Israel, Jordan on alert over threatened Syrian revenge for 6 pilots’ deaths
November 25, 2011, 7:45 PM (GMT+02:00)
Israeli and Jordanian armed forces declared a state of preparedness Friday, Nov. 25, after the Syrian General Command accused an “armed terrorist” group of an ambush killing 10 airmen including 6 elite pilots on the Homs-Palmyra road Thursday, “with the involvement of foreign parties, the foremost of which is Israel.”
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report the ambush was another of the major operations against Assad regime’s most sensitive targets executed by the Free Syrian Army this week.
It took place at a point on the highway east of Palmyra on the fringe of the Syrian Desert and close to the Syrian Air Force base at Tiyas.
The official statement aired on Syrian state TV said the attack claimed the lives of six elite pilots, one technical officer and three technical sub-officers of the airbase.
Our sources add that the rebel army must have penetrated the highest levels of Syria’s military intelligence command for the attack and was clearly receiving targeting data from inside the armed forces.
The attack took place two days after the Free Syrian Army using rocket grenade launchers and heavy machine guns smashed into the Air Force Intelligence base of Harasta near Damascus, killing at least 10 Syrian troops. The ruling Baath party headquarters in Damascus was also attacked on Thursday.
The official statement broadcast Friday described the pilots as “qualitatively trained in piloting modern military aircraft” and “prepared to carry out “the sacred duty of liberating the land and restoring the usurped rights.”
It went on to say: “The General Command… considers that the beneficiaries of this terrorist act are the enemies of the homeland and the nation, foremost being Israel.”
The Syrian military vowed “to cut every evil hand that targets Syrian blood, and decisively confront all who threaten the homeland’s security and stability.”
The 24-hour lapse between the attack and the official statement indicated the level of dismay and confusion in Damascus over the sudden assault on the most stalwart buttress of the Assad dynasty in the nine-month crisis and a body blow to his regime.
Bashar Assad cannot afford to avoid retaliating. If he does, it will be an admission that the backbone of his armed forces is falling apart and out of control.
Since there is no knowing what form his revenge will take, Israel, Jordan and most likely Turkey too were braced Friday for trouble.
Assad no doubt took into account that bombing Free Syrian Army training bases across the border in Turkey would bring forth a Turkish military strike. So for now, he decided to point the finger at Israel, a reliable standby when the regime has its back to the wall. Jordan, through which large arms supplies reach the Syrian opposition, may seem to Damascus to be easy prey for the bombardment or raid of bases hosting Syrian rebels.
In the heat of the crisis, the Syrian ruler allowed the deadline set by the Arab League of his acceptance of hundreds of monitors go by Friday without an answer. “It is a last chance, a new chance for Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Istanbul at a joint news conference with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh. By missing the deadline, Damascus faces possible economic sanctions spearheaded by the Arab League, which earlier this month suspended Syrian membership, amid growing international isolation.