The IDF Tuesday confirmed that an Israeli miniature Skylark drone had crashed over a technical fault Sunday, March 19, in the same Quneitra area of the Golan as the attack which killed a Syrian soldier. Hizballah claimed earlier that the drone was shot down by the Syrian army and published photos of drone fragments with Hebrew writing.
DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the publicity given by the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hizballah to the incident – beating Israel to the draw – seriously pricked Moscow’s efforts, with Damascus’ compliance, to cool the crisis that was developing after Israeli planes struck a Hizballah target near the northern Syrian town of Palmyra last Friday, March 17.
The Russian government, according to DEBKAfile’s Moscow sources, made it clear to Bashar Assad that he had better hold back from a heated response to the Israeli air strikes. If he decided to play with Israeli fire, he was warned, he need not expect Russia to intervene in his defense.
The Syrian ruler, who is fully engaged at the moment fighting off a rebel offensive on eastern Damascus, indicated his compliance with Moscow’s advice by a face-saving comment Tuesday to the Russian Interfax: “Russia has an important role in preventing a future confrontation with Israel,” he said.
However, Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah is playing its own game. His forces are battling through Syrian rebel villages on the slopes of Mount Hermon in a headlong drive to deploy on the Golan border with Israel. He therefore acted to force Assad’s hand and disrupt Moscow’s efforts at de-escalation by publishing the downing of an Israeli drone by Syrian anti-air fire.
It must be said that publication of this incident by Israel directly after the event Sunday would have deprived Hizballah of this initiative.
Moscow is a finds itself pushed into an awkward corner. While seeking to dampen the flames of an Israeli-Syrian crisis, the Russians are at the same time holding back from interfering to stop Hizballah’s drive for a presence at the Golan town of Quneitra. Therefore, the flames will remain high so long as Hizballah’s advance on its objective continues..