So far the United States and their coalition have conducted 12,199 aerial bombing operations in Syria and Iraq – exactly 8,322 in Iraq and 3,877 in Syria. Hence Inherent Resolve, the operation of said US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, has not at all been irrelevant at militarily level. If anything, it lacked a “war aim”, just to quote Von Clausewitz.
For the time being, the Inherent Resolve operation has destroyed 139 tanks; 374 Humvee, the specific armed self-propelled units produced by the United States and spread among all the warring factions; 1,162 Command and Control areas, especially ISIS ones and, more recently, areas of the Al Nusra Front, the Al Qaeda “branch” in Syria and in the Iraqi Shiite “Green Zone” around Baghdad; 5,894 buildings and 7,118 ISIS combat areas; 1,272 oil infrastructure units, including both wells and connecting lines, as well as 6,820 other unspecified “targets”.
But the central issue of the Syrian war is still centred on Aleppo: on May 7, 2016 Turkey sent its Special Forces to the Northern Syrian town, which is the real “centre of gravity” of this great and original proxy war, with a view to identifying the position of the ISIS missile launchers.
Moreover, Turkey also wanted to detect and follow the Kurdish movement lines in the areas east of Aleppo, so as to ban any YGP collaboration with the forces of the US-led Coalition and of the coalition coordinated by the Russian Federation.
As always happens, immediately after the “cease-fire”, clashes started around the town in order to reposition the forces, soon after the diplomatic-political balances portraying the existing situation.
During the “ceasefire”, the side forces of Assad’ Syrian Arab Army, with support from Iran and the Hezbollah, tried to conquer the Handarat district, north of Aleppo, precisely while both the United States and Russia were about to close the negotiations.
Negotiations which they both need to definitively clarify the balance of power in their respective coalitions, as well as to refine the selection of future goals and to better observe the opponents’ strategy and tactics.
Handarat is the last ring of Bashar’s encirclement of Aleppo and we must not forget that very recently the Alawi regime has gained the support of a new pro-Assad force created among the Palestinians, namely “the Leopards of Homs”.
Even before, the Palestinian movement had shown its new pro-Alawi (and pro-Iranian) configuration with the creation of the “volunteer” militias for Bashar, called “the Khaybar Brigade” and Quwat al-Ridha, namely “the al-Ridha Forces”, integrated into the Hezbollah units in Syria.
Where there is no more Saudi support, no longer interested in Israel’s encirclement, there is the new Iranian geopolitics, interested in managing a dual war, the one against the ”Zionist Entity” and the other against what we might call the Sunni International.
And it is precisely on May 7, 2016 that Iran announced it had lost – in an ambush by the “Al Nusra Front” and the “Brown Berets” of the Turkish Special Forces – over 30 “military advisers” killed by a battery of MILAN anti-tank missiles bought and distributed by the Turkish intelligence services to the Al Qaeda section in Syria..
Hence Assad’s army difficulty in regaining full control of Aleppo, which is also the contact point between Syria and Turkey, as well as the hub of ISIS’ illegal trade, the point of friction between the Kurds and the other warring factions and hence the real goal of the current Syrian proxy war in the North.
This adds to the rebellion in the Hama prisons, another failure for the Syrian Arab Army.
Too many open fronts are the sign of imminent defeat.
In essence, Russia is realizing it can no longer sustain – on its own – the operations in the region without a collaborative relationship with the Unite States, while it has no interest in exploiting Bashar el Assad and especially the Iranians, who may have greater ambitions for the new Alawi Syria and even endanger the autonomy of the Russian bases in Latakia and Tartus, by surrounding them with Pasdaran cells to support Assad’s future regime – if ever any for the whole Syria.
Nor Moscow wants to increase costs and engagements in the Syrian region, already too expensive and anyway oversized compared to Russia’s real interests on the field.
Furthermore, the assassination of the Supreme Commander of the Lebanese “Party of God” in Syria, which took place on May 13, 2016 at Damascus International Airport, where the Hezbollah had their Supreme Command, is further evidence of the jihadist Sunni forces’ resilience in Syria, as well as of the structural weakness of Iran’s engagement in the region and the difficulties still incurred by Bashar el Assad in fully controlling his territory.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah in the Lebanon, is sure that this operation is the seal of a new unity of action between the United States and Russia in Syria, while the Lebanese victim was reprogramming the dislocation of the “Party of God” along the border between Syria and the Lebanon, which certainly neither Assad nor Russia likes.
Until few days ago, the latest Russian aircraft sorties hit east of Idlib, directly in the Aleppo area, then south of Hama, the area still held by the so-called “rebels” and finally Deir el Zour, in the West of the country.
Upon US request, however, both the United States and Russia immediately included Aleppo in the region of the current truce, which means that also Assad’s army has decided it would certainly opt for a “regime of calm” around that city.
Nevertheless Russia emphasizes that the Syrian Arab Army is still waging and fighting “a wide jihadist offensive in Aleppo”, implicitly backed by Turkey which, obviously, does not want a change of the US strategy and, above all, does not want to miss the strategic axis of the town where the soap was invented – a city which is the real gateway to Syria and its hub vis-à-vis the large Sunni jihad system.
Strangely Turkey – which is the second NATO armed force in terms of size – has not been reprimanded by the Alliance for its behaviour in Syria, but probably the Atlantic forces must face two long-term geopolitical problems: the increasingly evident US disengagement from the Greater Middle East, as well as the impossibility for the Alliance’s “EU pillar” to militarily take charge of the Syrian issue on its own.
Therefore we confine ourselves to a business as usual strategy and to paying lip service to humanitarian goals.
Currently the French and German Ministers for Foreign Affairs want an impossible long truce in Aleppo, so as to renew the Geneva and Vienna “peace talks” of the International Syrian Support Group, a diplomatic organization which met for the last time on May 17 (the day when the US offensive began) with the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the United Nations, always supporting the cessation of hostilities.
The operational, and still tacit, agreement between the United States and Russia might not go along the lines of the national cessation of hostilities – as precisely called for in Vienna as from May 17, but along the lines of a new distribution of costs and future areas of influence in Syria.
The “tacit agreement” in the region of a huge proxy war between Russia and the United States is supported even by Bashar el Assad, although we do not know until when.
So far it is supposed to be based on the fact that the United States are convinced that the Russian Federation has “a deep and unique knowledge of the ground”, which they still lack, while Russia still states it wants to military support the Alawi “legitimate government”.
Against this background, however, the real card to play is the Israeli one.
Last Monday, President Putin met secretly with the Head of the Israeli government, Netanyahu, both for an “exchange of information ad views” on the Syrian issue and for Israel’ support to the effective and definitive contact between the United States and Russia.
Hence the US allegations of a Russian “military intervention” in the region are soon dispelled, but covert and secret operations increase, also with the Jewish State’s brokerage, so as to unite the forces of the two major States involved in the Syrian region.
As we saw earlier, we cannot even maintain that the large US-led coalition has stood idle faced with the war operations in favour of the “moderate rebels”, at first – an odd invention of the US propaganda – and later, more decisively, against the Al Nusra Front and the huge jihadist Sunni system – which could be seen as a sort of acknowledgment of previous faults and mistakes.
Probably the United States do not even trust too much the autonomous and significant Saudi presence in Syria, and do not even want to provide – through the deterioration of the situation in the Syrian region – the opportunity for a full scale confrontation between Iran and the Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia.
President Obama has well tried and tested the irrationality of the current Wahhabi ruling class.
And this is President Putin’s real victory.
The Head of the Kremlin who, even in the case of the Russian military aircraft shot down by Turkey, showed a strategic balanced and rational attitude which, however, will not be for free for Turkey when the dust settles and the situation gets back to normal.
Most importantly, President Putin has clearly calculated that the Russian direct and ongoing engagement would immediately call for equivalent American support, thus leading to Russia’s real goal of the war in Syria: to force the United States to hold talks on an equal footing, which Russia may also focus on the Ukrainian issue and the NATO and US actions along the new borders of the old Cold War in Europe.
President Putin’s strength and decision blocked the first US operations in Syria, designed to tacitly stop the expansion of Russia’s engagement.
During that phase the US goal was that the Russian troops could increase the Russian Federation’s weight at the final negotiating table.
Moreover, the United States have realized that it is not possible to contain Russia’s expansion in Western Syria and to fight ISIS at the same time, by possibly using the jihadist groups calling themselves “moderates”, sometimes trained – at the beginning of hostilities – by CIA before their moving to Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.
The less naïve or incapable Europeans, however, have always denied there was a realistic plan to reduce the Russian clout in the Syrian region and have also stated that the cost of sanctions (and Russian counter-sanctions) is really too high, even compared to a final reasonable bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia.
The EU economy must not be killed to shape a bilateral deal which, however, could not occur.
Hence, precisely after the elimination of the Hezbollah leader in Syria, the United States decided to increase their military engagement in the country and, for the first time, again on May 17, the US F-16 aircraft bombed the jihadist forces around Aleppo, without hitting directly – as far as we know – the Iranian positions and the positions of the Lebanese “Party of God”, as well as the positions of the Afghan Shiites “volunteers” and the other 13 groups supporting the Pasdaran in Iran.
According to the data provided by our intelligence sources, the targets of the US air strikes were troops, bases and transport infrastructure used by ISIS and the Al Nusra Front, which, sensing the change in the US strategy, had already begun to fight even against the “moderate” jihad.
It is US sound support also for Bashar el Assad, but now we have got accustomed to these US sudden changes of strategy in the Middle East and in the rest of the world.
In this case, the primary issue for President Obama is obviously to quickly settle the Syrian issue, by recognizing Russia’s right to be present in Tartus and Latakia and in the whole local system, at least to prevent the Iranian expansion and to stabilize the presence – which could become dangerous – of Saudi Arabia, south and east of the State that the French colonizers wanted to be led by the Alawi minority, becoming officially Shiite only after the decision of the Lebanese Imam, Mussa Sadr, who disappeared in Libya in 1978.
The US F-16 aircraft took off from the Turkish base of Incirlik, which could lead us to think that also Turkey is not interested in an endless extreme radicalization of the Syrian “proxy war”.
Probably the United States have ensured to President Erdogan his droit de regard, namely some scrutiny on the Sunni majority in Syria, in discordant harmony with Saudi Arabia.
The F-16 aircraft hit Aleppo and Idlib, another difficult position for the axis between Assad and Russia.
The Turkish scrutiny will be curbed and restrained by the Russian presence on the territory, so as to avoid Turkish adventures in Central Asia which would do much harm also to the United States, thus calling them again into the region for a confrontation which could not but finally affect also China.
The US air strikes, however, have always been coordinated with the Russian command of the Humaynim base and “mediated” by the information available to the Russian and American officers in Jordan.
Hence, today, the contenders in the Syrian skies are ten: USA, Russia, Israel, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Syria, Turkey and Jordan.
Moreover, the US CENTCOM, namely the structure which commands and controls all American forces in the Middle East, has repositioned some of the Special Forces units at the Remalan base, in northern Syria, near the Kurdish town of Hassakeh.
Therefore some support of the US Special Forces is expected for the final taking of Aleppo, which is and will be the real turning point of the war in Syria.
But what will happen afterwards?
President Putin will sit at the negotiating table in Vienna or Geneva with the winner’s hard, but relaxed, look.
He will be in a position to keep his vital Mediterranean region, an ever more inevitable strategic counterweight as against the Western penetration in Ukraine, as well as an essential bargaining chip for negotiations both in the Middle East and in the Don region.
Conversely President Obama will be ensured an important role and place for the United States in Syria – at a time when the US-led Coalition forces become strategically irrelevant, despite the large number of operations carried out successfully – and will be in a position to have a right of direct strategic brokerage even with Bashar al-Assad, as in the good old days of his father Hafez.
Turkey will be in a position to have a controlled system of influence on the Sunni areas, with the guarantee – carefully monitored – it will break any relations with the local jihad.
Furthermore Saudi Arabia will not directly clash with Iran, at a time of economic difficulties for the Kingdom and of slow internal destabilization.
Iran will avoid radicalising the clash in its Shiite system that it has also shown to be unable to fully control, at least in an exclusively military way.
Moreover Israel will prove to be able to play its new role as great power broker in the Greater Middle East, as well as genuine regional and international power, by balancing itself with Russia and maintaining its old relations with the United States, thus playing a future role as “maverick” that currently nobody can fully predict.
Algerian controversy over Salafism puts government control of religion on the spot
A controversy in Algeria over the growing popularity of Saudi-inspired Salafi scholars spotlights the risk governments run in a region in which they strive to control religion in a bid to counter militant strands of Islam, often by touting apolitical, ultra-conservative trends. These efforts are proving difficult to contain within the limits of the government’s agenda.
The controversy over Saudi support of Salafi scholars highlights how state control, frequently exercised through degrees of micro-management of weekly Friday prayer sermons, and/or putting clerics on the government payroll as well as supervision of mosques and school textbooks, often backfires. For one, the credibility of government-sponsored Islamic scholars is undermined as they become increasingly viewed as functionaries and parrots of regimes.
It also thrusts into the limelight the slippery slope on which governments play politics with conservative and ultra-conservative religion for opportunistic reasons or as in the case of Turkey in a bid to establish state-controlled Turkish Islam as a global force.
Ultra-conservatism’s increasing attractiveness is magnified by the inability of governments to comprehensively police alternative expressions of religion on the Internet and social media as well as halt the popping up of unlicensed mosques and informal study groups.
As a result, Saudi-inspired ultra-conservative as well as militant strands of Islam emerge as the only alternative release valve, particularly in countries that restrict freedom of expression, the media and religion and have failed in their delivery of public goods and services
“Whatever the state does to control the religious realm, it cannot oblige or guarantee that people will rely on official bodies and individuals for their religious guidance. In fact, Algerian youths in particular are disillusioned and have lost confidence in their religious institutions. As such, they may be attracted to other religious voices, especially those offering ‘grab and go’ solutions to complex issues or a Manichean view of the world,” said Algeria scholar Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck.
The controversy in Algeria further raises questions about definitions of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s declared effort to return the kingdom to what he termed ‘moderate Islam’ given that Saudi Arabia played a key role in globally promoting Sunni Muslim ultra-conservatism for almost half a century.
In Saudi Arabia, the jury is still out on Prince Mohammed’s approach to moderation. In an ultra-conservative country in which religious leaders were not only popular, but government employees who shared power with the ruling Al Saud family, Prince Mohammed has whipped the religious establishment into subservience and kowtowing to his reforms with little indication that they have had a true change of heart.
Algeria has long seen Saudi-inspired quietist strands of Salafism that preach unreserved obedience to a Muslim ruler as a way of countering expressions of popular discontent and more militant strands of Islam.
“The onset of the 2011 Arab uprisings only increased the utility of quietist Salafists to the state. All the main quietist figures issued calls for Algerians to resist the wave of political contestation rocking the Arab world… This drove a wedge between rulers and ruled, exacerbating social divisions, which would inevitably lead to a rise in insecurity and worsening corruption,” said international relations scholar Anouar Boukhars.
A recent study showed that many Algerians were turning on social media to Saudi and Egyptian rather than Algerian religious scholars.
Some Saudi scholars like Sheikh Mohamed al-Arefe, a controversial ultra-conservative, known for his misogynist and anti-Shiite tirades, who ranks among the top 100 global and top 10 Arab social media personalities with 21.6 million followers on Twitter and 24.3 million on Facebook boast a larger following in Algeria than in the kingdom itself.
The study concluded that Mr. Al-Arefe had two million Algerian followers as opposed to 1.3 million Saudis.
Algerian media reports, echoing secular concerns, detailed earlier this year Saudi propagation of a quietist, apolitical yet supremacist and anti-pluralistic form of Islam in the North African country. The media published a letter by a prominent Saudi scholar that appointed three ultra-conservative Algerian clerics as representatives of Salafism.
“While Saudi Arabia tries to promote the image of a country that is ridding itself of its fanatics, it sends to other countries the most radical of its doctrines,” asserted independent Algerian newspaper El Watan.
El Watan and other media reproduced a letter written by Saudi Sheikh Hadi Ben Ali Al-Madkhali, a scion of Sheikh Rabia Al-Madkhali, the intellectual father of what French Islam scholar Stephane Lacroix terms a loyalist strand of Salafism that projects the kingdom as the ideal place for those who seek a pure Islam that has not been compromised by non-Muslim cultural practices and secularism.
The letter appoints three prominent Algerian scholars, including Mohamed Ali Ferkous, widely viewed as the spiritual guide of Algerian Madkhalists, as Salafism’s representatives in Algeria.
“Madkhalism…(is) perhaps Saudi Arabia’s own Trojan Horse,” quipped North Africa scholar George Joffe. “State-approved imams in Algeria now find themselves under considerable pressure, in mosques that have been targeted, to adapt their teachings and doctrines to Salafi precept, even if this challenges the authority of the ministry of religious affairs,” Mr. Joffe added.
The mixed results of the Algerian government’s effort to control and use religion are replicated across the Muslim world.
Pakistan, a country in which ultra-conservatism and militancy has over decades been woven into the fabric of the state and society and that is struggling with political violence against the state as well as minorities, serves as an example of the risks involved in playing politics with religion and state support for non-pluralistic, intolerant and supremacist interpretations of Islam.
Attempting to rollback the fallout of such policies is proving to be a gargantuan task. The Pakistani government earlier this year launched a pilot project in Islamabad to regulate Friday prayer sermons. The problem is that it controls a mere 86 of the city’s 1,003 mosques.
Some critics warn that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be taking his country down a road like that of Pakistan. They compare the Turkish leader to former Pakistani ruler General Zia ul-Haq who in the 1980s accelerated Islamization of Pakistani society.
Former Pakistani ambassador to the United States and director of South and Central Asia for the Washington-based Hudson Institute Husain Haqqani asserted that Mr. Erdogan was adopting the “Pakistani formula of mixing hard-line nationalism with religiosity” and pouring money into Islamic schools.
“Erdogan has taken the Pakistani formula of mixing hard-line nationalism with religiosity. Zia imposed Islamic laws by decree, amended the constitution, marginalized secular scholars and leaders, and created institutions for Islamization that have outlasted him. Erdogan is trying to do the same in Turkey,” Mr. Haqqani told journalist and columnist Eli Lake.
Mr. Lake argued that Turkey, despite having tacitly supported the Islamic State at one point during the Syrian civil war, Turkey had not yet “sunk” to Pakistan’s level of cooperation with Islamic militants in its dispute with India and manoeuvring in Afghanistan.
However, suggesting that Turkey risked becoming another Pakistan, Mr. Lake quoted former US ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman as saying: “Turkey is not Pakistan yet, but if it continues the trajectory that Erdogan has put it on, there is a prospect it could become like Pakistan.”
At the other extreme, Chinese authorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang, home to China’s Uyghur Muslim minority, were several months ago shutting down some 100 illegal, underground religious seminaries a month despite creating in the region the world’s most repressive surveillance state, according to a Chinese communist party official.
The crackdown involves the banning of religious practices and the teaching of the Uyghur language in schools and the detention of thousands in political re-education camps.
The controversy in Algeria, Mr. Erdogan’s embrace of Islam, Pakistan’s struggle to come to grips with the fallout of ultra-conservatism, China’s efforts to crackdown on religion, anti-government and anti-clergy protests in Iran earlier this year, and examples of societies elsewhere in Asia turning towards intolerance and conservatism as governments employ or repress religion for opportunistic political purposes, suggest that political leaders have learnt little, if anything.
Yet, the lesson is that government control and/or playing with religion seldom produces sustainable results. The lesson is also that repression, including restricting freedoms of expression, media and religion, aggravates problems and benefits ultra-conservatives and militants.
Finally, the lesson is that the solution likely lies in inclusive rather than exclusionary policies and transparent and accountable governments capable of delivering pubic goods and services that ensure that all segments of the population have a stake in society. That lesson is one that governments in Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and China seemingly prefer to overlook.
A Mohammedan Game of Thrones: Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Fight for Regional Hegemony
Authors: James J. Rooney, Jr. & Dr. Matthew Crosston*
The people in the United States didn’t think well of those living in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. There was a basic mistrust and a lack of kind words on both sides. But what you didn’t hear was anyone excitedly talking about wanting to completely annihilate the other side despite both having the capacity to do just that. Fast forward to 2018: to Saudi Arabia and Iran and a new regional Middle East version of Mutually Assured Destruction, where it takes on a whole new meaning. Both of these nations maintain terrible images of each and neither would probably shed a tear if the Earth suddenly opened up and swallowed the other. Forgive the propensity to reach hyperbole, but in truth this rivalry goes back 1,385 years when, just after the death of the prophet Mohammed in AD 632, there arose among the faithful a disagreement concerning the issue of succession. Mohammed drafted a Last Will & Testament and set up an ancient version of a Trust Fund for the kids’ college/ lifeneeds, but never said a word about succession. In hindsight we now know what colossally poor planning this was as it led to a split between two key factions that would come to be known as the Sunni (who favored a vote for succession) and the Shi’a (who favored keeping it in Mohammed’s bloodline). “The Sunnis prevailed and chose a successor to be the first caliph.” (Shuster, 2017, 1) What followed was a swinging pendulum of tension with hundreds of years of both war and peace interspersed between the two sides. Today, it looks like they’re heading back to war in some form. But the real question is, are they heading back to war because of a 1,000+ year old religious grudge match? Many experts think not. Some say that the bad blood that has been forming between Saudi Arabia and Iran is not about religion, but something else: competing and hostile legitimizing myths. “With the aim of uniting peoples behind their leaders in distinction to ‘the other’, as it is so often the case, religion is misused as a dividing tool in order to enforce a political agenda.” (Reimann, 2016, 3) Not surprisingly, there are religious overtones embedded within these regional hegemonic politics pushing both sides continuously to greater episodes of dangerous tension.
The House of Al Saud, the ruling royal family of Saudi Arabia, is composed of the descendants of Muhammad bin Saud, founder of the Emirate of Diriyah, which was known as the First Saudi state (1744–1818), and his brothers. The ruling faction of the family, however, is primarily led by the descendants of Ibn Saud, the modern founder of Saudi Arabia. The government of Iran is a modern Shia theocracy that was forged in part by the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, in 1979. Today, “Iran is considered a unitary Islamic republic with one legislative house. The country’s 1979 constitution put into place a mixed system of government, in which the executive, parliament, and judiciary are overseen by several bodies dominated by the clergy. At the head of both the state and oversight institutions is a ranking cleric known as the rahbar, or leader, whose duties and authority are those usually equated with a head of state.” (Editorial Staff, 2017. 1) Ironically, many have argued that Iran has one of the most democratically structured Constitutions in the world, if not for these extra-constitutional religious oversight bodies that sit over all of the constitutional structures. Even putting the religious affiliations and religio-political structures aside, these two countries are as different as Persian night and Saudi day.
Both Saudi Arabia and Iran view themselves through the legitimizing myth of being the purer form of Islam and true holder of Mohammed’s legacy. As if that wasn’t conflictual enough, to make matters worse, the Wahhabist theocratic leadership in Riyadh sees the government and family of Saud as secular barbarians that strategically use their Sunni Wahhabist religious connections as a hedge to maintain power. The royal family of Saudi Arabia, for its part, views the theocracy of Iran as a bastardized form of Islam led by illegitimate Imams that hold a potentially progressive nation hostage to outdated religious edicts that have no relevance in the modern Islamic world. Even more dismissively, the Saudi royal family sneer at how this ‘Iranian backwardness’ has led directly to decades of crippling American sanctions against the people. Of course, the theocracy in Iran sees the cozy relationship between the Saudis and Americans as proof of the infidel fall of the keepers of the Prophet’s two great cities, Mecca and Medina. The Saudis are in bed with the Great Satan.
These underlying myths that debate ancient religious legitimacy may be fueling the hatred and Muslim-on-Muslim discrimination found on both sides. But disturbingly, there is one more legitimizing myth that might actually rule over all the others and it’s tied to the massive political power and influence greased by black crude. Saudi Arabia comes in as number 2 in terms of the world’s known oil reserves. Iran sits at number 4. That oil, and the wealth and political power it translates to, is not lost on either side. Oil is easily the top revenue-producing commodity in both countries. While ups and downs in the global market can have serious consequences for both countries, it means more damage for Iran than Saudi Arabia. The royal Saudi family has wisely/secretly over the past half century stashed away over half a trillion dollars to uniformly smooth out the revenue curves that are innate to the natural resource market in a volatile global economy. Since Tehran has been the subject of severe sanctions, due to its association with Islamic extremism and terrorism, it simply has not been able to create the same safety net/golden pillow of economic protection. Consequently, Iran has not been able to capitalize on its vast reserves of oil, selling much of it on the black market for rock bottom prices to less-than-ideal market consumers. This disparity in oil wealth, the freedom of action within the world market, and the subsequent ability to wield enhanced political power in the region is the real legitimizing myth that acts as a true political hammer separating the two and concretizing their strife with one another.
Iran’s political and military expansion into Syria, and its alliance with Russia, is another facet of its hegemonic intentions and desire to unseat Saudi Arabia as the real regional power broker. Iran appears willing to become a client or “dependent” ally of Russia, much as Saudi Arabia has a similar arrangement with the United States. Obviously, this is a dangerous recipe: regional power pretenses, advanced weapons from larger global powers, divergent religious positions, and political gamesmanship operating in the middle of another country’s civil war. Both Russia and the United States have cautiously moved their respective chess pieces as events develop in Syria, but unfortunately this caution does not exhibit the press for peace: rather, the American-Russian chess game in Syria only seems to exacerbate the animosity between the Saudis and Iranians. The alleged chemical weapon attacks on rebel positions inside Damascus by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian forces, caused a direct but limited military response by Washington. American cruise missile attacks on Syrian chemical weapons plants, though marginally effective, nevertheless was a message to Russia and Iran that the U.S. would defend its interests in the region. Those interests are decidedly in favor of a Saudi regional hegemonic leadership. Thus, what we have are cross-competing and hostile legitimizing myths being created in real time about what the future role of each of these players is going to be, America supporting the Saudi myth and Russia supporting the Iranian one.
Clearly, Saudi Arabia and Iran are going to remain deeply entrenched in hostile efforts for political and military dominance in the region. Though ancient religious strife seems like a convenient excuse for continued bad feelings between the two powers – and is focused on to a heavy extent by world media – modern strategic reasons are more dangerous and multi-layered. What we can recognize is an old fashion game of power politics in which both sides have aligned themselves with powerful and protective allies. This game is being made manifest in a critical region of the world where resources are converted to global wealth and power. The parties should remember that oil is combustible. Politics built on oil even more so. But politics built on oil, doused in religious fervor, and shaken vigorously by outside players with their own agendas is the most combustible of all. For the time being, this Mohammedan Game of Thrones seems to have a plotline that will be as deadly and bloody as its more famous Hollywood moniker.
*Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu. He is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at: https://brown.academia.edu/ProfMatthewCrosston/Analytics
Might Trump Ask Israel to Fund America’s Invasion-Occupation of Syria?
On 16 April 2018, the internationally respected analyst of Middle-Eastern affairs, Abdel Bari Atwan, headlined about Trump’s increasingly overt plan to break Syria up and to establish permanent U.S. control over the parts it wants, “Attempting the Unachievable”. He stated that “The coming few months are likely to prove very difficult for the Americans, and very costly, not just in Syria but also in Iraq.” He closed: “Who will cover the costs of this American move? There are no prizes for guessing the answer: it has already been spelled out.” The only country that his article mentioned was Israel: “It would not be surprising if Israel and the various lobbies that support were behind this American strategic volte-face. For Israel is in a state of panic.”
The U.S. already donates $3.8 billion per year to Israel’s military, in order for Israel to purchase U.S.-made weapons. However, Atwan argues that the costs of this invasion-occupation of Syria are likely to run into the trillions of dollars. The Gross Domestic Product of Israel is only $318.7 billion as of 2016. So, America now already donates a bit more than 1% to that amount, and Atwan’s thesis is that Israel will now become instead a net donor to America’s international corporations (funding some of the Pentagon, which then will pay that money to America’s weapons-firms), in order to avoid adding the enormous costs of this increasing invasion-occupation of Syria, onto America’s taxpayers, fighting forces, etc.
I do not consider this enormous reversal of Israel — from recipient to donor — to be likely. Far likelier, in my view, is Saudi Arabia, to finance the invasion.
The GDP of Saudi Arabia is $646.4 billion as of 2016, more than twice Israel’s — and the Saud family, who own that country, are accustomed to paying for the services they buy, not having them donated (unless by their fellow fundamentalist Sunnis, to spread the faith). Furthermore, the royal family, the Sauds, are extremely close to America’s leading oil families, who also donate heavily to Republican politicians. Ever since at least 2012, the Sauds have been the U.S. Government’s main partner in the long campaign to overthrow and replace Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, by a Sharia-law, fundamentalist-Sunni, regime, which will do what the Sauds want.
America’s oil companies and pipeline companies, and military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, profit from America’s invasion-occupation of Syria, but U.S. President Donald Trump isn’t doing it only with their welfare in mind; he has an international campaign to press America’s allies to foot a larger percentage of the cost to U.S. taxpayers for America’s military. He wants America’s allies to pay much more, in order for them to be able to enjoy the privileges of staying in America’s alliance against Russia, China, and other countries whose economies threaten to continue growing faster than America’s. U.S. aristocrats fear that such challengers could replace them as the global hegemon or Empire, the über-aristocracy. Empire is expensive, and the general public pay for it, but Trump wants foreign taxpayers to pay a bigger share of these costs in order to relieve part of the burden on U.S. taxpayers. His famous comment about the invasion-occupation of Iraq, “We should have taken the oil”, is now being put into practice by him in Syria. However, that money goes only to corporations, not to the U.S. Treasury.
Which allies could finance escalated war against Syria?
On 24 September 2017, the Wall Street Journal bannered, “U.S.-Backed Forces Seize Syrian Gas Plant From Islamic State”, and reported: “U.S.-backed forces said Sunday they were advancing through eastern Syria after seizing a gas plant there from Islamic State, striking a blow to the terror group’s dwindling finances, which rely heavily on its control of Syria’s oil and gas fields. The plant, one of the most important in the country, is capable of producing nearly 450 tons of gas a day.”
Trump wants the profits from that to go to American companies, not to Syrian ones. That’s the type of arrangement Trump has been favoring when he says “We should have taken the oil.” Syria is allied with Russia, and with Iran. The U.S. is allied with Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are the two countries that call Iran an “existential threat” — and which have been urging a U.S. invasion to overthrow Assad.
The Sauds and their allied fundamentalist Sunni Arab royal families are considering to finance an American-led invasion of Syria. Turkey’s newspaper Yeni Safak headlined on 15 June 2017, “Partitioning 2.5M barrels of Syria’s oil”, and reported:
A meeting was held on June 10 for the future of Syrian oil on the premise of the intelligence of Saudi Arabia and the US in Syria’s northeastern city of Qamishli, which borders with Turkey. One of the US officers who visited terrorist organizations in the Sinjar-Karachok region after Turkey’s anti-terror operation in northern Syria and spokesman for the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh, Colonel John Dorrian, attended the meeting. Representatives from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, as well as some tribal leaders from Syria and senior Democratic Union Party (PYD) members attended the meeting. The delegation gathered for the purpose of determining a common strategy for the future of Syrian oil, and decided to act jointly after Daesh. Former President of the National Coalition of the Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, Ahmed Carba, determined the tribal and group representatives from Syria, and Mohammed Dahlan determined which foreign representatives would attend the meeting. Representatives agreed on a pipeline route. Radical decisions were made regarding the extraction, processing and marketing of the underground wealth of the Haseke, Raqqah and Deir ez Zor regions, which hold 95 percent of Syrian oil and natural gas’ potential.
That’s “taking the oil.” There could be lots of it.
This article also reported that, “Syria produced 34,828,000 barrels of crude oil in the first quarter of 2011 and reached 387,000 barrels per day during the same period” and that, “there are 2.5 billion barrels of oil reserves in Syria.”
On 16 April 2018, Whitney Webb at Mint Press bannered “How the US Occupied the 30% of Syria Containing Most of its Oil, Water and Gas”, and reported that, “Though the U.S. currently has between 2,000 to 4,000 troops stationed in Syria, it announced the training of a 30,000-person-strong ‘border force’ composed of U.S.-allied Kurds and Arabs in the area, which would be used to prevent northeastern Syria from coming under the control of Syria’s legitimate government.”
She noted, regarding the area in Syria’s northeast, where U.S.-armed, Saudi-funded, Syrian Kurds are in control: “those resources – particularly water and the flow of the Euphrates – gives the U.S. a key advantage it could use to destabilize Syria. For example, the U.S. could easily cut off water and electricity to government-held parts of Syria by shutting down or diverting power and water from dams in order to place pressure on the Syrian government and Syrian civilians. Though such actions target civilians and constitute a war crime, the U.S. has used such tactics in Syria before.”
She says: “Given the alliance between Syria and Iran, as well as their mutual defense accord, the occupation is necessary in order to weaken both nations and a key precursor to Trump administration plans to isolate and wage war against Iran.”
That type of plan could be worth a lot to Israel, but Yeni Safak headlined on 18 April 2018, “US to build Arab force in NE Syria as part of new ploy: The US is seeking to amass an Arab force in northeastern Syria comprised of funding and troops from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.” This report said:
The Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said that the kingdom is willing to send troops to Syria in a press conference on Tuesday. The minister noted that discussions on sending troops to Syria were underway. “With regards to what is going on now, there are discussions regarding what kind of force needs to remain in eastern Syria and where that force would come from. And those discussions are ongoing,” said al-Jubeir. He stressed that troop deployment in Syria will be done within the framework of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition and also suggested Saudi Arabia would provide financial support to the U.S.
How likely is it that Israel would be funding this huge escalation in The West’s invasion-occupation of Syria — an escalation in which fundamentalist-Sunni armies would then be serving Israeli masters? Though Arab royals might find it acceptable, their soldiers would not.
The Sauds are the world’s wealthiest family, and they can and do use the state that they own, Saudi Arabia, as their investment asset, which they aim to maximize. This war will be a great investment for them, and for their allies, in U.S., UK, Israel, and elsewhere. Israel can’t take the lead in such a matter. But the Sauds and their friends could.
Funding by the Sauds would be the likeliest way. On 21 May 2017, I headlined “U.S. $350 Billion Arms-Sale to Sauds Cements U.S.-Jihadist Alliance” and reported that the day before, “U.S. President Donald Trump and the Saud family inked an all-time record-high $350 billion ten-year arms-deal that not only will cement-in the Saud family’s position as the world’s largest foreign purchasers of U.S.-produced weaponry, but will make the Saud family, and America’s ruling families, become, in effect, one aristocracy over both nations, because neither side will be able to violate the will of the other. As the years roll on, their mutual dependency will deepen, each and every year.” That turned out to be true — and not only regarding America’s carrying the Sauds’ water (doing their bidding) in both Yemen and Syria, but in other ways as well. Now the Sauds will pitch in to pay tens of thousands of troops in order to dominate over Iran and Shiites, whom the Sauds hate (and have hated since 1744).
On 21 March 2018, CNBC bannered “Trump wants Saudi Arabia to buy more American-made weapons. Here are the ones the Saudis want”, and reported what Trump had just negotiated with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al-Saud, which was a step-up in that $350 billion sale, to $400 billion. So: Trump is working on the Sauds in order to get them to take over some of the leadership here — with American weapons. It’s a business-partnership.
On 16 April 2018, which was the same day that Atwan suggested Israel would take the lead here, the Wall Street Journal bannered “U.S. Seeks Arab Force and Funding for Syria: Under plan, troops would replace American military contingent after ISIS defeat and help secure country’s north; proposal faces challenges,” and reported that:
The Trump administration is seeking to assemble an Arab force to replace the U.S. military contingent in Syria and help stabilize the northeastern part of the country after the defeat of Islamic State, U.S. officials said. John Bolton, President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, recently called Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s acting intelligence chief, to see if Cairo would contribute to the effort, officials said. The initiative comes as the administration has asked Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to contribute billions of dollars to help restore northern Syria. It wants Arab nations to send troops as well, officials said.
If the U.S. will invade, Israel will participate in this invasion-occupation, but the Sauds will lead it — with U.S.-made weapons. And taxpayers everywhere will lose from it, because invasions just get added to the federal debt. The invading nation goes into debt, which that nation’s public will pay. The invaded nation gets its wealth extracted and sold by the invading aristocracy. It’s happened for thousands of years.
first published at strategic-culture.org
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