[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach six articles on the situation in Syria, with some short extracts first, for those who don’t have time to read them in full.
On a personal note, I would like to add once again that it is ludicrous to think that Assad – who is committing a fast-moving ethnic cleansing (and, in some senses, a slow-motion genocide) against the Sunni majority population of Syria – is the solution to the Syrian quagmire any more than the equally despicable Isis is.
Both have to be removed for peace to be restored to Syria and to the wider region.
* Reuters: “Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government [In fact, as documented several times in these dispatches, Iranian revolutionary guards have been present on the ground in Syria for at least three years -- TG.] Meanwhile Russian warplanes bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.”
* John Mclaughlin (acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004): “Nature abhors a vacuum, but Vladimir Putin really loves one. The Russian president clearly sensed a big power void in Syria, where the civil war has intensified and where the United States has neither committed ground forces nor devised a compelling strategy to settle the conflict or defeat the Islamic State… What to make of Russia’s muscling into the war-torn country? For Putin, there are essentially five reasons, moving from the broadly strategic to the purely tactical…”
* Israeli counter-terrorism expert Ely Karmon: “Russian Air Strikes in Syria Aim to build an Alawite Mini-state for Assad, and transform it into a solid strategic base in the region under Russia’s umbrella. Putin’s military intervention does not target ISIS, but seeks to establish a solid strategic base for Russia in the Middle East. As Russia forges an alliance with Iran and Iraq, Israel’s interests will be put at stake.”
* Ralph Peters: “Putin wants to humiliate Obama with airstrikes in Syria. The first thing to understand about Vladimir Putin is that he’s not content just to win. He has to destroy his opponents, foreign or domestic. His deeds may be despicable and his manners far too crude for the Upper West Side, but the guy is a force of nature, a man who – by sheer strength of will – has used a broken country and its rusting military to change the world. Meanwhile, our astonished president sulks like a high-school girl stood up by her boyfriend (‘But Vladimir . . . you promised!’).
“Now we have reached the point where a Russian general can barge into a US military office in the Middle East and order us to stop flying our aircraft over Syria. Oh, we’re still flying, for now – but you can bet that our flights are restricted and careful to the point of paralysis… Never before has a US presidential administration combined such naked cowardice, intellectual arrogance and willful blindness. We don’t have a president – we have a scared child covering his eyes at a horror movie. And Putin knows it.”
* French expert Olivier Guitta: “Assad recently said: ‘My goal has never been to remain president, neither before, during, or after the crisis.’ Facts sadly prove the opposite each day. Assad has an amazing track record of always saving himself or being saved at the last minute, waiting for the storm to pass.
“It all started ten years ago when Lebanese billionaire and former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was murdered in a spectacular terror attack in Beirut. Right away all signs pointed to Damascus’ involvement in the attack … but then in 2008 when French president Nicolas Sarkozy made him his guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade in Paris… History should have taught the international community that engaging a regime like Assad’s rarely works; on the contrary it actually emboldens it.”
* Please “like” these dispatches on Facebook here www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia, where you can also find other items that are not in these dispatches.
1. “The great game comes to Syria” (By John Mclaughlin, ozy.com, Sept 28, 2015)
2. “Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA” (Reuters, Oct 1, 2015)
3. “Russian airstrikes in Syria aim to build Alawite mini-state for Assad” (By Ely Karmon, Haaretz, Oct 1, 2015)
4. “Putin wants to humiliate Obama with airstrikes in Syria” (By Ralph Peters, New York Post, Sept 30, 2015)
5. “Assad wins... again. How Syria’s president outfoxed the West” (By Olivier Guitta, FoxNews.com, Sept 28, 2015)
6. “Five ISIS weapons of war Russia should fear in Syria” (By Robert Farley, The National Interest, Oct 1, 2015)
THE GREAT GAME COMES TO SYRIA
The great game comes to Syria
By John Mclaughlin
Sept 28, 2015
Nature abhors a vacuum, but Vladimir Putin really loves one. The Russian president clearly sensed a big power void in Syria, where the civil war has intensified and where the United States has neither committed ground forces nor devised a compelling strategy to settle the conflict or defeat the Islamic State. Although the Islamic State has rampaged through Iraq, its headquarters is in Syria.
Into that vacuum, Putin has sent a substantial force of tanks, armored personnel carriers, air defense systems and upward of two dozen combat aircraft over the past several weeks. Russia is also building enough housing for 2,000 people, U.S. officials have said. What to make of Russia’s muscling into the war-torn country? For Putin, there are essentially five reasons, moving from the broadly strategic to the purely tactical.
MAKING RUSSIA A GREAT POWER AGAIN. Gaining a pivotal role in the Middle East would be an important way station on the road to Putin’s overarching goal – restoring Russia to great-power status. The Syria problem allows him to vividly contrast Russia’s activism with what many see as Washington’s hesitation and timidity. Count on Putin to present himself as the regional peacemaker when he speaks at the U.N. today.
SHORING UP ASSAD … OR HIS SUCCESSOR. The Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, has been Russia’s only real ally in the region; Syria hosts Russia’s sole warm-water seaport at Tarsus. But Assad is weakening, particularly under assaults from the Islamic State, and now controls only about a sixth of the country. By establishing a ground presence, Russia hopes not only to increase Assad’s chances of surviving but also – equally important – to be in a position to influence the succession if he does not. More on this in a minute.
This clear Russian interest contrasts with the more complex calculus the U.S. has faced. By virtue of opposing both Assad and the Islamic State, Washington has been paralyzed by the simple reality that opposing one of them inevitably helps the other. The U.S. has yet to devise a strategy that avoids this Hobson’s choice.
REGIONAL INFLUENCE. Military intervention gives the Russians an opportunity to tighten relations with Iran, which shares Russia’s desire to prop up the Assad regime. Already Iran has military advisers and proxy forces – Hezbollah militia fighters from Lebanon – on the ground in Syria. Not that Putin is depending solely on Iran: Russia has played regional power broker for months in the run-up to the Syria deployment, hosting consultations in Moscow with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Israel, Palestine and Iran.
HAMMERING ON THE ISLAMIC STATE. Putin genuinely wants to defeat the Islamic State. Russia says about 2,400 of its nationals are fighting with the IS; chances are, many of them are from Russia’s Caucasus region, which has a large Muslim population and hosts a number of separatist movements. Returning Russian fighters would pose a direct threat to Russia’s control in key parts of its southwest.
WHEN IN DOUBT, DISTRACT. Activism in Syria gives Putin a way to distract attention from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. At the same time, it obliges the Western coalition opposing the Islamic State to work directly with Russia. At minimum, the U.S.-led coalition has to de-conflict military operations with Russia, but inevitably, that will begin to draw it into a cooperative relationship with Moscow. That will only muddy the waters when it comes to the West’s Ukraine grievances.
Although Russia’s broad objectives are clear, its precise plans in Syria are not. Its major fear is probably that the Assad regime will fall to some combination of extremists dominated by the Islamic State, thus depriving Moscow of its closest ally in the region. Faced with that fear, Russia could pursue one of two paths. Together with Iran, it could go all out to preserve Assad in power, concentrating its firepower on the Islamic State – and perhaps even on the more moderate rebels the West tends to favor.
On the other hand, Russia may have concluded that Assad’s crumbled legitimacy – due to the horrors his regime has inflicted on his own people – makes it unrealistic to preserve the regime in its present form. It may thus settle on a more modest objective: Prevent a total breakdown of order by preserving the rough form of the Syrian state while easing Assad out gradually in favor of some other, more acceptable ruler. The latter scenario is not far off from what the United States and the United Nations have been trying unsuccessfully to achieve in Syria. So if events move in that direction, there could be scope for cooperation between Russia and the West on a phased strategy, working first to destroy the Islamic State and then deciding what to do about the Assad regime.
In the end, the main thing Russia gains from its deployment is enhanced leverage over what becomes of Syria. At the same time, the limitation of U.S. efforts to an air campaign and the failure of its program to train a large force of moderate rebel fighters mean that the U.S. has lost leverage and will have less influence over the course of events in Syria. In short, Putin is forcing the U.S. to work with him and ensuring that he will have a large voice in determining the future of the Middle Eastern capital that means the most to Russia.
Overall, not a bad day’s work for Mr. Putin.
(The author was acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004 and now teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.)
IRAN TROOPS TO JOIN SYRIA WAR, RUSSIA BOMBS GROUP TRAINED BY CIA
Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA
By Laila Bassam and Andrew Osborn
October 1, 2015
BEIRUT/MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a sign the civil war is turning still more regional and global in scope.
Russian warplanes, in a second day of strikes, bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the group’s commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War.
Senior U.S. and Russian officials spoke for just over an hour by secure video conference on Thursday, focusing on ways to keep air crews safe, the Pentagon said, as the two militaries carry out parallel campaigns with competing objectives.
“We made crystal clear that, at a minimum, the priority here should be the safe operation of the air crews over Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
Two Lebanese sources told Reuters hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi’ite militia fighters from Iraq, while Russia would provide air support.
“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria -soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers ... we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” one of the sources said.
So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilized Shi’ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.
Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck near the cities of Hama and Homs are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by U.S. allies including Arab states and Turkey.
Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group that is part of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters one of the targets was his group’s base in Idlib province, struck by about 20 missiles in two separate raids. His fighters had been trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, part of a program Washington says is aimed at supporting groups that oppose both Islamic State and Assad.
“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.
The group is one of at least three foreign-backed FSA rebel factions to say they had been hit by the Russians in the last two days.
At the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference Moscow was targeting Islamic State. He did not specifically deny that Russian planes had attacked Free Syrian Army facilities but said Russia did not view it as a terrorist group and viewed it as part of a political solution in Syria.
The aim is to help the Syrian armed forces “in their weak spots”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook described Thursday’s military talks as “cordial and professional.” During the talks, Elissa Slotkin, an acting assistant U.S. secretary of defense, “noted U.S. concern that areas targeted by Russia so far were not ISIL strongholds.” Cook said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
The Pentagon said it would not share U.S. intelligence with Russia and suggested the talks included ideas to increase safety, such as agreeing on radio frequencies for distress calls and a common language for communications.
U.S. Republican Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a frequent Obama critic, questioned the logic of talks on how to keep U.S. and Russian militaries apart, known in military parlance as “deconfliction.”
“Unfortunately, it appears ‘deconfliction’ is merely an Orwellian euphemism for this administration’s acceptance of Russia’s expanded role in Syria, and as a consequence, for Assad’s continued brutalization of the Syrian people,” McCain said.
SAME ENEMIES, DIFFERENT FRIENDS
Russia’s decision to join the war with air strikes on behalf of Assad, as well as the increased military involvement of Iran, could mark a turning point in a conflict that has drawn in most of the world’s military powers.
With the United States leading an alliance waging its own air war against Islamic State, the Cold War superpower foes, Washington and Moscow, are now engaged in combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two.
They say they have the same enemies - the Islamic State group of Sunni Muslim militants who have proclaimed a caliphate across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
But they also have different friends, and sharply opposing views of how to resolve the 4-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.
Washington and its allies oppose both Islamic State and Assad, believing he must leave power in any peace settlement.
Washington says a central part of its strategy is building “moderate” insurgents to fight Islamic State, although so far it has struggled to find many fighters to accept its training.
Moscow supports the Syrian president and believes his government should be the centerpiece of international efforts to fight the extremist groups.
It appears to be using the common campaign against Islamic State as a pretext to strike against groups supported by Washington and its allies, as a way of defending a Damascus government with which Moscow has been allied since the Cold War.
The Russian strikes represent a bold move by President Vladimir Putin to assert influence beyond his own neighborhood. It is the first time Moscow has ordered its forces into combat outside the frontiers of the former Soviet Union since its disastrous Afghanistan campaign in the 1980s.
The Russian and Iranian interventions in support of Assad come at a time when momentum in the conflict had swung against his government and seem aimed at reversing insurgent gains.
Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of neighboring Iraq, where Washington is also leading an air war against Islamic State while Iran aids government forces on the ground, said he would be open to Russian strikes as well.
A Syrian military source said on Thursday that Russian military support would bring a “big change” in the course of the conflict, particularly through advanced surveillance capabilities that could pinpoint insurgent targets.
Putin’s gamble of going to war in Syria comes a year after he defied the West to annex Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, drawing U.S. and EU economic sanctions while igniting a wave of popular nationalist support at home.
“AS RUSSIA FORGES AN ALLIANCE WITH IRAN AND IRAQ, ISRAEL’S INTERESTS WILL BE PUT AT STAKE”
Russian airstrikes in Syria aim to build Alawite mini-state for Assad
Putin’s military intervention does not target ISIS, but seeks to establish a solid strategic base for Russia in the Middle East. As Russia forges an alliance with Iran and Iraq, Israel’s interests will be put at stake.
By Ely Karmon
Oct 1, 2015
Many Russian analysts maintain that Russia’s intervention in Syria is driven by Vladimir Putin’s desire to reinstate the status of the world’s largest nation as a superpower and his genuine belief that the United States has deliberately seeded chaos in the region to secure its reign there. While this assessment may be accurate, it only reveals part of the Russian president’s intentions.
Russia’s military engagement in Syria comes on the backdrop of three major factors: a serious threat to the survival of President Bashar Assad’s regime, Russia’s old Middle Eastern client; Putin’s success at securing the occupation of Crimea and expanding Russian territorial presence in Ukraine; and the evident weakness, even disarray, of the Obama administration in handling the war against Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
Two additional factors may have helped Putin make this risky decision now: Iran’s strength in the region, following its success at securing a highly favorable nuclear deal; and the wave of Syrian refugees who threaten the unity and stability of Europe, thus mitigating its threat to Russian interests in Ukraine.
Aware of Assad’s weakness (Putin mocked the Syrian military during his public meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) and that even Iran and Hezbollah’s support cannot ensure the Syrian president’s survival, the Russian leader decided to upgrade his previous strategy of providing military and political support to the regime. For now, this upgrade is taking the form of building a territorial military presence in the Latakia area –including some 25 to 30 airplanes, several thousand troops, naval infantry brigades, modern T-90 tanks and artillery, according to Jeffrey White of The Washington Institute – which will permit the Russians to carry out air strikes against rebel forces who threaten the regime’s strongholds.
Russia seeks to secure an Alawite mini-state for Assad to control, and transform it into a solid strategic base in the region under Russia’s umbrella. This scenario, based on the examples of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria or Donetsk People’s Republic, was already envisioned by Fabrice Balanche, probably the best expert on the Alawites, in 2012.
Few observers noticed Putin’s reference to the Kurds in his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week, when he said no one other than Assad and the Kurdish militias are “truly fighting the Islamic State.” Was he hinting at another potential client of the Alawite mini-state in Syria?
In “Time to put an Alawite state on the map” (Haaretz, March 20, 2013) this author proposed Israeli leaders lobby visiting U.S. President Barack Obama to work for a “grand bargain” with Russia to protect the Alawite minority in the face of the “inevitable collapse of the Assad regime,” defend it against a massacre by the Sunni rebels and destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control. The main caveat to this agreement would be to prevent any Iranian/Hezbollah military or para-military presence in the future Alawite mini-state.
The August 21, 2013 Syrian chemical attack that killed some 1,400 civilians triggered Russia’s and Iran’s decision to save the Assad regime from an American military strike and led to the September 2013 U.S.–Russia deal that removed most of the chemicals from Syrian turf.
A NEW COALITION
Indeed, Putin has now found in Iran his best ally for building a coalition that includes “Assad’s Syria,” Hezbollah and Iraq, the next target in line. Even Egypt is inclined to work with the Russians.
It is in this framework that one must consider the intelligence cooperation agreement between Iran and Hezbollah, Iraq’s decision to permit Russia to send military hardware through its air space and to create a coordination cell on the Islamic State, and Iran’s purchase of $21-billion worth of Russian satellite technology and aircraft.
Nasrallah said last week that additional Russian forces and highly advanced weapons systems were arriving in Syria, and noted that while an official Syrian request for Russian intervention had not yet been made, one may be imminent.
Nasrallah was right: the first Russian air strikes in Syria, which were conducted on Wednesday, had nothing to do with ISIS. Instead, they targeted moderate Syrian rebels in the strategic Homs area, which threatens the strategic road linking Damascus to the Alawite Coast.
Those in Israel who expressed careful optimism after the meeting between Netanyahu, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot and Putin yielded a “coordination agreement” between the two air forces have now witnessed an example of how the Russians “coordinated” their first air strike in Syria with the Americans.
If the United States continues hesitantly zig-zagging on Syria, Israel should take into consideration that its hands will also be tied, as this will embolden Russia to undermine an important American ally in the region.
Will it be safe for Israel to give the Russians information before an attack on a vital strategic target of Hezbollah or Iran? What if Russia passes this intelligence on to Iran before such a strike? Putin has already said he is concerned about the Israeli attacks in Syria, hinting that Russia will clip Israel’s wings over Syrian skies, as Haaretz’s Amos Harel put it. The stronger and closer Russia’s alliance with Iran and Hezbollah on the ground, the harder it will be for Russia to repress the desire to accommodate its friends.
Russia could also disrupt the Israeli military naval activity near the Lebanese and Syrian waters and possibly give Syria/Iran/Hezbollah information on our gas rigs if they compete with vital Russian economic interests. Some Turkish sources have recently claimed that a series of terrorist attacks on Turkish gas and oil pipelines by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) served Russian interests “without any direct orders coming from Moscow.”
The new situation in Syria and the region should provide Israel and the United States with an incentive to coordinate more closely on their political and military strategies concerning the Russian intervention. Israel has a lot to offer in the operative and intelligence field.
This could also trigger closer cooperation with the moderate Sunni states and even with Turkey, whose game plan for Syria could be ruined by the Russian intervention.
(Ely Karmon has been the Senior Research Scholar at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at The Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya since 1997.)
PUTIN WANTS TO HUMILIATE OBAMA WITH AIRSTRIKES IN SYRIA
Putin wants to humiliate Obama with airstrikes in Syria
Col. Ralph Peters
New York Post
September 30, 2015
Putin wants to humiliate Obama with airstrikes in Syria
The first thing to understand about Vladimir Putin is that he’s not content just to win. He has to destroy his opponents, foreign or domestic.
His deeds may be despicable and his manners far too crude for the Upper West Side, but the guy is a force of nature, a man who – by sheer strength of will – has used a broken country and its rusting military to change the world. Meanwhile, our astonished president sulks like a high-school girl stood up by her boyfriend (“But Vladimir . . . you promised!”).
Now we have reached the point where a Russian general can barge into a US military office in the Middle East and order us to stop flying our aircraft over Syria. Oh, we’re still flying, for now – but you can bet that our flights are restricted and careful to the point of paralysis.
You bet President Obama’s afraid of Putin. Physically, tangibly, change-the-diaper afraid.
And as I wrote in these pages on Monday, the odds are good that Putin will order the shootdown of a US drone or even a manned aircraft, anyway. Why? Because he can.
And he enjoys it.
But Putin sees a necessity in humiliating the United States. That’s business. And yet, despite Putin’s obviousness, the White House team and its acolytes publicly scratch their heads and other body parts, saying, “We’re not certain what the Russians intend.”
So let’s help them. Here are Putin’s clear strategic goals:
In the short term, rescue the failing regime of Russia’s ally, Syria’s blood-drenched President Bashar al-Assad. And in doing so, eliminate all opposition groups except ISIS, leaving the United States, Europe and the world with the stark choice of “Assad or Islamic State?”
In the mid-term, create a fait accompli, irreversible circumstances, on the ground in the Middle East (and in Ukraine) that will defeat the next US president even before he takes office.
Expect a lot more aggression and violence from Putin between now and Inauguration Day 2017. Obama’s delusional worldview – that of a narrow-shouldered, bleeding-heart undergraduate at a second-rate university – is a gift to Putin that keeps on giving. (In almost seven years in office, Obama still hasn’t grasped that words don’t stop bullets.)
In the longer-term, Putin intends to re-establish Russia’s grandeur and glory from the apogee of the czars – and to go still further by dominating the Middle East and its energy resources.
Putin has bet on the Shia world against the Sunni Muslims and is well along in the process of building a wall of allies from Teheran to Tripoli in Lebanon. Already, Russia has a renewed presence and influence in the Middle East after a four-decade absence.
Our response? We’re still funding the Iranian-owned Baghdad government; still shortchanging the Kurds; still afraid to use real military power against ISIS; and terrified that Putin will push the Syrian situation into a confrontation.
He will. And the Obama administration is utterly, profoundly unprepared.
Our confused polices in the Middle East have left us trusted by no one (not even Israel), respected by no one and feared by no one. We’ve scattered our military advisers around Iraq, providing Iran-backed militias with instant hostages. We continue to fund those who hate us in Iraq (where our diplomats can’t think past the walls of our white-elephant embassy). We continue to pretend that we can convince Iraqis and Syrians to fight for what we believe in, rather than for their own interests.
And should Putin shoot down a US aircraft and should Obama finally screw his courage to the sticking point and attempt an appropriate military response, Turkey – disloyal to us and terrified of Russia – would deny us the use of Incirlik airbase.
The White House response now? Spokesman Josh “Baghdad Bob” Earnest tells us everything’s under control and we’re working things out. The new line is that Russia will only get bogged down in a quagmire, as the Soviets did in Afghanistan. Sorry, folks: Just because Obama’s incapable of learning doesn’t mean Putin is, too. And Putin’s forces won’t go into battle with lawyers looking over their shoulders, either.
Want to know how low we’ve sunk? The president of France just repeated his demand that Assad has to go. Secretary of State John Kerry, following the pattern of his surrender to the Iranians, has already said that, well, maybe Assad can stay for a while until there’s a “managed transition.”
Never before has a US presidential administration combined such naked cowardice, intellectual arrogance and willful blindness. We don’t have a president – we have a scared child covering his eyes at a horror movie.
And Putin knows it.
ASSAD WINS... AGAIN. HOW SYRIA’S PRESIDENT OUTFOXED THE WEST
Assad wins... again. How Syria’s president outfoxed the West
By Olivier Guitta
September 28, 2015
Russia is ramping up its military help to Syria – having sent fighter jets, troops and building a large base in Lattakia. This shows the strategic importance of not only Syria but also defending their ally President Bashir al-Assad. Indeed, when was the last time Russia send troops in a far-away foreign land in a conflict it wasn’t directly involved in? That means that Assad is not leaving anytime soon and has defied the odds once again.
Assad recently said: “My goal has never been to remain president, neither before, during, or after the crisis.” Facts sadly prove the opposite each day. Assad has an amazing track record of always saving himself or being saved at the last minute, waiting for the storm to pass.
It all started ten years ago when Lebanese billionaire and former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri was murdered in a spectacular terror attack in Beirut.
Right away all signs pointed to Damascus’ involvement in the attack triggering the Cedar revolution that caused Syrian troops to leave Lebanon and Assad to be viewed as a pariah by the international community.
That is until 2008 when French president Nicolas Sarkozy made him his guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade in Paris. This French diplomatic move was not well received by the administration of President George W. Bush because both countries had been working closely on isolating Assad since 2004.
But Assad waited it out and knew quite well that a new, incoming Obama administration would be very much inclined to reach out to him. The appointment of a U.S. ambassador to Syria, after a five year vacancy, proved him right.
History should have taught the international community that engaging a regime like Assad’s rarely works; on the contrary it actually emboldens it.
That’s why, when the “civil war” started in 2011, Assad faced no moral dilemma when massacring his own people.
Assad would have been history in 2012 if it were not for Iran providing a lifeline with a huge amount of cash and men through its proxy Hezbollah.
Thus, the tide turned and Assad feeling untouchable. He even used chemical weapons in August 2013 in Ghouta – killing more than 1,400 civilians including scores of children.
This clearly crossed President Obama’s “red line” but it was met by a disgraceful silence and non-action from the West.
Then, with the military advance of both the Islamic State and the Al Nusra Front, Assad found himself, again, in mid-2015 in a desperate situation.
Rumors of his demise were spreading: in May, an atmosphere of the end of the reign was spilling through Damascus. Privileged pro-Assad families were preparing to pack up anytime and leave. Also in May, Assad’s militias had not been paid for 4 months, most likely due to a lack of cash.
Finally, in June even staunch ally Russia seemed to bet on Assad’s departure when it evacuated 80 of its citizens from Lattakia. But again Assad was thrown a lifeline: the nuclear deal with Iran – which will free $150 billion – is the cash infusion he needed, coupled with Iran’s ever growing military assistance.
Assad, like his father, is famous for playing the arsonist/fireman strategy. Thus, Assad’s assertion of “either the jihadists – whether Islamic State or Al Qaeda – or I” has resonated with the gullible West. Even though, just a few weeks ago, French President Hollande stated that Assad needed to be neutralized, now France has joined the U.S., Canada, Australia in striking at the Islamic State in Syria, de facto once again saving Assad.
The real tipping point for this change of heart was the refugee crisis in Europe that politicians, including Hollande and Secretary of State Kerry, the media and the public, blame wrongly, blatantly ignoring the facts, on the Islamic State rather than Assad.
The turnaround in Western public opinion is such that now 56 percent of French people are in favor of a ground operation in Syria against Islamic State.
People seem to forget that actually Islamic State and Assad have co-operated in the past especially when it sold oil to the regime.
Assad came to power as a naive ophthalmologist but quickly learned the ropes and surpassed his father as a shrewd poker player. He got both his allies and some of his enemies to save him: no small feat indeed.
FIVE ISIS WEAPONS OF WAR RUSSIA SHOULD FEAR IN SYRIA
5 ISIS Weapons of War Russia Should Fear in Syria
By Robert Farley
The National Interest
October 1, 2015
Reports out of Syria indicate that Russian fighter-bombers have begun airstrikes on rebel positions. However, the extent of Russian commitment remains unclear. At the very least, we can expect that the troops and aircraft will forcefully protect Russian installations in the region. At the maximum, Russia may fight to preserve the Assad regime, and restore its control over parts of Syria.
Either way, Moscow will see pushback. While ISIS hasn’t focused its rhetoric on Moscow, we can expect that the presence of Russian troops in Syria will concentrate the group’s attention. Here are five weapons that ISIS can use against Russia:
In September 2012, a group of insurgents penetrated Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, and destroyed eight Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers. The attack gave the U.S. Marine Corps a huge black eye, and represented the greatest operational loss of U.S. aircraft since the Vietnam War. Ironically, if the F-35B had been close to on schedule, the attack could have cost over a billion dollars.
We can expect that the Russians will manage security at the Latakia airbase. Nevertheless, the dozens of combat aircraft at the base will prove a tempting target for ISIS infiltrators, potentially working with base personnel. Damaging or destroying Russian aircraft on the ground would provide the same kind of propaganda coup for ISIS as attacking Camp Bastion provided the Taliban.
ISIS has not yet demonstrated much capability for hitting targets at long range. A Sinai group affiliated with ISIS claimed to have fired a pair of rockets at Israel, but beyond short-range mortars, indirect fire weapons have not played a very large role in ISIS offensives.
Some other opposition groups in Syria have, however, seized control of medium and long range rockets, and used them in combat. Some of these rockets (many built to Syrian design) can hit the Russian positions in Latakia. Russia hasn’t yet indicated much concern about these systems, but if ISIS manages to capture (or manufacture, or transfer) similar equipment to the vicinity of Latakia, it could give parked Russian aircraft a very bad day.
ISIS has not yet developed much in the way of surface-to-air capability, despite the efforts of the Syrian Arab Air Force and of the Coalition carrying out attacks across Syria and Iraq. Moreover, rugged Russian aircraft can sustain damage from the light anti-aircraft weapons that ISIS has managed to acquire.
Nevertheless, ISIS has some weapons that can damage Russian helicopters, and potentially slow-moving Russian attack aircraft. If Russian air attacks prove particularly effective, ISIS may have more incentive to put into service some of the SAMs it has seized along the way. Given that the Russians will operate with better equipment and training than the Syrians, and presumably with looser rules of engagement than the Americans, ISIS may well feel a need to improve its air defenses.
Rumors abound as to the number of Russians serving in the ranks of the Islamic State, but government sources suggest between 1,800 and 5,000, with most hailing from Chechnya. These fighters can hurt Russia in two ways. First, they likely have greater familiarity with Russian military tactics and procedures than anyone else in Syria (even the Syrian Arab Army). If they can apply lessons learned from the Chechen Wars, they could provide a serious threat to the Russian deployment.
More seriously, these Chechens could, if they return to Russia, re-spark the devastating war that occupied Moscow’s attention for much of the past two decades. Indeed, returning fighters could spark conflict along much of Russia’s southern regions, and in the Central Asian countries that Russia regards as within its sphere of influence. Western European countries are afraid of returning fighters, but Russia has much more cause for concern.
The threat of ISIS has loomed large because of its effective propaganda machine. The organizations has displayed an unusual degree of aptitude on social media, generating attention that has, consequently, generated flows of new fighters and recruits. Much of the group’s efforts have thus far concentrated on Western countries, as well as on the Assad regime.
ISIS began stepping up its anti-Russian propaganda efforts in late spring of 2015. The deployment of significant Russian forces to Syria make it all the more likely that ISIS will concentrate on these efforts in the future. The ISIS propaganda machine has the potential not only to increase the number of recruits coming from Russia and Central Asia, but also for encouraging “independent” terrorist activity within Russia itself.
Russia is in an extremely tenuous position in Syria. If it wins, it gets a permanent alliance with the most hated man in the Middle East, the leader of a broken country. If ISIS or the other rebels win, Russia loses its foothold in the region, not to mention suffering the humiliation of defeat. Indeed, the risks either way seem so large, and the benefits so small, that many have wondered about the quality of Russia’s strategic decision-making.
Either way, Moscow will earn ever greater enmity from Islamic radicals around the world. One of the key insights of the U.S. strategic community in the late Cold War was that, however problematic Islamic radicalism might prove to the West, it could hurt the Soviets much more. Much has changed, but this remains true; ISIS has the potential to hurt Russia in a way that it can never hurt the United States.
(Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky.)