Under secret Moscow-Cairo deal, first Egyptair passenger flights to Damascus, Aleppo
A new secret pact has taken shape in the Middle East. Last week, the offices of Russian Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi secretly formulated a tripartite accord for strengthening the ties between Moscow, Cairo and the Assad regime in Damascus, debkafile’s exclusive military sources reveal. The pact had its first visible manifestation in the unannounced landings last Wednesday, Dec. 2, of the first Egyptair passenger flights at Damascus international airport and Aleppo in northern Syria.
The Egyptian national airline thus became the first of any Arab airline to renew flights to the war-torn Syrian capital since 2012. (see photo)
President El-Sisi’s gesture was tantamount to an eloquent vote of support for the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in the face of his opponents in the Arab arena. It was also a demonstration of confidence in the Russian policy of preserving the Syrian ruler in power in the face of powerful voices in the West and the region calling for his ouster.
By sending a passenger plane to a Syrian airport, Egypt’ signaled its affirmation that Russian military intervention in Syria was making the embattled country a safer place where airliners could land without fear.
Moscow therefore attached supreme importance to the opening of the Egyptian-Syrian civilian air route, so much so that President Vladimir Putin pushed hard for it to take place ahead of the conference of Syrian rebel groups opening in Saudi Arabia Tuesday, Dec. 8.
In diplomatic communications with Riyadh, the Russians urged the Saudi hosts to prevail on the rebel groups whom they support with arms and cash to agree to enter into direct negotiations with Assad for ending the war.
Putin rewarded the Egyptian president for his gesture by ordering Russian airlines to resume their flights to Egypt. Those flights were suspended after the Russian Metrojet airliner was downed over Sinai by terrorists on Oct. 31 and 224 lives were lost in the crash. Their resumption will see Russian tourists again visiting Egypt, restoring a precious source of revenue to the strapped Egyptian economy, estimated at $5 bn per annum.
Our sources in Moscow declined to say whether the Russian passenger planes would again be calling at Sharm El-Sheikh like the ill-fated Metrojet. For the time being, they will most likely land at Cairo.
The Russian president is now trying to persuade El-Sisi to carry on making gestures for enhancing Assad’s standing.