OKTYABRSK PORT, Ukraine — On Jan. 5, the Ocean Fortune, a 380-foot-long workhorse of the global arms trade, left this Black Sea port with unknown cargo concealed in its cavernous hold. The ship steamed south, slipped through the Bosporus Strait and turned toward the eastern Mediterranean. Then it disappeared.
The ship’s transponder, which normally sends automated signals to other vessels and harbor masters along busy sea lanes, went mysteriously silent Jan. 9, just as it was rounding Turkey headed toward open waters, maritime records show. Not a trace of the ship was seen for two months, until it surfaced in the southeastern Mediterranean in mid-March.
The ship’s apparent vanishing act repeated a pattern seen by other freighters embarking from the same Black Sea port — a known point of origin for weapons shipments — over the past year. Recently, such behavior has begun drawing the attention of investigators tracking the flow of arms and supplies to the combatants in Syria’s 21 / 2-year-old uprising. Continue reading
South Korea is purchasing bunker-busting long-range missiles from a European company, allowing it to hold at risk nuclear and missile sites in North Korea, Yonhap News Agency reported on Thursday.
According to the report, the ROK’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) approved the purchase of Taurus bunker-busting, air-to-ground missiles for the military’s F-15K fighter jets. The missiles are equipped with GPS-guidance and have a range of 500 km while carrying a 480-kg warhead that can penetrate 6 meters of concrete. Its Circular Error Probable (CEP) is 2-3 meters. Continue reading
This was not the first time a US drone was threatened by Iranian aircraft over the Persian Gulf, but in reporting the incident, the Pentagon revealed that the drones flying in the neighborhood of Iranian shores are now escorted by US jet fighters.
A couple of hours earlier that evening, DEBKAfile received an exclusive report from its military sources that the Syrian high command had just issued an ultimatum, on the orders of Bashar Assad, demanding that the Lebanese government put an immediate stop to the passage of armed Sunni fighters from Lebanon into Syria, else the Syrian Air Force would strike the Lebanese intruders’ convoys and also their home bases. Damascus claimed they were coming to fight the government alongside the al Qaeda-linked Jabrat al-Nusra. Continue reading
RUSSIA said it would land two planes in Lebanon on Tuesday to evacuate more than 100 of its citizens from Syria in a significant blow to the credibility of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Giving only the barest details, the Russian emergency situations ministry said it was responding to a request from the country’s leaders.
The evacuees are likely to include staff from the embassy in Damascus, where fighting between government forces and the rebels was reported near to the old city on Monday. Others are likely to be staff from Russian companies. Continue reading
After the “War in weeks” comment from Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, could this be the beginning of the final stages? This leaves the only backer behind the Assad regime being Iran, possibly China. Once this proves too difficult for Iran to continue supporting, or the loss of some close and high ranking officers of the Assad regime, look for all hell to break loose. Assad will either have a choice to go all-out to keep his last grips on power or plan for early retirement. The former is more likely as evidenced in the continuing bloodshed of his own people and the increasingly brutal methods of doing so.
Russian naval vessels have unexpectedly departed the Syrian Mediterranean port of Tartus and Russian arms shipments to Syria have been suddenly discontinued. debkafile’s military sources reveal that those and other steps indicate that the Russians are rapidly drawing away from the Syrian arena to avoid getting caught up in the escalating hostilities expected to arise from military intervention by the US, Europe and a number of Arab states. Russian intelligence appears to have decided that this outside intervention is imminent and Moscow looks anxious to keep its distance for now.
According to our military and Russian sources, these drastic steps must have been personally ordered by President Vladimir Putin. He is believed to have acted over the objections of some of his army and naval chiefs. This would explain the mixed statements issuing from Moscow in recent days about the disposition of Russian personnel at the naval base in Tartus and Russian military personnel in Syria.
Wednesday, Aug. 22, Commander of the Russian Navy Vice Adm. Viktor Chirkov said that if the fighting in Syria reached Tartus, Moscow may decide to evacuate the base. He stressed that this decision would have to be taken on the authority of President Putin. He was the first Russian official to suggest the possibility of an evacuation.
A Russian source disclosed that all the remaining Russian personnel in Tartus have gathered on the floating shipyard, except for two officers on shore. This vessel and the remaining personnel are evidently packed up and ready to sail at any moment out of the Syrian port.
Full article: Russia is disengaging from Syria: Arms shipments stopped, warships exit Tartus (DEBKAfile)
A contingent of Russian special forces is on its way to Syria to guard the Russian navy’s deep-water port at the Syria’s Mediterranean coastal town of Tartus, Pentagon officials informed US NBC TV Friday, June 15. They are coming by ship. According to debkafile’s sources, the contingent is made up of naval marines and is due to land in Syria in the coming hours.
In a separate and earlier announcement, US Defense Department sources in Washington reported that the US military had completed its own planning for a variety of US operations against Syria, or for assisting neighboring countries in the event action was ordered – a reference, according to our sources, to Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
The Syrian civil war is now moving into a new phase of major power military intervention, say debkafile’s military sources. Moscow, by sending troops to Syria without UN Security Council approval, has set up a precedent for the United States, the European Union and Arab governments to follow. They all held back from sending troops to Syria because all motions to apply force for halting the bloodshed in Syria was blocked in the UN body.
According to US military sources, in recent weeks, the Pentagon has finalized its assessment of what types of units would be needed and how many troops. The military planning includes a scenario for a no-fly zone as well as protecting chemical and biological sites. The U.S. Navy is maintaining a presence of three surface combatants and a submarine in the eastern Mediterranean to conduct electronic surveillance and reconnaissance on the Syrian regime, a senior Pentagon official said.
Full article: Big powers move in on Syria: Russian troops for Tartus. US forces ready to go (DEBKAfile)
A German ship carrying Iranian weapons was stopped the Mediterranean on Saturday, according to a report by Der Spiegel.
The ship, weighing 6,200 tons, was carrying weapons and ammunition to Tartus, Syria with the aim of arming President Bashar Assad’s forces, the report said.
It docked a few days ago in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, where it was loaded with weapons supplied by an Iranian cargo ship.
The ship was identified by Syrian defectors, who contacted the German shipping company. The company then ordered the ship to change course, and although it started heading toward Turkey is was eventually halted 80 kilometers southwest of Tartus.
Full article: Report: German ship carrying Iranian weapons to Syria stopped at sea (Haaretz)
Russia, one of President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest allies despite international condemnation of the government’s violent crackdown on the country’s uprising, has repeatedly blocked the United Nations Security Council’s attempts to halt the violence, accusing the U.S. and its allies of trying to start another war.
Now the Russian Black Sea fleet’s Iman tanker has arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea with an anti-terror squad from the Russian Marines aboard according to the Interfax news agency. The Assad government has insisted it is fighting a terrorist insurgency. The Russian news reports did not elaborate on the Russian troops’ mission in Syria or if they are expected to leave the port.
Full article: Russian Anti-Terror Troops Arrive in Syria (ABC)