According to sources from Israel's military and intelligence communities, Russia is deploying 1,000 special forces troops to Syria. But the troops themselves are not Russian. They are Chechen.
They "come from elite units of the Chechen military with extensive field experience in urban warfare," reports DEBKAfile, the primary source for this report. During the past two years, these guys fought in eastern Ukraine, enabling Russia to squash what it calls illegal rebel forces that, according to Moscow, posed a threat to the legal government of Ukraine. These same hoorah, no-nonsense elite also have experience suppressing radical Islamic organizations linked to al-Qaeda.
In short, they are perfectly suited to eradicate rabid members of Islamic State from places like Aleppo.
For Russian President Vladamir Putin, they also provide political cover. Because the forces are not Russian, Russian soldiers are not the ones who will be coming home in body bags, at least from door-to-door ops in Aleppo.
The depth of Israeli intelligence about this development makes this story impossible to ignore.
Sources told DEBKAfile that...
Chechen soldiers called up for the deployment in Syria were ordered to report to the Khankala base east of the Chechen capital, Grozny." There they are being vetted by Russian officers who determine which are suitable for the Syrian mission.
In the initial stage, the deployment will consist of three divisions totaling about 1,000 soldiers. Since, like Russia, Chechen law bars regular army troops from being sent beyond the country’s borders, the soldiers assigned to Syria will wear the uniform of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s security forces, which are not part of the regular army.
They will be flown directly from the Russian air force facility at the Khankala base by giant Ilyushin-76 transport planes to Russia’s Hmaimim Air Base, about 1,200km away.
What are Moscow's purposes for doing this?
1. To free the forces of the coalition supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, including Russia, of responsibility for holding and defending territory they captured in Syrian cities, especially Aleppo.
2. To reinforce Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah troops with highly-trained commandos capable of spearheading the next challenging battles in places like the Idlib region in the north and Darra in the south.
3. To save Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu from having to send Russian ground troops to finish the Syrian war. The return of a rising number in coffins would set off a loud popular outcry against the government.
In only fourteen months, Putin's strategic moves in Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt too, have all worked to Russia's advantage. Like the luminary that guided wise men to the place of Jesus' birth, Moscow's blazing star is rising from the north, over Syria. And it is approaching Israel. Perhaps once again wise men should track it, but for entirely different reasons.