The Hole in Russia’s Military Shield for Assad, Iran and Hizballah
Russian forces in Syria saw the Israeli Air Force take off for the rocket strike that killed an old enemy, Samir Quntar, head of Iranian and Hizballah terror networks in southern Syria early Sunday, Dec. 20.
Some of the 10 Russian military satellites hovering overhead were alerted, like the radar systems of the recently deployed Russian S-400 antiaircraft missiles. They all tracked the planes from that moment.
The Russians also noted that the Israeli warplanes did not fly beyond the Sea of Galilee of northern Israel, which is just a short hop – 105 kilometers (65 miles) – from Damascus.
Their sophisticated weaponry could have aborted the Quntar hit by shooting down the Israeli planes before they loosed rockets against the terrorist’s secret abode in a six-story residential building in the Jaramana district, just south of the Syrian capital.
But they watched and did nothing.
Defending Damascus and propping up Bashar Assad were the primary goals of Moscow’s military intervention in Syria and the reasons why they deployed such high-tech antiaircraft systems as the S-300, S-400 and the Buk-M2-SA-17 Grizzly.
Their arrival in Syria transformed the broad arena from end to end. Last week, without prior notice, the US discontinued its air strikes over Syria against Islamic State forces. Thursday Dec. 17, the dozen US F-16 fighter jets were moved out of Turkey’s Incirlik airbase back to their hangars in Britain, just a month after their deployment.
Moscow appears, however, to have separate game rules for Israel, judging by the way Israeli rockets were allowed to go through to the Syrian capital and end the life of an infamous enemy without interference, or even a complaint on the hot line linking the Russian and Israeli air commands.
This episode was revealing in five military and strategic respects, say DEBKA Weekly’s Middle East sources:
1. The Russian-Israeli military coordination accord, set up to avert clashes in Syrian airspace, has quickly evolved into a broader arrangement: tacit agreement to avoid interfering with each other’s military operations so long as neither jeopardizes the other’s military interests.
2. The Russian pass for the Israeli operation punctured the premise that Moscow’s air force umbrella over the Assad regime and its capital was watertight. Moscow proved willing to let an Israeli offensive action go through, even up to Damascus, against an object defined by the Jewish state as a terror target.
3. For Assad, this was very bad news. The Russians stood by as Israeli rockets headed for Damascus without intercepting them, although they did not know where they were heading. Those rockets might just as well have been aimed at Assad’s presidential palace or Syrian general staff headquarters and reached their mark.
4. The leeway granted Israel for the assassinations of Samir Quntar and Farhan Issam Shaalan, a senior commander of the “Syrian National Resistance on the Golan” – a militia established by Syrian intelligence to carry out terrorist attacks in Israel – proved that Russian protection does not cover the terrorist branches of Hizballah’s military and intelligence outfits in Syria.
5. Samir Quntar served both Hizballah and the Iranian military command in Syria, under its overall chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His assassination therefore revealed that Iran can’t count on unreserved Russian protection in Syria, any more than Hizballah.
6. At the same time, Moscow relies heavily on ground troops from Syria, Iran, Hizballah and their Shiite militia proxies for their complex air and ground operations.
So, President Vladimir Putin, when he saw how furious his partners were, notably Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Assad, about the free Russian pass for the Israeli assassination of Quntar, he put in a call to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Tuesday, Dec. 22 and cautioned him that Russian forces must receive prior notice of future Israeli operations, else they were not responsible for the consequences.