Syrian military is crumbling

The red phone had been silent for more than 20 years, encased in reinforced glass in the corner of the major's office. When it rang just after midnight on 6 September 2007, the startled Syrian officers nearby had to remind themselves what to do.

"I told my colleagues that we had to break the case with a hammer, then answer it," said Abu Mohammed, a former air force major then based at an air defence station near the north-eastern city of Deir Azzor. "It had not even rung during a training exercise."

Abu Mohammed, now a senior member of the rebel movement in the north of the country, broke the glass. What followed, he said, were the most puzzling 10 minutes of his military career.

"I shattered the glass and answered the phone," he said. "There was a brigadier on the other end from the strategic air command in Damascus. He said: 'There are enemy planes approaching, you are not to do anything.'

"I was confused. Do nothing? This is what we were waiting for. We couldn't see them on our radars. And then our radars were jammed. The missile base nearby could not have fired even if it was allowed."

Until last week, the Israeli raid in 2007 that destroyed what the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded was a nuclear reactor at al-Kibbar, north of Deir Azzor, was the last time Syria's much-vaunted air defence system was tested.

But last Wednesday just before dawn, the Israeli planes returned. The attack formations were obvious on the radar systems used by Nato tracking stations and by Lebanese civil aviation: about 10 jets, all of which approached from the Mediterranean over southern Lebanon.

Some of the planes remained circling in Lebanese airspace. Others crossed into Syria, firing eight missiles near a building 11 miles north of Damascus and then flying west. Just like at Deir Azzour six years ago, the Syrian air defences stayed silent.

"They did the same as what they did to us," Abu Mohammed said on Monday from the Aleppo countryside. "The reality is that we are blind in the face of the enemy."
My speculation is that it was a call from the Israelis to the red phone.  What is clear is that the only bases the Syrians are attempting to defend now are the air bases where they keep the Migs.  The rebels could end this war quickly if they captured the air bases.  The rebels are finding old decrepit equipment in the bases they have captured.


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