Saturday, September 19, 2015

Putin Moves Into Syria, Upgrades Mideast Influence

With Obama slow to act, Putin moves into Syria, upgrades Mideast influence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet next week with Vladimir Putin, president of the world’s only current superpower. A statement issued by Netanyahu’s office said, in part, that the prime minister would “present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war materiĆ©l to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organizations.”

We can guess that somebody at the Russian Embassy in Israel passed a translation of this statement along to Moscow, causing quite a few smiles there. Putin and even Netanyahu are well aware that his warnings will not change Moscow’s old-new policy in the region.

Vladimir Putin will do whatever he likes in the Middle East for one simple reason: because he can. At present there is no other superpower to challenge him or deter him from acting in any way he wishes.

Netanyahu can console himself with the fact that he is in good company. The urgings and warnings of American Secretary of State John Kerry or of Kerry’s own boss, President Barack Obama, of increasing Russian involvement in Syria will not change Putin’s plans either. Putin has decided to do something in Syria, actively, to prevent the complete collapse of what remains of Bashar Assad’s regime. 

When Putin saw the West’s fumbling in the face of the unending flow of refugees from Syria, he realized that the American administration could not be relied upon when it came to stopping the civil war, and decided to act.

This is not, at present, a Russian operation to reconquer Syria. Still, the report this week in The New York Times and the satellite images from Foreign Policy show clearly the extent to which Netanyahu’s visit or Washington’s hollow declarations are too little, too late. 

The Russians have begun building an airport fairly close to Latakia, and tanks of the most advanced sort have already been transported there. According to The New York Times report, T-90 tanks and APCs have been spotted, together with residential caravans and approximately 1,500 Russian troops in all.

These things are only the start of the aerial link. They will be reinforced by advanced fighter jets that may even be used to attack opposition targets. The purpose of all this is evidently to ensure the survival of “Alawistan,” the small stretch of coastline of Latakia and Tartus. This region, where Bashar Assad’s army is still in control, was in danger of falling to the opposition in light of the takeovers in the Idlib district. The groups that oppose Bashar Assad have garnered some significant achievements in Syria’s northern sector and pushed Assad’s army westward, toward the sea. We can guess that with significant Russian air cover, this progress will be stopped and the Syrian army will even be able to counterattack.

Another target of the Russian army’s actions in Syria seems to be the American-Turkish plan to establish a no-fly zone on Syria’s northern border. The stationing of Russian aircraft is a loud, clear message from Moscow that any such effort is bound to fail.

Like always, the last ones to realize that the rules of the game have changed are the Americans, with the White House first among them.

With Washington deeply immersed in the fight for approval of its nuclear deal with Iran, Russia has been hatching plots with the various regional players to establish its influence in the Middle East.

Connections are being created that seemed utterly impossible just a few months ago. 

The Egyptians, who were the Saudis’ allies until recently and are working shoulder to shoulder with Israel in the war against terrorism in Sinai, are trying to work with Moscow and Damascus (and, indirectly, with Iran) to assist Bashar Assad — who, in turn, is being threatened by opposition groups that are receiving massive aid from Saudi Arabia. The United States is reaching a deal with Iran and working alongside Turkey, which has become a major enemy of Egypt because of its support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch, has not succeeded in developing close ties with Iran, and was welcomed by the king in Riyadh. Egypt has kidnapped four members of Hamas’s military wing on its soil and is holding them incommunicado.

Clock Ticks On US Syria Strategy As Assad Pounds ISIS Targets, Russia Sends Fighter Jets

Earlier this week, Bashar al-Assad served notice to ISIS that the tide may have just turned in the battle for Syria. The Kremlin’s move to increase its “logistical” and “technical” support for government forces at Latakia appears to have breathed new life into the regime which carried out a series of air raids in the de facto ISIS capital Raqqa on Thursday. 
This came amid reports that Assad’s forces were using new “highly effective and very accurate” weaponry. "There are modern weapons that the regime didn't previously have, be they rocket launchers or air to ground to missiles," The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
Needless to say, Russia’s move to bolster Assad and the suggestion by Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem that Damascus may soon formally request Russian ground troops for the fight has alarmed Washington which, until now, was content to bide its time until Assad finally fell before swooping in to “liberate” the country from whatever militia managed to prevail. 
As we outlined on Friday, that option is now officially off the table, as toppling Assad will now mean ISIS, al-Nusra, YPG, and the various and sundry other groups operating throughout the country will need to first defeat Russia, an exceptionally unlikely outcome and one that the Pentagon certainly cannot afford to wait out.

With its back against the wall in terms of explaining to the public why it seems more and more like the US would rather allow ISIS to continue to operate rather than ally with Russia and Assad to defeat them, Obama and Kerry folded on Friday, instructing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to phone his Russian counterpart to begin coordinating anti-terror activities in Syria. 

Note that this is a bitter defeat for Washington. Moscow, realizing that instead of undertaking an earnest effort to fight terror in Syria, the US had simply adopted a containment strategy for ISIS while holding the group up to the public as the boogeyman par excellence, publicly invited Washington to join Russia in a once-and-for-all push to wipe Islamic State from the face of the earth. 
Of course The Kremlin knew the US wanted no such thing until Assad was gone, but by extending the invitation, Putin had literally called Washington’s bluff, forcing The White House to either admit that this isn’t about ISIS at all, or else join Russia in fighting them. 
The genius of that move is that if Washington does indeed coordinate its efforts to fight ISIS with Moscow, the US will be fighting to stabilize the very regime it sought to oust. 
In other words: checkmate, courtesy of The Kremlin. 

And while Washington scrambles to decide its next move, Assad was back on offense Friday, launching what observers said were the heaviest air strikes yet on ISIS targets near the ancient city of Palmyra. Here’s BBC:

About 25 air strikes left at least 26 people dead, including 12 militants, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

IS captured Palmyra, which includes a Unesco World Heritage site, in May.

Elsewhere, air strikes on Idlib killed 17 people, the Observatory said.

The city of Idlib is a stronghold of an alliance of jihadist and Islamist groups calling itself the Army of Conquest.

And from Al Arabiya:

Syrian warplanes unleashed a wave of deadly airstrikes on the militant-held town of Palmyra in central Syria on Friday, killing at least 15 and wounding many more, activists said, in some of the heaviest bombardment since the extremist group seized the ancient town May 10.

The Palmyra airstrikes come a day after the Syrian army carried out heavy air raids in the northern city of Raqqa, also held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  group (ISIS).

A local activist who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons reported at least 30 air raids on Palmyra Friday. A local media collective called the strikes a “massacre” and said 15 people were killed and more than 120 wounded. It said Palmyra’s only hospital was suffering severe shortages in staff and equipment, and some of the wounded had to be taken to Raqqa, more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.

In short, the Assad regime appears to have gone from depleted and exhausted, to “massacring” rebel fighters in the space of just two weeks, a remarkable turnaround which certainly seems to suggest that if the US doesn’t figure out a strategy soon, the whole thing could be over and Assad restored. 

Bear in mind that the main reason for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Moscow on Monday is to prevent Russia's presence in Syria from strengthening Hezbollah. 
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the man some suspect of masterminding the entire effort to restore the Assad regime, Quds commander Major General Qassem Soleimani, seems to understand the US strategy all too well - we close with the following from Iran's PressTV:

Commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Major General Qassem Soleimani said Wednesday that the policy of the US with regards to Daesh and other Takfiri groups operating in the region is to only have them under control and not eliminate them.

For President Vladimir Putin, Russia's military build-up in Syria is a potential diplomatic trump card and a handy way of diverting attention from Ukraine's frozen conflict. But it was a panicky realization that the Syrian government was being turned over on the battlefield that tipped the Kremlin's hand.

When it saw several months ago that Syrian government forces were retreating on several fronts at a rate that threatened President Bashar Assad, its closest Middle East ally, the Kremlin quietly decided to dispatch more men, weaponry and armor, diplomats and analysts told Reuters.

"The situation at the front was pretty serious if not critical," said Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trend Studies in Moscow. "Military assistance was needed on a larger scale; Russia responded."

Two diplomats who track Syria closely agreed, saying the Kremlin had watched government reversals against militant groups such as Islamic State with growing alarm.

"The Russians are seeking to limit the damage," said one.

Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert in two previous US administrations, said the Kremlin had feared "the regime was on the ropes."

Russia sees Assad, someone Putin has staunchly supported throughout a conflict that has lasted over four years and killed more than 250,000 people, as a long-standing Kremlin ally and a bulwark against radical Islam.

If he were toppled, Moscow worries many of the same militants fighting against him -- thousands of whom hail from Russia and the former Soviet Union -- would return home to stir up problems on Russia's southern flank in the predominantly Muslim Caucasus.

"Perhaps Bashar Assad is a son of a bitch in the eyes of the global community," wrote commentator Oleg Odnokolenko in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily this week. "But .. for as long as his troops stand up to IS (Russian) military support is guaranteed."

That position puts Moscow at odds with the United States, which has been leading an air war against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq since last year, but which says Assad's presence makes the situation worse. Washington's allies back groups fighting against both Islamic State and Assad.

Evidence of the Kremlin's push grows by the day, with U.S. officials spotting tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters and more frequent and larger deliveries of military hardware.

For Moscow, Syria is of vital strategic importance.

Its naval base at Tartous is its sole installation in the Mediterranean, and protecting it is a strategic objective. Assad's government has historically been one of its best clients for arms sales, and its military presence there underpins its influence in the region.

If Assad fell, that influence could vanish overnight and Putin's authority on the world stage, already weakened by his country's actions in Ukraine, would be further dented.

"The Russians are also afraid that if they are not on the spot in Syria and the regime falls, they will not be part of the solution," said one of the two diplomats.

An airfield near the Assad stronghold of Latakia appears to be at the heart of the Kremlin's plans.
According to the White House, the Russians have recently widened the runways and brought in new air traffic control systems and components for air defense systems.

The air defenses in particular have raised eyebrows in the United States, since Islamic State and other militants have no aircraft, so the only potential enemy planes flying overhead are those of Washington and its allies.

The airfield could in time be converted into a fully-fledged airbase, something Russian military commanders have not ruled out. It has been receiving about two military cargo planes a day for some time, say U.S. officials. The planes use Iranian and Iraqi airspace to get there.

US officials say Russia has sent battle tanks, artillery and other equipment to reinforce the airfield along with around 200 marines.

Russia's close ties to the Syrian government date back to the Soviet era when it counted Bashar's father, Hafez al-Assad, as one of its allies. Even before the latest build-up, it had teams of military advisers and trainers on the ground.

Analysts say Russian personnel are now thought to be deployed at six separate locations, including in Damascus.

There are signs that Moscow's stepped-up assistance is having an effect.

The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, and there have been unconfirmed reports of the Syrian airforce striking targets with greater force and precision than previously.

Moscow's plan, say a number of Syria-watchers, is to help forces loyal to Assad hold and retake ground and to reinforce the heartland of members of his Alawite sect, so that if he is pushed from Damascus Russia can help him dig in there.

"Moscow's Plan A I think is to help Bashar to hold out in Damascus," said Dmitry Trenin, a former colonel in the Russian army and director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"Plan B would be if Damascus was lost to IS and Assad had to redeploy to Latakia. Then the Russians would help him there. They would be playing for the future composition of Syria." 

Also see:


Caver said...

Well, just geepers. Our Leaderless-n-Chief seems to have no equal nor shame. There is nothing he hasn't been out maneuvered on and there is no slap in the face insult he won't deliver.

His invites for the pope reception and appointment of an openly gay man(?) in charge of the Army are the most blatant insults I can imagine.....all with a warm smile of sincerity on his face.

Its not just the fact Putin outmaneuvers him at every turn, its the degree of incompetence that's the so stunning. Its like the local High School JV team going up against the Pros. They hoot-n-hollar-n-crow about their brilliance in a hundred little moves. Then Putin makes one quiet move and not only gains a checkmate but exposes O'nose-a-thon's lies, deceptions, and JV status.

Can this be for real....or is this staged?

And the shock....all the ISIS brutality....the be-headings, burnings, drownings, sex slavery....its part ours. We are their supplier, sponsor, trainer, and pay master apparently. That one is going to take some time to get used to.

Words just fail. Father, forgive us...soften hearts and pull the vail off this evil and treachery and expose it to the world....quicken the hearts of Your people that they stand up and bring a stop to this murder, brutality, and evil.

Scott said...

Yep - and I think its real...Youhave to look at Zeb Brzezinski, who is really his main advisor for foreign affairs, and his hatred of Russia...That who is really behind this IMO...But your characterization of Putin and Checkmate it spot on IMO(sorry I was late getting to this I was on the road today)

GG2013 said...

AMEN! Mr. C! Well said.

Amazing how great our God is to draw out and expose the true heart of all these matters. Nothing is hidden, maybe delayed, but always in his perfect timing and at his pace.

How amazing is he to do all this true to his word; as he brings out of all this to show us his wonderful design for our lives. While people are stuck on falsehoods, lies, deception, selfishness, etc. daily; he is drawing them into his loving arms, one way or another. They will have to acknowledge his greatness and glory much sooner than they think.

Praying for the lost and the unsaved in these final days to have many witnesses poured upon them- in ways they least expect- to lead them all to salvation.

God Bless!!


WVBORN56 said...

Amen to your prayer Caver!