“At the moment, [Syria’s] chemical weapons are under control,” said senior Israeli defense official Amos Gilad Sunday, Dec. 23, echoing the statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Saturday that “the Syrian government has “consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught and they are under control for the time being.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu then said enigmatically: “We are facing a near possibility of far-reaching changes in the Syrian regime with ramifications for the sensitive weaponry [chemical, biological] present there.”
Like Lavrov’s comments, neither Israeli statement accounted for the sudden reversal of events in the last 48 hours in the turbulent history of its northern neighbor. As recently as Friday, Bashar Assad’s Scuds and warplanes were battling the rebels to keep his big chemical and biological warfare arsenals at the Al Safira complex near Aleppo out of the hands of al Qaeda adherents who were moving in fast on this target.
Twenty four hours later, the Russian foreign minister asserted the weapons were secure. DEBKAfile’s military sources disclose that the battle of al Safira was abruptly interrupted by a foreign military force which stepped in and stopped the fighting in order to commandeer the chemical and biological stocks.
In its report Saturday, DEBKAfile identified this force as a Russian special unit.
The entire episode is covered in a heavy blanket of secrecy, imposed from Moscow, Washington, Jerusalem and Damascus. They are using the public preoccupation with the holiday period in the West to keep it dark. However, from the scraps of evidence available, it is transpires that the foreign special unit reaching al Safira gave both sides, the Syrian army and the rebels, an ultimatum to hold their fire until the arsenals were removed, or else this special unit would mete out crushing punishment.
Since then, the Syrian army and rebels do not appear to have resumed fighting and it is not clear which side remains in control of the al Safira military complex.