Why the Collective Gasp of “Surprise” over Putin’s Bombshell?

How credible is the claim that the US was taken by surprise by President Vladimir Putin’s March 13 order to pull most Russian military forces out of Syria the next morning?
Or that the news caught Defense Secretary Ashton Carter off guard (at least according to reports) in the middle of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon at the Pentagon?
Does anyone believe that Israel’s Chief of Staff Lieut. Gen. Gady Eisenkot and the IDF were taken completely unawares?
So what was the play-acting about?
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources agree that the collective gasp of surprise was carefully staged, but are divided on the choreographer’s identity. Some name Secretary of State John Kerry, speculating that he organized the masquerade to disguise the closeness of US-Russian cooperation on Syria, even though he had a meeting with Putin in Moscow scheduled for next week.
Other sources attributed the performance to the White House National Security Council, as a smart move for President Barack Obama to feign ignorance about a Russian step, which put Tehran’s nose seriously out of joint. Deniability was intended to help Washington avoid sharing the flying flak.
It is hardly conceivable that any of the relevant parties was genuinely surprised, say DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources:
1. In the first week of March, US military satellites and Israeli surveillance aircraft spotted Russian preparations for evacuation at the Hmeineem air base near Latakia. The squadrons of Su-24 attack aircraft, Su-25 close air support aircraft and Su-34 fighter-bombers had stopped conducting air strikes (only partly because of the partial ceasefire), while air and ground crews were seen packing up equipment.
Last week saw the departure from Syria of the Tupolev Tu-214R, the most advanced Russian intelligence, surveillance, targeting, acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft, shortly after it arrived in Syria in February.
And last week, too, Moscow recalled the two Russian warships anchored at the Russian naval base in Tartous, leaving the base stripped of a Russian naval presence.
2. Prescience was hardly called for when, according to our sources, Russia’s Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev was instructed by Putin to give notice of the coming withdrawal on March 10-11 to US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Syrian President Bashar Assad office and Israel’s newly-appointed National Security Advisor Avriel Bar-Yosef.
The Russian president pointedly refrained from warning Tehran of the imminent withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria. This was hardly surprising given the rupture in Russian-Iranian relations on the Syrian issue. The Iranians got the news before the event in a phone call from Assad to the offices of Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iranian forces in Syria.
They too were not taken by surprise.

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