Archive for the ‘Assad’ category

Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel

January 13, 2017

Mystery blasts in Damascus: Syria accuses Israel, DEBKAfile, January 13, 2017

syrian_iaf_attack_13-1-17

Some unknown hand struck into the heart of that regime in the space of a few hours – not once, but twice.The Assad regime used its standard scapegoat, Israel, for covering up embarrassing and inexplicable occurrences.

However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that the regime has reached an awkward crossroads. The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct. They are deeply immersed in preparing the Syrian peace conference they are sponsoring which is scheduled to open at Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23.

If Moscow coordinates its Syrian strategy with anyone, it is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but even then only to a limited extent.

***************************

There were two unclaimed explosions in Damascus overnight Thursday and early Friday (Jan.12-13) – one at an officers club in Damascus and the second at Mezzeh airport, which Syria alleged was the work of the new Israeli S-35 stealth aircraft firing across the border from a point over the Sea of Galilee.

There was no claim to either of the attacks.

The standard Israeli policy of striking any Iranian arms shipments for Hizballah in Lebanon when they cross through Syria would not longer be applicable to any such air strike, if indeed one was launched..

The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah deploys 9,000 elite fighters in Syria to fight for Bashar Assad. Its Iranian arms supplies no longer need to risk being trucked through Syria to Lebanon; they can be delivered directly to Hizballah bases in Syria without exposure to Israel air strikes.

Indeed, should the pro-Iranian Hizballah decide to go back to shooting missiles at Israel – or using Iranian-supplied unconventional weapon – it has new launching pads readily available in Syria from those very bases. They are located in the Qalamoun mountains in western Syria and at Zabadani, a Syrian ghost town near the Damascus-Beirut highway, which the Lebanese terror group has made its military center.

Both would be obvious targets for Israel to attack rather than Damascus’ Mezzeh airport.

Tehran, having grasped from bitter experience that Mezzeh is under close surveillance by Israeli intelligence, no longer uses its facilities. Instead Iran flies arms shipments for Hizballah to Beirut by commercial aircraft, which Israel prefers not to attack, or overland through Iraq to northwestern Syria, where the consignments are picked up and transferred to Lebanon by sea.

So if an Israeli F-35 air strike on the Damascus airport should be confirmed, its target would not have been Iranian and Hizballah military supplies. Mezzeh is the site of a sterile zone set aside for the exclusive use of President Bashar Assad, his family and his top military and intelligence chiefs. It also houses laboratories for developing and manufacturing unconventional weapons, as well serving as the main command center for the 4th Division, whose Republican Guard unit protects the president, his family and members of the ruling caste.

In the first attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up Thursday night at the officers’ club in the heavily policed Kafra Sousa district of Damascus. At least ten people were killed and dozens injured. Located there are the homes of many Assad loyalists in the security and military establishments, as well as top secret facilities.

The ability of a suicide bomber to penetrate one of the most heavily secured locations in Damascus and blow up at an exclusive regime watering hole raises questions about the inner workings of the Assad regime.

Some unknown hand struck into the heart of that regime in the space of a few hours – not once, but twice.The Assad regime used its standard scapegoat, Israel, for covering up embarrassing and inexplicable occurrences.

However, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources disclose that the regime has reached an awkward crossroads. The Russians have taken charge of the Syrian war and no longer bother to consult with the Syrian president or Iran on its conduct. They are deeply immersed in preparing the Syrian peace conference they are sponsoring which is scheduled to open at Astana, Kazakhstan on Jan. 23.

If Moscow coordinates its Syrian strategy with anyone, it is Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, but even then only to a limited extent.

The Syrian ruler and Iran, after being sidelined by the Russians, are following their example. Both have taken to holding their cards close to their vests and operating under in close secrecy.

In an attempt to pierce the resulting aura of mistrust spreading over the staunch Iranian-Syrian alliance, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and one of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest confidants, was sent to Damascus Sunday, Jan 8, to find out what is going on there

The mystery deepened further Friday morning, when Syrian state media ran photos of a big blaze – which may or may not be authentic – to illustrate the alleged Israeli attack on Mezzeh airport.

How Iran actually lost in Aleppo

December 26, 2016

How Iran actually lost in Aleppo, American ThinkerHeshmat Alavi, December 26, 2016

For 16 years America has failed to adopt a correct policy in the Middle East despite having huge opportunities to make significant changes. The 2003 war literally gift-wrapped Iraq to Iran, parallel to the highly flawed mentality of preferring Shiite fundamentalism to Sunni fundamentalism. This allowed Iran take full advantage of such failures and resulting voids.

Aleppo will be a short-lived success story for Iran. The tides are changing across the globe and Iran will no longer enjoy opportunities from West rapprochement. Understanding this very well, this is exactly why Tehran has resorted to such atrocities and sought to massacre all in Aleppo.

In contrast to how the U.S. handed Iraq in  a silver plate to Iran, Russia never entered the Syria mayhem to hand it over to Iran. The roots of Aleppo remain in the hearts of all Syrians. As world powers, especially the U.S. and Russia review their future objectives, Iran will be the first and ultimate party to suffer.

***********************************

Following a historic period of perseverance, Syrian rebels and their families were forced to evacuate eastern Aleppo after its liberation back in 2012. An unjust, intense war was launched upon Aleppo by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and its proxy forces on the ground: Russia with its indiscriminate air strikes, and a lame-duck Syrian army of less than 20,000 deployable forces.

After more than 15 months continuous air raids and a long-lasting inhumane siege, Syrian rebels and civilians sealed an international agreement to depart Syria’s once economic and cultural hub.

In the past few weeks widespread bombing campaigns continued relentlessly on civilian areas. No Aleppo hospital was spared. The IRGC and its foot-soldiers, numbering at the tens of thousands, spearheaded the military of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in horrific mass executions of innocent people. The United Nations reported 82 individuals, including women and children, were murdered on the spot in the streets and in their homes. God knows how many more incidents have gone unreported.

The amazing perseverance shown by Aleppo locals for years now in the face of atrocious airstrikes and artillery shelling is unprecedented to say the least. Amidst all this, the silence and inaction seen from the West, especially the United States, will remain forever a source of shame.

Conflict of Interests

In the pro-Assad camp there are three decision-makers. First Russia, second Iran, and third the Syrian regime. The role played by Assad and his military in such scenes is next to nothing.

The West and Turkey became frantic for a ceasefire in Aleppo in the early days of the war due to the negative public opinion resulting from shocking crimes. They sought to have the rebels and remaining civilians transferred to other Syrian opposition controlled areas.

On December 13th, Washington and Moscow reached what can be described a ceasefire agreement. Intense negotiations between Turkey and Russia were started afterwards, resulting in an agreement between the Syrian opposition with Russia and Turkey to evacuate Aleppo. Practically, the parties involved in the talks were Aleppo representatives and Russia, hosted by Turkey. All necessary preparations were made to begin evacuating the city from the morning of Wednesday, December 14th.

However, Iran disrupted this agreement and the IRGC hindered the evacuation process. It was crystal clear Russia and Iran were pursuing different objectives and sets of interests. Iran sought not to have Aleppo evacuated but to exterminate all Syrian rebels and civilians.

Twenty-four hours later, pressure from the international community forced the implementation of the Russia-Syrian rebel agreement on December 15th. On the morning of that day the first convoy carrying the wounded exited Aleppo, only to face roadblocks imposed by Iran-backed forces and the Assad military.

Iran raised certain conditions for the evacuation. Russia later threatened to airstrike any party hindering the evacuation, an obvious warning to Iran. Tehran was forced to wind back under Moscow pressure.

As a result, the last phase of this war and the method chosen to evacuate Aleppo was a defeat for Iran and a victory for the Syrian opposition. Especially since the conflict of interest between Iran/Assad and Russia became crystal clear. Politically speaking, Iran has become a secondary party in Syria.

“For Putin, a political settlement now makes sense. Staying involved in an ongoing insurgency does not. But for that, he needs the opposition — which is fractured — to accept a political outcome, and there is little prospect of that so long as Assad remains in power,” as explained by Dennis Ross, who served as the Director of Policy Planning in the State Department under President George H. W. Bush, the special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, and was a special adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (which includes Iran) to the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Is this the end?

The turn of events does not spell the end of the Syrian opposition. The opposition controls large swathes of Syria, with areas over ten times larger than Aleppo and millions of residents. Idlib Province has at a three million strong population; the western coast of the Euphrates in the Turkish border, recently liberated by the Free Syrian Army from Daesh (ISIS/ISIL); large portions of Deraa Province neighboring Jordan; a strategically important section in the north in Latakia Province on the Turkish border; large portions of areas in the Damascus vicinity and large portions in the Aleppo vicinity.

In contrast to Western mainstream media reporting, the Syrian opposition enjoys the capability to rise once again.

Despite all its differences, a comparison made to the Iran-Iraq War may help. In 1986, Iran made significant advances taking control over the Faw peninsula in southern Iraq. Western media and think-tanks all forecasted further advances by Iran and a defeat for Iraq. In 1988 Iran was forced into a U.N.-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Deep divisions between the Syrian nation and the Assad regime have reached the point of no return. Nearly 500,000 have been killed and more than half of the Syrian population displaced. The Syrian nation will never accept the continuation of this regime. Despite sporadic military advances, Assad has no place in Syria’s future.

Where Iran stands in Syria

Iran will not be the final victor in Syria.

First — For Iran, it is vital to maintain Assad in power. His fall will mark the end of Iran’s crusades in Syria. Even if the Syrian opposition becomes weaker, the overall crisis will continue while Assad remains in power. Assad is no longer acceptable in the international stage with an international consensus over his resort to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Second — While Iran is financing and providing the ground forces, in this war, it no longer enjoys the first and final word. Russia calls the shots now with stark differences in interest, as seen in Aleppo.

Trump’s America

U.S. President Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy, especially the failed engagement with Iran, prolonged the Syrian crisis, allowed Tehran to take advantage, Russia to take the helm and America be sidelined.

Where will developments lead with Donald Trump in the White House? What will be the new U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria, Iran and the Middle East? How can we define Washington’s relationship with Moscow, and what practical measures will Trump take against Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)? Time will tell.

Good relations between the U.S. and Russia will at least not have a negative impact on the region, and this is good news for the Syrian opposition. Russia has weighable interests in Syria. However, what will Trump do with Iran? Considering Trump’s harsh tone on Iran to this day, far more positive outcomes can be forecasted for the Syrian opposition.

Second, Trump and secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson have the potential of eventually convincing Russia to provide concessions. This is not in Iran’s interests, as Tehran remembers Russia ditching Libyan the dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

Lesson learned in Syria

For 16 years America has failed to adopt a correct policy in the Middle East despite having huge opportunities to make significant changes. The 2003 war literally gift-wrapped Iraq to Iran, parallel to the highly flawed mentality of preferring Shiite fundamentalism to Sunni fundamentalism. This allowed Iran take full advantage of such failures and resulting voids.

Aleppo will be a short-lived success story for Iran. The tides are changing across the globe and Iran will no longer enjoy opportunities from West rapprochement. Understanding this very well, this is exactly why Tehran has resorted to such atrocities and sought to massacre all in Aleppo.

In contrast to how the U.S. handed Iraq in a silver plate to Iran, Russia never entered the Syria mayhem to hand it over to Iran. The roots of Aleppo remain in the hearts of all Syrians. As world powers, especially the U.S. and Russia review their future objectives, Iran will be the first and ultimate party to suffer.

 

Iranian Commander Who Killed Americans Tours Syria, Violating International Travel Ban

December 19, 2016

Iranian Commander Who Killed Americans Tours Syria, Violating International Travel Ban, Washington Free Beacon, , December 19, 2016

CORRECTS SPELLING OF NAME TO SOLEIMANI - In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, commander of Iran's Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, prays in a religious ceremony at a mosque in the residence of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, March 27, 2015. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought Friday to reassure the six world powers conducting nuclear power talks in Switzerland, saying the negotiations remained focused on sealing a deal. (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Qassem Soleimani,  (AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

Multiple sources who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon about the matter disclosed that the Obama administration is taking a soft approach with Iran, including not enforcing sanctions, in order to preserve the nuclear deal and diplomacy with Tehran, which has threatened repercussions for any new sanctions.

Soleimani’s visit to Syria is viewed as a sign that Iran is not worried about facing repercussions for its continued military presence in Syria in support of embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

Iran has breached international laws for some time without facing consequences. The Obama administration repeatedly assured Congress it would enforce sanctions on Iran when lawmakers expressed doubt about the viability of the Iran nuclear deal.

********************************

A top Iranian commander responsible for the deaths of Americans was photographed touring the war-torn city of Aleppo in Syria over the weekend, in violation of a United Nations travel ban that the Obama administration swore to enforce while selling the landmark nuclear deal with Iran to Congress, according to multiple sources and photographs.

Iranian Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani—a top general who leads Iranian militants across the globe and is directly responsible for the death of Americans—was recently photographed touring Aleppo in a demonstration of Iran’s waxing influence in Syria and disregard for international resolutions barring such behavior. Soleimani’s presence in Syria is a direct violation of the United Nations resolution governing the nuclear deal.

Soleimani’s visit coincided with moves by the terror group Hezbollah, which is controlled by Iran, to establish its own claim in Syria, according to regional reports and footage.

Iran’s public presence in Syria has not been met with action by the Obama administration, which has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks to explain why it is not enforcing current sanctions against Iran. Soleimani continues to direct Iranian forces in both Iraq and Syria and has long been sanctioned for the murder of U.S. citizens.

Mutliple sources who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon about the matter disclosed that the Obama administration is taking a soft approach with Iran, including not enforcing sanctions, in order to preserve the nuclear deal and diplomacy with Tehran, which has threatened repercussions for any new sanctions.

Soleimani’s visit to Syria is viewed as a sign that Iran is not worried about facing repercussions for its continued military presence in Syria in support of embattled leader Bashar al-Assad.

Iran has breached international laws for some time without facing consequences. The Obama administration repeatedly assured Congress it would enforce sanctions on Iran when lawmakers expressed doubt about the viability of the Iran nuclear deal.

The absence of consequences for Iran’s behavior has paved the way for Hezbollah to stake it own claim in Syria, according to congressional and foreign policy insiders who told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration is working behind the scenes to prevent any new sanctions against Iran.

“The Obama administration has been working overtime to prevent any U.S. official from doing anything new to punish the butchers of Syria, because they know that would force them to take action against Iran, and then Iran would walk away from the deal,” said one veteran insider who consults with Congress on the issue. “Now they’re ignoring even old sanctions against the Iranians. They’ll do anything to keep the Iranians in the deal for just a couple more weeks, so they can blame the inevitable collapse on Trump.”

A senior congressional aide apprised of the situation said the administration would continue to turn a blind eye to blatant violations in order to preserve diplomacy with Iran.

“This administration’s refusal to enforce sanctions explicitly allowed under the nuclear deal is not only cowardice—it’s dangerous,” said the aide. “What does it say about U.S. leadership when a terrorist like General Soleimani—someone with American blood on his hands—can freely travel to the ground zero of genocide in Syria without penalty? President Obama knows his nuclear deal is on thin ice, so he’s willing overlook blatant sanctions violations like this one even if it means more carnage in Aleppo.”

A second senior congressional source warned that refusal to enforce sanctions was empowering Iran’s radical regime, which has increasingly taken hold in Iraq as well, where the U.S. military has been accused of training Iranian-backed militias.

“The outgoing Obama administration struck a Faustian bargain with Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, and Soleimani, head of the IRGC terrorist organization that’s responsible for the death of many hundreds of Americans, continues to do victory laps throughout the Middle East” the source said. “Unless the Trump administration changes course, this short-sighted Iran policy cannot and will not end well.”

Troops in Aleppo, as well as an Iranian reporter, have been spotted raising Hezbollah’s flag in recent days, calling into question the Obama administration’s claim that it has been working to constrain the terror group.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on radical regimes, told the Free Beacon that Iran sees the nuclear deal as a vehicle to advance its regional aspirations.

“For Obama, diplomacy’s goal was to affirm his brilliance,” Rubin said. “For Iran’s leadership, it was an asymmetric warfare tactic meant to distract from a continuous geopolitical goal.”

“Red lines matter. Over 25 years, both Republicans and Democrats signaled to Iran about what they were,” Rubin explained. “Obama, however, believed himself wiser than Reagan, Clinton, and Bush—at least that’s what the man in the mirror told him every morning. Once Iran realized there were no real red lines, it concluded it could bust sanctions with impunity. Soleimani is the personification of that conclusion.”

The State Department conceded on Monday that Soleimani’s visit to Syria violated United Security Council resolutions government the nuclear deal, but would not lay out steps meant to address the behavior.

“We do intend to consult with our partners on the security council about how to address our concerns with this,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing. “We’ve long said that Iran needs to choose whether it’s going to play a positive role in helping peacefully resolve conflicts, such as in Syria, or whether it will choose to prolong them. And you’re absolutely right, his travel was a violation.”

Update 3:05 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from the State Department.

The Obama doctrine’s crushing denouement in Syria

December 16, 2016

The Obama doctrine’s crushing denouement in Syria, Washington Examiner, December 16, 2016

(Please see also, Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics. — DM)

syriaandobamaPresident Obama’s fecklessness emboldened not just Russia, but also Iran, whose combat troops continue to bolster Assad’s forces across Syria, as well as jihadists around the world. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Obama said this week that the civil war in Syria “is one of those things that has kept me up at night a lot.” On a previous occasion he said that the situation there “haunts me constantly.”

But for all the worry and consternation it supposedly evokes in him, Obama still insists he wouldn’t do things differently if he could.

If in the story of Obama’s Middle East policy, the war in Syria represents the dramatic climax, then the imminent fall of rebel-held eastern Aleppo and the humanitarian crisis unfolding there is its crushing denouement.

The Obama administration’s determination to prevent the U.S. from being drawn into more wars — and to “lead from behind” when it felt it was forced to engage, as in Libya — allowed terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and geopolitical rivals such as Russia to fill the vacuum.

Obama’s first mistake in Syria was his 2012 failure to follow through on enforcing a “red line” over dictator Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Obama’s inaction taught Assad that there would be no repercussions for his regime’s crimes.

Obama’s decision in 2013 not to back moderate groups in the armed opposition only reinforced that lesson. When Russia moved in last year to help Assad, Obama again did nothing.

Obama’s fecklessness emboldened not just Russia, but also Iran, whose combat troops continue to bolster Assad’s forces across Syria, as well as jihadists around the world. All of them quickly learned that they had little to fear in Obama.

Obama repeatedly rejected recommendations from his generals for tougher military response against Assad. Obama seems to be willing to pay almost any cost to find a diplomatic solution to Syria. He believes peace talks will somehow lead to a transition in which Assad gives up power. Obama has focused instead on the Islamic State, but even there the U.S. response has been confined to bombing and the deployment of a few U.S. Special Forces.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working for months to negotiate a ceasefire between the Assad regime and opposition forces. But Assad has refused to comply with previous agreements, continuing to bomb rebel-held areas of Aleppo.

Obama isn’t the only one who’s in denial about how the war can be resolved. The State Department on Wednesday refused to acknowledge that U.S. policy and strategy failed to bring peace to Syria. Russia, Iran and the Assad regime were to blame, a State Department spokesman told reporters, for trying to find a military solution instead of a political one.

The war in Syria has taken the lives of 400,000 people and left another 11 million homeless. As many as 100,000 civilians remain trapped in Aleppo, potential victims of the regime’s revenge.

Obama’s failure to act decisively has left Syria devastated, much of the greater Middle East in chaos and Europe teeming with refugees. It has also left America less trusted and respected throughout the world. Obama’s dithering in Syria will be a black mark on his legacy.

Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics

December 16, 2016

Russian role in Aleppo’s fall impacts US politics, DEBKAfile, December 16, 2016

aleppo-damage_9-15

The Putin factor comes in handy for the latest tactic in a series pursued since the November 8 election, for delegitimizing Trump’s victory and negating his fitness to reach the White House.

This campaign may resonate strongly on America’s future policy and position as a world power, because it is designed to block Trump’s path to a deal with Putin for resolving the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has no wish to see the new president succeed where it failed for nearly six years.

********************************

Aleppo’s fall to the Assad regime with the surrender Thursday, Dec. 15, of the Syrian rebel forces locked in a corner of the eastern districts was the most disastrous military and strategic setback to befall the Obama administration for two years. It started evolving in September 2015, when Russia stepped up its military intervention in the Syria war and rescued Bashar Assad.

When Aleppo succumbed to the Russian-backed government army and its allies, Iran, Hizballah and fellow Shite militias, it did not fall alone.  It brought down the entire architecture of US-backed positions in northern Syria. The US had invested in and trained local groups, such as the Syrian Kurdish militia and the rebel Free Syrian Army, as the bedrock for its policy and interests in the conflict. Those groups have melted away.

The acknowledged overlords of northern Syria today are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who can claim the Aleppo victory. Bashar Assad and Iran are reduced to playing second fiddle. But whereas the Al Qods chief Iranian general Qassem Soleimani commands pro-Iranian forces in the region, America has been divested of all its military assets and has no real say in the next chapter of the horrific war.

Hence US Secretary of State John Kerry’s despairing appeal Thursday in a press briefing to bring the bloodshed and suffering to an end: “We can’t have another Srebrenica” – a reference to the Serbian slaughter of 8,000 Bosnian Serbs in 1985 – he said.

Kerry has toiled tirelessly for a diplomatic solution to the dreadful Syrian war, but his appeal falls on senses hardened by the many Srebrenicas perpetrated in more than five years of conflict. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have been slaughtered – according to an unofficial estimate up to a million – and many subjected to chemical warfare. The secretary can’t count on the Kremlin to relent and so, even after the last Syrian rebels and their families are out of Aleppo, the killing will go on.

In Washington, 10,000 kilometers away, the Aleppo calamity is being dished up as a political tool. The claim was heard Thursday that the “same Vladimir Putin” who sponsored the atrocities in Aleppo, also interfered in the US presidential election by sending hackers to influence the results in favor of Donald Trump. The claim is touted by Obama administration spokesmen and the Democratic Party, whose candidate Hillary Clinton lost the election. It appears to be fodder for a Democratic party drive building up for the president-elect’s impeachment even before he is sworn in as president on Jan. 20.

The Putin factor comes in handy for the latest tactic in a series pursued since the November 8 election, for delegitimizing Trump’s victory and negating his fitness to reach the White House.

This campaign may resonate strongly on America’s future policy and position as a world power, because it is designed to block Trump’s path to a deal with Putin for resolving the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has no wish to see the new president succeed where it failed for nearly six years.

Putin will have no qualms about capitalizing on Washington’s preoccupation with its internal power struggle and will build up as many gains in Syria as he can before Donald Trump takes over. Obama’s threat Friday, Dec. 12, to retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election will just provoke the Russian president to move faster and more determinedly in his grab for more assets in Syria.

Making Sense of the Mess in Syria

December 6, 2016

Making Sense of the Mess in Syria, Front Page MagazineAri Lieberman, December 6, 2016

syriamess

The vacillating and pusillanimous policies pursued by the Obama administration have enabled the Russians and Iranians to fill the void. Meanwhile, as Syria’s death toll nears 500,000 and its migrants – some with radical Islamic connections – continue to stream into Europe, it is clear that the nation state of Syria, Balkanized after five years of brutal conflict, is no more.

***********************

On July 30, 1970 a squadron of Israeli air force F-4E Phantoms and Mirages laden with bombs and missiles took off from their airbase in Sinai and flew westward toward Egypt. Their target was an Egyptian radar station.

The action occurred during the height of the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt. The Egyptians were faring badly and their armed forces had suffered a series of public humiliations at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces. As a consequence, the Soviets stepped into the fray to save their client state and deployed 10,000 military personal and technical experts to the theater. The Soviets also assumed full control of Egypt’s air defenses. Surface-to-air missile batteries were manned by Soviet personnel and Soviet piloted MiG 21Js – the Soviet Union’s latest MiG-21 variant – patrolled Egyptian airspace. A direct clash between the Soviet Union and Israel was inevitable.

As the Israeli fighters zeroed in on their target, 16 Soviet MiGs moved in to intercept. In the melee that followed, five MiGs were shot down for no Israeli losses. The remaining 11 MiGs beat a hasty retreat. The Soviets were simply no match for the seasoned Israeli pilots.

The clash brought regional tensions – already heightened after one year of near constant border clashes – to a boiling point but neither side wanted an escalation. A ceasefire was eventually brokered by the superpowers and tensions deescalated.

Russia’s present military deployment in Syria is not dissimilar to its deployment in Egypt 46 years ago but the chances of an Israeli-Russian aerial clash today is virtually nil. There are some salient differences between the two circumstances. Israel and Russia are no longer bitter enemies and currently maintain cordial relations. Lines of communications between the two nations are good. Potential misunderstandings – to the extent that any exist – are channeled through liaisons to prevent accidental confrontations.

But war can best be summed up as organized chaos and given the clutter over the skies of Syria, with Russian, Israeli, Turkish and Coalition aircraft all operating within the confines of a limited space, mishaps are certainly possible. The Russians maintain formidable air defenses in Syria and Israel views them warily.

Underscoring this, last week IAF fighter jets launched two strikes in Syria, one targeting ISIS, in which four ISIS terrorists were killed and the second, targeting a Hezbollah weapons convoy and a Syrian military compound just outside Damascus. Though the Israelis have understandably remained moot on the specifics of the latter attack, according to published sources, Israeli fighters launched a number of Israeli made Popeye air-to-surface missiles from Lebanese airspace at a facility housing elements of Syria’s 4th Armored Division as well as a Hezbollah-bound weapons convoy traveling along the Beirut-Damascus highway.

Israel cognizant of Russia’s S-400 and S-300 air defense platforms in Syria opted to circumvent the possibility of an accidental confrontation by launching its attack from Lebanese airspace. It should be noted that the S-400s were deployed by the Russians last year following the downing of a Russian Su-24 by a Turkish F-16. The move was meant to serve as a deterrent to Turkey and no hostile intent was directed at Israel. Additionally, the term “Lebanese airspace” is a rather generous term that implies that Lebanon is a fully sovereign nation. In reality, Lebanon is sovereign in name only, having been swallowed whole by Hezbollah, Iran’s genocidal Shia proxy.

Israel’s interest in Syria is limited to ensuring that game-changing weapons of strategic import don’t fall into the hands of Hezbollah. Thus, on several occasions, Israeli fighter jets have launched successful interdicting operations aimed at destroying sophisticated weaponry – including SA-22 anti-aircraft missiles, Scud D ballistic missiles and Yakhont cruise missiles – clandestinely shipped from Iran via Syria.

A secondary goal is to ensure that border areas remain free of Hezbollah, Iranian and ISIS influence. In January 2015, an Israeli airstrike liquidated 12 senior Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps operatives, including an IRGC general, who were reconnoitering the border near Israel’s Golan Heights for future operations against the Jewish State.

Russia, which has a much broader interest in Syria, understands Israel’s concerns and has no interest in needlessly antagonizing the Israelis. Syria has been under Soviet and now Russia’s sphere of influence since the early 1950s and Russia is intent on maintaining its air and naval bases in Syria. To that end, it is keen on maintaining Assad’s hold on power, or for that matter, any Assad replacement that commits to friendly relations with Moscow and continued Russian military presence.

Russia is also looking to project military power and reassert its role as a superpower. The high profile deployment of a sizable Russian fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes the Russian aircraft carrier and Cold War relic, Admiral Kuznetsov, represents part of this strategy. However, it appears that the Kuznetsov has been a bit of an embarrassment for Putin.

On November 14, a carrier-based MiG-29K crashed while attempting a failed landing on the Kuznetsov. The carrier was encountering problems with its arrestor cables and the MiG crashed while circling and waiting for repairs. Just three weeks later, a Russian Navy Su-33 encountered a similar fate while attempting a landing on the Kuznetsov. Recent Satellite imagery taken of the Russian air base at Khmeimim, near Latakia, shows rows of Su-33 and MiG-29K carrier-based aircraft parked alongside Russian land-based fighter jets indicating that the Russians have given up on the notion of launching strikes from the Kuznetsov.

While the Israelis and Russians maintain clear strategies and objectives for Syria, under Obama, the U.S. strategy in Syria can best be described as befuddled and lacking any clear direction. The U.S. had initially called for Assad’s unconditional departure but seems to have backed away from that position and now calls for an orderly transition of power, seemingly giving Assad some wiggle room.

Obama had threatened to use military force if Assad employed poison gas against his own people but back peddled on that position as well. In late 2015 it was revealed that the Obama administration spent an astonishing $500 million to train four or five Free Syrian Army rebels, clearly demonstrating that Obama’s policy on Syria represents nothing short of a farcical tragic comedy.

The Obama administration had initially ignored the ISIS menace and its current pinprick military campaign against the terror group is utilizing but a fraction of America’s military strength. Finally, while the Obama administration has publicly sought to end Syria’s civil war peacefully, its transfer of billions in cash to the Islamic Republic has only served to fuel the fire. There is no doubt that this cash has been utilized to pay the salaries of Iran’s mercenary forces in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq.

The vacillating and pusillanimous policies pursued by the Obama administration have enabled the Russians and Iranians to fill the void. Meanwhile, as Syria’s death toll nears 500,000 and its migrants – some with radical Islamic connections – continue to stream into Europe, it is clear that the nation state of Syria, Balkanized after five years of brutal conflict, is no more.

Israel jets mark go-it-alone policy on Syria

November 30, 2016

Israel jets mark go-it-alone policy on Syria, DEBKAfile, November 30, 2016

raidfire480Arab media show damage caused by air strikes to Syrian army compound in Damascus

Although Erdogan is notorious for his wildly unpredictable decision-making, it is more than likely that before going public on his radical change of heart on Assad, he was in touch with the new national security team taking shape in Washington. If that was the case, then Donald Trump was using Erdogan to notify Putin that the entire architecture of their understandings on Syria was now at risk.

If the Arab media reporting on Israeli air attacks on Syrian military and Hizballah targets in Damascus from Lebanese air space are confirmed, Jerusalem will be shown to have followed Ankara in backing away from those short-lived, understandings, opting instead for an independent policy in its own security interests with regard to Syria.

*****************************

Arab media carried conflicting reports wich described Israeli warplanes striking in and around Damascus overnight Tuesday, Nov. 29, with “four long-range Popeye” missiles fired from Lebanese air space on the government-held town of Al-Saboorah, a western suburb of Damascus, near the highway to Beirut.

A Lebanese newspaper reported that a Syrian army ammunition depot was destroyed in one of the raids, while other strikes hit and damaged a Hizballah arms convoy bound for Lebanon on the Damascus-Beirut Highway. There was also speculation, later denied, that one of the air strikes aimed at assassinating a senior Hizballah figure.

None of these reports were confirmed by Israel or any other official source.

Even so, Israel’s reported military action against enemy targets in Syria is bound to have repercussions in the next 24 hours, since, whatever took place, broke out of the secret overarching understandings on Syria reached provisionally this month between US President elect Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Those understandings hinged strongly on joint US-Russian cooperation in the war on the Islamic State in Syria, supported by the coalition fighting for the Assad regime, namely, the Syrian army and its allies, the Lebanese Hizballah and foreign Shiite militias under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

As the sub-text of the “big power” understandings, an outline was drafted between the next US administration, Moscow, Jerusalem, Amman and the UAE on arrangements for stabilizing Syria’s southern borders with Israel and Jordan.

Talks on these arrangements were first disclosed in an exclusive DEBKAfile report on Nov. 21, after they had already produced the unheralded return of the UN observers to the Golan demilitarized zone outside Quneitra.

But then, Sunday, Nov. 27, Russian warplanes staged a sudden series of airstrikes against Syrian rebel concentrations in the very region under discussion, southern Syria. After a three-month pause in these attacks, Moscow appeared to have waited for major Syrian government progress in Aleppo, to go against those understandings and send Russian jets into action over Jasim and Daraa in order to wipe out the rebel forces holding out in the South. Heavy casualties were sustained by those forces.

The Russian action was seen by the incoming Trump administration and Jerusalem as presaging the next danger-fraught step: To round out the raids, the Syrian army would come flooding into the South, along with Hizballah and other Shiite militias fighting under Iranian Revolutionary Guards command.

Tuesday saw two further ruptures in the trilateral understandings on Syria.

Assad announced he was gearing up for a decisive victory in Aleppo, notwithstanding a request from Trump’s advisers to Putin to hold back from the final step and refrain from retaking every last eastern district from rebel hands..

This was followed by an unforeseen statement by Erdogan: “The Turkish military launched its operations in Syria to end the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.”

This sentiment pivoted sharply away from the secret Trump-Putin understandings endorsed by the Turkish leader that was contingent on Assad remaining in power.

Although Erdogan is notorious for his wildly unpredictable decision-making, it is more than likely that before going public on his radical change of heart on Assad, he was in touch with the new national security team taking shape in Washington. If that was the case, then Donald Trump was using Erdogan to notify Putin that the entire architecture of their understandings on Syria was now at risk.

If the Arab media reporting on Israeli air attacks on Syrian military and Hizballah targets in Damascus from Lebanese air space are confirmed, Jerusalem will be shown to have followed Ankara in backing away from those short-lived, understandings, opting instead for an independent policy in its own security interests with regard to Syria.