American sources claimed Saturday, June 15, that the “military support” the Obama administration promised the Syrian opposition Friday consisted of automatic weapons, mortars and recoilless rocket grenades (RPGs) for delivery within three weeks through Turkey.
Those items, say DEBKAfile’s military sources, are no more than a mockery of the rebels’ needs. Any Middle East arms trafficker can quickly lay hands on advanced anti-air and anti-tank missiles for a price running into tens of thousands of dollars – whether in Lebanon, Egyptian Sinai, the Palestinian Authority - or even in trading among the Syrian rebel militias themselves. The going prices, according to our sources, are for instance, up to $50,000 for a shoulder-borne Grail SA-7 anti-air missile and $40,000 for a T-55 tank in poor technical condition plus 40 shells.
After the US weapons arrive, the huge imbalance between the rebels’ and Syrian army’s arsenals will be as stark as ever. It widens constantly with the landing almost every few hours of Russian and Iranian air transports delivering military equipment to cover the ongoing war requirements of the Syrian army and Hizballah.
Friday, as Iranians elected a new president, their supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech: “To the Americans, I say, OK, to hell with you. Any one who listens to you is a loser. The Iranian people have never attached any value to their enemies.”
And in Beirut, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah said: “Where we need to be, we will be. Where we began assuming responsibilities, we will continue to assume responsibilities” and, he added, no one in Lebanon will be allowed to interfere with this.
Nasrallah, half of whose military strength is fighting for Bashar Assad in Syria, was warning Hizballah’s foes at home that he is still strong enough to deal with any opponents of his Syrian venture as well.
On the heels of the bravado from Tehran and Beirut, a statement heard Friday from Damascus strongly pointed to the three allies’ forthcoming direction. Syrian President Bashar Assad said: “We have plans to open a resistance front on the Golan Heights,” adding that “such a move could unify the various factions in Syria.” This was the first time Assad had disclosed his plans to join “the resistance” against Israel as a diversion for breaking up the rebel front against his regime.
He spoke after ordering the Syrian and Hizballah troops to peel off into two heads and advance simultaneously on two fronts – one, for their major offensive to recapture Aleppo, and two, the Golan, which is divided between Syria and Israel.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Thursday night, the first movements were detected heading toward the Syrian side of the Golan and the Jordanian border, from the Syrian and Hizballah military concentrations piling up in the last two weeks around the southwestern town of Deraa.
Senior officers in the IDF’s Northern command have no doubt that Assad plans to deploy Hizballah units on the border of Israeli Golan while a Syrian back-up force will take up position on the Jordanian border. According to some intelligence sources, rudimentary “limited-use” chemical weapons have been handed out to some of the Hizballah units operating in Syria. They come in the form of plastic canisters, roughly the size of a tin of canned food, which can be fired or simply lobbed by hand. Poisonous sarin nerve gas escapes through two holes upon impact.
This device was developed by Iran for the Syrian army to use on a small scale to save Assad from being accused of using a “weapon of mass destruction.”
In Washington, US and Israeli officials took turns Friday night in junking their red lines for Syria. The Obama administration confirmed that the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against the opposition on multiple occasions was “on a small scale.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said in a lecture that Israel had set the Assad regime three red lines against supplying advanced weapons to Hizballah or any other terrorist group; letting them have chemical weapons or allowing Israel to be attacked from the Golan.
Both the US administration and Israel have been overtaken by events. By downplaying the scale of Syrian chemical warfare and providing the rebels with nothing more than light weapons, Washington is in effect granting Assad a license to continue his “small scale” use of chemical weapons. And the Israeli defense minister chose to ignore the fact that the Syrian ruler is past trampling over Israel’s red lines, safe thus far from evoking an effective response.
The sense of the rest of his remarks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Friday are equally abstruse: “Israel will not intervene in Syrian in part because any such intervention would harm the side Israel favors,” said Ya’alon. But he did not address the reverse situation which is more realistic, whereby Syria and Hizballah are preparing to “intervene” in Israel.
The impression gained from his remarks was that, just as the Obama administration has chosen to hold back from a pointed response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, so too Israel is backing away from coming to grips with the offensive build-up targeting its borders.
Is Moshe Ya’alon simply toeing the line of Obama’s non-intervention policy for Syria?
At all events, he never mentioned by a single word the fact that Hizballah has been armed with “limited-use chemical weapons” - either before or after his meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel early Saturday.
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