashar Assad. The Russian military is now engaged in the dual mission of guarding his WMD arsenal and his regime;
3. The Russian military presence in Syria delivers a heavy swipe to the rebels;
4. Russia’s intervention and military presence have laid the groundwork for Moscow and Washington to work out an accord that will bring Syria’s civil war to an end.
debkafile reported Friday, Dec. 21:
The Syrian Air Force is again firing Scud missiles, this time to stem the general offensive Syrian opposition forces, including jihadis, launched Friday, Dec. 21, to capture the Syrian army’s military-industrial complex at al Safira and the big chemical and biological weapons store adjoining the facility. It is there, that Scud D missiles stand ready for launching, loaded with chemical weapons.
Rebel forces are converging on Al Safira from the east, the west and the south. Among them are brigades of the Jabhat al-Nusra which the US has designated part of al Qaeda in Iraq.
debkafile military sources report extremely heavy fighting. The rebels have reached points 1-2 kilometers from the perimeter walls of the Al Safira chemical weapons stores and are being pounded by Syrian warplanes and assault helicopters as well as Scuds, in a desperate effort to halt their advance.
Success in seizing control of those stores would re-tilt the balance of the war in their favor and bring President Bashar Assad face to face with a decision on whether to broach the perilous dimension of chemical warfare on the rebels or even against NATO or US targets outside Syria.
A prime factor in his decision would be the information received in Moscow and Tehran – and almost certainly passed on to the Syrian ruler – that taking part in the offensive are rebels who underwent training in recent weeks in northern Jordan by US, Czech and Polish officers in tactics for seizing chemical or biological caches and dismantling them.
Russian and Iranian intelligence watchers suspect that elements from all three armies as well as Jordan are present in the rebel assault force, in order to be on the spot when the weapons of mass destruction are captured and appropriate them to forces under NATO command. They must beat Jabhat al-Nusra’s fighting brigades to this target, although at this moment, the jihadis are ahead of the race.
The battle for al Safira has brought US and NATO into direct intervention in Syrian hostilities. Western intelligence services estimate that even if Assad removed some of the banned weapons from this complex, large quantities remain and must be prevented from reaching the wrong hands.