Russian, Western and Arab forces were piling up on Syrian borders Wednesday, July 25, bringing closer a war confrontation which could spur the Assad regime into making good on its threat to use chemical weapons against “external aggression.”
Based on this reading, Moscow added its voice Tuesday to that of US President Obama and warned Bashar Assad against using chemical weapons in view of “its commitments under the international convention it ratified prohibiting the use of poisonous gases as a method of warfare.”
DEBKAfile’s military sources:
With operational intelligence deployment and electronic stations positioned inside Syria, the Russians are better placed than any other outsiders to know what is happening on Syria’s battlefields. Their warning must therefore be tied to solid information confirming Washington’s assessment that Assad is dangerously close to deciding to use his chemical and biological weapons in a way that would precipitate a regional conflict.
Israel, Turkey and Jordan would be the first targets on his list.
The immediacy of the peril, DEBKAfile’s military sources report, has speeded the arrival of Russian warships to Syria to counter a potential Western, Arab or Israeli assault on the embattled country.
The Russian Ministry of Defense, which rarely discloses Russian military movements outside its borders, announced early Wednesday morning, July 25 that a fleet of Russian warships had passed through the Strait of Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean.
The fleet is headed by the anti-submarine and anti-aircraft Admiral Chabanenko warship and consists of another three vessels carrying a large number of Russian marines. This fleet will rendezvous with a Russian flotilla standing by in the Mediterranean since July 21, detached from Russian Black Fleet and composed of the Smetlivy Frigate and two large landing craft loaded with Russian marines. This group awaited the main force before approaching Syria.
The fact that Russia is massing large numbers of marines off the Syrian coast looks as though a landing on Syrian soil is on Moscow’s cards.
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The Russian marine contingent, DEBKAfile’s sources say, will stand ready – either to come to the aid of the Assad regime or to serve as a bargaining chip for a last-minute deal between Moscow and Washington for ending the war by establishing a transitional military regime in Damascus whose makeup would be agreed between them and Assad.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at this possibility on Tuesday, July 24, when she said: “We do believe that it is not too late for the Assad regime to commence with planning for a transition.”
But Clinton also hinted, in a more threatening tone, that a situation is developing for the creation of safe zones in rebel-controlled areas of Syria. “More and more territory is being taken and it will, eventually, result in a safe haven inside Syria which will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition,” she said.
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Clinton didn’t name the potential protectors of those havens. However, since the Syrian rebels are short of manpower, Western, Muslim or Arab defenders would have to be called in.
Wednesday, British military sources in London said the moment is rushing forward for British forces to get involved in what is happening in Syria. Iran and Turkey are not indifferent either.
Deputy Iranian Revolutionary Guard chief, Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, warned on Tuesday, July 24, that Tehran would not permit regime change in Damascus and if Syria’s enemies intervened, Iran would hit them hard. The Iranian commander pointed a finger at Saudi Arabia and Qatar, adding that the US and Israel are at the forefront of the comprehensive ILLEGAL campaign against Syria but are being beaten back.
This was the first time Tehran had explicitly threatened military intervention in Syria.
Wednesday, Turkey shut its border crossings to Syria. Military sources in Ankara confirmed that massive Turkish military strength had been on the move toward the Syrian border.