DEBKAfileExclusive Report August 14, 2012, 9:53 AM (GMT+02:00)
The Syrian rebels’ Western and Arab sponsors have ratcheted up their military assistance by giving them tanks, 20 Russian-made T-62 tanks from Libya, debkafile reports. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the nod for the transfer to the rebels of their first heavy weapons during her brief visit to Istanbul Saturday, Aug. 13, as the prelude to the next step of the war. Qatar is paying for the tanks.
The Obama administration first agreed to Turkey arming the Free Syrian Army with FIM-92 anti-air Stinger missiles, as debkafile disclosed Aug. 11.
Monday, Aug. 13, for the first time in the 18-month revolt against the Assad regime, rebels shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet, a Mig-21, over the northeastern town of Deir al-Zour, using shoulder-carried Stingers. The Syrian government claimed it had crashed because of technical problems, but the rebels quickly released photos of the captured pilot, Col. Rafiq Mohammed Suleiman, surrounded by their guns.
The Syrian conflict has thus entered a new phase, the prelude, debkafile’s military sources report, to the creation of the first safe havens inside the country, which the FSA and other rebel groups will now be armed to defend.
Sources in Ankara report that Turkey has drawn up plans for carving out those safe havens between 5 and 25 kilometers deep inside Syrian territory and on its borders with Turkey and Iraq. Ankara is concerned less with the military aspects of those safe zones than with using them to relieve Turkey of the burden of hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians who have fled and continue to flee across the border into Turkey as destitute refugees.
The supply of tanks and the Stingers lays the ground for the sanctuaries’ defenses against Assad’s warplanes and tanks, which until now had free rein of the skies and the battlefield.
The 20 T-62 tanks from Libya were unloaded last week at the Turkish port of Iskenderun, already painted over with FSA insignia. They were handed to Syrian rebel teams trained in tank warfare and have since crossed into northern Syria.
debkafile’s military sources: Assad is confronted with fateful decisions: The supply of heavy weapons to the Syrian rebels, the downing of a fighter jet by a Stinger missile and the prospect of protected enclaves cutting through the country, threaten to turn the tide of war against him.
Unless he decides to cut and run, the danger is greater than ever before of his turning to unconventional weapons to save his regime. He cannot carry on fighting if his armed forces continually lose face by seeing their warplanes depicted on world television screens blowing up in mid-air and their burning debris falling to the ground amid clouds of heavy smoke, clearly shot down by enemy missiles.
Bracing themselves for the contingency of Syria waging chemical and biological warfare, Israel, Turkey and Jordan have formed teams to work with the US military on setting up counter-measures and emergency medical aid in the event of those countries and US military facilities posted there coming under unconventional attack.
Deciding there was no time to lose, Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak held long consultations through Monday night, Aug. 14, and by Tuesday morning had rushed through the appointment of Avi Dichter, former Shin Beit Director and Internal Security Minister, as home front minister in place of Mattan Vilnai, Israel’s designated ambassador to Beijing.
Dichter was picked because he has the administrative experience and practice in operational tasking needed to step straight into the job and start working without delay, in case it is necessary to grapple with a Syrian chemical attack even before Iran’s nuclear program.
DEBKAfileAugust 11, 2012, 11:37 AM (GMT+02:00)
France Thursday flew into Jordan a special operations force for bolstering the American and Jordan units posted on the northern Jordanian border with Syria, Western military sources report. Paris officials define its mission as “aiding Syrian refugees.” However, military observers say the French troops are trained for deep-penetration operations inside Syria.
DEBKAfileExclusive Report August 11, 2012, 5:36 PM (GMT+02:00)
Turkey has sent the Syrian rebels fighting in Aleppo their first shipment of shoulder-carried, anti-air FIM-92 Stingers, debkafile’s military sources report. More are on the way to insurgent groups battling government forces around Damascus and other parts of Syria.
In Istanbul, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held talks Saturday, Aug. 11, with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and Syrian opposition figures, after which she announced US and Turkish intelligence services and military would set up a joint working team to plan for “many contingencies including the very horrible scenario of the use of chemical weapons.”
debkafile’s US, Turkish and Israeli intelligence sources are taking into account that Bashar Assad will view the supply of Stingers to the rebels as a game changer that threatens to tip the balance of the war against him and respond with chemical warfare against the rebels, Turkey, Israel and Jordan.
In consideration of this menace, France last week flew a medical field hospital specializing in treating chemical poisoning from its medical base at Istres to northern Jordan and set it up close to the Syrian border.
Our sources also disclose that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to put Stingers in Syrian rebel hands came after Assad’s forces shot down a Turkish Air Force F-4 with Russian-made Pantsyr-1 air defense missiles over Latakia on June 22.
He was also paying Bashar Assad back for allowing Turkish Kurdish rebel PKK forces to transfer 2,500 fighters to the Syrian-Turkish border.
Turkey manufactures the Stingers under American license and is obliged by contract to obtain US permission for their transfer to a third party. It was granted by Washington on the quiet. This made it possible for Ankara to supply the rebel Syrian Free Army with the weapon needed to shoot down government assault helicopters, while the Obama administration continued to assert that America was providing the revolt with nothing more than “nonlethal assistance.”
By the same token, British Foreign Secretary William Hague was able to claim Friday, Aug. 10, that his government had granted Syrian rebels $8 million of “non-military support.”
Our military sources report that Washington and Ankara briefed Britain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the Stingers delivery after the oil states offered to fund them and also pay for the courses run by American, British and Turkish instructors for training the rebels in their use.
Washington is taking care to keep control over the Stingers’ supplies and make sure they reach the right hands and are used in the right measure.
While the Obama administration wants to see the back of Bashar Assad and his clique, it has no wish to see rebel tactics powerful enough to break the back of the Syrian army and air force, because that would plunge the country into unbridled civil strife and chaos for years to come. The US wants the army preserved as a cohesive operational entity, capable of safeguarding an alternative administration when it takes Assad’s place in Damascus or possibly Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its commercial hub.
To defeat Assad’s military offensive, debkafile’s military sources estimate the rebels will need 300-400 Stingers. They have received the first 20-30 for tipping the scales of battle in Aleppo. The next shipment will most likely help them assert control over a “corridor” from Aleppo to the Turkish border as a potential future safe haven, another topic highlighted in Clinton’s talks in Istanbul.
Asked about this after those talks, she said it was a possible option.
The missiles are therefore being handed out in careful doses. At the same time, our military sources report that the rebels using the Stingers in Aleppo against Syrian gunships and fighter jets since Tuesday, Aug. 7, have not managed to hit anything. There may be two possible reasons for their consistent misses:
1. Inexperience: They may need more instruction and practice;
2. Assad’s air force may have been equipped by Moscow with decoy devices developed by the Russian arms industry for muddling the American Stingers.
The Stinger is a heat-seeking missile, which sticks to its target in all conditions. The microprocessor in its warhead is designed to ignore decoys and hold it on course. It should take no more than a few days to determine whether the Russians have developed new countermeasures to defeat the Stinger and given them to the Damascus.
The Russians have a long score to settle with the Stinger. It was the weapon in the hands of American-backed Muslim forces in Afghanistan which more than any other forced the Red Army to quit the country in 1985 by knocking out the Russian troops’ air cover.