Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the
round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're
not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify
them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change
things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the
crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that
they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs
US computer engineer & industrialist (1955 - 2011)

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Is Russia being outplayed in Syria?

Make no mistake, the Syrian war is about to become an international conflict in a major way. The proverbial "wizard's chess" is in full play. With the chemical weapons explosion that occurred in Northern Syria this week the dogs of war are moving quickly, and some players are frankly coming into the light.

Take Israel for instance. Israel's approach until now has been to kill two birds with one stone. There really isn't a better scenario for Israel than Islamic militants killing Syrians soldiers, and vice a versa. That's been going on for years now, and both of these enemies of Israel have now been significantly weakened by the experience. That's the good news for Israel. The bad news is that Russia and particularly Iran have decided to move in and help save Syrian President Assad, and frankly Syria itself, from becoming another part of the Islamic State. Perhaps this eventuality was not foreseen by the architects of the Syrian civil war, or perhaps it was. In any case, the Russian/Iranian involvement has raised the stakes of Israel or the US intervening to new heights.

Two very significant incidents have developed this week with Israel and the Syrian conflict. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Jared Kushner, Trump's Jewish son-in-law, has managed to force Trump's Steve Brannon out of the National Security Council. That's a big one if you want to clear the way for a strike on Syria, and this a move against Russia. This author has expressed concern from the beginning that Trump's appointment of Kushner as Special Advisor on the Middle East created an obvious conflict of interest given his religious back ground, and the view he may take of Israeli actions. Then, literally just hours later, came the news that the Israeli Cabinet is meeting this Sunday to discuss a "humanitarian" intervention in Syria. This after several airstrikes on Syria in the last few weeks. It is clear that given the Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah success on the ground in Syria that Israel wants the US, and others to join it in taking down the Assad government by force.

Trump himself, having suffered near paralysis in attempting to govern the US as President, appears to be moving toward the "establishment" position on Syria that he had so vehemently rejected. His reasoning that the chemical "attack" gives him no choice is almost laughable. Consider that several mass casualty incidents have happened in the last few weeks by the American air force on schools and mosques in both Syria and Iraq. In Mosul alone, last week, over 200 people, yes including many children and babies, were blown to pieces when the mosque they were attending was struck by a US bomb. Is it somehow okay they were slaughtered by being blown to bits rather than suffocated by gas as happened in Syria? Or is it that because it was a US bomb it was somehow less of an indictment than a Syrian bomb? This entire argument enters the theatre of the absurd - which is where this reasoning of Trump's best rests.

The truth is that all the evidence in Syria has pointed toward a serious, and permanent US intervention and partitioning of Syria for some time now. Trump's shift in position is merely him aligning with the forces that were already at play in Syria. That's good news for them, but potentially catastrophic news for the rest of the world. The question is, though, will Russia rise to the occasion or be relegated back to the backbenches?

Much has been made of the Russian intervention in Syria, and too some extent with good reason. Russia has firmly tilted the balance in favour of the Syrian government with its air forces, and its strategic anti-missile forces in particular. With the S-400 batteries Russia moved into Syria, the Russian air defence forces can impose an almost complete air defence umbrella over all of Syria - except its most North eastern region. Those systems are capable of taking out any US, Turkish or Israeli aircraft, as well as their missiles - including cruise missiles fired from the US fleet off Syria's coast. In addition, Russian naval units have their own cruise missiles, and anti-ship missiles deployed with their naval units off the Syrian coast.

The real question for Russia is this: Are you serious about Syria or not? Some would say that Russia's commitment to defend Syria proves they are serious, and to some degree that is obvious. However, what is Russia actually willing to commit to on the ground? This is where they are being out-flanked by the US, Turks, and soon to be Israelis. Russia has a relatively small ground force in Syria, which leaves it very vulnerable and reliant on the somewhat unreliable Syrian army. Putin has failed to match the foreign forces in Syria by committing Russian divisions to the fight. Where the US has just assigned a good part of the 82nd airborne to the fight in Iraq, but mostly for Raqqah, the Russians have not matched it with their own airborne. And so it goes. It appears Russian President Putin's defensive posture is focused on the Russian border with Europe as NATO builds a small deterrent there, and not on saving Syria for the Russian sphere of influence.

If Russia is more committed to Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah than their troop numbers show, will Russia defend Syria against a US and/or Israeli strike against it? Certainly it could if it wanted to. The S-400 is a state of the art defence system. The Russian naval group is armed to the teeth, and Iran has offered Russia one of its airbases nearby to for its air forces. Is Russia prepared to allow Israel to oust Iran from its position of influence in Syria, and also by ricochet Lebanon?

There are many moves afoot right now - including major moves with China and North Korea. However, the strategic position of Russia and Iran in the Middle East is what is at stake right now. Make no mistake. If Putin gets cold feet and allows the US to run rough shod over Syria, even more than it has already, Russia's credibility as a super power in the region is over ... ditto Iran. If that happens then Obama will have been right to refer to Russia as a "regional power". Of course, that would defy Russia's strength and history, but only time will tell how far Putin will go to protect that. Will Russia impose its own no-fly zone over Syria backed by its S-400's and air force? Will Russia commit meaningful forces to the ground fight so as not to be out flanked at every turn by Western- backed militaries?  Nobody knows for sure except Russian President Putin himself. As much as it is Syria's time of truth, it is also very much Russia's. In a game of poke chest a super power doesn't turn and walk away.


1 comment:

  1. As in all wars,innocent people pay the price! Who ordered the chemical weapons to be used?
    Your first paragraph sums it up completely.....


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