Both US and Syria (plus pro-Iranian allies) are massing strength in the south and east for military clashes in the continuing confrontation.
Assad’s army with Hizballah and other pro-Iranian forces backed by Russia are massing for two objectives: a major offensive to capture Daraa on Syria’s southern border with Jordan; and at the Deir ez-Zour region in the east for another attempt to cross the Euphrates from west to east. US forces and allies are building up to ward off the two offensives. This time, Syria has positioned its Russian anti-air weapons for targeting incoming air strikes by US as well as Israeli air force planes. Syrian Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad articulated this threat when he said Wednesday, Feb. 14: “Syria will down any warplane that launches an airstrike on the SAA [Syrian Arab Army].”
US military officials are cited by DEBKAfile’s military sources as estimating on Thursday that the combined Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah army massing on the western bank of the Euphrates in the Deir ez-Zour region will make another attempt to transfer troops to the eastern bank. They are expected to go for one of the oil or gas fields held by the US-backed SDF (Syria Democratic Forces), which is composed mainly of Kurdish YPG militiamen. Their particular targets are the CONICO gas facility and the al-Omar oil fields.
That’s in the east. In the south, the Syrian, pro-Iranian, Russian-backed coalition is preparing to grab Daraa. In both operations, they are determined to come off best after major defeats in the last few days. On the night of Feb. 7, massive US air and artillery strikes thwarted a Russian-assisted Syrian, Hizballah attempt to cross the Euphrates; and on Feb. 10, after an Israeli F-16 jet was downed by a Syrian SA-17 air defense missile, Israeli warplanes bombed a dozen military positions in Syria. They included air defense emplacements, but also struck the secret Iranian Revolutionary Guards command posts that were preparing the combined assault on Daraa. Those preparations were resumed in the interim, with boosted protection against attacks from the air.