Saturday, June 15, 2013

Showdown In Syria: U.S. vs Russia In Proxy War

The fact that the conflict in Syria has evolved into a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia isn't even hidden anymore (which is yet another interesting aspect of this evolving situation), and the situation is becoming more and more volatile by the day. It's hard to believe that the U.S. and Russia would get this close to warfare, especially after decades of a cold war followed by detente, but here we are. 

Multinational military exercise 'Eager Lion' has been launched in Jordan amid condemnation from neighboring Syria and its ally Russia. The US brings Patriot missile batteries to the Syrian border, which could remain deployed afterwards.
The exercises will last for 12 days, bringing together about 8,000 personnel from 19 countries, mostly Arabic, but also including the US and Europe. The maneuvers will also involve some 3,000 Jordanian and 500 British troops. 
'Eager Lion' – which is being conducted only 120km from the Jordan-Syria border – is aimed at training personnel for the possibility of the Syrian civil war spilling into neighboring countries.
Russia has raised concerns over the deployment of US Patriot missile batteries and F-16 fighter jets to Jordan: “We have more than once stated our opinion on this – foreign weapons are being pumped into an explosive region,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said last week.
“This is happening very close to Syria, where for more than two years the flames of a devastating conflict are burning that Russia and its American partners are trying to stop by proposing to hold an international peace conference as soon as possible,” Lukashevich said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that he opposed the U.S. decision to send arms. "There is no such military solution. Only a political solution can address this issue sustainably; therefore, [increasing] the flow of arms to either side would not be helpful," he said.
Mr. Ban also emphasized the need for Syria to allow an on-the-ground investigation to "establish the facts."

Officials from Russia, which along with Iran is Mr. Assad's most prominent foreign ally, said the evidence on chemical weapons isn't rock solid.
"We had a meeting with American representatives in which Americans tried to present information to us about the regime's use of chemical weapons, but frankly speaking, the evidence Americans set out looks unconvincing," Yuri Ushakov, the Kremlin's top foreign-policy aide, said Friday, according to Russian news agencies.

The Kremlin criticized the U.S. decision to arm Syrian opposition fighters and said Washington's evidence that the Syrian regime is using chemical weaponswas unconvincing, but said Friday that Moscow is "not yet" discussing its plans to deliver of air-defense missiles to the regime.

Other Russian officials were more direct. "The data on Assad's use of chemical weapons is fabricated just like the lies about weapons of [Saddam] Hussein's weapons of mass destruction," read a tweet on the feed of Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament's international relations committee. "Obama is going down the path of G. Bush."

The Kremlin opposes any international action against its longtime client, Mr. Assad. Russian officials have said they plan to fulfill a 2010 contract for the S-300 missiles as a way to deter potential outside military intervention in the Syrian civil war. Western powers and Israel have opposed the sale of the system.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the move suggests U.S. efforts to bring the opposition to the peace talks had stalled. He said pumping arms into Syria will increase "the level of armed confrontation and violence against civilians" and reiterated Russia's commitment to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The Syrian regime is a longtime Kremlin ally dating back to the days of the Cold War. Mr. Putin has opposed outside military intervention in the Syrian conflict, and Russia has joined China in vetoing three U.N. resolutions that were aimed at forcing Mr. Assad to step down.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that any attempt to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria using US fighter jets and Patriot missiles from Jordan would violate international law.
Lavrov's comments on Saturday underline the challenge facing the US at the G8 summit next week where the White House hopes to get international support for further intervention in Syria.
Russia, which has protected President Bashar al-Assad from three UN security council resolutions aimed at pressuring him to end the violence, vehemently opposes any foreign military intervention in the conflict.
"There have been leaks from western media regarding the serious consideration to create a no-fly zone over Syria through the deployment of Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and F-16 jets in Jordan," Lavrov said. "You don't have to be a great expert to understand that this will violate international law."

 Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday that the evidence put forth by the United States of chemical weapons use in Syria apparently doesn’t meet stringent criteria for reliability.
The Obama administration said this week that it will give lethal aid to Syrian rebels in light of evidence that President Bashar Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in the country’s civil war.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the material does not include guarantees that it meets the requirements of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. He said the organization specifies that samples taken from blood, urine and clothing can be considered reliable evidence only if supervised by organization experts from the time they are taken up to delivery to a laboratory.

[This may be the best summary of the situation yet - note the bolded statements below]

President Barack Obama’s decision to send some light weapons to Syrian rebels may be too little and too late to thwart a regime offensive to retake Aleppo, the nation’s largest city and commercial capital.

Regime forces supported by fighters from the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah have moved north after defeating rebels in al-Qusair, a setback that triggered concern in Washington that Iran and its Lebanese ally are tipping the balance in favor of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

“Arming the Syrian rebels is unlikely to tip the balance in their favor,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. “It might have made a difference a year ago, but, today, the Assad regime -- particularly after re-taking Qusair -- has the advantage.”

Even some U.S. officials are worried that Obama’s reluctant decision to provide limited amounts of small arms and ammunition to the Syrian opposition is enough to drag the U.S. into a third Mideast war but not enough to win it.

Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who spoke with Idris by phone this week, said of the opposition leader, “He was very clear: Machine guns and RPGs can’t compete with air power. He asked specifically in addition to conventional arms for anti-tank weapons that could deal with the Russian tanks and also anti-aircraft weapons.”

Worse, Syria now threatens to become a larger proxy war, said two administration officials familiar with the internal policy debate who asked not to be identified discussing the classified arms shipments. Iran, Hezbollah and Russia are allied with Assad, while the U.S., U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and other predominately Sunni nations are backing the rebels, they said.

The most perverse twist, even given the complicated politics of the Middle East, is that the U.S. now finds itself sharing a goal with the Sunni extremist groups allied with al-Qaeda that are seeking to replace Assad’s secular regime with Islamic rule, said one of the officials. While the Islamists’ vision of a post-Assad Syria is clear, Obama’s isn’t, this official said.

Thousands of Islamists rallied in the Egyptian capital on Friday in support of calls by Sunni Muslim clerics for a holy war against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The demonstration took place outside a Cairo mosque where Saudi preacher Mohammed al-Oreifi called in a sermon for a "jihad in the cause of Allah in Syria."
Oreifi urged worshippers to "unite against their enemy."
Saudi Arabia, like Egypt, is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country, and Sunnis are the backbone of the revolt against Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Also see:

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon met with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel in Washington Friday. The two leaders discussed elections in Iran and developments regarding Syria, and reaffirmed that their two countries will continue to work together to counter threats posed by Iran and remain prepared for a range of contingencies.
At the meeting, Ya’alon said the Iranian election will “make no difference,” because its results will be determined by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Khamenei will be the one to determine the identity of the next president. We have to be tougher with Iran on the diplomatic front,” Ya’alon said, calling for stricter sanctions.

1 comment:

Caver said...

Proxy War!!??!!

And once one side or the other starts getting an advantage, what's the chance of the other side not escalating until they're winning?

We're seeing that now. The rebels were winning, then Iran and Russia started increasing aid and troop transfers, now we're starting arms shipments and talk of a no-fly zone.

And so it shall go I'm afraid.