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The ceasefire in force in Syria as from September 12, 2016

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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On Saturday, September 10, between Geneva and Munich, the traditional venues for the numberless negotiations on war in Syria, the US State Secretary, John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Serghei Lavrov, reached an agreement for truce among the various factions fighting for the spoils of the Middle East State. The agreement will enter into force as from the sunset of September 12 and it will last one week only.

Who is concerned by the ceasefire? First and foremost Assad’s forces, namely the Syrian Arab Army, including its Russian and Iranian allies and the various groups of the Syrian Free Army, of which it is impossible to know the real size of its forces and its inconstant relationship with the other movements of the Syrian jihad.

Hence the agreement regards neither Daesh-Isis nor the militia of Fateh al-Sham, the new name chosen by the Al Nusra Front to distance itself from Al Qaeda as much as possible.

The hostilities will cease especially in the Aleppo area which, for everybody, is the key to the Syrian strategy, with a view to allowing the inflow of supplies, aid and relief to the local populations, hardly hit by both opponents’ actions.

It is worth recalling that so far the war in Syria has had a toll of 350,000 deaths and 11 million refugees, namely 50% of the Syrian population.

The essential political result of the September negotiations is – first and foremost – that the removal of the “tyrant” Bashar al-Assad from power is no longer on the agenda.

In fact, Assad is probably the only one who can keep Syria united – hence he is a necessary and valuable asset for Russia.

Conversely, in one way or another, all the Western countries involved in the conflict are interested in Syria’s splitting up and fragmentation.

Following its neo-Ottoman dream, Turkey wants to annex the Syrian Sunni area, also with a view to counterbalancing the Kurds’ influence both in Syria and on its own territory, by separating them with an enclave controlled by it.

Rojava (the West or Western Kurdistan in the Kurdish language) consisting of three self-governing cantons, namely Afrin, Jazira e Kobani, as well as the Shahba region, are located in the Syrian al-Hasakah Governorate. It is worth noting that the tree Kurdish cantons are multiethnic.

Obviously the Kurdish presence is the real target of the Turkish operations.

Shortly before the ceasefire, Turkey had deployed 43 self-supporting units and at least 200 soldiers, in addition to those of the Turkish garrison, in Gaziantep.

Shortly afterwards the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) started clashes with the Turkish forces in the Hatay Province.

Moreover no maps of Turkey’s operation “Euphrates Shield” are available and, at the same time, Isis demobilized its elite militants from the Al-Bab region, in the North-East province of Aleppo. Therefore we can predict a future jihadists’ counterattack from the South

The real aim of the Operation Euphrates Shield is to create a “safety area” for Turkey (90 kilometres long and   40 kilometres wide), with a view to avoiding the connection between the Kurds of Rojava and those in Turkey, as well as to definitely breaking Syria’s unity, which means creating strategic continuity between Anatolia and the Sunni Islam of Central Asia.

The United States want to “bring democracy” to Syria and intend to keep on controlling the areas held by their allies of the Syrian Free Army, the well-known “moderate” jihadists.

Without admitting so, also the United States want Syria’s splitting up and fragmentation so as to implement the unfortunate “Yugoslav model” also there, by creating ethnical statelets which – as happened in Kosovo – may possibly become recruiting centres for the jihad in the coming years or centres for managing drug trafficking.

Finally Russia wants a sufficiently united State which can protect the Alawite coastal territory where its naval bases in the Mediterranean are located.

Moreover Iran wants Syria to be a united State, under the leadership of the Alawites, who are Shias – as Imam Mussa Sadr established – which can be a bulwark against the Sunni Turkey and the destabilization trends from Saudi Arabia.

Hence the political and strategic sense is that – once the one-week truce is over – the United States and the Russian Federation should be reunited to fight against Isis-Daesh and Fateh al-Sham, namely the new Al Nusra “brand”.

As envisaged by the agreement of September 10, Assad’s forces should stop bombings “wherever the other forces are present” so as to allow the arrival of humanitarian aid in Aleppo.

Furthermore, the priority for the inflow of aid will be the city of Aleppo and its surroundings, in addition to the areas which are “hard to be reached”.

Again according to the agreement of September 10, both Assad’s forces and the “rebel” ones should leave Castello Road, which runs throughout the centre of Aleppo from the North of the city to the Eastern area, still held by the “rebels” of Jaish al Fateh and Isis-Daesh.

Also a part of the Kurdish YPG is present along the Aleppo road, which is currently monitored by the Russian soldiers.

There must also be a “secure access” to the area of Ramouseh and, if there will be seven consecutive days of successful truce, even partially, the United States and Russia will operate together to “develop military actions” (sic) against Fateh al Sham and Isis.

At the regular end of the ceasefire, a Joint Implementation Centre will be established to exchange the information required for military activities, but the problem is that the United States will continue to support the “rebels” close or allied to Jaish Al Fateh and that Russia shall convince its ally Assad to stop bombing the cities.

However, if the ceasefire is successful, all the forces whose territory borders on the “Islamic State” can concentrate their forces only against Isis. This will generate a sort of competition between allies, at least as regards the fight against Al Baghdadi’s Caliphate.

Furthermore, a few days before the deal, two “rebel” groups – both supported by the United States – clashed with each other in Jarabulus, north of Aleppo, namely Jaish al Tahrir and the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Hence the situation of military power relations in Syria just before the ceasefire was complex: on September 4, Assad’s forces started again the siege of Aleppo while, on September 5, Isis initiated a series of suicide attacks in Tartous, Homs and Damascus, as well as on the YPG Kurdish positions in Qamishli and Hasaka.

The Isis attack came just a few hours after the elimination of the Caliphate – along the Turkish-Syrian border, in the Aleppo area – by the Turkish Armed Forces and their jihadists of reference, namely the Turkmen.

A military success which was evidently the harbinger of the deal under discussion between Russia and the United States.

It is therefore likely for Isis to seek a new expansion in Western Syria, pending the ceasefire.

However, the deal reached on September 10 is very hard to be maintained.

The agreement is undoubtedly a success of Russian diplomacy, as both President Obama and part of the Pentagon and CIA did not want to acknowledge any role for Bashar al-Assad, while now – at least figuratively – they have sat at the same negotiating table as Syria’s emissaries.

The obsession of President Obama and much of the Pentagon was “Assad must go!”, as if the fall of a “tyrant” could magically change the political balance of a whole country.

The same mistake made with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and with the old “democratic” President, Hamid Karzai, in Afghanistan.

Certainly, if the two major powers on the ground really join, the end of Isis will be a matter of weeks, if not days.

But many ceasefires are “in water writ” and that of September 10 is no exception to the rule.

The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces have continued to hit jihadist targets despite the truce and the coordination center between the United States and Russia, envisaged by the deal, has not yet been definitively put in place to operate. It cannot certainly be created magically from nothing at the end of the fateful one-week truce.

On September 13 the parties exchanged artillery fire in the Aleppo area, while Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army and the Hezbollah engaged combat with Jaish al Fateh in the aeras of Qarassi, Zeitan, Khan Touman and Khalsah.

Jaish al Fateh responded by hitting Assad’s outposts in the Malah Farms and the Ramouseh Artillery Base.

On September 12, all Jaish al Fateh forces stated they did not accept the ceasefire because their leaders had not been called to discuss the document and hence their role as primary group of “resistance” to Assad had not been recognized.

The following day, at least according to their sources, the air forces of the Syrian Arab Army shot down an Israeli jet and a drone near Quneitra, but Israel denied it.

However what is the strategic significance of the ceasefire, apart from the repositioning on the battlefield?

Russia emerges as the true leader of the future in Syria. The United States operate with their Turkish allies in the North, but this is an anti-Kurdish operation and the various Kurdish militias are US allies.

Shortly a clash will be recreated between both factions backed by the United States, which evidently have no strategy whatsoever in Syria except for the stale and impossible “exporting of democracy.”

Maybe the ceasefire will hold, but later the Syrian crisis will remain stable, with tensions on the Euphrates, the Kurdish reaction, the backlash of the Iranian Shiite units and the Russian raids.

The Western forces have no strategic project and therefore Russia – and hence Bashar al-Assad – will win because it has one, but after unimaginable ruins and the creation of a flow of migrants to the EU that will be very difficult to manage.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Iran: New details of shooting Global Hawk disclosed

Newsroom

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Deputy of Operations of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization Amir Khoshghalb, in an interview with Mehr news agency, released the details of downing US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk spy drone by IRGC.

“We were precisely observing the US drone’s activity even from the beginning moments of its flight,” he said, “We knew its route and it was under full supervision of Iran Defense Organization.”

“The drone was moving towards Iran, breaching international regulations i.e. taking that route it was making a threat to Iran,” the Iranian official said. 

“It had even turned off its identification system,” he added.

“We needed to take a tactical measure, accordingly,” he said.

“Our tactical measure has various aspects; first we issued a radio warning,” Khshghalb described, “In some cases, the warning is stronger and will lead into a strong tactical measure such as shooting.”

“On its route, which was longer than three hours, the drone, which was under our full surveillance, was seeking something,” he reiterated.

“May be we could take initial measures much earlier but we let the drone do its job and end its route,” he said, “We repeatedly issued warnings when the drone was on its way moving towards us asking it to act upon international regulations but it ignored all of them.”

On June 20, In June, Iran’s IRGC downed a US Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk spy drone after it had violated Iranian airspace. Despite the US claims that the drone had been flying over international waters, Iran said it had retrieved sections of the drone in its own territorial waters where it was shot down.

The intruding drone was shot by Iran’s homegrown air defense missile system “Khordad-3rd”.

US President Donald Trump said afterward that he aborted a military strike to retaliate against Iran’s downing of the US drone because it could have killed 150 people, and signaled he was open to talks with Tehran.

Chief of General Staff of Iranian Armed Force, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, said on Wednesday that the US was on the verge of attacking Iran but called off the plans after Iran downed the intruding drone.

“The US was to take a practical measure [military strike] against us but in the name of a high number of probable victims, it overturned the decision,” he said, adding, “The main reason, however, was Iran’s deterrence power.”

These are the result of the Iranian thought and the commands of the Revolution Leader, he said, noting that despite all problems, Iran enjoys great capabilities in the defense sector and the Iranian nation will not let eruption of another war.

From our partner MNA

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Rethinking Cyber warfare: Strategic Implications for United States and China

Zaeem Hassan Mehmood

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“Every age had its own kind of war, its own limiting conditions, and its own peculiar preconceptions.”Carl von Clausewitz

Internet has transformed the front lines of war. Modern conflicts are now waged online in cyberspace. World Wide Web (WWW) has eradicated all physical borders and defences, without which weak and powerful states are all prone to attacks. Concurring to this pretext, a number of countries have formally recognized cyber as the new domain of warfare in their strategy papers and documents. United States and China are the master players in this realm having military units active, with sophisticated state of art capabilities dedicated to cyber strikes. The consequences are dire, for the sole superpower, and for the rising economic giant which is projected to take over the former by 2025.

The dynamic nature of cyber warfare has caused frustration in the inner circles of Washington and Beijing. Both the public and the private sector have been targeted. The former to get hands on state secrets and latter for intellectual property rights. According to an estimate by US Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), it has cost the American economy $338 billion, an amount closer to the entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Pakistan. China on the other hand leads the Asia-Pacific region in cyber losses which incurs the country an annual estimated loss of $60 billion.

Next Generation Warfare

There is a surge seen in cyber attacks against the US. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and National Security Agency (NSA) at multiple times have came under attack. This is followed by Silicon Valley tech giants, such as Netflix, Twitter and Spotify who on numerous occasions have been taken down by cyber attackers. It is very difficult to trace the identity and origin of the attack, as various techniques like changing Internet Protocol (IP) cannot only hide identity of attacker but misattribute it to other nations. Cyber security analysts working in their private capacity have collected evidence that seems indicate China as the alleged perpetrator of recent waves of cyber-attacks.

However, cyber pundits have openly stated that they cannot guarantee with a hundred percent accuracy that the evidence collected in wake of cyber-attacks is authentic and not planted by perpetrators to seem to look genuine. In cyberspace. An attack could be from anywhere around the globe. It could be from friends and foes alike, anyone can attack and make it look like an attack came from China or other adversary. In the past, cyberattackers from France bypassed into secured servers stealing classified information relating to American products and designs. Added to that, it is an expensive and difficult task to analyze these attacks. To know that you have been attacked or infiltrated is itself a big achievement. Considering that, it take days or even months to find that your security has been compromised. It took seven months for security analyst to find the Stuxnet virus that was hiding itself into a legitimate Siemens software responsible for controlling centrifuges at nuclear power plants around the world. According to an estimate starting rates for analyzing and identifying cyber attacks start from $650 dollars per hour, which often end up towards an uncertain conclusions.

Philippe Goldstein author of Babel Zero argues that attacking against a wrong adversary would be catastrophic. A troublesome scenario, where attacks in cyberspace can be met with conventional and even nuclear culminating a “Cyber Armageddon”. It is this reason that states have taken cyber warfare seriously and synonymous to national security. China has incorporated cyber command structure within its armed forces, under the“Three Warfare strategy.”

Cybersecurity analysts have called minuet “cyber bullets” as ‘Cyber weapons of Mass Destruction.’ All one needs is ‘bad timings, bad decision making and some bad luck!’ and you can end up having a World War III which was 24/7 nightmare of Cold War veterans. The world is not immune from such attacks. Anyone having an access to any computing device, from iPods to digital smart watches, having right technical skills can cause a national security crisis. This is well depicted in John Badham’s film, WarGames where a young hacker unknowingly sets a US military supercomputer to launch nuclear weapons on the former Soviet Union. Few years back, an attack on FBI’s website resulted in leaking of classified data caused alarm bells in Washington. Later it was found out the perpetrator was a 15 year old school boy from Glasgow, Scotland.

The way forward for states remains cumbersome in the absence of legal framework from the United Nations (UN). Further complications arise when the attack is orchestrated by a non-state actor or private individual from a particular state. Recent debates among the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members have arisen in the wake of alleged Russian sponsored cyber activities against Europe and America whether the collective defence measures under Article 5 would apply to a cyber-attack.

Cyber security is a relatively new introduction in war studies. The US Department of Defence (DOD) recognized cyber warfare, as the fifth domain of warfare following land, sea, air and outer space. There are around 30 countries that have dedicated cyber military units, whereas more than 140 countries have or are in developing stages to acquire cyber weapons. Cyber is the means by which countries irrespective of their financial standing can acquire to further states objectives. US and China are considered advanced states in cyber realm, having cyber military technology and capabilities that are rarely matched by other contenders. Therefore, studying their way of cyber dealings, strategies and policy making would allow other countries such as Pakistan to better able to understand the dynamics and nature of this new type of warfare. India has tasked the Defence Cyber Agency (DCA), presently headed by a two-star Admiral which reports directly to Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CCSC). DCA is presently undertaking to prepare a Cyber warfare doctrine for India. The repercussions of the developments are critical for Pakistan, which require a comprehensive safety and information guideline to be prepared for the masses. 

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Protest: The King is dead, long live the king

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Protest is back on the front burner.

Protesters occupy streets in cities ranging from Hong Kong and Moscow to Khartoum and Algiers. They would likely do so in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, were it not for unprecedented pre-emptive security measures.

When protest is not on the streets, it is embedded in culture wars wracking countries like the United States, Germany and India that stem from the struggle between liberals and mainstream conservatives on one side of the divide and civilisationalists, populists, extreme nationalists and far-right wingers on the other.

A clamour for transparent, accountable rule that delivers public goods and services is at the core of the protests even if some are framed as battles for environmental and economic issues and against corruption rather than democracy or in terms of nationalism, civilisationalism, racism and opposition to migration.

The sparks of the protests differ from country to country. So does the political environment. And the stakes at various stages of the game vary.

In Algeria and Sudan, it’s about an end to corrupt autocracy and more inclusive rule. In Kashmir, the rub is imposition of direct Indian rule and failure to ensure that the region benefits equitably from economic growth.

In Russia, deteriorating standards of living and environmental degradation are drivers while a younger generation in Hong Kong rejects Chinese encroachment in advance of incorporation into a totalitarian system.

The different drivers notwithstanding, the protests and the rise of civilisationalism, populism, and racial and religious supremacism, aided by fearmongering by ideologues and opportunistic politicians, are two sides of the same coin: a global collapse of confidence in incumbent systems and leadership that initially manifested itself in 2011 with the Arab revolts and Occupy Wall Street.

The Arab Spring was a warning bell; the fact that it was bloodily crushed does not mean it will not come back in another form,” said former Italian and United Nations diplomat Marco Carnelos.

It already has with the fall of Sudanese autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who is currently standing trial on corruption charges, and Algerian strongman Abdulaziz Bouteflika, whose associates face corruption proceedings.

Developments in the two African nations notwithstanding, protesters have so far won major battles but have yet to win the war.

Perhaps their most important victory has been the ability not only in Africa but also elsewhere like in Hong Kong to sustain their protests over substantial periods of time.

In maintaining their resilience, protesters were aided in Africa and Hong Kong by governments’ realization, despite the occasional use of force in Khartoum and Hong Kong, that brutal repression would at best provide a short-term, costly solution.

Even Russia, despite more frequent use of police violence, has not attempted to squash protests completely and on several occasions caved into protester demands.

The various experiences suggest that the political struggles underlying the protests are long rather than short-term battles involving lessons learnt from this decade’s earlier protests. The protests go through stages that at each turn of the road determine the next phase.

The struggles in Sudan and Algeria have developed into battles for dominance of the transition following the toppling of an autocrat.

In Sudan, the struggle has shifted from the street to the board rooms of power shared between the military and political forces with external forces like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seeking to shape the outcome in the background.

A Bellingcat investigation suggested that weapons used by Sudan’s Rapid Support Force (RSF), the successor organization to the Janjaweed that has been accused of war crimes in Sudan, were bought by Saudi Arabia in Serbia.

The RSF is believed to be responsible for the deaths in June of some 120 protesters.

Algeria is one step behind Sudan with the military and protesters still seeking to agree on a mutually acceptable transition process.

In Hong Kong, China has sought to avoid direct intervention. However, its use of proxies,  bullying of corporates and the business community, pressure on the Hong Kong government to resolve the issue without major concessions and attempts to play protesters on the basis of divide and rule has so far failed to produce results.

In contrast to Sudan, Algeria and Hong Kong, Russia has equally unsuccessfully sought to stifle protests with violence and repression.

“There is the desire to show strength in Moscow, but this will not stop the protest movement unless they start imprisoning people for 15 years. This will continue in a certain form, but whether it will change the country, no, not yet. It will keep the flame alive,” said political analyst Konstantin von Eggert.

Mr. Von Eggert’s analysis is equally valid for centres of protest elsewhere. The 2011 Arab revolts or Arab Spring and what analysts have called the Arab Winter were neither.

They were early phases of a messy process in which grievances are reflected as much in street protests as they are in support for civilizational, nationalist and populist leaders who have either failed to produce alternative workable solutions or are likely to do so.

Ultimately, the solution lies in policies that are politically, economically and socially inclusive. So far, that kind of an approach is the exception to the rule, which means that protest is likely to remain on the front burner and a fixture of the times.

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