‘Israel Air Force now holds key to fate of Damascus, Assad regime’DEBKAfile Exclusive Report February 9, 2013
The Syrian rebels’ hyped up “Great Confrontation” to capture Damascus the capital has ended in a draw with Bashar Assad’s army like all their previous offensives in recent months. They failed to break through to the heart of the capital past the powerful Syrian army’s 4th Division standing in their path under the command of Gen. Maher Assad, the president’s brother. The rebels also lost their position on the Damascus-Aleppo highway. But amid heavy battles with the division’s troops, the rebels are still clinging to the southern suburbs of Damascus.
The Syrian capital (1.9 million inhabitants) is therefore the second city after Aleppo (2.3 million) to be divided between the combatants.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, notwithstanding the bitter fighting, the flow of refugees fleeing Syria has slowed down substantially, as many choose life in war zones over the wretched conditions prevailing in Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps, where rudimentary essentials such as food, clean water, heating and basic medical services are lacking for the hundreds of thousands of dispossessed Syrians. Adding to these horrors, some Syrian families are said to be selling their daughters for food.
The Syrian outward refugee movement now tends to be internal, people in embattled areas seeking asylum in regions outside the war zones, such as the Druze Mountains southeast of the Golan and Kurdish areas in the north.
Since the Israeli air strike on the Syrian military complex of Jamraya on Jan. 30, Syria’s warring sides have been looking over their shoulders to assess Israel’s moves before embarking on the next stage of their contest because of two considerations:
1. DEBKAfile’s military sources report that when the rebels first looked like breaking through to the heart of Damascus in the early part of their offensive – and so forcing Syrian President Bashar Assad to flee the capital – he ordered his army’s 4th Division tanks and short-range surface missiles to be armed with chemical weapons. They were to be used if the city’s defenses were breached. This would have made the battle for Damascus the first Syrian war engagement to deploy chemical weapons in combat.
The only military force close enough to prevent this happening and destroying the forces wielding chemical arms was the Israel Air Force. Its intervention would have been critical in giving the rebels victory.
2. Ever since the Jamraya episode, Lebanon military sources report Israel Air Force fighters and surveillance planes are conducting over flights almost every day.
According to our military sources, the Israeli aircraft are densely deployed over Syria’s borders with Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, to guard against two eventualities, which the Netanyahu government is bound to preempt:
a) Information has reached US and Israeli intelligence that Bashar Assad has vowed to his close circle that he will make Israel pay for Jumraya.
b) Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has directed the Syrian ruler to make every possible effort to transfer to Hizballah in Lebanon the batch of Iran-supplied sophisticated weapons stored in Syria. This directive was handed to Assad by Iran’s National Security Director Saeed Jalilee when they met in Damascus last Sunday, Feb. 3.
All the parties concerned understand that Israel is just as determined to block this transfer as Tehran and Damascus are resolved to get it through.
In view of these challenges and their potential for an armed clash, Israel is keeping an eagle eye on every twist and turn of Assad’s forces in Damascus for any indications of the onset of chemical warfare or traffic on the move toward the Lebanese border with Hizballah’s weapons.
The Syrian ruler for his part is busy hatching schemes for keeping this arms traffic out of the electronic sight of the Israel Air Force, whereas the Syrian rebels are laying plans for provoking a clash between the Syrian army and the Israeli air force to provide them with an opportune moment for bringing their “great confrontation” in Damascus to a successful conclusion.
In the meanwhile, paradoxically, the IAF is the only air force ready, willing and able to step in, as necessitated. As to which side will benefit from said “interception”, well, it’s up in the air. Literally.