In case you’ve lost track… (& Putin’s private army)

February 16, 2018



The Parkland school shootings on Valentine’s Day were the 30th (or 32nd) mass shooting in the US so far in 2018. In some respects, the NRA seems to me to be as much a danger as any external threat to US citizens, and I find it disturbing that politicians whom I admire in other respects (including Marco Rubio and John McCain) take so much money from the NRA.

US law can be absurd: The 19-year-old murderer was legally allowed to buy guns, but was not allowed to buy a beer for another two years.

On a side note, family friends of shooting victim Jaime Guttenberg (whose smile was said to light up a room) who subscribe to this Mideast list, point out to me that Jaime’s uncle died a few weeks ago as a result of helping 9/11 victims.

This dispatch, however, concerns the ever more dangerous situation in Syria. I have sent so many dispatches on the war in Syria these past seven years that I decided to lead with a photo (in this case a cartoon) about something else -- Tom Gross:

 

IN CASE YOU’VE LOST TRACK…

[Note by Tom Gross]

Syria’s war has entered a new and even more dangerous phase.

Many people have lost interest in the war in Syria. But they shouldn’t. In the space of a week, al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign, backed up by an Iranian-orchestrated ground offensive, has massacred hundreds of Syrian civilians in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta. As I have pointed out in previous dispatches, 400,000 residents of Eastern Ghouta, remain trapped and many are starving under the Assad-Iranian siege, which the world’s media barely bother to mention. And over two million more Syrians are under the Iranian-orchestrated siege in Idlib province.

 

“THE FIRST TIME A LARGE NUMBER OF ARMED RUSSIAN CITIZENS WERE KILLED SINCE 1920”

At the same time, the conflict is becoming increasingly international. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov sums up the last few days:

The Russian-backed Syrian regime gave free passage through its territory to American-backed Kurdish militias so they could fight against America’s NATO ally Turkey.

The Syrian regime at the same time attacked these American-backed Kurdish militias in another part of the country, triggering U.S. strikes that killed more than 100 Syrian troops and a significant number of Russian military contractors.

In yet another part of Syria, Turkey threatened to attack American troops embedded with these Kurdish forces, prompting a counterwarning of an American military response.

Russia, meanwhile, stood by and didn’t use the vaunted S-400 air-defense system it had deployed to Syria as Israeli bombing raids wiped out as much as half of Syria’s own air defense capabilities.

Moscow also remained determinedly silent over the Russian deaths in U.S. strikes, the first time a large number of armed Russian citizens were killed since 1920.

Let’s see…Russia also lost a military jet (to a missile fired by Syrian rebels who cooperate with Turkey), as did Israel (to a Syrian regime missile), while Turkey had a helicopter shot down (by a Kurdish missile) and Iran a drone (by an Israeli chopper.)

 

PUTIN’S PRIVATE ARMY IN SYRIA

The third piece attached below reveals Putin’s private army in Syria: 3,000 Russians mercenaries under contract to the Wagner group are fighting in Syria, backing up tens of thousands of Iranian-orchestrated foreign Shia militias helping Assad on the ground.

In the fourth and final piece below, Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times:

Two weeks ago, standing on the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights, I wrote a column positing that this frontier was the “second most dangerous” war zone in the world today – after the Korean Peninsula. Your honor, I’d like to revise and amend that column.

Having watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched last week into the stadium together in a love fest; and having also watched Israel shoot down an Iranian drone from Syria, bomb an Iranian base in Syria and lose one of its own F-16s to a Syrian missile; and after U.S. jets killed a bunch of Russian “contractors” who got too close to our forces in Syria, I now think the Syria-Israel-Lebanon front is the most dangerous corner in the world.

Where else can you find Syrian, Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish troops or advisers squaring off on the ground and in the air – along with pro-Iranian Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters from northern Syria; ISIS remnants; various pro-Saudi and pro-Jordanian anti-Syrian regime Sunni rebels and – I am not making this up – pro-Syrian regime Russian Orthodox Cossack “contractors” who went to Syria to defend Mother Russia from “crazy barbarians” – all rubbing against one another?


CONTENTS

1. “As Alliances Shift, Syria’s Tangle of Wars Grows More Dangerous” (By Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall St Journal, Feb. 15, 2018)
2. “Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created” (Associated Press, Feb. 14, 2018)
3. “Putin’s private army in Syria: Officially illegal, the Kremlin denies it, but the evidence is in the numbers” (Haaretz, Reuters, AP, Feb. 15, 2018)
4. “Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It” (By Thomas Friedman, New York Times, Feb. 14, 2018)

 

ARTICLES

SYRIA’S TANGLE OF WARS GROWS MORE DANGEROUS STILL

As Alliances Shift, Syria’s Tangle of Wars Grows More Dangerous
As multiple actors raise the stakes, the potential has grown for a disastrous miscalculation
By Yaroslav Trofimov (Analysis)
Wall Street Journal
Feb. 15, 2018

The Russian-backed Syrian regime gave free passage through its territory to American-backed Kurdish militias so they could fight against America’s NATO ally Turkey.

The Syrian regime at the same time attacked these American-backed Kurdish militias in another part of the country, triggering U.S. strikes that killed more than 100 Syrian troops and a significant number of Russian military contractors.

In yet another part of Syria, Turkey threatened to attack American troops embedded with these Kurdish forces, prompting a counterwarning of an American military response.

Russia, meanwhile, stood by and didn’t use the vaunted S-400 air-defense system it had deployed to Syria as Israeli bombing raids wiped out as much as half of Syria’s own air defense capabilities.

Moscow also remained determinedly silent over the Russian deaths in U.S. strikes, the first time a large number of armed Russian citizens were killed since 1920.

Let’s see…Russia also lost a military jet (to a missile fired by Syrian rebels who cooperate with Turkey), as did Israel (to a Syrian regime missile), while Turkey had a helicopter shot down (by a Kurdish missile) and Iran a drone (by an Israeli chopper.)

If you’ve lost track, welcome to the messy patchwork of foreign-power entanglements that Syria has become as its seven-year war enters a new – and more dangerous phase.

“What’s happening in Syria is a multidimensional conflict at this point,” said Emile Hokayem, Middle East security fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “It’s become a fully regionalized conflict, and all the Syrian parties today act as a proxy for someone else.”

With so many actors ramping up involvement in Syria through fleeting alliances of convenience, the potential has grown for a disastrous miscalculation – and for the conflict to expand dramatically and beyond Syria’s borders, even though nobody seems to want it to.

The most obvious flashpoint is the U.S. relationship with Turkey, whose leaders are inflamed by U.S. support for the main Syrian Kurdish militia, known as YPG. The group is close to the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, an organization that both Ankara and Washington consider terrorist, and that has waged a bloody war on the Turkish state since the 1990s. (U.S. officials draw a distinction between YPG and PKK.)

As Turkish officials make clear in increasingly virulent statements, they are no longer prepared to tolerate American funding and support for their country’s existential enemy. Their immediate target: American forces advising the YPG that are deployed to the northern Syrian town of Manbij, shielding it from an assault by Turkish troops and their Syrian proxies.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking to parliament this week after American generals made a high-profile visit to Manbij and warned against any Turkish offensive, pledged to seize the town anyway.

“It’s quite clear that those who say they will respond aggressively if we strike have never had an Ottoman slap,” he thundered.

It might seem unthinkable that Turkish troops would strike American forces embedded with the YPG. Yet as body bags keep coming home from battles with YPG in Syria’s Afrin enclave, the level of anti-American rhetoric in Turkey has turned so high that rational calculations may no longer matter.

“Erdogan backed himself in by talking about going to Manbij so many times, it would be very hard for him to walk it back. If he doesn’t deliver, he will look weak,” said Gonul Tol, head of the Turkish center at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “If the U.S. cannot offer anything to him, the Manbij operation is possible.”

Russia and the U.S., too, are eyeing each other from opposing sides of a Syrian front line as Washington seeks to protect its area of influence, the part of Syria largely east of the Euphrates that YPG and its Arab allies have liberated from Islamic State with American assistance.

President Bashar al-Assad’s regime wants to reclaim those territories, and on Feb. 7 sent a battalion-sized column to seize a critical gas plant near Deir Ezzour, east of the Euphrates.

While Russia’s official military didn’t take part in that offensive, hundreds of Russians employed by a private military contractor did. Many of these men previously fought in Russia’s “hybrid war” in eastern Ukraine in 2014-2015, and it is an open secret that these mercenaries train at official Russian military bases and that their operations are intimately connected to Russia’s military and intelligence establishment. (Moscow denies official links with these “volunteers.”)

The Feb. 7 American strikes killed at least 11 of these Russian contractors, according to military sources cited by Moscow’s Kommersant newspaper; other Russian reports quoted a much higher number. So far, Moscow has played it down, the Kremlin spokesman saying Russia only focuses on its regular forces and isn’t keeping track of “other Russians who may be in Syria.”

If another deadly contact between Americans and Russians occurs in Syria, that cautious approach may no longer be feasible, warned Pavel Baev, a professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo and a former analyst at the Soviet ministry of defense.

“Both sides are pretending that this incident had no importance, and the Russian government keeps denying the huge losses that are impossible to deny,” Mr. Baev said. “This approach may work for now, until something else happens. But the Syrian war is carrying on, and the risk of new uncontrolled developments is growing with every day.”

The issue of casualties – and their impact on policy – is exponentially more sensitive for another military power increasingly embroiled in the Syrian tangle: Israel.

The Syrian air defenses had a rare success in striking an Israeli F-16 jet on Feb. 10, but the plane crashed on Israeli soil, and its crew managed to eject over friendly territory. That allowed the conflagration to die down by the end of the day, once Israel completed a wave of retaliatory airstrikes against Syrian military targets.

It is easy to imagine what would have happened if the F-16 had crashed over regime territory and the pilots were captured alive. By now, the world would likely be trying to deal with a full-scale Israeli-Syrian war.

 

SYRIA’S FOUR-FRONT WAR AND THE UNPRECEDENTED CHAOS IT HAS CREATED

Syria’s Four-front War and the Unprecedented Chaos It Has Created
The Associated Press
February 14, 2018

Within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

***

As Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies push toward final victory and the fight against the Islamic State group draws to an end, new fronts have opened up, threatening an even broader confrontation among regional and world powers.

While large areas of the country have stabilized, giving the impression of a war that is winding down, violence has exploded in other areas with renewed ferocity, killing and injuring hundreds of people in a new and unpredictable spiral of bloodshed. The United States, Israel and Turkey all have deepened their involvement, seeking to protect their interests in the new Syria order.

The recent chaos has been exceptional: within a week, al-Qaida-affiliated rebels shot down a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter, Israel downed an Iranian drone and the Syrian army shot down an Israeli F-16.

Meanwhile, a joint Russian and Syrian air campaign killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held enclaves of Eastern Ghouta and in the northern province of Idlib, amid accusations that the Syrian government is once again using toxic agents such as chlorine against its opponents.

In the east, the U.S. military launched rare airstrikes on pro-government fighters following a coordinated assault on U.S.-backed forces accompanied by U.S. advisers. That has increased fears that American troops meant to fight Islamic State militants increasingly are being dragged into the war.

Over the weekend, a battle erupted along Syria’s border with Israel, which shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated its airspace before one of its own fighter jets was downed by Syrian air defense missiles. It was the most serious flare-up between the neighbors since fighting began in Syria in 2011.

All this happened while Turkey’s air and ground operation against Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria rages on with no end in sight.

“The specter of the world’s worst civil war in decades is becoming demonstrably worse by the week – and even more complicated by the actions of outside forces – creating a perfect storm of chaos and suffering in Syria,” the Soufan Center said in an analysis of the situation.

Here is a look at some of the new and old fronts in Syria’s war:

TURKEY’S WAR ON THE KURDS

Turkey opened a new front in Syria’s nearly 7-year-old war on Jan. 20, launching an offensive against the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia in the northwestern enclave of Afrin. It is the latest effort by Turkey to limit Kurdish expansion along its border with Syria and aims to drive out the militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey considers to be a “terrorist” organization.

The Turkish campaign has strained relations between NATO allies Ankara and Washington, which has partnered with the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey’s president is threatening to expand the offensive east, toward the town of Manbij, where U.S. troops maintain bases, while U.S. officials accuse Turkey of hampering the fight against IS with its Afrin operation.

Residents speak of a rapidly worsening humanitarian situation, adding that medical supplies are running low. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says around 80 civilians have been killed so far, along with more than 160 Kurdish fighters. Turkey says it has lost 31 soldiers in the slow-moving offensive.

ASSAD’S WAR ON THE REBELS

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, have in the past two weeks dramatically escalated attacks on two of the largest and most important remaining opposition-held areas, in Idlib province in northwestern Syria and on Eastern Ghouta, a besieged area near the capital of Damascus.

The sprawling region, where rebels launch rockets on Damascus, has been a particular thorn in the government’s side for years, and Assad appears determined to recapture it at all costs.

The recent violence has left hundreds dead and wounded amid relentless airstrikes that have transformed the besieged area into a death trap. In Idlib, the bombardment has hit hospitals and created yet another wave of displaced civilians.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Saturday for urgent international action, saying the past week in Syria “has been one of the bloodiest periods of the entire conflict.”

The commissioner said the “no-holds-barred nature” of the assault included attacks on nine medical facilities and the death of 277 civilians between Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 in both Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. There were also reports of the government using toxic agents in residential areas.

In Eastern Ghouta, nearly 400,000 residents are trapped by the violence and a tightening government siege. At least 2 million people live In Idlib, the largest area controlled by the opposition.

ISRAEL’S WAR ON IRAN

The downing of an Israeli fighter jet this weekend by Syrian air defenses suggest yet another frontier in the conflict is opening up, risking a wider and possibly regional conflagration.

Israel, which has struck targets inside Syria more than a 100 times in the course of Syria’s war, with raids often launched from neighboring Lebanon’s airspace, has been warning of an Iranian buildup in Syria for months, vowing to prevent Tehran from building bases near its border. On Saturday, Israel’s military said it shot down an Iranian drone that took off from a base in Syria and infiltrated Israeli airspace. It carried out about 12 strikes targeting Syrian army and Iranian sites in Syria before Syrian air defenses shot down an F-16, marking the first time an Israeli jet was downed since 1982.

According to the Syrian government and its allies, the downing of the Israeli jet signals new rules of engagement in Syria, following more than 100 Israeli strikes that went without any retaliation.

“The new phase in the Syrian conflict makes the anti-ISIS war look like a stroll in the park. This has the potential to turn into a regional war,” said Bilal Saab, an expert at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. ISIS is an alternative acronym for the Islamic State group.

U.S. WAR ON ISIS

The U.S. policy in Syria has always been vague and often inconsistent. But earlier this year, U.S. officials confirmed Washington’s intention to keep troops indefinitely in northern Syria even after the defeat of IS. The U.S. says it seeks to prevent an IS resurgence as well as to counter Iranian influence in Syria.

But as IS shrinks, the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops stationed in Syria find themselves caught in a highly unpredictable and shifting battlefield, as demonstrated by an unexpected attack by pro-Assad fighters on U.S.-backed forces who were accompanied by U.S. advisers in Deir el-Zour.

The U.S. responded with a deadly barrage of bombs and artillery that U.S. officials say killed about 100 of the attackers. Russian news reports said Tuesday that an unknown number of private military contractors from Russia were among the dead, illustrating the risks foreign forces face on Syria’s crowded battlefields.

Many of the U.S. troops in Syria are operating with local, Kurdish-dominated allies known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, in the eastern oil-producing Deir el-Zour region along the Euphrates River. The area had been a stronghold of IS militants until late last year.

But they are competing for control of Deir el-Zour with Russian-backed Syrian troops that are reinforced by Iranian-supported militias.

Keeping U.S. forces in areas that Assad’s government hopes to reclaim inherently increases the probability of more clashes.

On Tuesday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the U.S. of trying to create a quasi-state in eastern Syria.

 

PUTIN’S PRIVATE ARMY IN SYRIA

Putin’s private army in Syria: Officially illegal, the Kremlin denies it, but the evidence is in the numbers
The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015

(This article appeared in Haaretz but is a joint piece by Haaretz, Reuters, AP)

Feb. 15, 2018

A Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday he could not rule out that there were Russian civilians in Syria, but that they had no connection to the Russian armed forces.

Associates of Russian military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when U.S.-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria’s Deir al-Zor province on Feb. 7.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking on a conference call with reporters, said he had no information about any such casualties.

Officially, private military companies are illegal in Russia. Putin himself voiced support for them before, in April 2012, Putin suggested the need for “an instrument in the pursuit of national interests without the direct participation of the state,” continuing, “I believe that it should be considered, thought over.”

The St. Petersburg-based website Fontanka reported that about 3,000 Russians under contract to the Wagner group have fought in Syria since 2015, months before Russias two-year military campaign helped to turn the tide of the civil war in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

When Putin went to a Russian air base in Syria on Monday and told Russian troops that you are coming back home with victory, he did not mention the private contractors. Russian troops are expected to remain in Syria for years while the contractors are likely to stay to guard lucrative oil and gas fields under a contract between the Syrian government and another Russian company allegedly linked to a businessman known as Putins chef for his close ties to the Kremlin.

Russia has used such proxies before – in the conflict to help pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine since 2014. One Russian commander boasted of working alongside Russian troops who said they were on vacation while fighting in Ukraine.

As of December 2017, the Defense Ministry has refused to say how many of its troops are in Syria, although one estimate based on absentee ballots cast in the Russian parliamentary election last year indicated 4,300 personnel were deployed there. That number probably rose this year because Moscow sent Russian military police to patrol de-escalation zones.

The Russian people are not very enthused by the idea of an empire that would involve their boys coming home in body bags. Theres clearly a lack enthusiasm for this conflict, said Mark Galeotti, senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

The Russian parliament is working on a bill to regulate private military companies, a senior lawmaker said Wednesday after reports that an unknown number of Russian military contractors were killed in a U.S. strike in Syria.

Retired Gen. Vladimir Shamanov, head of the defense committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, said the government needs to oversee private military contractors.

“The state must be directly involved in issues related to the life and health of our citizens,” he said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

 

IN THE SPACE OF A SINGLE WEEK

Syria: You Own It, You Fix It, So Just Rent It
By Thomas Friedman (Opinion)
New York Times
Feb. 14, 2018

Two weeks ago, standing on the Syria-Israel border in the Golan Heights, I wrote a column positing that this frontier was the “second most dangerous” war zone in the world today – after the Korean Peninsula. Your honor, I’d like to revise and amend that column.

Having watched the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, where North and South Korean athletes marched last week into the stadium together in a love fest; and having also watched Israel shoot down an Iranian drone from Syria, bomb an Iranian base in Syria and lose one of its own F-16s to a Syrian missile; and after U.S. jets killed a bunch of Russian “contractors” who got too close to our forces in Syria, I now think the Syria-Israel-Lebanon front is the most dangerous corner in the world.

Where else can you find Syrian, Russian, American, Iranian and Turkish troops or advisers squaring off on the ground and in the air – along with pro-Iranian Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Afghanistan; pro-U.S. Kurdish fighters from northern Syria; ISIS remnants; various pro-Saudi and pro-Jordanian anti-Syrian regime Sunni rebels and – I am not making this up – pro-Syrian regime Russian Orthodox Cossack “contractors” who went to Syria to defend Mother Russia from “crazy barbarians” – all rubbing against one another?

As The Washington Post pointed out, “In the space of a single week last week, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel lost aircraft to hostile fire” in Syria.

The term “powder keg” was invented for this place. And the term “3-D battlefield” doesn’t even begin to capture its complexity. It is a multidimensional battlefield that requires a quantum computer to sort out the myriad number of actors, shifting alliances and lines of conflict.

But if this story has crept up on you and left you confused as to what U.S. policy should be, let me try to untangle it for you.

The bad news and the good news about the war in Syria is that all the parties involved are guided by one iron rule: You don’t want to “own” this war. This is the ultimate rent-a-war. Each party wants to maximize its interests and minimize the influence of its rivals by putting as few of its own soldiers at risk and instead fighting for its goals through air power, mercenaries and local rebels.

They’ve all learned – Russia from Afghanistan, Iran from the Iran-Iraq war, Israel from south Lebanon, and the U.S. from Iraq and Afghanistan – that their publics will not tolerate large numbers of body bags fighting any ground war in the Middle East.

Vladimir Putin wants to be able to tell Russians that “Russia is back” as a superpower and that he’s the kingmaker in Syria – but he isn’t putting any Russian soldiers at risk. Instead, Putin is using Iran to provide ground forces and enlisting contractors, like those Cossacks from a private Russian company named Wagner, to fight and die – as dozens did the other day in a U.S. airstrike – on the ground.

Iran, which just witnessed an uprising by its own people, demanding that Tehran spend its money at home, not in Syria, is subcontracting the ground war that Russia subcontracted to Iran to Iran’s proxies – Hezbollah and various Shiite mercenaries from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. This way Iran can control Damascus and use Syria as a forward base to put pressure on Israel but pay “wholesale,” not “retail.”

U.S. Special Forces are arming and advising Kurdish fighters from northern Syria to carry out the ground war against ISIS. Turkey is using Sunni rebels to fight the same Kurds. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan all use various Sunni rebels to fight the pro-Iranian, pro-Shiite regime forces, and Israel is using the long arm of its air force.

In 2003 I wrote a column in the run-up to the U.S. toppling of Saddam Hussein, which I supported, in which I warned: “The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq.”

So in Syria today, the abiding rule is, “You own it, you fix it.” And because no one wants to own responsibility for fixing Syria – a gargantuan project – they all want to just rent their influence there.

There is something very 21st century about this war.

But this is distressing. It means none of the local parties has enough power, resources – or willingness to compromise – to stabilize Syria from the bottom up, and none of the external parties is ready to invest enough power and resources to stabilize it from the top down.

The “good news,” sort of, is that because everyone is so “loss averse” in Syria, it’s less likely that any party will get too reckless. The Iranians and Hezbollah will most likely continue to prod and poke Israel, but not to such a degree that the Israelis do what they are capable of doing, which is to devastate every Hezbollah neighborhood in Lebanon and hit Iran’s homeland with rockets; Israel knows that its high-tech corridor along its coastal plain would be devastated by Iranian rockets coming back.

The Turks don’t want a war with America. America doesn’t want a war with Russia, and the Russians just want to siphon off as much oil as they can from Syria, and use it as a base and an ego booster, without clashing with anyone – because they are much weaker than they look.

Maybe, eventually, the players will get tired and forge a power-sharing accord in Syria, as the Lebanese eventually did in 1989 to end their civil war. Alas, though, it took the Lebanese 14 years to come to their senses. So get ready for a lot more news from Syria.

 

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