In addition to the article from the Times Of Israel posted below, the following article from Zero Hedge takes us a little deeper into the escalation of Russian and Iranian troops moving into the Damascus area (which alone is interesting), and the what may be coming:
When Zero Hedge first reported ten days ago that Russian troops, in their bid to support the Assad regime in its ongoing confrontation with various ISIS, Al Nusra, and other US-supported groups in what has become the proxy war of 2015 (one which even comes with thousands of refugees for dramatic media impact) had been quietly massing in Syria and have set up a forward operating base near Damascus, there were those who were openly skeptical.
Then, just a few hours ago, Bloomberg finally confirmed that "top officials were scheduled to meet at the National Security Council Deputies Committee level to discuss how to respond to the growing buildup of Russian military equipment and personnel in Latakia" and that Russia is "set to start flying combat missions from a new air base inside Syria."
So yes, for whatever reason (and the reason as we explained is clear: natural gas pipelines) Russia is making not only its increasing support for Assad known, but also that it is in Syria and that any further US-funded and supported incursions by ISIS or whatever is the media scapegoat terrorist organization du jour, will not be tolerated.
To be sure, none of this is in any way a surprise to the US - just as the US is using ISIS as a pretext to invade or pressure any mid-east nation it desires "in order to hold the jihadist terrorist scourge", so Russia is now using ISIS as a comparable excuse to intervene.
After all, if ISIS is the friend of humanity, then surely Russian aid will be welcome. That it is not, had made it abundantly clear that not only is ISIS just a convenient diversion, but the reasons for a Syrian invasion and deposition of Assad, are purely political and entirely in the realm of real-politik. Also, Russia's return to Syria in greater numbers is no surprise to anyone in the Pentagon - this was merely the long-awaited escalation of the foreplay that started when ISIS mysteriously emerged on the scene just over a year ago.
But in the latest twist in what we have been warning for months has the makings of the biggest proxy shooting war in years, one that will come as a major humiliation to the Obama administration, today we find out that none other than America's most recent diplomatic sweetheart in the Gulf region, Iran, has deployed ground soldiers into Syria in the past few days in cooperation with Russia's President Vladimir Putin.
This answers our question from earlier this week:
So as the coalition drives towards Sana'a - which the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper says will be "liberated" after a "decisive battle" in Marib - and as Turkey, the US, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar mull options for the final push to oust Assad in Syria, the only remaining question is whether Iran will remain on the sidelines and allow the Houthis to be routed and Assad deposed, or whether, like Moscow, Tehran finally decides that the time for rheotric has come to an end.And on that note, we'll close with the following from AP: "Iran's foreign minister on Monday criticized demands for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad, saying such calls have prolonged the Arab country's civil war. Mohammad Javad Zarif went so far as to say that those who have in the past years demanded Assad's ouster "are responsible for the bloodshed in Syria."
And so, Iran appears to have picked its side, and knowing that it has Obama wrapped around its finger as part of Obama's huge "diplomatic coup" of restoring relations with Iran as part of the Nuclear Deal (since any backtracking would further embarrass the US president) and can pivot in any direction in the Syrian conflict, it has decided to side with Russia and Syria.
According to Ynet, a further said that the increased military involvement in Syria was "due to Assad's crisis and under Russian-Iranian cooperation as a result of a meeting between Soleimani with Russian President Vladimir Putin."
Where things get even more complicated, is that while Israel would do everything it can to turn public opinion against Iran, especially if it is now involved in the Syrian debacle, Israel still has cordial relations with Russia: "We have dialogue with Russia and we aren't in the middle of the Cold War," said the source. "We have open channels with the Russians."
So what does Iran joining the conflict really mean? "It's hard to forecast whether Russia's presence will decide the fate of Syria, but it will lengthen the fighting and bloodletting for at least another year because ISIS won't give up," said the source.
In other words, unless even more foreign powers intervene, you know "to stop ISIS" by focusing all their firepower on attacking or defending Assad, the Syria conflict will drag on indefinitely with an unknown outcome. Which in turn begs the question: how long will Israel keep out of the war, and if it decides to join whether it be using one of the more traditional, false flag methods to enflame public opinion against Iran. Who will be collateral damage then.
One thing is certain: with the GOP unable to block the Iran nuclear deal in the Senate, should it emerge and be confirmed, that Iran is indeed present, then Obama will be faced with the biggest diplomatic headache in his administration's history, namely the explanation of why he is scrambling to restore diplomatic connections with a regime that couldn't even wait for the Iran deal to be formally passed before it turned its back on its newest "best friend" in the Oval Cabinet, and promptly side with the KGB agent who over the past two years has emerged as the biggest US enemy in three decades.
Furthermore, it also means that now Russia suddenly has the media leverage in its hands: a few "leaked" photos of Iran troops to the press and the phones in the US Department of State will explode.
But the most important news is that, as we warned previously, with every incremental party entering the Syria conflict, the probability of a non-violent outcome becomes increasingly negligible. And now that Iran is involved, it means that both Israel and Saudi Arabia will be dragged in, whether they like it or not.
The Barack Obama administration and the U.S. intelligence community have concluded that Russia is set to start flying combat missions from a new air base inside Syria, but there’s disagreement inside the U.S. government on what to do about it.
Thursday at the White House, top officials were scheduled to meet at the National Security Council Deputies Committee level to discuss how to respond to the growing buildup of Russian military equipment and personnel in Latakia, a city on the Syrian coast controlled by the Bashar al-Assad regime. Obama has called on his national security officials to come up with a plan as soon as possible, as intelligence reports pour in about the Russian plans to set up an air base there. The options are to try to confront Russia inside Syria or, as some in the White House are advocating, cooperate with Russia there on the fight against the Islamic State.
For some in the White House, the priority is to enlist more countries to fight against the Islamic State, and they fear making the relationship with Russia any more heated. They are seriously considering accepting the Russian buildup as a fait accompli, and then working with Moscow to coordinate U.S. and Russian strikes in Northern Syria, where the U.S.-led coalition operates every day.
For many in the Obama administration, especially those who work on Syria, the idea of acquiescing to Russian participation in the fighting is akin to admitting that the drive to oust Assad has failed. Plus, they fear Russia will attack Syrian opposition groups that are fighting against Assad, using the war against the Islamic State as a cover.
“The Russians’ intentions are to keep Assad in power, not to fight ISIL,” one administration official said. “They’ve shown their cards now.”
The U.S. intelligence now shows that Russia is planning to send a force into Syria that is capable of striking targets on the ground. Two U.S. officials told me that the intelligence community has collected evidence that Russia plans to deploy Mikoyan MiG 31 and Sukhoi Su-25 fighter planes to Latakia in the coming days and weeks. The military equipment that has already arrived includes air traffic control towers, aircraft maintenance supplies, and housing units for hundreds of personnel.
Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Saturday to urge him to halt the Russian military buildup, but the Russian told Kerry that his military was doing nothing wrong and that Russia’s support for Syria would continue, according to one official who saw a readout of the call. That response was seen inside the administration as a rebuke of Kerry’s efforts to reach out to Moscow to restart the Syrian political process. Kerry met with Lavrov and the Saudi foreign minister on the issue last month.
Putin has been moving away from a serious conversation with the U.S. about a diplomatic solution in Syria.
Just as the Russian military buildup was beginning last week, Putin said publicly that Assad was ready to engage with the “healthy” opposition, a far cry from the process the U.S. is promoting, which would bring the Western-supported Syrian opposition into a new round of negotiations with the regime.
“Russia’s support for the Assad regime is not helpful at all, it’s counterproductive, and it’s against some of the things they have said about trying to bring about a solution,” Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told me Wednesday. “It’s disappointing, but it’s been consistent with some of the policies they’ve done in the past that we think are just wrong.”
There is concern inside the Obama administration, even among those who advocate for confronting Russian actions in Syria, that the U.S. has no real leverage to fight back. If Obama decides not to accept the Russian air force presence in Syria, he would have several options, all of which have drawbacks or limitations.
The U.S. could impose new sanctions on Russia, although the current punishments related to Ukraine have not changed Putin’s calculus, and there’s little chance European countries would join in on a new round. The U.S. might warn Russia that its base is fair game for the opposition to attack, but that could spur Putin to double down on the deployment. The U.S. could try to stop the flow of Russian arms, but that would mean pressuring countries such as Iraq to stand up to Putin and Iran, which they might not agree to.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Wednesday he would try to impose sanctions on Russia from the Congressional side if the administration doesn’t move in that direction. He said that Russia’s military involvement in Syria will only make the terrorism threat and the refugee problems emanating from there worse.
“This is a chance for us to slap Russia hard, because what they are doing is making America less safe,” he said. “The Russians are just slapping President Obama and Secretary Kerry in the face. This is a complete insult to their efforts to try to find a solution to Syria. They’ve made Assad’s survivability more likely, which means the war in Syria never ends.”
The White House’s concerns about escalating tensions with Russia inside Syria are legitimate, but cooperating with Russian forces on the ground or in the air would undermine whatever remaining credibility the U.S. has with the Syrian opposition and the Gulf States that support it. The U.S. may not be able to stop Russia’s entry into fighting the Syrian civil war, but at a minimum America shouldn't be seen as colluding with Moscow. If that happens, the suspicion that Obama is actually working to preserve the Assad regime will have been confirmed.
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