The Russian emergency ministry said Monday, Jan. 21 that it is sending two planes to Beirut to evacuate 100 Russians from Syria – the first such effort since the uprising against Bashar Assad began in March 2011. Moscow also announced contingency plans to lift 30,000 Russian nationals from the embattled country.
This evacuation of Russian nationals starting Tuesday was decided after the Syrian high command received orders from President Assad to organize mobile armored strike groups with massive fire power for a big push to run the rebel forces out of the towns, villages and areas they have captured, mostly in the north and southeast.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that, because they are in a hurry, the Syrian army chiefs decided to use only seasoned officers and men with experience in active service against the rebels, rather than new recruits who would need weeks of combat training. The divisions or brigades holding the line in such trouble spots as Aleppo, Homs and Deraa, are being depleted, some of their units detached for service in the new armored strike groups.
Our sources report that Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps officers are supervising the effort for what Assad sees as his biggest assault yet to finally crush the revolt against his regime.
Its timing marks two fundamental developments in Syria’s bloody civil war:
1. The self-confidence of Assad and his top military staff is gaining in direct contrast to the weakening of the insurgency. It was therefore decided in Damascus that the time was ripe for a major offensive to push the rebels out of the strategic areas from which they could threaten central government.
2. Western-Arab arms supplies to the rebels have slowed down steeply because the funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAR has dried up. The high-grade weapons still in rebel hands were mostly looted from Syrian army bases and stores.
3. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, Russian officials up to the level of President Vladimir Putin examined the Iranian-Syrian armored strike group tactics and approved.
These developments, according to Western intelligence sources familiar with the Syrian situation, explain the recently intensified coordination between Moscow, Tehran and Damascus and the resulting accelerated flow of Russian and Iranian weapons to the Syrian army.
Russian arms ships are lining up at the Syrian port of Tartus to unload their freights, while Iranian air transports are touching down and taking off at speed from Damascus and Aleppo military airports.
Arms deliveries are coming in aboard large Russian naval vessels, including the Azov andAklexander Shabalin landing craft, the amphibious Kaliningrad and others.
To camouflage heir rapid movements in and out of Tartus, the Russian navy Sunday, Jan. 20, announced a large-scale sea maneuver would take place in the Mediterranean up until Jan. 29. None of the ships taking part in the drill were identified except to say that they came from Russia’s Baltic, North and Black Sea fleets.
Our military sources report that the Russian deliveries consist mainly of armored vehicles, self-propelling recoilless guns, all-purpose vehicles for rough terrain and a variety of missiles and rockets for combat in built-up areas – all items clearly designed to outfit Assad’s new armored strike units.
Tehran, for its part, is sending ammo, spare parts for Syrian tanks and artillery and missiles.
According to those sources, the Syrian army plans to kick off its new offensive at Daraya, a small town near Damascus which is held by the Free Syrian Army.