In view of the crisis building up on the southern Syrian-Israeli border, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided immediately on his return home from Berlin early Wednesday, Feb. 17, to send a special emissary to Moscow to ask for clarifications. Tuesday, Intensified Russian air strikes came to within 6 km of the Israeli border, sparking a growing exodus of Syrian refugees heading towards the Qoneitra border crossing to Israel.
DEBKAfile’s sources reveal that the envoy is Dr. Dore Gold, director-general of the Foreign Ministry and one of the prime minister’s few trusted confidantes.
It was still not clear whom Gold will meet in the Russian capital, but it is assumed that it will be one of Moscow’s senior decision-makers in the loop on its military operation in Syria.
The fact that Netanyahu decided to dispatch a top diplomat rather than a senior military or intelligence officer is a sign that the prime minister is not of one mind with the IDF’s intelligence assessments of the situation on the ground.
Netanyahu’s concerns grew after after the Russian air force on Tuesday widened its massive bombing of southern Syria from the city of Daraa to the Golan town of Quneitra, in order to help the Syria army’s 7th armored division push the rebels east, so they will not attempt to cross the border and seek shelter in Israel.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that that 12 of the 15 targets bombed by the Russian air force across from the Israeli border were new rebel positions that had not been attacked before, even by the Syrian army. Military sources monitoring the war said Tuesday night that there is no doubt that the Russians are in the process of wiping out the rebel positions along the Israeli border by means of an offensive comparable to their operations in the northern Aleppo sector.
Our sources report that Israel’s concerns grew when, as the Russians bombing raids neared the Israeli border, Syrian officials threatened Jordan with serious consequences if Amman gave the Saudi air force a base for attacking eastern or southern Syria.
The threats began Tuesday, after Jordanian forces took over the Syrian-Jordanian border crossings formerly held by Syrian rebels, as a measure to stem the volume of Syrian refugees in search of sanctuary in the Hashemite Kingdom. But this step was interpreted by the Syrians and their Russian ally as clearing the way for Saudi intervention in the Syrian conflict using Jordan as a jumping-off base.
Meanwhile, Western military sources reported a sub substantial presence Tuesday of both Russian and Israeli warplanes in the skies over and around southern Syria.