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Ten brilliant outcomes of Russian airstrikes in Syria

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With its devastating air strikes on ISIS and US-funded rebel groups, Russia is now at the centre of the Syrian chessboard. Moscow is using its massive firepower to dramatically alter the balance of power in the Middle East. Here are ten strategic spinoffs from Moscow’s military action.

Russia is the new sheriff in the Middle East

What America couldn’t do in 365 days, Russia has done in three, with the result that Vladimir Putin is the new sheriff in town. More than 40 years of American diplomacy lies in tatters, with almost all countries in the region, barring the Gulf emirates, supporting Moscow. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi says he would welcome Russian airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq. Leading Shiite politician Hakim al-Zamili agrees: “In the upcoming few days or weeks, I think Iraq will be forced to ask Russia to launch air strikes, and that depends on their success in Syria.”

Wow, the US spends trillions of dollars to conquer Iraq, only for Russia to waltz in.

Syria gets breathing space

ISIS and other terror groups which were operating with impunity in Syria are finally on the run, having lost hundreds of personnel, leading commanders and heavy armour. It is unlikely these outfits will recover soon from the pounding by Russian jets and cruise missiles. Russia has therefore bought valuable time for the secular Syrian Arab Army to re-equip itself and recover lost territory.

Western backing of terror groups lies exposed

Looks like NATO didn’t just accidentally drop supplies in ISIS areas; they also accidentally trained these terrorists. The Western public and media are asking questions why Vladimir Putin was able to destroy what their leaders could not. Putin has put the US into a corner so it will find supporting these terrorist outfits difficult, although not impossible (as the CIA can use other channels and countries).

Limitations of American military power

As Putin chases his quarry, the US military can do little about it. The CIA had trained the Free Syrian Army and other rebels groups for terror activities in Syria but now the Americans are watching helplessly as the terrorists they spawned are being blasted into plasma. An indication of American impotence is that after a near collision with a Russian jet, the US Air Force has asked its fighter pilots to stay clear of the combat area.

The US military that overran such fearsome opponents as Grenada, Panama and Afghan goatherds now realises that going into combat with a serious peer is a different ballgame.

Sukhoi showstoppers are the new must have toys

Following their spectacular performance over Syrian skies, Russia’s Sukhoi warplanes are set to be the hottest commodity on the international arms market. With the MiG-29 providing top cover, the Sukhois – including the massive Su-34 fighter-bomber, the swing-wing Su-24 ground attack jet and the subsonic Su-25 tank buster – are doing a fantastic job. While the Su-24 is due for retirement, the Su-25 and Su-34 tandem could be the hottest new items on the wishlist of air forces around the world. The cruise missiles – probably the Klubs – that are thudding into terrorist hideouts are also likely to see an increase in popularity.

Intelligence bonanza for Russia

The near collision between Russia and American jets gives you an idea of the cramped confines in which foreign aircraft are operating. This proximity has allowed Russia to gather valuable intelligence on a variety of US and NATO aircraft, including the F-22, claimed to be the world’s premier stealth fighter. Such opportunities are rare and the guys in Russia’s military intelligence must be having a lot of fun going through all that data.

ISIS can no longer steal Iraqi and Syrian oil

ISIS was selling Iraqi and Syrian crude oil on the black market for as low as $10 a barrel. The regular market price is around $47 a barrel. Exporting oil requires transporting it via pipelines to the coast. Clearly, ISIS was free to conduct the sale of illicit crude without the fear of NATO airstrikes. This alone is enough evidence that ISIS was enjoying some form of American and NATO protection. Although ISIS exports were just a trickle in the torrent of crude oil flooding the world, the markets responded positively to the Russian airstrikes by moving up. Even a small uptick in the price of oil translates into billions of dollars in revenue for Russia.

Russia has got Saudi Arabia over a barrel

Saudi Arabia is losing its shirt because of its relentless production of crude oil aimed at weakening Russia and Iran. The IMF says the Saudi budget is in tatters, and the outlook appears grave for the kingdom. Russia’s comeback in the Middle East, along with Iran and the Hezbollah – the Shiite militant group that gives nightmares to the Saudi sheiks – could be the incentive that OPEC’s largest member needs to announce production cuts.

And with its patron America having lost face, it is no longer in a position to ask the Saudis to hold the line.

Europe wants to patch up with Russia

It has taken only a few Russian missiles to bring Europe to its senses. Europeans are taking the view that Moscow’s decisive action in neutralising ISIS seems like a good idea compared with US actions that created millions of refugees, many of who are now flooding into Western Europe. Both Germany and France are thinking of rolling back economic sanctions against Russia. That’s called cost-effective diplomacy.

Putin has multiple military options

By launching cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea 2400 km away – instead of the Mediterranean nearby, where the Russian Navy has stationed a powerful flotilla – Putin is indicating that he has multiple options. The Caspian was considered a Russian lake for centuries, and Moscow is signalling that nothing has changed today. Because Russian cruise missiles are flying at treetop level via Iraq and Iran, it follows that both Baghdad and Tehran have given their approval for Russian airstrikes. As well as showing off the range and lethality of Russian cruise missiles, it is a message to the US that the Russian military has access to Iranian and Iraqi airspace.

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Turkey and the time bomb in Syria

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.

Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.

The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.

Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.

It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.

Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.

 The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.

Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa.  One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.

In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.

European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.

Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.

Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.

There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.

The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.

In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.

Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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