Syrian Conflict – A Brief Military Analysis - June, 2013

Syrian Conflict – A Brief Military Analysis

Early phases

Trained and equipped to fight a conventional conflict against Israel, the Syrian Armed Forces were not adequately prepared for this kind of warfare. The government’s futile attempts to keep the entire country under their control forced them to disperse their troops too thinly thus making it easy for the rebels to pick on the army’s isolated checkpoints, barracks and bases. In response, the army’s heavy-handed methods (like heavy artillery strikes) were largely ineffective against the lightly equipped, mostly decentralized and heavily motivated/indoctrinated rebels.

Too many mistakes were done both at the tactical and strategic levels. Response times were inadequate. Too many tanks and other vehicles were lost because they were sent into urban areas without adequate infantry cover against armed groups well supplied with anti-tank weapons. To minimize destruction to the country, the Air Force was reluctant in using heavy bombs and was relying on less effective smaller caliber unguided rockets, etc. etc.

On the other hand, with their tangible successes in inflicting heavy casualties on the government’s forces the rebels were getting bolder by the day. Their numbers were getting boosted by a steady trickle of defectors from the army and police…That was the low point of the Assad regime which made the world believe in its demise.


President Bashar El-Assad and his followers had their backs to the wall. They had to adapt to this foreign funded and supported war that was imposed on them. It took them a while to come up with a working strategy and their armed forces had to improvise tactics that could stop the onslaught. With the threat of Western air strikes stalled by the timely and effective diplomatic actions of Russia (and to a lesser extent China), Assad’s planner correctly measured both their and their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and started addressing them.

The main objectives were determined: The Alawi inhabited coastal areas should be secure and Damascus should not be allowed to fall. All other places were expendable and could be sacrificed. Thus, Kurdish areas were relinquished to their local inhabitants and many isolated military bases around the country were simply abandoned. By late 2012, most of the remaining loyal troops were relocated to the above mentioned two areas.

The main threat to the capital was from the south. Large numbers of rebels (who were being resupplied from Jordan) were inching forward toward Damascus. The army successfully created a buffer zone by turning the town of Darayya into a shooting alley where the best trained tank battalions were making lightning raids and retreats in coordination with infantry and artillery assaults. At the same time, the Syrian Air Force became more aggressive and launched punitive raids against various towns and villages that were under rebel control. This and other tactics not only halted the rebel advances, but also naturally redirected the latter’s assaults towards easier targets in the eastern parts of the country which are not so important for the government  (such as the city of Raqqa). Assad’s armed forces finally got the respite they needed to reorganize and take back the initiative…


At first glance, the rebels seem to have ample manpower. As if every unemployed, disenchanted, disillusioned, religiously blinded, hatred-filled Sunni person able to carry a rifle has joined the ranks of the various organizations and gangs that are fighting what they refer to as “the regime”. Their numbers are swelled further by unknown numbers of army deserters, common criminals, thieves, murderers, gangsters, hooligans, anarchists and prison escapees.

In addition, rebel forces received both a quantitative and qualitative boost with significant numbers of religious fanatics from various terrorist associated organizations flooding into Syria. These Al-Qaida and Bin-Laden inspired jihadi, wahabi, salafi monsters have ample combat experience gained from various conflicts ranging from Afghanistan to Chechnya and from Iraq to Libya. The highly motivated and blood-thirsty forces that the Syrian Army is facing are indeed frightening….or are they?

In the first place, large portions of the rebel human assets are only local in nature. Lacking a central command and largely devoid of discipline, many of the young boys may be ready to fight in their village and vicinity but will not volunteer to fight in another region. Some of them will venture on a distant adventure for a few days, but will return back to home’s comfort and brag about their “heroic” adventures. Secondly, there is little coordination between the various rebel factions who are in fact rivals. They have diverging objectives and different agendas – infighting is frequent.

Because of massive desertion, the Syrian Armed Forces shrunk substantially in numbers. The high command rectified that situation by creating “popular armies” (Lajnah Shaabia) consisting of groups of able bodied local people with ex-military service. These “popular armies” were tasked in protecting their neighborhoods from rebel infiltration, thus freeing the army to carry out offensive missions.

It is wrong to think that Assad’s army consists only of Alawis, Shiites, Christians and Druzes. Large numbers of Sunni soldiers (and citizens) remain loyal to the government and are ready to defend their nation. There are even reports that some of the deserters have re-joined the ranks. Furthermore, Assad turned towards its allies for additional manpower. Unknown numbers of Iraqi Shiites came in to Syria to help defend their “holy places”. Well trained Lebanese Hezbollah fighter joined the fight as well.

Weapons supply

It is no secret that the rebels are funded, trained and supplied by countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The “regimes” of these countries are buying arms and ammunition from various places like Libya, Croatia, Ukraine and shipping them to Syria. The smuggling of weapons and foreign fighters are through the porous borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. It is also no secret that the Syrian troops are being resupplied by Iran via an air bridge through Iraqi airspace as well as by Russia via ships docking in Lataquia and Tartus. Venezuela has (at least in one instance) provided fuel free of charge to Syria.

Enter the Russian Navy

Since almost from the beginning of the conflict, the Russian Navy has committed itself to maintain a naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. These ships are not to just show the flag or display military might. Their political significance is secondary. Their main tasks are to ensure that arms shipment to the Syrian government are not “intercepted” or “inspected” by Turkish, NATO or Israeli navies. And secondly, with discrete approval by the Lebanese government, they are preventing the arrival of any arms shipments (intended for the Syrian rebels) from Libya to Lebanon.


The Syrian conflict is currently in that stage. After stalling the rebel advances, the regrouped and reinvigorated Syrian Army has recently launched a major offensive to dislodge the enemy from key locations. The offensive went along two main axes. The first was towards Daraa (the birthplace of the “Syrian revolution”). The Army’s offensive was well planned and executed. The determined attack culminated with the major defeat of the rebels at the village of Khirbet-Ghazaleh and the pacification of the Daraa area. This also led to the re-establishment of government control over the Jordan border which was recently reopened for legal traffic. The second offensive was tasked to retake the strategic town of Qusayr and control the border with Lebanon. It was brightly executed with a series of flanking and bypassing maneuvers that were coordinated together with Hezbollah elements coming from the Hermel region in Lebanon. The rebels are struggling to cope with that offensive and (as I write these lines) are on the verge of capitulating in Qusayr.

Western Plans

From the beginning, the Washington-Ankara-Tel-Aviv-Doha-Riyadh axis’ ultimate aim in this Syrian conflict is to replace the Assad “regime” by a puppet government who will dance to their tune and jump when told to do so. Without the imposition of a “Libya style” no-fly zone, the “Free Syrian Army” rebels were unable to achieve the West’s goal. Unfortunately, for at least the short to medium term, the West has realized their lesser goal: With all the damage and destruction…emerging is a weaker Syria, both economically and militarily. Over the long term: With the way the battles are proceeding on the ground, some of the above capitals are now seriously contemplating the not too long ago unthinkable: “What if Assad wins this conflict?”…

The Case of S-300 Missiles

President Assad’s comments on his latest interview were misinterpreted. Components of the S-300 air defense missile systems have not been delivered yet. Having said that, the geopolitical aspects of Russia’s decision to supply Syria with these formidable weapons are just as great as the military aspects. Putin wants Washington and Tel-Aviv to understand that they don’t call all the shots in the volatile Middle East. He also wants to show the world that Russia stands by its allies and that a bullied nation can seek Moscow’s protection.

Formidable as they are, the S-300 does not make an impenetrable protective shield. No weapon in this world is invincible. In fact, the S-300 is just one component of a proper air defense network – an important one. Over the last couple of years, Syria has received other elements of such a network: the short range PANTSIR-S and the medium range BUK-M2E anti-aircraft missiles. Just recently, reports have emerged that the pre-civil war contract for 24 modern MiG-35 fighters will be executed. Once everything is in place, Israeli and NATO planners will find it very difficult to carry out air adventures against Syria.

Future Strategies

Few people are privy to President Assad’s plans. I believe that his short-term intention is to consolidate his grip on the arc stretching from the seacoast via Homs to Damascus and to the border with Jordan. As a first step, he wants to have the highway from Lataquia to Homs, and from there to Damascus open and get those parts of the country to get back to a degree of normalcy. To accomplish that, the armed forces must still eliminate the pockets of resistance in Homs and elsewhere in the various areas.

Now that the Army largely controls the borders with Lebanon and Jordan, arms shipments to the rebels via these countries are practically ceased. The Shiite dominated government in Iraq is doing its part in stopping the resupply of rebels through its territory. The only place where rebels can still get fighters and weapons from is the Turkish border…I suspect we will soon see an army offensive to clear out the rebels from those regions (as well as Aleppo). In my opinion, if Assad succeeds in the above tasks, the rebels will be confined to large but militarily insignificant parts of the Syrian Desert where - with little possibility of supply and support – the rebellion will be left to die a natural death over a period of time.

As for the rebels, the tide has turned on them and they are now on the defensive. Apart from trying to decapitate the regime with suicide bombs aimed at the very top leadership, their only chance to regain the initiative is to somehow regroup and launch major offensives to rupture the links between the seacoast, Homs and Damascus. Failure to do this will accelerate their demise and result in the first defeat of an  “Arab Spring Revolution” … Another fiasco similar to the 2006 Israel’s Lebanon adventure (on a much bigger scale).

June. 2013

Wall Street Journal: Assad on the March
Has Obama decided that he wants Syria's dictator to win?

Bashar Assad has a new swagger, and why not? His Syrian troops are on the march, retaking territory from rebels thanks to arms from Russia and troops and weapons from Iran and Hezbollah. The West is slowly losing in Syria to this axis of Mideast extremism, and Americans need to understand the potential consequences. This week the European Union finally lifted its embargo against arming Syria's rebels, two years too late and many tons of firepower short. The EU delayed any arms supply until August 1, and whatever little it eventually provides won't match the aircraft and artillery deployed by Syrian forces.

Iran has sent its Revolutionary Guards to guide Syrian attacks, and its Hezbollah militia in Lebanon has joined the fight in force. "It is our battle, and we are up to it," declared Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah last weekend. Meanwhile, the Russians responded to Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit to Moscow with plans to send advanced S-300 air defense missile batteries to Assad. This is in addition to the military advisers it has sent to Damascus, as well as its diplomatic cover at the United Nations and in persuading Mr. Kerry to agree to a Syrian peace conference in the coming weeks.

You almost have to admire the brazenness of Russian diplomacy. Responding to the EU arms decision, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov called it "a reflection of double standards," while defending Moscow's arms deliveries as a "stabilizing factor" in the Middle East. Andrei Gromyko would have laughed at that one.

All of this helps to explain Assad's new military bluster. The young dictator has come out of his bunker in recent days to boast of his new support, especially his Russian air defenses, and to threaten Israel directly. On Thursday, he promised to shoot down Israeli aircraft that entered Syrian airspace, and he mused about letting Islamist fighters loose along the border with the Israeli-held Golan Heights. "There is clear popular pressure to open the Golan front to resistance," Mr. Assad said, adding that "we have received many Arab delegations wanting to know how young people might be enrolled to come and fight Israel."

An empty ammunition casing and a fire are seen in a field after heavy fighting at the al Barak area near Qusair town on Friday. The new missile defenses will make it harder for Israel to destroy such threats as the Syrian nuclear-weapons facility its jets bombed in 2007, or the truck convoys carrying missiles to Hezbollah that it hit this year. Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons will also be that much harder for Israel or the West to destroy or round up. Mark this as another triumph for President Obama's diplomatic "reset" with Russia.

Speaking of the President, he is still sticking publicly to his line that "Assad must go," but we're beginning to wonder if he means it. The Administration offered only lukewarm support for the EU decision to lift its arms embargo and has muted talk of American arms for the moderate Free Syrian Army.

The U.S. has instead put all its chips on the peace conference led by the Russians, who define peace as Assad's triumph. The American position used to be that Assad's departure was a precondition for talks, but now Mr. Kerry says Assad and Iran can both attend. Assad's version of compromise this week was to assert that any peace conference outcome must be ratified in a Syrian referendum, which means voting in parts of the country he controls.

On the evidence of his actions, Mr. Obama may have decided that an Assad victory is preferable to continued civil war. The President can't say this in public without major embarrassment. But he's refused to arm the rebels, refused to organize an anti-Assad coalition outside the U.N., and refused to honor even his own promise that chemical-weapons use in Syria would be a "game-changer." Mr. Obama has actively helped Assad by doing nothing to counter Russia and Iran.

The likeliest outcomes now are either an Assad victory or continuing war that kills tens of thousands more. An Assad triumph would mean a Shiite crescent of power from Iran through Syria to Lebanon that would foment instability and violence. Russia would be the region's main political arbiter.

The Sunni Arabs who run Bahrain—the base for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet—would be under increasing political pressure. Turkey, Iraq and the Gulf states would have to decide how much to accommodate this new dominant axis. Israel would be increasingly isolated and its strategic military depth eroded.

The outcome of continuing war is less predictable but the regional disruption isn't. Jordan's moderate monarchy could fall as refugees flood in from Syria. Iraq's sectarian strife would grow, fed by both Syria and Iran, and the Kurds (backed by the Turks) might try to carve out their own homeland. In the worst case, Sunnis and Shiites would start a full-scale regional war.

This may sound like an exaggerated parade of horribles, but none of our "realist" sages predicted the current mess when the Syrian rebellion began two years ago. Mr. Obama has taken their advice to abandon Middle East leadership, and the vacuum has been filled by Russians and Iranians bent on pushing the U.S. out and dominating the region. Welcome to the post-American century.


Balance of Power in Syria Shifting Assad's Way

As hopes for a Syrian peace conference fade and the opposition falls into growing disarray, President Bashar Assad has every reason to project confidence. Government forces have moved steadily against rebels in key areas of the country over the past two months, making strategic advances and considerably lowering the threat to the capital, Damascus. With army soldiers no longer defecting and elite Hezbollah fighters actively helping, the regime now clearly has the upper hand in a two-year civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people.

In back-to-back interviews with Lebanese TV stations this week, Assad and his foreign minister both projected an image of self-assuredness, boasting of achievements and suggesting that the military's offensive would continue regardless of whether a peace track is in place.

"What is happening now is not a shift in tactic from defense to attack, but rather a shift in the balance of power in favor of the armed forces," Assad said of his troops' recent battleground successes. "There is no doubt that as events have unfolded, Syrians have been able to better understand the situation and what is really at stake," he told Al-Manar TV, owned by the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. "This has helped the armed forces to better carry out their duties and achieve results."

Military analysts and activists on the ground in Syria say that Assad's forces have shown renewed determination since roughly the beginning of April, moving to recapture areas that had long fallen to rebels. Significantly, Syrian troops appear to have gained the edge in the country's central Homs region. The regime considers Homs strategically important partly because it links Damascus with the coastal heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. The rebels are mostly from the country's Sunni Muslim majority. The coast also is home to the country's two main seaports, Latakia and Tartus.

Syrian troops and Hezbollah forces have successfully been clearing the town of Qusair in Homs province, where rebels have been entrenched for a year. State-run Syrian TV said troops on Friday captured the village of Jawadiyeh outside Qusair, closing all entrances leading to the town and tightening the government's siege. For the rebels, holding the town means protecting their supply line to Lebanon, just 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

Rebels have fought back against the government push into Qusair, and days ago called on opposition forces around the country to join them. Activists said that organized groups of rebels from the northern province of Aleppo managed on Friday to enter areas of the town still in opposition hands to help defend it. In an interview with Al-Mayadeen TV Wednesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said he expected the fall of Qusair to the regime "within days."

The commander of the main Western-backed umbrella group of Syrian rebel brigades, Gen. Salim Idris, told The Associated Press in an interview this week that unless rebels receive weapons quickly, they might not be able to hold Qusair. The army has also successfully pushed back rebels in some areas around the capital. According to residents, that's led to a decline in mortar shells on the city center that only few weeks ago were a daily occurrence.

"The army has broken the atmosphere of fear and terror inside Damascus that the rebels created by firing mortars," said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese army general who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut.

Jaber said troops have cleared up to 80 percent of the areas around Damascus in the past two months. Equally important, he said, is the successful offensive the army is conducting in the area south of Damascus that links the capital with the Jordanian border.

Despite a surge in rebel advances near Jordan earlier this year, the government now appears to control much of Daraa province, an opposition stronghold south of Damascus and the birthplace of the uprising. Experts say the defection rate from Assad's military has sharply dwindled by now, and he has more than made up for it with the help of paramilitary forces and Shiite fighters from Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Politically, Assad can still count on the support of his Russian and Iranian allies — and the growing disarray of the Western-backed Syrian opposition.

On Friday, Russia's MiG aircraft maker announced plans to sign a new agreement to ship at least 10 fighter jets to Syria, a move that comes amid international criticism of earlier Russian weapons deals with Assad's regime. MiG's director general, Sergei Korotkov, said a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss a new contract for MiG-29 M/M2 fighters. Russian news agencies cited him as saying Syria wants to buy "more than 10" such fighters, but wouldn't give the exact number.

Hours after the Russian announcement, the U.S. and Germany lashed out at Moscow's intentions to provide the Assad regime with an advanced air defense system, which they believe could prolong Syria's civil war.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia's transfer of the S-300 missiles would not be "helpful" as the U.S. and Russia jointly try to get the Syrian government and opposition into peace negotiations. The peace talks were initially planned for Geneva next month but have been delayed until July at the earliest. After meeting Kerry, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Russia must not "endanger" the peace talks, describing weapon deliveries to Assad as "totally wrong."

An air defense system could also make it harder for the international community to enforce a possible no-fly zone to assist the Syrian rebels fighting Assad — something it did in the 2011 civil war in Libya. Meanwhile, Syria's main political opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition faced stiff criticism from Syrian activists for spending weeklong meetings in Turkey bogged down in personal issues and quarrels about expanding its membership.

On Thursday, the Coalition announced that in light of "massacres" in Qusair, it would not attend peace talks. Assad, in the interview, projected forcefulness and repeatedly mocked the opposition, calling members of the Coalition "tools" and "slaves" of the West and U.S.-allied Gulf Arab countries.

"We have absolute confidence in our victory," he said. While saying his government is ready "in principle" to attend peace talks in Geneva, he said any agreement reached there would have to be put to a referendum. He also said he would "not hesitate" to run for re-election in 2014 if the Syrian people so wished.

The Coalition's decision not to attend peace talks with representatives of the Assad regime torpedoes the only plan for trying to end Syria's civil war that the international community had been able to agree on. With prospects for a diplomatic solution dim, the West may have to come up with a new approach. President Barack Obama will likely face renewed pressure to help the rebels militarily.

On Friday, Republican Senator John McCain said rebels need ammunition and heavy weapons to reverse a battlefield situation that currently favors Assad's forces. He spoke a day after he returned from an unannounced trip to Syria. Britain and France, meanwhile, might have to reassess their timetable for possible arms shipments to the rebels. Earlier this week, the European Union's two main military powers had said they will not send weapons while peace talks remain a viable option.

Amr Al Azm, a U.S.-based Syrian activist and professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio, said the regime's definition of victory has changed. He said it did not matter anymore to Assad that large swathes northern and northeastern Syria were out of government control. "Assad now considers that if he survives until 2014 while holding on to the coast and the capital, his seat of power, that's victory," he said.

Meanwhile, relatives of a 33-year-old Michigan woman said Friday that she was killed in Syria, the only American known to have died fighting in the civil war. Nicole Lynn Mansfield's relatives said she became interested in the Middle East after converting to Islam and marrying an Arab immigrant several years ago, but said they didn't know she was in Syria.

A pro-Syrian TV said Mansfield, a British man and another fighter working with the opposition were killed in a confrontation with troops in the northern city of Idlib. The report on the circumstances of the deaths could not immediately be confirmed. Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a U.K. national was killed in Syria but gave no other details.


Washington Post: Six ways Assad has turned the tide in Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his forces “are beginning to turn the tide of the country’s war,” The Washington Post’s Liz Sly reported on Saturday from Beirut, explaining that Assad is “bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.” Sly finds that “the pendulum is now swinging in favor of Assad.” How are Assad’s forces doing it? Here are a few of the trends Sly found, plus one from another source:

(1) Sectarian reshuffling within the armed forces. Most Syrians are Sunni, and so are most Syrian rebels. But the Syrian regime is dominated by minority groups such as Alawites. Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that is Syria’s ally, is Shia. Putting more emphasis on minority fighters helps the regime get around its internal Sunni problem – fewer defections, more committed soldiers – although it also risks exacerbating sectarian tensions.

(2) Folding in militias. The regime has brought in 60,000 “irregular” militia fighters to supplement the armed forces, giving them both more firepower and a qualitatively different kind of firepower, better suited to challenge the rebels on their own turf.

(3) Training from Hezbollah in urban warfare. The rebels have had an advantage in city street-fighting. Now, with help from the experts, regime forces are closing that gap.

(4) Cutting off rebels from supply routes. Sly reports: “Assad loyalists are steadily squeezing [the rebels], isolating them from one another and cutting their supply routes, the rebels say. Units are running out of ammunition, and some sound increasingly desperate.”

(5) Focus all energy on key “nodes.” The regime appears to be bringing its overwhelming military might to bear on a handful of strategic locations: Damascus suburbs, the transit “linchpin” of Homs and coastal ports, among others. That means neglecting less-strategic areas for now, but presumably not for good.

(6) Impenetrable strongholds. The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers, in a recent interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air“, explained that the regime has used its technological advantage to retreat into a number of strongholds around the country, from which it launches artillery, mortar and air attacks against rebels and civilians. Because the rebels don’t have the firepower to breach these structures, they can’t stop – or escape – the bombardment.


Assad's Forces Score Victory in Syria Fight

As the United Nations human rights body voted to condemn Syria's use of foreign fighters in its deadly attacks on the border town of Quasyr, it appeared the regime's forces, backed by up to 2000 Hezbollah militia, had seized a key air base in the area. Elite Syrian Republican Guards and Hezbollah fighters rushed to Qusayr to bolster the regime's campaign while government fighter jets pounded rebel-held areas in some of the fiercest fighting since the two-year long civil war began, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

If confirmed, the seizure of the Dabaa air base would be a major blow for opposition forces, with Syrian state media claiming that Assad's troops already controlled Quasyr from three sides. After five hours of fierce fighting, Syrian state television announced: “Our troops are now in full control of Dabaa air base”.

"There are bodies littering the ground, rebels have been captured and others surrendered. The army is now advancing on the town of Dabaa," a military source told Agence-France Presse. The McClatchy news agency is reporting that both sides of the conflict have confirmed that Syrian government forces have seized most of Qusayr.

‘‘We have suffered heavy losses,’’ said Yazed al Hasan, a spokesman for the rebel Farouq Battalions, which have occupied Qusayr since last year. A Hezbollah fighter, who asked to be referred to only as Ayoub, a pseudonym, because Hezbollah’s leadership hadn’t authorised him to speak to reporters, said his group’s strategists had divided Qusayr ‘‘on a grid into 16 squares.’’

‘‘We have cleared 13 of them,’’ he said.

The border town of Quasyr is a vital corridor to both the Assad regime (as a key part of the road from Damascus to the Mediterranean Coast) and the rebels (as a strategic supply-line for fighters, weapons, medications and other essentials from Lebanon into the Syrian province of Homs). Up to 20,000 civilians remain trapped inside the town, terrorised by more than 10 days of intense fighting, local sources say.

In this increasingly sectarian battle, there are also reports that Sunni militia from Lebanon have joined the rebel forces in their battle against Assad's fighters, their Shiite Hezbollah backers and Iran's Revolutionary Guards. France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday there were 3000 to 4000 Hezbollah fighters in active combat inside Syria. It is this open presence of a large number of Hezbollah soldiers inside Syria that has prompted a deadly spill over of violence inside Lebanon in the past week, where at least 30 people have been killed and 250 injured in sectarian clashes in the northern town of Tripoli.

“It is a very delicate, very dangerous situation,” warned Rami Khouri, the director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “Tripoli is about the only place in the country where you do not have either the Government or Hezbollah fully in control.”

It will be difficult to turn back the clock now that Hezbollah had moved to active warfare inside Syria, Khouri said, pointing to the rocket attack on the Hezbollah neighbourhood of Chiah in Beirut's southern suburb as the most serious consequence so far.

“There will be repercussions,” he said, “but I don't think it will become fully-fledged civil war – they will go to the brink … and then they will step away again.”

Indeed, General Salim Idris, the head of the Syria's Revolutionary Military Council, on Wednesday warned Hezbollah that it had "24 hours to withdraw from Syria" saying they would "take all measures to hunt Hezbollah, even in hell". "I can no longer restrain the fighters" of the FSA, he told the Al-Arabiya news channel.

Tensions remained high in the Tripoli suburbs of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, where snipers continued to terrorise residents and grenades were thrown between the two warring neighbourhoods. The fighting in Tripoli is inextricably linked to the conflict in Syria – the Alawite residents of Jabal Mohsen back the Assad regime, while the Sunni residents of Bab al-Tabbaneh support the rebels.

Meanwhile in an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay laid bare the catastrophe that was unfolding inside Syria, where more than 80,000 people have already died in the conflict.

“The situation in Syria reflects a colossal failure to protect civilians,” she said, warning the situation was “spinning out of control”. “Day after day, children, women and men suffer the brutality of unbridled violence and gross human rights violations by all parties. “The increasing number of foreign fighters crossing Syria's borders to support one side or the other, is further fuelling the sectarian violence, and the situation is beginning to show worrying signs of destabilising the region as a whole.”

The UN overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for an end to the fighting in Quasyr and condemning the involvement of foreign fighters in the conflict, specifically mentioning the presence of Hezbollah forces on the ground and the potential for deepening regional conflict.

Speaking two days after the European Union voted to end its embargo on the provision of weapons to the Syrian opposition forces and Russia announced it would deliver a sophisticated anti-aircraft system to Syria, Ms Pillay warned that supplying weapons and ammunition to either side in the conflict “emboldens the belligerents”.

It could ensure that “increased inter-communal massacres are a certainty, rather than a risk”, she warned. Russia's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Alexei Borodavkin, described the resolution as “dangerous and hypocritical” and said it would only “complicate the launch of the peace process in Syria”.

As the UN sat in Geneva, the 63-member opposition Syrian National Council met in Istanbul for its seventh day of talks. The fractious group appeared no closer to resolving the differences that have prevented it from presenting a credible alternative to the Assad regime. And although the Assad regime has committed to sending representatives, the Opposition has not yet decided whether to attend a US and Russia-backed peace conference scheduled to be held in Geneva next month.It announced overnight it would only participate in the Geneva conference if a deadline was set for Assad's removal.

Syrian Forces Claim Victory in Battle for Strategic Town

Syrian government forces and their allies in Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, seized most of the strategic crossroads town of Qusayr early on Wednesday, a painful defeat for outgunned Syria rebels and an advance for President Bashar al-Assad. If it sticks, the military gain could infuse his forces with momentum and embolden him to push for military victory just as Russia and the United States are pressing the combatants to negotiate.

The government’s triumphal advance into Qusayr also suggested that the intervention on Mr. Assad’s side by Hezbollah had proved decisive as its fighters besieged, then stormed, a rebel stronghold that the Syrian military had bombarded in vain for months.

But the intervention also carries big political risks for Hezbollah, which has historically been revered in Syria for its opposition to Israel but is now seen as a sectarian-driven occupying force by Mr. Assad’s insurgent enemies, who are mostly Sunni. Hezbollah has said it intervened in Syria to protect neighboring Lebanon from Islamist extremists.

The government claimed victory in Qusayr, broadcasting pictures of soldiers raising flags over wrecked buildings as the rebels said they had withdrawn from much of the town. At the same time, senior American, Russian and United Nations officials convened in Geneva to try to find enough common ground among themselves and the Syrian combatants to hold talks to halt the carnage and work toward a political transition.

By late afternoon, the sides had failed to agree even on who would attend the conference, and officials said they would adjourn and try again on June 25. Lakhdar Brahimi, the special United Nations representative on Syria, told reporters that “evidently, there is still a lot of work to do.”

With the Syrian opposition’s political leaders disunited and the government defiant, expectations remained low for any talks aimed at halting the conflict, which is more than two years old and has left an estimated 80,000 people dead.

The Geneva meeting was also overshadowed by statements from France and Britain over the past day that sarin nerve gas had been used in Syria. The statements confronted American officials with the possibility that Mr. Assad’s government had crossed what President Obama has called a “red line” that could prompt American intervention — an option for which the administration has shown waning enthusiasm. However, a cabinet shuffle on Wednesday appeared to give new prominence to advocates of a more active American role, if not of direct military intervention.

A day after France announced that French laboratory tests had confirmed that sarin gas had been used “multiple times” in Syria “in a localized way,” Britain on Wednesday repeated an earlier assessment that “a growing body of limited but persuasive information” pointed to the use of the same toxin.

French and British officials did not make public the details of the evidence on which their assessments were based. The French statements said there was “no doubt” the government or its accomplices were behind the alleged use of the gas in at least one case, based on samples of bodily fluids from victims, including urine samples brought out of Syria by French journalists. British statements were more cautious, saying “the room for doubt” about the use of sarin “continues to diminish” and that the use was “very likely” by the government.

In Qusayr, further underscoring the volatility of the conflict, rebels and anti-government activists said their fighters would battle on in surrounding villages and in the northern part of the town, where they are most deeply entrenched. Syria state media acknowledged that the fight was not completely over, saying the military was still sweeping northern Qusayr for militants.

Rebels have prepared for more than a year to defend the area, using tunnels and storing food and supplies in underground command rooms that were seen by a reporter who recently visited villages close to the town, including the village of Daba’a. Reuters, quoting a Syrian security official, reported that the military and Hezbollah had left open corridors allowing rebels to withdraw toward Daba’a.

The rebels, who had held Qusayr for more than a year, fought for more than two weeks — longer than expected — against intense assaults by a far larger force and inflicted unaccustomed casualties on Hezbollah’s seasoned fighters, many of whom were honored as martyrs in funeral ceremonies around Lebanon.

But the situation inside Qusayr had grown desperate. Ammunition was running out. Rebel reinforcements were fewer than expected and many were unable to penetrate the government cordon around the city. With medical supplies dwindling, hundreds of wounded people could not be evacuated as Hezbollah fighters assaulted the city backed by heavy government airstrikes and artillery bombardment.

Rebels said they had managed to evacuate some of the wounded, although there were fears of reprisals against those who remained. “Yes my brothers, it is one round that we lost,” the Qusayr Coordinating Committee, an antigovernment group inside the town, said in a posting on its Facebook page. “But war is a drawn out competition.”

Syrian media and military officers portrayed the development as a possible turning point in the conflict. “He who controls Qusayr controls the center of the country, and he who controls the center of the country controls the whole of Syria,” said Brig. Gen. Yahya Suleiman, speaking to Beirut-based Mayadeen television. The battle fit a pattern in which rebels hang on until the last minute and then announce a tactical withdrawal. Syrian forces have sometimes been unable to hold reclaimed territory, such as in rebel strongholds in the city of Homs and the Damascus suburbs.

And if Hezbollah’s fighters try to hold Qusayr — which has taken on a heavy symbolic significance for rebels — they will be in an incongruous role, effectively occupying territory in Syria, a country where they were long revered for driving out Israel’s 15-year occupation of southern Lebanon. A Syrian opposition figure said the rebel retreat followed an intervention by the United Nations, which had expressed concern about a humanitarian crisis in Qusayr, especially after the government and Hezbollah fighters had refused to allow Red Crescent humanitarian workers to enter and treat wounded civilians.

A member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main exile opposition group, said on condition of anonymity that after mediation by the Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt, United Nations officials relayed a message that Mr. Assad had agreed to allow the wounded to leave on the condition that “armed gangs” leave Qusayr. The battle — the largest and most public intervention yet in Syria by Hezbollah — increased tensions throughout the region, pitting Hezbollah against mostly Sunni rebels from Qusayr as well as Sunni jihadists from Lebanon and other countries who had joined the battle.

Fighters and civilians around Qusayr used increasingly sectarian language during the battle, vowing revenge on Shiites in general and Hezbollah in particular. Hezbollah-controlled residential areas inside Lebanon were rocketed in attacks attributed to Syrian rebels or their Lebanese Sunni supporters, who also increased their attacks on Alawite supporters of Mr. Assad in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.

Sunni clerics issued decrees calling on their followers to rush to Qusayr to help, but the call proved more rhetoric than reality. Fighters and activists in Qusayr issued anguished statements of confusion and despair on Wednesday. “What happened to all the fighters who were on their way to Qusayr to support us?” said Ammar, an antigovernment activist who used only his first name for safety.

Another activist, Jad al-Yamani, who lost his brother in the battle, said from the outskirts of the city, “Now I lost everything. I cannot return to my town anymore.” One man in a video posted by opposition activists said, “We are being exterminated by the Shiites,” and shouted sarcastically, “Let all Arabs be happy and let all Muslims be happy! Qusayr is gone today. So be happy and sing and celebrate!”

Another video showed a well-known opposition activist in Qusayr, Hadi Abdullah, amid a chaotic scene of patients being loaded onto trucks. One man with a gray beard began to cry as he said, “We are dying slowly. Everyone was martyred here and all that’s left is us.”

In the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut, signs appeared saying “Qusayr falls” as people distributed candy and celebrated. Some rebels said they were bracing to fight Hezbollah if it pushed on to the northern city of Aleppo — a city even farther outside Hezbollah’s traditional sphere of strategic interest than Qusayr. Abu al-Haytham, an opposition activist affiliated with a rebel group in Aleppo, said that government forces had flown in Hezbollah and government soldiers by helicopter in recent days to Shiite villages near the city that rebels have been attacking.

Though the claims could not be confirmed, the fact that Syrian rebels considered such an attack a possibility from Hezbollah, a group traditionally revered by Syrians of all sects for its fight against Israel, underscored the surprising turns the conflict has taken in recent weeks, as Hezbollah’s involvement heightened the sectarian tone of the combatants and threatened to spread fighting to Lebanon.

“I’m going to be honest with you, the battle will be transferred to Lebanon very soon,” Abu Haytham said. " It’s sectarian now.”


Russia’s Success, the West’s Failure

More than two years after the revolt broke out against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, it is fair to say that Russia’s policies are succeeding, whereas the West’s analysis and actions are failing. Thanks in large part to Russia’s military, political and diplomatic support, the Syrian dictator’s regime has not fallen and his repression continues relentlessly, unimpeded by a paralyzed U.N. Security Council. The West has been unable to shape events on the ground, with its “red lines” apparently fading into insignificance.

But Russia’s success to date, while significant, will be short-lived. President Vladimir Putin has made his point, and it is now in Russia’s own interest to cooperate with the West and help foster an end to the bloodshed in Syria.

Not only is the opposition militarily and politically disunited, but its most ferocious jihadist elements are in the ascendant, benefiting from the weaponry liberally provided by their rival patrons in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. After Afghanistan and Iraq, an easy-to-get-to Syria has also become the primary magnet for large numbers of foreign jihadist wannabes, who may return armed and trained to commit acts of terror in the West. That development makes it increasingly unappealing for the West to send arms to the rebellion, and it is doubtful whether the recent lifting of the European Union’s arms embargo will be (or should be) followed through.

Russia’s success is typical of the country’s history as a great power during the last two centuries: It is used to taking calculated risks, even against apparently long odds, and its approach tends to operate in a zero sum perspective — my gain is your loss. But this approach also forces Russia to cope with the immensely difficult consequences.

Russia has been present in Syria as a major provider of defense and political support for half a century, building up habits of cooperation and ties at all levels of society, perhaps best symbolized by the intermarriage of thousands of Russian-Syrian couples.

To preserve its long-standing investment, the Kremlin’s interest would appear to be to remain on the right side of whoever happens to be in power in Syria. When the revolutions of the Arab Spring blossomed in 2011, it was widely assumed both in the West and in the Arab world that Assad’s fall would echo that of Tunisia’s leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, since the same causes tend to produce the same effects in similar societies. It appeared that Russia had backed a loser, at the risk of losing all of its positions in Syria, including access to the naval facilities in Tartus. But, for the time being, the gamble has gone Moscow’s way.

However, only part of this policy was linked to Russia’s genuine self-interest, such as Moscow’s fear of contagion from a jihadi-dominated Syria to fundamentalist groups in the Caucasus. Russia has been largely — maybe mainly — driven by the wish to punish the Western powers for having abused, in its eyes, the Security Council’s authority to overthrow Qaddafi.

Putin wasn’t going to let this happen a second time. Hence the negative-sum outcome: The West has clearly been blocked at the United Nations and generally deterred from acting decisively to shape events in Syria.
At the same time, Moscow gains little in positive terms. The Syrian civil war means that Russia’s interests in that country have decreasing value, while the rise of jihadist groups increases the risk of spillover in the Islamic regions of Russia.

Furthermore, Russia will find it no less easy than the West to deal with the local and regional consequences of the Syrian civil war. Assad is no longer holding on as the chief of a functioning state but as a warlord who is more powerful than others in a splintering Syria. Neighboring Jordan is facing an existential threat, and a dysfunctional Iraq appears to be descending anew into civil war. The ultimate Russian interest is presumably not to become the collateral victim of spiraling jihadist violence.

Therefore, after having successfully made his point against the West, Putin may now find it expedient to seriously attempt a political solution at the conference planned this summer in Geneva, for example by holding back on weapons shipments. The same restraint should apply to Western arms deliveries. The West could also agree to allow Syria’s ruling Baathist party to be a full part of any political solution, including in the organization of elections, along the lines that allowed for a reasonably successful transition in Yemen.

The West has good reason to resent the success of Russia’s support of Assad, with its atrocious human consequences. But today the situation is what it is, not what the West would have liked it to be. It has become in the West’s interest to refrain from arming the jihadis and to support a political resolution, preferably without Assad, but probably not without the ruling Baath party and bureaucracy.

François Heisbourg is special adviser at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, a Paris-based think tank.

 The Syrian Chessboard: Behind the Game Played by Russia, Israel, the U.S. and Other Powers

The umbrella group representing Syria’s rebellion on the world stage announced on Thursday that they would not attend peace talks proposed to take place in Geneva during June, a flat rejection that might appear to sideline the role of diplomacy in the civil war. But diplomacy is running full bore in the Syrian conflict, and even as horrors multiply on the battlefield, a good portion of the war is also being carried out in words. The best evidence might be the statements that overshadowed the rebels’ declaration in the same news cycle: President Bashar Assad hinted in a television interview that Russia has already delivered some components of an antiaircraft battery known as S-300.

Assad’s remarks amounted to what was originally dubbed CNN diplomacy, the use of satellite television to deliver a message. The term is no longer in use, in part because it has become the norm and in part because there are so many alternatives to CNN. In this case, the medium was a significant part of the message: the embattled Syrian President spoke with al-Manar, the satellite channel run by Hizballah, the Lebanon-based militia Syria supports alongside the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose Press TV propaganda arm elucidated some of the finer points of the sit-down. Military commanders like to quote Carl von Clausewitz’s dictum that war is the extension of politics by other means. But you never hear diplomats reference Mary Poppins on the relevant criteria for the perfect nanny: “Play games. All sorts.” Consider some of the diplomatic games engendered by the Syrian conflict:

Sabre Rattling

The S-300 is an impressive threat to enemy warplanes. When Russia made a deal to sell the system to Iran, the Pentagon was so unsettled by its implications for U.S. airpower that Washington pressured Moscow for years to renege on the deal, which it finally did in 2010, under cover of international sanctions aimed at Tehran’s nuclear program. Russia’s promise to deliver the same system to Syria means almost nothing in terms of the conduct of the civil war itself: the rebels have no planes.

But Israel does, and if the S-300s are delivered, “We will know what to do,” Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said this week. The implication was clear, given Israel’s recent track record: three times in the past four months, Israeli F-16s have struck inside Syria, taking out precisely the kind of advanced weapons systems that the S-300 is counted among. These attacks were meant to be discreet and aimed only at preventing the transfer of those weapons to Hizballah, a formidable proxy military force Iran helped form to battle Israel. Publicly and reportedly through back channels as well, the Israelis emphasize that their quarrel is not with Assad, whose demise many inside Israel see as a positive development (because it would also greatly degrade Hizballah, and by extension Iran, both of which sent fighters to help Assad). A second school of thought in Israel values Assad as “the devil we know,” a largely predictable and risk-averse enemy who now could be supplanted by a coterie of jihadist rebels, some of whom are formally allied with al-Qaeda.

“Israel did not intend to interfere, and these alleged strikes had very little to do with the rebellion that’s taking place in Syria,” says Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank heavily staffed by retirees from Israel’s security services. “Israel is not intervening in favor of one side or the other.”

That’s the strong official line. After Ya’alon’s veiled threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered government officials to keep mum about Syria. By then, his air-force commander, Major General Amir Eshel, had already warned in an open forum that, should Assad fall, Israel is poised to mount massive operations aimed at immediately destroying the chemical, biological and advanced weapons systems held by Syria’s military. The alternative — the weapons disappearing into the stateless world of al-Qaeda and other terrorist configurations — more than justifies the risk Israel would undertake in involving itself in the fighting, Eshel said. “We may find ourselves having to take action, on a very broad scale, within a very short period of time.”

Facebook Diplomacy

Netanyahu made the same point on the premier social-media site in March, by way of justifying his government’s decision to patch up relations with Turkey: “It’s important that Turkey and Israel, which both share a border with Syria, are able to communicate with each other and this is also relevant to other regional challenges … Syria is crumbling, and its massive stockpiles of advanced weapons are starting to fall into the hands of various elements. What we fear most is that terrorist groups will get their hands on chemical weapons.”

Preventive Diplomacy

The most concrete evidence that Israel wants to stay out of Syria’s civil war is its repeated glossing of incidents on that shared border, which still exists as a military front from wars decades past. One day late last month, an Israeli foot patrol from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion entered no-man’s land between the two fronts, was spotted by Syrian regulars and found themselves pinned down as the Syrians walked mortar fire toward them. Then, before other Israeli forces could rescue them, Syrian soldiers were spotted heading their way on foot, a sight that prompted Israeli commanders to launch fire that destroyed the Syrian position. Like an earlier episode when an Israeli Defense Force jeep took fire from the Syrian side, Israeli officials blandly suggested the problem might have been “stray fire.”

Gunboat Diplomacy

A dozen Russian warships moved into Syrian waters near the base at Tartous, where Syria and Russia operate a joint naval base, Russia’s only warm-water facility. In a throwback to the Cold War, the deployment signaled solidarity with Assad and an implicit warning to those powers — the U.S., the E.U., Turkey and other Sunni states aligned with the rebels, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Qatar — that Moscow will defend its stake it has maintained over generations in Syria, its one Middle East interest.

The vessels would not be expected to figure in the fighting — though they presumably carry intelligence-gathering capabilities. Their presence is chiefly symbolic. And actually, so is the flap over the S-300, according to Shapir, the Israeli defense analyst. The system, while formidable, is so complex that it could not be assembled inside of six months. Then there’s the challenge of training Syrians to use it.

As an alternative, Russia could send its own operators, an option that Israel would find far less threatening. “By the way,” Shapir says, “it would be seen by the Russians as a counterbalance to six [NATO] Patriot batteries now in Turkey, on the Syrian border. Operated by the Americans, Germans and Dutch. And of course if Russia sends in Russian units with Russian soldiers, Israel would not attack.”

In any event, the latest word out of Russia is that the S-300s will not be delivered to Syria for another year, at least. So what was all the fuss about? “The announcement about the transfer, I think, is a Russian game, “ Shapir says. “It’s a Russian game meant to make clear to the whole world that they have a  strong interest in Syria, and they should not be ignored.”


Russia Draws a “Red Line”: S-300, MiG 29s and MiG 31s for Syria

The recent commitment by Russia to honor a contract with Syria for the delivery of S-300 Surface to Air defense systems, considered to be one of the best, if not the best in the world, is followed up by a Syrian request for the delivery of MiG 29 M/M2 fighter jets. In 2012 NATO stationed Patriot Missile Defense Systems along the 900 km long Syrian – Turkish border; Saudi-Arabia and the USA signed a deal for a significant upgrade of Saudi-Arabia´s air force. Russia is drawing a red line in the Syrian sand. With the words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a direct military intervention against Syria would be futile. The Middle East is being prepared for a stand-off.

At a press conference on the opening day of the Russia – E.U. Summit in Yekaterinburg on Tuesday 4 June, Russia´s President Vladimir Putin confirmed again, that Russia will honor its contract with Syria and deliver S-300 SAM Systems. Putin stressed Russia´s disappointment over the E.U.´s failure to prolong the arms embargo against Syria which effectively permits each E.U. member state to decide whether it will arm the terrorist and mercenary corps which have destabilized Syria since 2011.

The S-300 SAMs will, according to Putin bring stability to the region. Putin made a point of stating, that the S-300 SAMs are among the best, if they are not the best Air Defense System, which, so Putin, every military expert can confirm. At the same occasion, the Russian President issued a thinly-veiled warning to NATO, Israel and the GCC member states when he stated, that any attempted direct military intervention against Syria would be futile.

Syrian Military forces are becoming increasingly successful at combating the insurgency. After the military strategy has been adapted to asymmetric warfare and counter insurgency tactics, which include popular militia which defend villages and towns against renewed attacks by insurgents after the Syrian Arab Army has cleared and secured an area, the insurgents continue loosing ground and begin using ever more desperate psychological warfare tactics, chemical weapons and the eating of organs of slain Syrian soldiers, on camera, included. The insurgents show signs of desperation.

The involvement of Hezbollah at securing the Lebanese – Syrian border, making it less porous for infiltration of weapons and fighters, and the commitment of the Iraqi government to do the same at the Syrian – Iraqi border is limiting the supply routes for the insurgents. The remaining open fronts are limited to Turkey, Jordan, Israel and the Kurdish administrated region of Northern Iraq.

The popular uprising in Turkey is likely to, at the very least, result in a severely weakened Erdogan administration which could be forced to adjust its policy toward Syria. Turkey could cease being the primary logistic front for the insurgents.

Russia has also drawn a red line in the Syrian sand, or waters, when it decided to create a Mediterranean Fleet. The first deployments have arrived and Tartous is slowly transformed from an auxiliary to an operative naval base. The move stabilizes the region to some degree and could become the foundation for countering the establishment of a NATO base on Cyprus.

In 2012 Saudi-Arabia and the USA agreed on a deal for a major update of Saudi-Arabia´s air force. Besides delivery of the latest, most advanced version of the F-16 fighter jet, which normally is reserved for a select club of only six nations, the older Saudi stock of F-16s received considerable upgrades. After completion of the deliveries, upgrades and training, Saudi-Arabia will have approximately 300 F-16 fighter jets in its fleet, making Saudi-Arabia´s airpower comparable to that of Israel.

After Russia initially halted a Russian – Syrian contract for an upgrade of Syria´s air force, it looks as if Russia is reconsidering, in response to the western unwillingness to settle the dispute about Syria peacefully. In principle, the Syria war is caused by a lack of convergence in the energy and energy-security requirements of respectively Qatar, Saudi -Arabia, Israel – of the USA and the two competing EU blocks led by respectively France and the UK and Germany, Czeck Republic; as well as Iran and Russia. Even a successful Geneva 2 conference would address the core issues. The statements of Vladimir Putin that the S-300 SAMs introduction creates stability may be followed up by also creating a strategic balance with regard to regional air forces. It is also a clear signal that NATO and E.U. cannot count on being able to solve energy, energy-security and geo-political problems by illegal wars without having to consider the possibility of having to pay a price that may be to high.

The Syrian governments authorities have reactivated contacts regarding the activation of Russian – Syrian contracts for the Syrian purchase of MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets after the expiration of the E.U. arms embargo on Syria. The information has been confirmed by the Russian aircraft producer.

A Syrian delegation has recently arrived in Moscow to discuss details and a time frame, stated the head of the Mikkoryan Design Bureau Sergei Korotkov. The contract was initially signed in 2007 but the outbreak of civil unrest in Syria in 2011 initially caused Russia to halt the deal to deliver 24 MiG-29MM fighter jets and 5 MiG-31 interceptors.

Finding a peaceful resolution to the Syria crisis becomes increasingly unlikely. While the foreign backed opposition a.k.a. al-Qaeda creates one Public Relations disaster after the other and fails at creating a coherent political front, the national dialog among parties, mass organizations, ethnic and religious communities, special interest organizations and the government in Syria continue making progress.

A decisive victory of the insurgency against the Syrian military also becomes increasingly unlikely, and the E.U., US, Saudi and Qatari continuation to finance and arm terrorist and mercenary corps of the likes of Jabhat al-Nusrah will, even though they can destabilize Syria, not lead to a decisive victory without direct military intervention or direct military support of the subversion.

The introduction of the Russian MiG 29s and MiG 31s, along with the introduction of the S-300 SAM´s and other Russian missile technology, as well as an increased Russian naval presence, will readjust the strategic balance between the western axis and the Iranian, Syrian, Russian axis. They cannot compensate for the massive firepower amassed by NATO and NATO allies in the region, but will guaranty that any military aggression against Syria will be more costly than western or Arab political leaders are willing or able to survive politically.


Time: The Russian Missiles Keeping Assad in Power

Boasting about one’s weaponry is nothing unusual in war, where there’s little way of confirming the veracity of the claim. In that, Syrian President Bashar Assad was following a long tradition of wartime leaders, when he told the Hizballah-backed Lebanese channel al-Manar last Thursday that he had sufficient stockpiles of Russian weapons to pose a threat to Israel, thanks to arms deals with Moscow that date to before the war erupted in February 2011. “The contracts have nothing to do with the crisis,” Assad says in the interview. “We have negotiated with them on different kinds of weapons for years, and Russia is committed to honoring these contracts.”

In fact, Assad’s boast might be more than bluster. While there’s no sign that Moscow has delivered the long-range S-300 missiles which Israel has vowed to take out in bombing strikes (Russian officials estimate their earliest delivery date for the S-300s is late this year), Assad already has several air defense systems from Moscow in his quiver, according to analysts who monitor arms shipments. In interviews they say they watched a steep military ramp-up by Syria in the period running up to the start of the war more than two years ago. While they agree that the S-300s are more accurate and have greater range than Assad’s current weapons systems, they say the Syrian leader is far from powerless without them. “We have seen over the past few years Russia supplying several different air defense systems,” says Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher in the arms transfer program of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), which tracks weapons flows worldwide. “They [Syrian government] have really increased their capability. The missiles are both short and long range. If the S-300s do arrive, that would top it all off.”

Among the missiles already in place are two regiments of S-200 surface-to-air missiles, which have a range of about 150 miles, “with no less than 240 missiles ready to be fired in a matter of minutes,” says Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military scientist and senior researcher at the London think tank, Royal United Services Institute. Sutyagin, who was jailed in Russia on charges of spying for the U.S., and freed as part of a spy-prisoner swap in 2010, says Assad “has a lot” of air-defense systems acquired from Russia, including between 12 and 20 short-range missile systems called Pantsyr-S, which have a range of about 7.5 miles, and that can be mounted on vehicles. Those were delivered to Syria about a year ago, in what he believes is the latest confirmed arms shipment from Moscow. In addition, Assad has 1,200 air-defense guns and between 4,000 and 8,000 Strela portable shoulder-fired missiles. “That IS the GREAT stockpile of Russian air defense weaponry!” Sutyagin said in an email to TIME.

Since Syrian rebels have no airplanes for Syrian forces to shoot down, Assad’s impressive air-defense arsenal has little bearing on the grueling war that has ravaged large parts of the country and killed an estimated 90,000 Syrians. But the anti-aircraft weapons would be crucial if the U.N. voted to impose a no-fly zone over Syria or if Israel expands its sporadic strikes on Syria into a sustained bombing campaign. At that point, the S-300 missiles, which have a longer range and greater accuracy than Assad’s current weaponry, could inflict bigger losses and strike deep into Israel in retaliation—hence, Israel’s fury over the arms deal. With the S-300s in place, says Wezeman, “If Israel starts an air campaign they would maybe lose a few more planes than they have until now. It is not a system which cannot be destroyed, but it would be a bigger campaign,” he says.

(MORE: Syria’s rebels receive Libyan weapons and know-how.)

For Western leaders weighing their military options against Assad, the crucial lessons are from Libya, where NATO launched a massive bombing campaign in March 2011, after the U.N. Security Council voted to stop Gaddafi’s forces from advancing on civilians in Benghazi. Within days of the first U.S. Tomahawk missiles hitting Libya, Gaddafi’s air-defense systems had been crippled, and his military planes had been smashed or grounded. That allowed the Libyan rebels to advance quickly across the huge terrain Eastern Libya, although it took five months longer for them to capture Tripoli and drive out Gaddafi.

Syria’s military arsenal presents the West with a far different calculus, in part explaining why no Western country has intervened militarily so far. While Gaddafi had huge stocks of weaponry, including Russian and Chinese anti-aircraft missiles, much of it was discovered after Gaddafi was killed in October 2011, lying unused in warehouses. That suggested that the Libyan military did not know how to install the new weapon systems or had not had time to do so, according to military analysts. And Assad could also have learned some lessons from Gaddafi’s spectacular defeat. Gaddafi lacked long-range missiles capable of combating the high-altitude bombing strikes which NATO fighter jets conducted over Libya. “It’s against these types of operations that for example the S-300s or other SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) could be used with some efficiency,” Wezeman says. “In Libya the systems were old and out of date and the Libyans did not really know how to operate them. It would be much more difficult for outsiders to intervene in Syria, in the way that took place in Libya.”


Al-Monitor: Israel Rethinks Assumptions About Syria

For the past two years, there have been a number of generally accepted assumptions about what will finally happen in Syria. By late last week, these assumptions came crashing down with the raucous force of an earthquake. We are talking about the very opinions that were considered to be conventional wisdom among the Israeli public, and which had considerable impact on political decision-makers and military strategists alike for the past two years. These are the core assumptions:

  1. International intervention in Syria is inevitable. Sooner or later the free world will be forced to take action to save the country’s civilian population from the clutches of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his army.
  2. An Israeli attack on Assad will cause him to recoil in terror and force him to avoid transferring arms to Hezbollah or responding with a counter-attack.
  3. The aid that Qatar and Turkey provide to the rebels should ultimately change the balance of power.
  4. The apple (Bashar) has fallen far from the tree (former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad). According to this assumption, Bashar is afraid of his own shadow, and even the faintest breeze can discombobulate him and throw him off balance (this is, by the way, how he is portrayed in the popular Israeli television satire "Eretz Nehederet," but more on that later).
  5. Israeli intelligence assessments provide an accurate account of the situation and should be the basis of any future decisions about how to respond to the situation in Syria.
  6. Assad’s regime will be deposed in a matter of weeks” (former Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Dec. 11, 2011).

Then, within a week, everyone woke up to the fact that the most important parameter of all was overlooked in the most recent analyses of the situation in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular. The assumption is that the geopolitical game here has remained very much the same since the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All that has changed is the players.

It was May 16, 1916, and World War I was still raging, when France and England signed a secret agreement splitting the Middle East into two exclusive spheres of influence once the war was over. All earlier promises and agreements were shoved aside so that these two colonial powers could focus on one important question: How will each of these two powers divvy up the Ottoman territories of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Western Turkey, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf. That was the whole story. Both the British and the French empires, which were also the two world powers at the time, wanted to protect their strategic interests in the region.

Almost a century has passed since then. The two world powers have been replaced, so now it is Russia and the United States, which will ultimately decide how the fighting in Syria will end, and what the country will look like in the aftermath. And they will be the only ones to decide: there will be no input from Assad or the rebels, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, and certainly not Israel.

By late last week [on May 17], 12 Russian battleships were sent to patrol the waters off the Russian naval base in Syria and to demonstrate a presence in the region. This was hardly some subtle hint. It had the volume of a Russian aircraft carrier. What the Russians were effectively saying was that no one should even consider making any decision whatsoever about the future of Syria, and by extension, of Assad, without first considering Moscow’s strategic interests. Both the United States and Israel got the hint.

The Soviet Union had strategic interests in Syria ever since the mid-1960s. So does modern Russia. It is the largest advance base that Russia still has in the Middle East, and someone like Russian President Vladimir Putin would never give it up, certainly not for “humanitarian reasons,” and even more certainly when the Russians see a certain symmetry there, and believe that Israel is the most important US advance base in the region.

Yes, Russia had strategic interests of its own in Syria, which makes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slog to Moscow last week seem all the more ridiculous. The prime minister tried to dissuade Putin from selling S-300 [anti-craft] missiles to Assad, since that would have far-reaching repercussions on the Israeli air force. Did Netanyahu really believe that sitting Putin down for a heart to heart talk would really convince the Russian leader to forego his support for Assad?

By the end of last week, reality seemed to prove that Israeli intelligence assessments claiming Assad would soon fall were premature at best. Furthermore, an Israeli source was now quoted by the London Times as saying (May 18, 2013) that in the current circumstances, Assad is actually good for Israel: “Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.” The real question is: “Where were they before this?” By “they” I mean those people described as “Israeli decision-makers” and “senior officials,” who are quoted in the press.

When a political, diplomatic or military correspondent errs in some assessment or other, the greatest damage is to his reputation, or at most to the reputation of the media he represents. Commentators and journalists base what they write on public information, and frequently on intentional leaks from various interested parties. The U-turn that Israel has made this past week in its attitude toward Assad raises serious questions about the people behind our defense strategy. Did none of them know before last week what Assad has been saying for a long time now, that his country has become home to a hodgepodge of terrorist organizations?

Instead of responding to this, analyzing it, and preparing for the worst-case scenario, Israel preferred to mock Assad instead. The parodies of Assad (such as the aforementioned "Eretz Nehederet") depict him as a reluctant coward, a “wimp” to use a more colloquial term, who will not be able to withstand all the pressure being placed on him. In this, he is juxtaposed with other Arab leaders, who were once perceived as being strong: former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi both come to mind. But perhaps that is the root of the problem. People are too quick to compare him to the leaders of Egypt and Libya, who were both deposed fairly quickly. I do not want to think that Israel’s leaders are also influenced by TV satire.

As we already noted, the high point of Israel’s failure to understand what is going on in Syria came in Ehud Barak’s statement of 2011. At the time, he gave Assad just a few weeks before he would be toppled. That was a year and a half ago. Since then, Barak has been “toppled,” while Assad remains in power.

What was the basis of Barak’s assessment? The Research Division of Military Intelligence? International security experts? It is more likely that his estimation was based on the same “wimpy” image of Assad as being spineless and lacking leadership experience, as someone who inherited his position of power, and who everyone else has wrapped around their little fingers.

But Assad and his entourage realized that if he was to survive, he would first have to identify the real powers, who determine the balance of threats in the Middle East. And he proved that he knew exactly who they were. Twelve Russian warships sailing off the Syrian coast are just one proof of that. His decision to aim missiles at Tel Aviv to counter a potential Israeli attack is yet further evidence.

This leaves us with one possible conclusion: The assumption that Assad would fall if he dared to attack Israel (in response to an Israeli strike against him) was not as accurate as previously thought. But that hardly prevents Israel from carrying on with its war games. “Security sources” and “decision-makers” alike continue to ponder whether Assad or the rebels are better for Israel and what steps the country should take, as if they had any say whatsoever in the current situation. The one person to best express this was the former Israeli Military Intelligence head Uri Sagi, who rose up like a thundering prophet, ignored by the people of his city, to ask, “Who are we to decide? What tools do we have to determine who will rule in neighboring Syria and how?” Wouldn’t it be easier to look up the “Sykes-Picot Agreement” in the encyclopedia?

Shlomi Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, and has reported on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Revenge of the Bear: Russia Strikes Back in Syria

President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation has drawn a line in the sand over Syria, the government of which he is determined to protect from overthrow. Not since the end of the Cold War in 1991 has the Russian Bear asserted itself so forcefully beyond its borders in support of claims on great power status. In essence, Russia is attempting to play the role in Syria that France did in Algeria in the 1990s, of supporting the military government against rebels, many of them linked to political Islam. France and its allies prevailed, at the cost of some 150,000 dead. Can Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pull off the same sort of victory?

Even as Damascus pushes back against the rebels militarily, Putin has swung into action on the international and regional stages. The Russian government persuaded U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to support an international conference aimed at a negotiated settlement. Putin upbraided Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his country’s air attacks on Damascus. Moscow is sending sophisticated anti-aircraft batteries, anti-submarine missiles and other munitions to beleaguered Assad, and has just announced that 12 Russian warships will patrol the Mediterranean. The Russian actions have raised alarums in Tel Aviv and Washington, even as they have been praised in Damascus and Tehran.

The Syrian regime has been on a military roll in the past few weeks. It has made a bloody push into the hinterlands of Damascus, fortifying the capital. With Hezbollah support, it has assaulted the rebel-held Qusair region near northern Lebanon, an important smuggling route for the rebels and the key to the central city of Homs. The Baath government needs to keep Homs in order for Russia to resupply the capital via the Syrian port of Latakia on the Mediterranean. The Syrian government’s victories would not have been possible without Russian and Iranian help.

Regionally, a Moscow-Tehran axis has formed around Syria that is resisting Qatari and Saudi backing for the rebels. The increasing dominance of rebel fighting forces in the north by radical groups such as the al-Nusra Front, which has openly affiliated itself with al-Qaida, has resulted in a falloff of support for the revolution even in Saudi Arabia. Most Syrians who oppose the government are not radicals or even fundamentalists, but the latter have had the best record of military victories. Russian characterizations of the rebels as radical terrorists are a form of war propaganda; however, they have been effective. The Saudi and Jordanian plan to create a less radical southern opposition front at Deraa has met with a setback, since the regime recaptured that city last week. Doha and Riyadh are reeling from the Russia-backed counteroffensive.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pulled off a coup two weeks ago by persuading Kerry to support the international conference on Syria, to which both the Baath government and the rebels would be invited, as a way station toward a negotiated settlement of the conflict (Russia’s holy grail). The agreement represented a climb-down for the Obama administration, which had earlier insisted that Assad leave office as a prerequisite to a resolution, language that the joint Russian-American communique issuing from the Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Moscow conspicuously avoided. Lavrov, a South Asia expert and guitar-playing poet, speaks as though what happened in Yemen, with a negotiated solution and a government of national unity, is a plausible scenario for Syria. But so much blood has been spilled in the latter that a military victory by one side or the other now seems far more likely.

When sources in the Pentagon leaked the information that explosions in Damascus on May 5 were an Israeli airstrike, Putin appears to have been livid. He tracked down Netanyahu on the prime minister’s visit to Shanghai and harangued him on the phone. The two met last week in Moscow, where Putin is alleged to have read Netanyahu the riot act. Subsequently, the Likud government leaked to The New York Times that its aim in the airstrike had been only to prevent Syrian munitions from being transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon, not to help in overthrowing the Baath government. The Israelis were clearly attempting to avoid further provoking Moscow’s ire, and wanted to send a signal to Damascus that they would remain neutral on Syria but not on further arming of Hezbollah.

Putin, not visibly mollified by Netanyahu’s clarification, responded by announcing forcefully that he had sent to Syria Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles and was planning to dispatch sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft batteries. Both U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and Israeli military analysts protested the Russian shipments. Although Netanyahu went on insisting that Israel would bomb Syria at will when it suspected supplies were being sent to Hezbollah, Putin had clearly just raised the risks of such intervention.

Russia’s motives have sometimes been attributed to the profits it realizes from its arms trade with Syria, going back to the Soviet era, but that business is actually quite small. Others have suggested that Syria’s leasing to Russia of a naval base at Tartous, Russia’s only toehold on the Mediterranean, is a consideration. Rather, Russia’s support of Assad is part of its reassertion on the world stage as a great power with areas under its control. Putin wants to raise Russia from the world’s ninth- to fifth-largest capitalist economy. Smarting from the aggressive American expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe and the planting of U.S. bases in Central Asia, Moscow is determined to recover its former spheres of influence. In addition, some senior Russian military analysts see “color revolutions” as a ploy by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to overthrow unfriendly governments and then to plunder the resulting weak states of their resources, a tactic they fear menaces Russia itself. Drawing a line at Syria, in this view, is a way of underscoring that Putin’s own neo-authoritarian regime will not go quietly.

Russia is only a 24-hour drive from Aleppo, Syria’s northernmost metropolis. Having crushed a Muslim fundamentalist uprising in Chechnya and Dagestan at the turn of the century, and having stood up a friendly Chechen state government in the aftermath, Moscow is wary of the spread of radical Muslim movements in the nearby Levant. Moreover, some 10 to 14 percent of Syrians are Christians, many of them belonging to the Eastern Orthodox branch that predominates in Russia itself. The Russian Orthodox Church, a key constituency for Putin, has opposed the overthrow of the secular Baath government, seeing it as a protector of those coreligionists.

The thinking of the Russian foreign ministry is clear from its Saturday press release on the revival of the radical Sunni insurgency in Iraq in recent weeks. Complaining about what it termed terrorist attacks in Mosul and Baghdad, the ministry’s website said, according to a translation done for the U.S. government’s Open Source Center, that “We are particularly concerned about growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, which are turning into a direct armed confrontation between radical elements in the Shi’a and Sunni communities. This is largely due to the crisis situation in neighboring Syria and the spread of terrorist activities of militants operating there.” In other words, Russia sees the Syrian revolution as dominated by al-Qaida-linked groups such as the al-Nusra Front. Moscow views the civil war as a destabilizing event with the potential for radicalizing the Middle East, which it views as its soft underbelly.

The momentum of the Syrian rebels has palpably slowed in the last month, as Putin’s riposte has stiffened the resolve in Damascus and given its military the wherewithal to regain territory. The Russian president is weaving a protective web around his client, fending off the Wahhabi winds of Muslim fundamentalism blowing from the Arabian Peninsula. He has also pushed back against opportunistic Israeli intervention, worried that it might further destabilize Damascus. At the same time, he has impressed on Washington the need for a negotiated settlement, an idea that President Obama, long skittish about sending troops into further possible Middle East quagmires, has begun to tolerate. Putin’s supply of powerful new weapons systems to Assad’s military, and his dispatch of warships from the Russian Pacific fleet through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean, make clear that the full force of Russian military might is, if need be, at the service of its Baath client. Putin’s gambit may or may not prove successful, but he is indisputably demonstrating that the age of the sole superpower and of American unilateralism is passing in favor of a multipolar world.


Russia Always Delivers

Russia recently delivered more of its Yakhont (officially 3M55E, NATO ID is SSN-26) anti-ship missiles to Syria. This is a new version with a much improved guidance system. Israel fears that some of these missiles will be sent to Hezbollah who might use them against Israeli ships or offshore natural gas field platform facilities. Israel is trying to persuade Russia to stop delivering the missiles but Russia is reluctant to halt these shipments. Iran appears to be paying for this, so the loss of income would be felt in Russia.

This sort of thing has been going on for a while. Two years ago Russia delivered 72 Yakhonts and 18 of the mobile ground launchers (each carrying two missiles) to Syria. Also included were five battery command vehicles. Typically a Yakhont battery consists of one of these vehicles, four launchers and several more trucks carrying security and maintenance personnel and equipment. The 2011 shipment cost $300 million dollars. The missiles can be stored in their launch containers for seven years before they require major components replacements and refurbishment to stay operational. Yakhonts have a range of 300 kilometers and are very hard to stop. Syria accounted for seven percent of Russian arms exports in 2011, and Russia wanted to show that they always deliver. Russia was also building a naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus.  At this point Russia says it is simply delivering weapons ordered before the civil war began two years ago.

The shipment of Yakhont missiles to Syria two years ago came after four years of haggling and efforts by Israel and the United States to block the sale. Apparently the missiles were already paid for before delivery. Russia was happy for any sale and seemed particularly anxious for Yakhont to get some combat experience.

Yakhont was under development throughout the 1990s, but was delayed by lack of funds. By 2011 it was in production, and the Russia was energetically seeking export sales. The Yakhont uses a liquid-fuel ramjet and travels at speeds of over 2,000 kilometers an hour (using a high altitude cruise and a low-altitude approach; if it travels entirely at low altitude the range is cut to 120km). When the missile arrives in the area where the target is supposed to be, it turns on its radar and goes for the kill. Israel is the only one in the region the Yakhonts would be used against. However, because Iran is supplying (unofficially) the cash for the missiles, there is also the risk that some of the Yakhonts would end up in Iran for use against numerous targets in the Persian Gulf.

Syria is getting the ground based Yakhont which can use truck mounted or fixed launchers, with up to 36 missiles supported by a land based search radar and helicopter mounted radars (to locate targets over the horizon). Once a target has been identified and located, one or two missiles are programmed with that location and launched. The Yakhont is a 8.9 meter (27.6 foot) long, three ton missile with a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead.

An improved version of the Yakhont, the PJ-10 BrahMos missile, was developed for India. This is a 9.4 meter (29 foot) long and 670mm diameter missile. Lacking money to finish Yakhont development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to get it done. India put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development, an effort which produced the long delayed Yakhont, and more capable BrahMos.

The PJ-10 is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage. This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

The 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to a kilometer per second) than a rifle bullet. The high price of each missile, about $2.3 million, restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.


Washington Post: Russian, Iranian technology is boosting Assad’s assault

Sophisticated technology from Russia and Iran has given Syrian government troops new advantages in tracking and destroying their foes, helping them solidify battlefield gains against rebels, according to Middle Eastern intelligence officials and analysts.

The technology includes increased numbers of Iranian-made surveillance drones and, in some areas, anti-mortar systems similar to those used by U.S. forces to trace the source of mortar fire, the officials and experts said. Syrian military units also are making greater use of monitoring equipment to gather intelligence about rebel positions and jamming devices to block rebel communications, they said. At the same time, Syrian military leaders are adopting new tactics that some experts also attribute to foreign advisers and training.

“We’re seeing a turning point in the past couple of months, and it has a lot to do with the quality and type of weapons and other systems coming from Iran and Russia,” said a Middle Eastern intelligence official whose government closely monitors the fighting. The official, who spoke on the condition that his name and nationality be withheld in discussing sensitive intelligence, said the new gear is cementing an advantage gained by Syrian forces with the arrival of hundreds of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon in recent weeks.

“The government troops clearly have a much better view of the battlefield, and they’re better able to respond to incoming fire — sometimes even before the other side can land a blow,” the official said.

Rebel commanders confirmed a sharp increase in the number of surveillance drones they have seen. Opposition leaders claimed to have brought down two Iranian-made drones in the past four months, including one three weeks ago in al-Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. Rebel spokesmen have described the drones as Iranian-made, citing Farsi script on one that was downed near the Lebanese border. Iran is known to be a significant manufacturer of unmanned aircraft and has previously provided drones to the Shiite militia Hezbollah, its ally.

“We are seeing unmanned aircraft much more frequently,” Louay al-Mokdad, the political and media coordinator for the Free Syria Army, said in a phone interview.

U.S. officials and independent experts also have noted an increased use of drones, and some said Syria is getting better at using them to direct artillery fire at rebel positions. “It’s all about how to put bombs onto targets,” said Jeffrey White, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Analysts say the presence of other technically advanced weapons, including mortar-tracking systems, has been inferred from reports by rebel fighters and intelligence operatives inside Syria, as well as military observers in neighboring countries. From their scattered observation posts along the border, Jordanian military officials described seeing direct and indirect evidence of new weapons and equipment tipping the balance in favor of Syrian troops and allies supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“We’re seeing many things we haven’t seen before,” said Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Zyoud, commander of Jordanian border security forces. “We’ve seen new kinds of armored vehicles, and other vehicles used for jamming communications. We’re seeing night-vision and thermal devices that we haven’t seen in the past.”

The new hardware has added to a sense of momentum that pro-government forces have been enjoying since mid-spring.

Russia and Iran, longtime Syrian allies, have acknowledged providing Syria with a wide range of military equipment, from tanks and helicopters to small arms and ammunition. Moscow’s apparent decision to supply S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Syria drew stern warnings this past week from the Obama administration and Israeli officials, who say the missiles pose a threat to Israel’s security.

Despite the ability of Syrian troops to beat back rebel advances in some parts of the country, U.S. and Middle Eastern analysts said government forces are unlikely to recapture broad swaths of territory that is firmly under rebel control.

“Foreign assistance to the Syrian regime has allowed Assad’s forces to make some recent tactical gains, but overall, they’ve lost a lot of ground since the conflict began,” said a U.S. official with access to classified intelligence reports from the region.

Improved communication and surveillance are a key part of an evolving Syrian military doctrine that has been strikingly successful in recent weeks. White described the new tactics as “Qusair rules,” an allusion to the ongoing Syrian military offensive to retake the key city of Qusair near Lebanon’s northern border.

The approach involves the use of regular and irregular troops to isolate rebel units and cut off their access to supplies and reinforcements. Government forces squeeze the rebels into a small area and then unleash a heavy bombardment to inflict as many casualties as possible, White said.

“Eventually they wear down the rebels, killing enough of them so they either leave or get wiped out,” said White, a defense fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. “It’s operational-level warfare, using maneuver-in-battle to achieve a strategic goal.”

The improved gear appears to be conferring an advantage on Syrian forces in the near-daily battle for control of government outposts along the border. On a recent afternoon, Zyoud, the border guard commander, and other Jordanian troops watched by live video feed as a battle raged around a Syrian checkpoint less than two miles away, across from the Jordanian border village of al-Torrah.

As frequently happens, the rebels quickly overran the checkpoint, setting fire to a tank and forcing the handful of Syrian guards to fall back to another post a few miles away. But within hours, as night fell, the Syrian army easily reclaimed the outpost, scattering the dozen or so rebel fighters who had briefly held it. The rebels could be seen strapping one of their wounded comrades onto a motorcycle heading toward the border with Jordan, apparently in hopes that Jordanians would provide medical care.

“They attack the checkpoints in a primitive way,” Zyoud said. “Sometimes you see them holding their weapons awkwardly and wasting their ammunition. They almost never take advantage of the vehicles and equipment the Syrians leave behind.”

“It is clear from watching them that they are not well-trained,” he said.


Russia slams end of EU arms embargo, calls S-300s ‘stabilizing factor’ in Syria
S-300 anti-aircraft missile system. (RIA Novosti / Vladislav Belogrud)

The failure of the European Union to agree on a new arms embargo for Syria is undermining the peace process, Moscow says. But the delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missiles may help restrain warmongers. The comments come from Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, referring to the results of Monday’s meeting in Brussels. After a lengthy negotiating session, EU governments failed to resolve their differences and allowed a ban on arming the Syrian opposition to expire, with France and Britain scoring an apparent victory at the expense of EU unity.

The EU's move, which the Russian diplomat branded as an "example of double standards", opens the door for Britain and France to supply weapons to Syrian rebels fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad. Criticizing Europe’s decision to open the way for potential arms shipments to Syrian rebels, Russia insists that its own sale of arms to the Syrian government helps the international effort to end the two-year-long conflict, the diplomat added. He was referring to the delivery of the advanced S-300 long-range air defense systems, which Russia is carrying out under a contract signed with Syria several years ago.

“Those systems by definition cannot be used by militant groups on the battlefield,” Ryabkov said. “We consider this delivery a factor of stabilization. We believe that moves like this one to a great degree restrain some hotheads from escalating the conflict to the international scale, from involving external forces.”

The S-300 is a series of Russian long-range surface-to-air missile systems designed to intercept ballistic missiles, regarded as the most potent weaponry of its class. The missiles are capable of engaging aerial targets as far away as 200km, depending on the version used.

However, Russia has neither confirmed, nor denied “the status of those shipments.”

“The only thing I can tell is that we are not refusing from them,” Sergey Ryabkov said. “We see that this question worries our partners, but we have no reason to reconsider our position in this sphere,” he said.

Despite the uncertainty around S-300 shipments, Israel said it will know how to act if Russia does supply surface-to-air missiles.

"I can say that the shipments are not on their way yet," Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters. "I hope they will not leave, and if, God forbid, they reach Syria, we will know what to do," he said, without disclosing his sources.

Israel is concerned by possible Russian supplies to Syria, saying that advanced weapon systems could end up in the hands of Iran or the Lebanese Hezbollah group. Once the Russian SAM missiles are deployed by Syria, it will have a better control of its airspace. The country endured three airstrikes this year, which are widely thought to have been conducted by Israel, but were never officially confirmed as such.

Britain and France have made a commitment not to deliver arms to the Syrian opposition "at this stage," an EU declaration said. EU officials, however, said the commitment effectively expires on August 1. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has defended the lifting of the EU’s embargo, saying that Britain would only send arms to Syrian rebels with other countries. At the same time he assured that this would not violate international law.

London and Paris have argued support for rebels fighting Assad by allowing EU arms deliveries, despite the fact that extremist elements are known to work alongside the rebels. Other EU governments, led by Austria and Sweden, argued that sending more weapons to the region would increase violence and spread instability. Russia's envoy to NATO Aleksandr Grushko said that the abolition of the EU arms embargo on the Syrian opposition will only exacerbate armed conflict in that country. 

"We need to refrain from taking steps that would be contrary to this logic. Such steps include armed or non-lethal support to the opposition. This just adds fuel to the fire," Grushko said on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Moscow and Washington remain undecided as to the content of a proposed international conference on Syria, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. "There remains a gap between the positions of Russia and the US regarding some issues and aspects of this major international crisis," he emphasized.

"And we, for our part, cannot agree to hold such events [the international conference on Syria] amid a situation where partners and possible participants in such a conference seek to impose solutions on the Syrian people from the outside, as well as predetermine the course of a transitional process, the parameters of which have not been determined yet," Ryabkov said.


Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria!/image/808252099.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/808252099.jpg

Russia has sent advanced antiship cruise missiles to Syria, a move that illustrates the depth of its support for the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, American officials said Thursday. Russia has previously provided a version of the missiles, called Yakhonts, to Syria. But those delivered recently are outfitted with an advanced radar that makes them more effective, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports and would only discuss the shipment on the basis of anonymity.
Unlike Scud and other longer-range surface-to-surface missiles that the Assad government has used against opposition forces, the Yakhont antiship missile system provides the Syrian military a formidable weapon to counter any effort by international forces to reinforce Syrian opposition fighters by imposing a naval embargo, establishing a no-fly zone or carrying out limited airstrikes.

“It enables the regime to deter foreign forces looking to supply the opposition from the sea, or from undertaking a more active role if a no-fly zone or shipping embargo were to be declared at some point,” said Nick Brown, editor in chief of IHS Jane’s International Defense Review. “It’s a real ship killer.”

Jeffrey White, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former senior American intelligence official, said Syria’s strengthened arsenal would “tend to push Western or allied naval activity further off the coast” and was also “a signal of the Russian commitment to the Syrian government.”

The disclosure of the delivery comes as Russia and the United States are planning to convene an international conference that is aimed at ending the brutal conflict in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000. That conference is expected to be held in early June and to include representatives of the Assad government and the Syrian opposition.

Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said that it is the United States’ hope to change Mr. Assad’s “calculations” about his ability to hold on to power so that he will allow negotiations for a political solution to the conflict. Mr. Kerry indicated that he had raised the issue of Russian arms deliveries to Syria during his recent visit to Moscow, but declined to provide details.

“I think we’ve made it crystal clear we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance,” he said. “That hasn’t changed.”

American officials have been concerned that the flow of Russian and Iranian arms to Syria will buttress Mr. Assad’s apparent belief that he can prevail militarily.

“This weapons transfer is obviously disappointing and will set back efforts to promote the political transition that is in the best interests of the Syrian people and the region,” Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement on Thursday night. “There is now greater urgency for the U.S. to step up assistance to the moderate opposition forces who can lead Syria after Assad.”

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the committee chairman, added in a statement, “Russia is offering cover to a despotic ruler and defending a bankrupt regime.” Syria ordered the coastal defense version of the Yakhont system from Russia in 2007 and received the first batteries in early 2011, according to Jane’s. The initial order covered 72 missiles, 36 launcher vehicles, and support equipment, and the systems have been displayed in the country.

The batteries are mobile, which makes them more difficult to attack. Each consists of missiles, a three-missile launcher and a command-and-control vehicle. The missiles are about 22 feet long, carry either a high-explosive or armor-piercing warhead, and have a range of about 180 miles, according to Jane’s. They can be steered to a target’s general location by longer-range radars, but each missile has its own radar to help evade a ship’s defenses and home in as it approaches its target.

Two senior American officials said that the most recent shipment contained missiles with a more advanced guidance system than earlier shipments. Russia has longstanding interests in Syria, including a naval base at the Mediterranean port of Tartus.

As the Syria crisis has escalated, Russia has gradually augmented its naval presence in the region. In January, more than two dozen Russian warships sailed to the Black and Mediterranean Seas to take part in what the Defense Ministry said was to be the country’s largest naval exercise in decades, testing the ships’ ability to deploy outside Russian waters.

A month later, after the Black Sea exercises ended, the Russian Defense Ministry news agency said that four large landing vessels were on their way to operations off the coast of Syria. “Based on the results of the navy exercises in the Black and Mediterranean seas,” the ministry said at the time, “the ministry leadership has taken a decision to continue combat duty by Russian warships in the Mediterranean.”

Russia’s diplomatic support of Syria has also bolstered the Assad government. At the United Nations, the Russians recently blocked proposals that the Security Council mount a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to investigate the burgeoning flood of refugees, according to Western diplomats. Jordan had sought the United Nations visit to make the point that the refugee situation was a threat to stability in the region, but Russia said that the trip was beyond the mandate of the Security Council, diplomats said.

When allegations that the Assad government had used chemical weapons surfaced, Russia also backed the Syrian government’s refusal to allow the United Nations to carry out a wide-ranging investigation inside Syria — which Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said was an attempt to “politicize the issue” and impose the “Iraqi scenario” on Syria.

Russian officials have repeatedly said that in selling arms to Syria, they are merely fulfilling old contracts. But some American officials worry that the deliveries are intended to limit the United States’ options should it choose to intervene to help the rebels.

Russia, for example, previously shipped SA-17 surface-to-air missiles to Syria. Israel carried out an airstrike against trucks that were transporting the weapons near Damascus in January. Israel has not officially acknowledged the raid but has said it is prepared to intervene militarily to prevent any “game changing” weapons from being shipped to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group.

More recently, Israeli and American officials have urged Russia not to proceed with the sale of advanced S-300 air defense weapons. The Kremlin has yielded to American entreaties not to provide S-300s to Iran. But the denial of that sale, analysts say, has increased the pressure within Russia’s military establishment to proceed with the delivery to Syria.


Russia Challenges the U.S. by Equipping Syria With S-300, Yakhont Missiles

The delivery of Russian SS-N-26 coastal defense and SA-21 (S-300 PMU2) air defense missile systems to Syria is significant, since Moscow is providing the Syrian regime the capability to defend from Foreign intervention. Defense-Update reports.

In fact, the Russian weapons are providing Syria a level of defense so that the Russians will not have to send in their military power to defend their strategic assets in Syria. Although Israel may consider this move a potential challenge to its ‘qualitative superiority’, the Russian move is not aimed against Israel, but against the USA and Europe.

By supplying Syria with such weapons Russia is ‘drawing a line in the sand’, to prevent a possible intervention in Syria, as the west have practiced in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011. Unlike the two countries that gave in to the West, Russia feels Syria is committed to Syria under a defense pact, and is now making this statement clear. Another manifestation of this statement and strategy is growing presence of Russian naval vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean and at Port of Tartus.

U.S. sources claim that the current systems are delivered with an upgraded radar, “that makes them more effective, according to American officials who are familiar with classified intelligence reports”. Moreover, the missiles could also only put Israeli assets at risk, but also limit international activities off the Syrian coast, would a U.N. embargo enforced on the Syrian regime. Moscow has repeatedly blocked several initiatives to bring an end to the bloodshed of Civil War in Syria. More recently, investigations about alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria were also derailed by Russian opposition. 

Russia is determined not to allow NATO and the Western Alliance to “politicize the issue” (off alleged use of Weapons of Mass Destruction – WMD) as was the case of the “Iraqi scenario”. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said.

Russia regards Syria as one of its longstanding allies in the region. while Moscow is reluctant to intervene in Syria and act forcibly against the rebels, it is apparently providing Basher al Assad all the help they can to remain in power, maintain his military forces and protect, at least parts of the Syrian territory that is important to the Russians and to the Syrian regime – the concentration of Ala’awite minority, along the coastal area and in Northern Syria, and areas along the Lebanese border, including Damascus. Able to keep U.S. and NATO warships at risk would potentially deter possible foreign action, such as maintaining a ‘no fly zone’ or a naval blockade, as part of an embargo like the one implemented by the UN over Libya and Iraq.

At the United Nations, the Russians recently blocked proposals that the Security Council mount a fact-finding trip to Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon to investigate the burgeoning flood of refugees, according to Western diplomats.


How Dangerous is the S-300 Syria is About to Receive?

What are the implications of Moscow delivering S-300 air-defense systems to Syria, could one weapon system decide the outcome of the Syrian power struggle, is the Russian missile system as invincible as it is described? Alexey Eremenko from the Russian news agency Novosti provides some answers. Defense-Update reports.

“The missile batteries would give Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime a powerful weapon against foreign air strikes” Eremenko comments, “one of the options being bounced around as a form of international intervention – and could fracture the fragile accord on Syria reached last week between Moscow and Washington, which hope to get the warring sides to negotiate.”


 According to Eremenko, “Verifiable information about the S-300 deal is desperately scant: Was there a deal at all? What did it cover? Has any part of it been implemented? For now, what we know about the S-300 saga, from its origins to its implications, has been based on disappearing documents, anonymous sources, rumors, approximations and misunderstandings.”
Is there really a deal to sell Russian S-300 systems to Syria?

Technically, it’s all hearsay, according to Eremenko. The single evidence was a 2011 annual report by S-300’s manufacturer, the Nizhny Novgorod Machine Building Plant, which mentioned a contract for such missiles for Syria. However, the report has since vanished from the plant’s website. The Vedomosti business daily that commented about that story said the contract was worth $105 million and that an unspecified number of S-300 systems were slated for delivery between 2012 and early 2013. Based on the quoted price, the alleged contract would cover the infrastructure required for one battery only. (One S-300 missile system is estimated to cost some $115 million, the cost of each missile is over one million US$.)

Other reports commonly attributed to ‘western intelligence sources’ mention that Syria has ordered four S-300 batteries and 144 missiles, thus committing $900 million for such order. Deliveries of the hardware would commence by late summer. Other media sources reported initial shipments were made in December 2012. Russian official sources have stated that a contract covering the delivery of advanced air-defense systems to Syria has been signed two years ago.

Can the international community or any third parties affect the sale?

“The deal is strictly between Moscow and Damascus – which is to say, it’s all in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Eremenko wrote, “all attempts to ban arms sales to Syria via the UN Security Council have been blocked by Russia. Of course, there is behind-the-scenes haggling and arm-twisting, but that’s unofficial.”

Why are the S-300s dangerous? They’ve been on the production line since 1978 – aren’t they outdated by now?

The S-300 systems have been modernized repeatedly to remain state-of-the-art airplane- and rocket-destruction machines. The S-300PMU2 Favorit can launch six missiles at once and engage 12 targets simultaneously, both at high and low altitude. The missile interceptors (effectors) used by the S-300 PMU2 outmaneuver any modern fighter, including F-16, F-15, F-18 and F-22, these missiles can also effectively hit cruise missiles at ranges of 40-70km. The same unit can also employ the latest 48N6E2 missiles to intercept short and medium range ballistic missiles that would be targeting the site. This missile having a maximum range of 195km is what makes the system ‘strategic’ When covered by by point defense missile systems, such as the SA-15 Tor or SA-22 Pantsir S1, an S-300 PMU2 would be virtually immune to standoff attack by precision guided weapons. The system is also designed to operate effectively even when subjected to severe countermeasures and electronic attack, which makes it especially difficult to suppress.

Who are the targets?

In addition to engaging fighter aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles, the S-300 system will also pose acute danger to strategic assets flying well beyond the Syrian border, including Israeli or coalition support aircraft, airborne early warning, electronic warfare and monitoring or aerial refueling aircraft which are part of strike packages or aircraft supporting intelligence gathering and surveillance. “Any attempts by foreign powers to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, as was done in Libya in 2011.” Eremenko wrote.

What’s the possible time frame? How long until Assad can shoot foreign fighter jets out of the sky?

The S-300 system deploys in five minutes – once it’s paid for, produced, tested, shipped, and manned by trained personnel. Novosti wrote, still, it would likely take a while before Damascus actually gets any missiles. However, there are few issues that would delay delivery. The manufacturer is unlikely to have ready-to-ship S-300 systems lying on the shelves: Whatever leftovers there were from a deal with Iran, scrapped in 2010, were long ago snatched up by other customers such as Algeria, according to Ruslan Pukhov of the Center for Analysis of Strategy and Technologies, a for-profit research group in Moscow. This means the systems would need to be produced and test launches conducted, a job that would take about a year, Pukhov said. “Furthermore, dozens or even hundreds of staff would have to be trained to operate the complicated machinery, which should take about six months. This would push Assad’s most optimistic deadline of owning fully operable S-300 complexes to November at best, with spring of 2014 being a more realistic estimate.”

According to Israel’s 1st TV news channel, Syrian soldiers have recently completed a two-month training on the S300 air-defense system in Russia. These crews are expected to become the lead cadre receiving the systems expected within two months in Syria. Israel is concerned about the possibility that the S300 systems will be manned by Russian troops in Syria. In the early 1970s Russian crews have maintained a full air-defense division in Egypt, assisting in defending the country from Israeli attacks during the War of Attrition that followed the Egyptian defeat in the Six Day War of 1967.


Radio Liberty: Five Things You Should Know About Syria And Russia’s S-300 Missile System

Russia's S-300 missile system could dramatically change the stakes in the Syrian conflict if it is sent to Damascus, which Russia has signed a contract to do. RFE/RL lays out five things to know about the air-defense system.

What are the capabilities of the S-300 system?

The S-300 missile system is designed to shoot down aircraft and missiles at a range of 5-to-150 kilometers. That gives it the ability to destroy not only attackers in Syrian airspace but also any attackers inside Israel. It can track and strike multiple targets simultaneously at altitudes ranging from 10 meters to 27,000 meters.

"The S-300 is Russia's top-of-the-range air-defense system," says Robert Hewson, the London-based editor of "IHS Jane's Air-Launched Weapons." "It is a surface-to-air missile system that's capable of shooting down any modern combat aircraft or missiles, including cruise missiles. In a way, it is the Russian equivalent to the U.S. Patriot system. And what it does for Syria is it adds a whole new level of capability on top of the existing Syrian air defenses. Syria already has a lot of Russian [surface-to-air] missiles, but the S-300 would be the most advanced."
How much would a deployed S-300 system complicate a decision by the international community to create no-fly zones in Syria?

The deployment of the S-300 system would greatly complicate any such measures in Syria. It would similarly complicate Israel’s policy of striking targets in Syria to prevent transfers of sophisticated weapons from Damascus to the Lebanese Hizballah, Israel’s sworn enemy. NATO used no-fly zones in 2011 to end the conflict in Libya. The zones protected civilians and allowed allied planes to destroy Libyan government units who were using force against populated areas.
When might Russia deliver the S-300 system to Syria?

That is the big unknown. Moscow and Damascus signed the deal roughly a year before civil unrest against the Syrian regime erupted in March 2011. A firm delivery date has yet to be set. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on May 30 that the systems were on the way but that report was contradicted by Russian defense analysts speaking anonymously to Russian media. One defense source told Russia's "Kommersant" daily that the weapons contract requires Moscow to deliver the S-300 system by spring 2014. Russian officials have refused to speak publicly about a time frame. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters this week, "I can only say that we won't cancel the contracts."

Are there reasons to suspect Russia is bluffing when it says it will send the missiles?

In truth, delivering the missiles could bring huge risks for Moscow. That is because the batteries likely would have to be operated by Russian crews before Syrian teams could be completely trained in their use.

"It is standard Russian practice to send your own military advisers to go in with a new customer and help train them up," Hewson says. "And one risk in attacking [the new] S-300 -- were that to happen and if the missiles had just arrived in Syria -- is that you would hit Russian personnel that are with them."

Israel, a U.S. ally, has threatened to destroy the missiles if they are deployed. If it did and caused Russian casualties, there would be a grave risk the conflict could escalate into a superpower confrontation. Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Middle East office in Bahrain, says promising to send the new missiles likely serves Moscow's purposes better than actually delivering them.

"Ultimately for Russia, I think the threat of transferring the S-300, the ambiguity as to whether it has been sent or not, probably is their best-case scenario," Elleman says. "Whereas if they do transfer it, bad things might happen and escalation is something that I don't think anyone would really like to see."
Could foreign powers find ways to circumvent the S-300 system if it were deployed?

One way to circumvent air-defense systems is to try to disrupt their operations through electronic techniques rather than attack them directly. But Elleman says it is an open question whether the S-300 could be blocked this way. "Electronic warfare and spoofing of systems in quite common," he says, "but one must keep in mind that the S-300 is a very sophisticated piece of weaponry. And I am not convinced that the West, Israel, or Turkey could reliably neutralize the system without taking some kind of kinetic action -- in other words, going after some of the radar or some of the interceptors [with force]. So, in terms of circumventing, I think it would be very difficult and very risky."


CBN News: Russia Providing Drones to Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not only providing "concrete military assistance" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces, he's also providing political backing. "The Russians support the Syrian army by supplying weapons and also provide political backing," Israel's Channel 2 television military affairs correspondent Roni Daniel said on Monday evening. "It is now revealed they also provided concrete military assistance that affects the Syrian campaign." Daniel said Russian UAVs are giving Assad "a significant advantage" over rebel forces. "The Russians are operating a complete system of unmanned aircraft running in Syrian airspace, gathering intelligence on rebel forces and providing it to Assad's forces, giving them a significant advantage," Daniel said.


Haaretz: Between Hezbollah fighters and Russian missiles, Israel’s stakes in Syria war grow ever higher!/image/4251298577.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/4251298577.jpg

As far as Israel is concerned, the news from Syria in the past few days can be divided into the good, the bad and the potentially very ugly. Taken together, the developments mark a convergence of potential game-changers that may set the stage for long, hot and possibly very dangerous summer.

The good news, if it can be called that, is Hezbollah’s increasingly direct intervention in the Syrian civil war on behalf of beleaguered president Bashar Assad. A New York Times headline on Monday described the Lebanese terror group’s involvement as a “dramatic gamble”, which Israelis, of course, are hoping it will lose. The Times article describes Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s decision to send his forces to fight alongside the 

Syrian army in the ongoing battle over the city of Qusayr as a move that could prove critical for the future of the organization: a victory would enhance the organization’s reputation and status as a coveted member of the tripartite axis with Syria and Iran, while a defeat would weaken the group militarily, dilute its deterrent power and undermine its position of influence in Lebanese society and politics.

These theoretically high stakes of Hezbollah’s uncharacteristic foray cannot but influence Israel’s views on the conflict in Syria. Jerusalem has hitherto wavered between two conflicting interests: stability of the Syrian state and its regime as a guarantor of chemical weapons and of Israel’s northern border vs. the value of disrupting Tehran’s regional hegemony and its supply lines to Beirut.

This equation changes, however, if Hezbollah gets sucked into the Syrian imbroglio to the degree that Assad’s defeat could also spell the death knell for Nasrallah. Israel will be sorely tempted to do whatever it can to contribute to such a potentially fatal blow to an organization that, it many ways, has been Israel’s fiercest and most implacable enemy for over 30 years.

Instead of opposing the arming of Syrian rebels, or at least cautioning Western powers against hasty moves, Israel may now view an immediate strengthening of anti-Assad forces as a strategic imperative aimed at averting a decisive Assad-Hezbollah victory. Rather than having to choose between the plague and cholera, as the saying goes, Israel could come to appreciate the advantages of having the two scourges fight it out, one against the other.

From that point of view, the European Union’s decision to refrain from extending its arms embargo against the Syrian rebels could not have come at a better time. With the active and physical help of Iran and Syria, Assad has recently appeared to be not only holding on but actually gaining ground; the arming of Syrian rebels, even if they include Jihadist extremists, would serve as a potent game-changer and morale-booster for the beleaguered anti-Assad forces.

Similarly, the growing evidence of the Syrian army’s tactical use of chemical weapons, as supplied by eyewitness accounts of Le Monde reporters, may add to the pressure on the U.S. Administration to increase support for the rebels, if not to intervene directly. Senator John McCain’s jaunt into rebel territory over the weekend has refocused attention on an issue that the Administration was probably happy to keep on the sidelines.

Good or bad, all of these developments are overshadowed, of course, by the Russian announcement that it plans to go ahead and arm Assad with advanced S-300 surface to air missiles, described by the International Assessment and Strategy Center as “one of the most lethal, if not the most lethal, all altitude area defense SAM (Surface to Air Missile) systems in service.”

Moscow’s decision, if final, is a diplomatic setback for Israel, which has tried to dissuade Russia from going ahead with the deal, most recently in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting with Vladimir Putin two weeks ago. More importantly, however, the deployment of the S-300s could change the military balance of air power on Israel’s northern front, with the new missiles threatening Israel’s freedom of action not only over Syria but over Lebanon and Israel’s northern areas as well.

Any Israeli decision to attack Syrian targets before, during, or after the deployment of the new missile systems could put it into a dangerous collision course with Moscow and its regional ambitions.

Given this new convergence of regional and international forces on the Syrian battlefield, there may be renewed impetus to reach a negotiated settlement at the upcoming Geneva II conference, scheduled for mid-June. But it is no less far fetched to sketch plausible scenarios by which the internal civil war develops into a regional confrontation and escalates from there into an all-out international crisis that pits Syria, Iran, Russia and possibly China on one side and Europe, the U.S., Israel and Sunni countries on the other.

If this happens during the next few months, be sure that the “Guns of August” precedent will be mentioned often. If the situation deteriorates even further, you may rest assured that scaremongers will rejoice, doomsayers will exult and Google will be awash in searches for the Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation, the Devil and the Beast, Gog and Magog and a little known place in the northern Israel, right next to Lebanon and Syria, called Megiddo - or Armageddon.


Guardian: Israel warns Russia against arming Syrian government

Israel's defence minister signals that its military is prepared to strike shipments of advanced Russian weapons to Syria

Russia has said it will supply one of its most advanced anti-aircraft missile systems to the Syrian government hours after the EU ended its arms embargo on the rebels, raising the prospect of a rapidly escalating proxy war in the region if peace talks in Geneva fail next month.

Israel quickly issued a thinly veiled warning that it would bomb the Russian S-300 missiles if they were sent to Syria, as such a move would bring the advanced guided missiles within range of civilian and military planes over Israel. Israel has conducted three sets of air strikes on Syria this year, aimed at preventing missiles being brought close to its border by the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.

"The shipments haven't set out yet and I hope they won't," Moshe Ya'alon, the Israeli defence minister, said. "If they do arrive in Syria, God forbid, we'll know what to do."

Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, argued that the delivery of the S-300 system had been previously agreed with Damascus and would be a stabilising factor that could dissuade "some hotheads" from entering the conflict. That appeared to be a reference to the UK and France, who pushed through the lifting of the EU embargo on Monday night and are the only European countries considering arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

However, London and Paris said they had not yet taken the decision to send arms, and would not do so until after the Geneva peace talks, tentatively scheduled for mid-June. "We have said we have made our own commitments, that at this stage as we work for the Geneva conference we are not taking any decision to send any arms to anyone," William Hague, the UK foreign secretary said.

British officials said the lifting of the embargo had a political purpose, increasing the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and his supporters, Russia and Iran, to make concessions at Geneva, most importantly to agree not to play a role in a transitional Syrian government. If that fails, the officials said western arms supplies would strengthen moderate elements in the armed opposition currently outgunned and outfinanced by jihadist groups.

"Whoever controls logistics will command loyalty," a senior British official said. "It's about dragging some of these fighters back from the extremists." The senior official stressed that any future British arms supplies would not include portable anti-aircraft missiles. "There is not going to be an airliner brought down by some weapon we provide," he said.

In Ankara, a senior Turkish official portrayed the talks as a make-or-break moment, which would have to lead to practical steps towards the creation of transitional government without Assad and his closest entourage, unlike the first round of Geneva talks last year.

"If Geneva II fails, the opposition, the Free Syrian Army will get all they need, including sophisticated arms," the official said. "This will be the last diplomatic channel. There won't be another chance for the regime to negotiate its role in a transitional government."

He said the key factor would be the US position on backing the rebels if Geneva failed to bring progress. At the moment, Washington is providing only non-lethal assistance to the FSA, but the Turkish official said that in Barack Obama's meeting this month with the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the US president showed readiness to change policy after more than 80,000 people had been killed. "The US is stepping up its efforts, and its close contact it keeps with [FSA commander] Saleem Idriss, tells you something about American intentions," he said.

However, while the White House on Tuesday appeared to welcome European moves to arm rebel groups in Syria, a spokesman said the US remained sceptical about the merits of further intervention. A spokesman, Jay Carney, said it would not "bring us closer to the political transition that Syria deserves," according to reporters travelling with the president on Air Force One.

The administration was also playing down the significance of a surprise visit to Syria by the hawkish Republican senator John McCain on Monday. The Syrian opposition is hopeful the visit by McCain to rebel-held areas in the north over the weekend will increase the political pressure on the Obama administration to send arms. Carney said the White House was aware McCain was planning the trip to see rebel leaders and looked forward to "speaking to him upon his return".

The opposition Syrian National Coalition is holding fractious internal debates in Istanbul over its leadership and whether to go to Geneva, but Turkish officials say they are confident there will be opposition representation at the talks.

It is unclear, however, whether Iran will attend amid determined Saudi opposition to their participation. Riyadh has threatened to boycott the talks if Iran attends, officials in Ankara have said. Russia and some Syrian opposition groups argue Tehran must be included, in view of its heavy involvement on the conflict. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards are training pro-government militias to fight alongside the Syrian army.

"If Iran doesn't come to Geneva, then that will be confirmation that it is a purely cosmetic exercise," a senior Syrian opposition official said.

Expectations of significant progress in Geneva are slight. Western officials say that with unyielding backing from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, there is little incentive for Assad to make any concessions. For its part, the opposition has agreed to drop its demand for Assad to step down as a precondition for talks to begin but is highly unlikely to accept a transitional government in which the Syrian leader or his family is involved.


Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka: How to Stop Assad's Slaughter
  Hitting Syria's airfields and war planes would be a game-changer—with U.S. forces not put in harm's way

Syria is not Libya. Bashar Assad's troops are well armed, and his ground forces are waging successful campaigns against rebel forces across the country. But eliminating Assad's ability to take to the air and tilting the balance of power in favor of anti-Assad rebels—as the United States and its allies did with the fighters who eventually overthrew Moammar Gadhafi—is both achievable and advisable.

The Syrian air force is capable of aerial bombardment, close air support to ground troops, aerial resupply and delivery of chemical weapons. Assad has used all those capabilities over the past two years to fight the rebels and to kill tens of thousands of civilians. But in the past year, the rebels—armed with heavy weapons and possibly with shoulder-fired Stinger missiles—have become more proficient at shooting down helicopters, reportedly as many as 20 so far.

What is keeping Assad in power is his use of fighter planes. If the U.S. wants to break the military stalemate, force Assad into political concessions or aid in his ouster, eliminating his air power should be the first order of business.

The Assad regime's fighter aircraft are also being used to take out civilians in what might be labeled a reverse-counterinsurgency strategy. If counterinsurgency is predicated on the security of the civilian population, then the reverse strategy penalizes civilians and ensures that they are forced to choose between their hope for freedom or the risk of death. Indiscriminately killing civilians is working well for Assad, and the linchpin of his strategy is his regime's air power.

To successfully target Assad's air power, one option is to outfit moderate rebel units vetted by the CIA with man-portable antiaircraft missiles, otherwise known as Manpads. Providing more moderate rebels with Manpads is a reasonable choice, though unlikely to be decisive because time is on Assad's side. There is also a risk that the weapons could be diverted to al Qaeda-related groups. Despite that risk, however, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA Director David Petraeus recommended this strategy last summer.

A cleaner and more decisive option is to strike Syrian aircraft and the regime's key airfields through which Iranian and Russian weapons are flowing to government forces. If American forces use standoff cruise missiles and B-2 stealth bombers for these strikes, they will be out of the enemy's reach.

The airfields are Assad's lifeline of support from Iran and Russia, and without them he's in real trouble. Syria's air force will be severely degraded if the U.S. pursues this option, but Syrian planes won't be entirely grounded because airfields can be repaired. As a result, these operations would need to be sustained for a period of time to preclude repairs.

Then there's the oft-recommended option of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria. It's here where we hear the loudest objections from Syria's allies and others opposed to Western involvement in the conflict. Because the Syrian military is equipped with an array of relatively sophisticated air-defense systems, critics of the no-fly zone strategy suggest that U.S. forces would be in harm's way.

The truth is that these air-defense systems look more impressive on paper than they do in real life. After all, the Israelis have been able to repeatedly penetrate Syrian air space without consequence. The Soviet systems that the regime has are complicated and require intensive maintenance and training. They would be little match for the U.S.

The Russian S300 surface-to-air defense system that news reports indicate is being delivered to Syria would represent a substantial upgrade to Syrian air defense system. Still, the U.S. has the capacity to destroy this system with relative ease using Tomahawk missiles; even small-arms fire would render it almost useless.

Ultimately, the achievability question is straightforward: Taking on Assad's air assets is not an impossibly heavy lift for the U.S., particularly if we are able to enlist support from NATO and the Arab League. Limited operations would render the antiaircraft-system matter moot.

It is the advisability question that is thornier, lending itself to more subjective analysis about the unknowns of a rebel victory and Assad's (as well as Iran's and Hezbollah's) reaction to an escalation. Here are the facts we do know: Right now, countless Syrian innocents are being murdered weekly. Chemical weapons are being used by the regime. Yes, certain factions among the rebels are affiliated with al Qaeda, but it is also true that their allegiance has cost them support among the Syrian civilian population in the months since it was announced.

Play this out: Assad wins and Iran's most important Arab alliance is preserved, with terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad back on the gravy train of international terrorism. American credibility is shot. Or, the conflict continues, and the spillover into Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iran and Turkey escalates. Is conflict between Israel and Iran over Syria a ridiculous notion? How about the fall of the Jordanian king? More fighting between al Qaeda allies and Hezbollah in Lebanon? The collapse of Iraq? None of our business? Never going to draw us in? Remember, a return to the status quo ante is out of the question.

Arming the right rebels with antiaircraft weapons and severely degrading Assad's air power with limited airstrikes is achievable without boots on the ground and minimal risk to aircrews. If the U.S. pursues this strategy, moderates among the rebels will be strengthened, Syrian civilian casualties are likely to be reduced (though not eliminated) and finally, after two long years, Assad will be on notice. This option leaves room for escalation to the no-fly zone, and for a further escalation to attacks on Assad's ground forces if he uses chemical weapons again or tries to transfer them to America's enemies.

The Syrian people are not asking us to fight for them. They're asking us to help them fight for themselves. The question for President Barack Obama is not our capacity to join that fight. It is the will.

Gen. Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, is the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War. Ms. Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


DEBKAfile: Moscow‘s Smoke Screen Obscures Assad’s Next Syrian War Moves

On minute, Russian spokesmen declare that Moscow is only filling standing contracts with Syria for the sale of weapons, i.e. – S-300 anti-air missiles; the next, that delivery will take place only in the second quarter of 2014 (ahead of Syria’s presidential election). Then, after those spokesmen previously declared that Russia would only fill outstanding arms contracts, Serge Korotkov, head of the MiG company came out with the news Friday, May 31, that a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss “a new contract” for the sale of “more than 10” MiG-29 M/M2 fighters.

According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, this Russian fighter-bomber is designed to operate in complex electronic jamming environments. It is therefore just what the Syrian army lacks for overcoming the Israeli Air Force’s ability to disable Syria’s Russian-made electronic warfare systems. Moscow is therefore offering to provide Bashar Assad and his air force with a key resource for delivering on the statement he made in a TV interview Thursday, May 30: “We have informed all foreign parties that we will retaliate against any future Israeli attack.”

Our military and Russian sources say that the conflicting Russian statements on weapons sales to Damascus have two motives:

1. To lay down a smoke screen for concealing the true nature and volume of the military equipment Moscow is shipping to Assad and his army by airlift. Its transports land and unload their freight at various Syrian airfields, including Aleppo and Latakia. Without the Russian and Iranian air corridors, the Syrian army would soon run out of the ammunition, spare parts and fuel, needed day to day for keeping up its war on the rebels.

2. To spread a fog fraught with Russian menace for scaring Israel, the United States, Britain, France and Turkey off any thought of military intervention in the Syrian conflict.

This too is the frame of mind Moscow is seeking to generate for June 5 when representatives of Russia, the US and the United Nations meet to prepare the ground for the Geneva conference which had been called to hammer out a political settlement of the Syrian war. Moscow is determined to browbeat Washington into accepting Iran’s participation.

Only the UN has so far named its representatives to the preliminary meeting. They are special envoy for Syria, the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, and the Deputy Secretary General, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman. Some weeks ago, Brahimi was on the point of resigning his mission. He changed his mind when he saw Assad was gaining the upper hand in the way and the Obama administration unwilling to stop him except by cooperating with Moscow in calling an international conference for setting limits on Assad’s triumph.

The Algerian diplomat became convinced that without Moscow and Iran’s attendance, the conference is condemned to fail. Most probably, therefore, the preparatory meeting will be preoccupied with settling the argument over Iran’s participation. Already, behind closed doors, Moscow, Washington and Tehran have closed the gap between them and bargaining over the format of Tehran’s attendance, whether as a separate delegation or part of the Syrian team? And will Hizballah be asked or not?

The Russians are confident they come to the event with the strongest hand. Their delegates will lead a front composed of Iran, Syria and Hizballah, which is not only united but way ahead on the war front. In contrast, their American co-sponsors, have not been able to persuade the fractious Syrian opposition or its Gulf patrons, led by Saudi Arabia, to put in an appearance at the conference. Unless this obstacle can be overcome, the US delegation comes to the conference without Syrian or Arab parties on its side of the table. Israel can only watch from the sidelines.

President Vladimir Putin and his advisers feel they can safely turn up the heat in the belief that President Barack Obama will have no choice in the final reckoning but to accept the Russian-Iranian proposals for ending the Syrian war, starting with leaving Assad in power. Otherwise, Moscow is indicating that the war will escalate, fueled by the swelling input of Russian arms, and the United States will sink further in Middle East estimation.

Implicit in the Russian stance is that the Syrian war which has already spread to Lebanon thanks to Hizballah’s participation in the fighting will next spill over into Israel. Moscow is playing the S-300 missiles and MiG-29 M/M2 warplanes as pieces in its game against Israel too on the Syrian chessboard.

Source: DEBKAfile Special Report May 31, 2013

Russian Warships Enter Mediterranean to Form Permanent Task Force

Warships from Russia’s Pacific Fleet have entered the Mediterranean for the first time in decades. Russia’s Navy Chief says the task force may be reinforced with nuclear submarines, as the country starts building up a permanent fleet in the region. “The task force has successfully passed through the Suez Channel and entered the Mediterranean. It is the first time in decades that Pacific Fleet warships enter this region,” the Pacific Fleet spokesman, Capt. First Rank Roman Martov told RIA.

The vessels are now heading to Cyprus and will make a port call in the city of Limassol, he added. The group includes destroyer “Admiral Panteleyev,” two amphibious warfare ships “Peresvet” and “Admiral Nevelskoi,” as well as a tanker and a tugboat. The ships left the Far-Eastern port city of Vladivostok on March 19 to join Russia’s Mediterranean task force, which currently consists of vessels from Northern, Baltic, and the Black Sea Fleets, including a large anti-submarine ship, a frigate and a Ropucha-II Class landing ship. Russian Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov on Sunday announced plans for the Mediterranean task force and said that it may “possibly” be enlarged to include nuclear submarines.

“Overall, already from this year, we plan to have 5-6 warships and support vessels [in the Mediterranean Sea], which will be replaced on a rotating basis from each of the fleets – the Black Sea, Baltic, Northern and, in some cases, even the Pacific Fleet. Depending on the scope of assignments and their complexity, the number of warships in the task force may be increased,” Chirkov said, as quoted by RIA.

Russian submarines may be deployed in the region “in perspective,” the Navy Commander said, reminding that both nuclear and diesel submarines were present in the Soviet Union’s 5th Mediterranean Squadron. “Everything will depend on the situation,” Chirkov said, also leaving the door open for missions in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The task force will be “comprehensively trained” to meet situations that may arise in these regions too, he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry announced setting up a naval task force in the Mediterranean in April, while the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu has said a permanent naval task force was needed to defend Russia’s interests in the region. The permanent fleet’s headquarters will be set up in the summer of 2013, although their actual location is yet to be announced.

The Mediterranean has recently become a hotspot of military muscle flexing as global powers seemingly vie for influence. NATO has been staging major naval war games involving several countries, last October holding an exercise code-named Noble Mariner 12. Russia held its largest naval exercises in the region this January, with drills spanning both the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The media quickly linked both the NATO and Russian war games to the situation in Syria.


Another recent naval display, seen as provocative by Israel, was the deployment of the Iranian Navy’s 24th fleet to patrol the Mediterranean and convey a “message of peace.” Since then, Israel has acquired its fifth Dolphin-class submarine allegedly capable of launching cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.

China has also been increasing its involvement in the area, with the country’s warships sailing through the Suez Canal, and several key ports of the region becoming partially China-owned. Major naval groups serving in the Mediterranean Sea include NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, French Naval Action Force, and the US Navy 6th Fleet. The only Russian naval installation in the region has for decades been the maintenance facility in the Syrian city of Tartus.


Assad Ally Bolsters Warships in Region; U.S. Sees Warning

Russia has sent a dozen or more warships to patrol waters near its naval base in Syria, a buildup that U.S. and European officials see as a newly aggressive stance meant partly to warn the West and Israel not to intervene in Syria's bloody civil war. Russia's expanded presence in the eastern Mediterranean, which began attracting U.S. officials' notice three months ago, represents one of its largest sustained naval deployments since the Cold War. While Western officials say they don't fear an impending conflict with Russia's aged fleet, the presence adds a new source of potential danger for miscalculation in an increasingly combustible region.

"It is a show of force. It's muscle flexing," a senior U.S. defense official said of the Russian deployments. "It is about demonstrating their commitment to their interests."

The buildup is seen as Moscow's way of trying to strengthen its hand in any talks over Syria's future and buttress its influence in the Middle East. It also provides options for evacuating tens of thousands of Russians still in Syria. The deployments come at a time of heightened tensions. U.S. officials said Thursday that another round of Israeli airstrikes could target a new transfer of advanced missiles, anti-ship weapons known as Yakhont missiles, in the near future. Israeli and Western intelligence services believe the missiles, which have been sold by Russia to Syria in recent years, could be transferred to the militant Hezbollah group within days. Russia has strongly protested previous Israeli strikes in Syria.

Yakhont missiles are an offensive system. Moscow has told Western diplomats it will supply only defensive weaponry to the Syrian regime. But U.S. and Israeli officials have long been worried about Syria's existing stocks of the weapon. If transferred to Hezbollah or other militant groups, they could provide a serious threat to both Israeli and U.S. warships in the region.

Russian Navy and foreign ministry officials didn't respond to requests for comment about the deployments of the warships. Russia supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while the U.S. has called for his removal. Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled this week that he is pushing ahead with the sale of an advanced air-defense system to Syria, according to U.S. intelligence reports, over Israeli and U.S. objections.

Hezbollah and its chief sponsor, Iran, also have rallied around Mr. Assad, sharing Russia's interest in keeping the regime in place. Recent Israeli airstrikes inside Syria have targeted missiles believed to be bound from Tehran to Hezbollah, Western intelligence officials have alleged.

Moscow and Washington have worked publicly in recent days to assemble an international conference involving Damascus. But expectations are low that the meeting could lead to a political transition, as tensions have heightened around the region, and with the U.S. and Russia backing opposing camps. Amid the strategic turmoil, U.S. and European defense officials say Russia appears to be trying to project power to deter outside intervention in Syria, which it sees as its foothold in the Middle East.

U.S. and European officials believe Mr. Putin wants to prevent the West from contemplating a Libya-style military operation inside Syria. President Barack Obama doesn't want to intervene militarily, but he has said the calculation could be changed by suspected use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad's forces. Likewise, the Pentagon has stepped up military contingency planning in the event of spillover of fighting into neighboring Turkey and Jordan, both close U.S. allies.

Moscow's deployments appeared designed to show that Russia intends to keep Tartus, its only remaining military outpost outside the former Soviet Union, senior U.S. officials said. Though spare by Western military standards—it consists of a pair of piers staffed by about 50 people, according to Russian data—the base provides a toehold in the region that has grown in strategic and symbolic importance for Moscow.

"It's not really a base," said Andrei Frolov, an analyst at CAST, a Moscow military think tank. "It's more like a service station" that can do limited resupply and very modest repairs.

U.S. officials say, however, that Russia has drawn up plans to expand the base, which it negotiated with Mr. Assad. Washington's interest in the base has likewise grown—not because the U.S. sees it as a threat, but because U.S. officials believe that by assuring Russia that the base will remain under Moscow's control in a post-Assad Syria, the U.S. has a better chance of convincing Mr. Putin to break with Mr. Assad. Mr. Obama held out some hope Thursday that the coming conference with Russia would help the major powers reach a consensus on how to end the bloodshed in Syria.

"There's no magic formula for dealing with an extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria's," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in Washington with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians…may yield results."

Moscow's diplomacy notwithstanding, U.S. officials believe that in addition to the naval deployments, Russia is moving more quickly than previously thought to deliver S-300 surface-to-air defense systems to Syria. U.S. officials say the S-300 system, which is capable of shooting down guided missiles and could make it more risky for any warplanes to enter Syrian airspace, could leave Russia for the port of Tartus by the end of May.

Russia's delivery of such missiles could create a new dilemma for Israel, which has carried out what Western intelligence officials say are at least three airstrikes inside Syria in recent months against suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah. Israel has yet to target Syrian forces directly, seeking to avoid direct conflict with Mr. Assad, say U.S. and Israeli officials. Russian officials first announced the navy was deploying ships to the eastern Mediterranean near Syria starting in late 2012, but few details about the deployments have been made public.

In January, the Russian navy used these and other ships to conduct what it billed as some of the largest exercises in recent years in the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea for a force that has had relatively low international presence since the Cold War. State media reported that as many as 21 ships and three submarines were involved, as well as planes and other forces.

Before the start of the Syrian civil war, Russian ships stopped at the port only irregularly. But in the last three months, 10 to 15 Russian ships have been near the Syrian port at any one time, U.S. and European officials say. They say Russia currently has 11 ships in the eastern Mediterranean, organized into three task forces, that include destroyers, frigates, support vessels and intelligence-collecting ships. Another three-ship group of amphibious vessels is headed to the region. But U.S. officials said they expect that group to replace one of the groups currently in the region.

"You have more and more warships" concentrated between Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey, a senior European defense official said, adding that Russia is protecting its sphere of influence in the Middle East and "staking its claim" to Tartus.

Many of the Russian ships in the eastern Mediterranean have stopped in Syria, conducted exercises, port visits or training in the area, and then moved on to the Gulf of Aden to conduct counterpiracy missions, U.S. and European officials said. Others in the aging fleet have returned to Black Sea ports for repairs and resupply in recent weeks, Russian state media reported. The stops in Syria, according to a U.S. official, signal that Russia wants to show it remains a naval power, even though its strength is diminished from the Soviet era and no longer matches Western capabilities. "They are stretching their legs," the official said. "They are very much interested in letting people know they are a blue-water navy."

The Soviets had ships in the Mediterranean during the Cold War whose mission was to counter the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet. The Russians ended that mission in 1992. But in the last few months, the Russian navy has talked about reviving a similar mission to signal Russia's influence in the region.

For now, senior U.S. officials said the Russian buildup "is not seen as threatening" to the U.S. Navy, which has two destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean and an aircraft carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf. "Nobody is forecasting the battle of Midway in the eastern Med," the senior defense official said.


Russian Navy Plans to Reestablish Mediterranean Presence

The Russian Navy is planning to reinstate in the Mediterranean the squadron it dissolved 20 years ago. Its presence should become a stabilizing factor for the region. “We are planning to assign five or six vessels and support ships to the formation from this year. They will rotate from each of our fleets in the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Northern Sea, and in some cases even the Pacific. Depending on the scope and complexity of our missions, the number of vessels in the formation could increase," said Commander-in-chief, Admiral Viktor Chirkov to RIA Novosti. Chirkov also told the news source that the squadron could look forward to submarines.

“It’s possible – in the future. They used to be deployed there at the time of the Fifth Squadron. There were nuclear- and diesel-powered submarines there. Everything will depend on how the situation develops."

According to the Admiral, the Navy Command is also considering including Mistral-class helicopter carriers as staff vessels for the squadron.

A symbol of the rebirth of Russia’s might

A Russian squadron in the Mediterranean is a symbol of the rebirth of Russia’s military might, according to Andrei Frolov, Editor-in-Chief of Eksport Vooruzheny (Arms Export) magazine. “Creating such a formation makes sense because its vessels could be used in case of a crisis in the region and also as a launch pad for sending ships further afield – to Somalia and other parts of Africa. Our sailors are familiar with Tartus, which has the necessary infrastructure for vessels to fuel up and restock on water while the crew rests," Frolov told Kommersant.

Vladimir Batyuk, a military expert with the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, believes that the idea of establishing the squadron could only be viable if the situation in Syria, its intended home base, becomes stable. Batyk shared that he believes "a permanent strengthening of the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean will be perceived with understanding. An overwhelming majority will treat the Russian Navy’s presence with understanding, because it will stabilize the military and political situation there. Russia maintains constructive and even friendly relations with some of those countries."

On the other hand, Irina Melkumyan, a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes that the appearance of a Russian squadron in the Mediterranean could cause anxiety in some of the region’s countries.

“I think this is probably ill-conceived. I believe Russia should not become the object of criticism from the region’s countries once again, because Russia’s position is known to diverge from those of the Arab League, Turkey and, of course, Israel. Most Middle Eastern countries have a different position, and right now such a step by Russia will only worsen the situation and weaken Russia’s position in the region,” she said.


Russian Navy Starts Forming Mediterranean Task Force

The Russian Navy has begun setting up a permanent task force to defend Russia’s interests in the Mediterranean, Navy Commander Adm. Viktor Chirkov said Monday. “The defense minister has ordered us to form a task force that will operate in the Mediterranean Sea on a permanent basis,” Chirkov told reporters after a defense ministry meeting. “We have already started work on this task.”

The move comes at a time of increased international tension in the eastern Mediterranean due to the worsening civil war in Syria. According to Chirkov, the issue has been discussed at the Navy's Main Headquarters, with the focus on logistics and training of commanding personnel. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier on Monday that a decision to deploy a permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean had been made.

“I believe that we have the capability to form and maintain such a task force,” Shoigu said, citing the success of recent large-scale naval drills carried out by the Russian navy in the Mediterranean and Black seas.

The exercises involved warships from the Northern, Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific fleets, strategic bombers and naval infantry. Neither Shoigu nor Chirkov mentioned a timeline for the deployment of the new task force, which would likely require significant effort to ensure efficient logistics and the proper maintenance of warships in the Mediterranean group. Shoigu admitted Monday that the general state of affairs in the navy "could not be called satisfactory," particularly in terms of poor servicing and maintenance of vessels.

“A significant part of the fleet has to be operated with extended periods [of time] between repairs, while many ships and vessels have armaments and military equipment that can be used only with restrictions," Shoigu said. A high-ranking defense ministry source told RIA Novosti in the beginning of March that a proposed Russian permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean Sea could consist of up to 10 combat and auxiliary ships from three of the existing fleets.

The task force may operate on a rotating basis and use ports in Cyprus, Montenegro, Greece and Syria as resupply points, the official added. The Soviet Union maintained its 5th Mediterranean Squadron in that sea from 1967 until 1992. It was formed to counter the US Navy 6th Fleet during the Cold War, and consisted of 30-50 warships and auxiliary vessels at different times.


Russia Warships Dock in Beirut Port awaiting Departure to Syria

Three Russia warships docked on Thursday in Beirut Port, and al-Mayadeen television reported that they will stay in Lebanese waters for three days before departing to Syria. "The warships carry 700 soldiers and are planning to stay in Mediterranean waters for three days,” al-Mayadeen said, adding that they will then sail to the Syrian port of Tartus. Russia's emergencies ministry on Tuesday had airlifted 103 Russians and citizens of former Soviet republics from Syria amid continuing violence in the strife-torn country and on February 19, Syrian authorities announced that it will send four ships to the Mediterranean, in anticipation of a possible evacuation of Russia expats in the country. Moscow has airlifted small groups of its citizens from Syria on at least two prior occasions. Russia has vetoed three rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against President Bashar Assad and has said that the Syrian strongman must be taken at his word when he says he has no intention to quit. It is one of the only bakers of the government in Syria, where the U.N. says more than 70,000 people have been killed in an uprising launched two years ago.


Militants from Russia's North Caucasus join 'jihad' in Syria
* First time large number of Chechens documented fighting abroad
* Caucasus militants security threat for Russia's Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics
Flanked by almost 20 men with rifles, Omar Abu al-Chechen kneels on a carpet and delivers a rousing speech urging fellow Muslims to support the 'jihad' against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dressed almost entirely in black, the militant from Russia's Chechnya region declares an Islamist state is within reach. Fellow fighters from the brigade of foreign militants he leads translate his Russian words into Arabic.

His recently distributed video highlights the role militants from the volatile North Caucasus region now play in Syria's civil war, fighting a government that has been backed by Russia and staunchly protected by President Vladimir Putin. It also puts in focus the security risks they may pose for Russia if they return to the Russian region, which borders the area where Moscow plans to host the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

"Jihad needs very many things. Firstly it needs money. Much is dependent on money today for jihad," said al-Chechen, his nom de guerre, the leader of what rebels and websites call the Brigade of Migrants, an opposition group of foreign fighters. "(We) have missed many chances, but truly today there is a chance to establish (an Islamic state) on Earth," he said.

Syrian rebels confirmed separately that he is in Syria and the leader of the brigade. His real name was not clear. While Moscow has been one of Assad's main protectors, members of an Islamist insurgency involved in daily clashes in Russia's predominantly Muslim North Caucasus and their compatriots have trickled into Syria to fight for the rebels.

"This is the first time that a mass number of Chechens have taken part in military actions abroad," said analyst Mairbek Vatchagayev, based in Paris, adding that claims were made that Chechens had fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan or in Iraq, but no definitive proof had been given. Syrian soldiers and analysts say there are dozens, and possibly 100, fighters in Syria from the North Caucasus, a region where militants wage daily violence to establish an Islamic state.

The bloodshed there is rooted in two wars that Moscow fought with Chechen separatists after the Soviet Union's fall and these fighters could pose a security risk for Russia if they return to the North Caucasus. The region is close to Sochi, the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountain resort city where Moscow will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, a sworn target of Russia's Islamist insurgents, led by Russia's most wanted man, Doku Umarov.

Although analysts say many of the militants who are battling Assad's troops are students who studied in religious schools outside Russia, others have gained skill and experience, something the Syrian rebels praise them for, in fighting the separatist wars in Chechnya in 1994-96 and 1999-2000.

"They are very significant, in some areas they are leading the fighting and some of them are leaders of Brigades. They are experienced fighters and also they are fighting based on ideological belief, so they do not want anything in return," said a Syrian opposition source in touch with rebels in Syria.

One Syrian opposition source said the Chechens are the second biggest force of foreigners after Libyans who joined the Syrian uprising after overthrowing and killing Muammar Gaddafi. A rebel source said 17 fighters from the North Caucasus were killed in fighting outside Aleppo last month. Foreign fighters were also present in Chechnya's first war in the mid-1990s.


Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said there are no Chechens fighting in Syria, a statement analysts attribute to his loyalty to Moscow. Russia has used its U.N. Security Council veto to protect Assad from three resolutions meant to pressure him to end violence that has killed 70,000 in the nearly two year-long conflict. Having fighters from Russia fighting against him is sure to be an embarrassment for Putin. Facing its own home-grown insurgency, and with the Winter Olympics planned for next year, Russia is likely to ensure that anyone from the North Caucasus fighting with the rebels is prevented from entering Russia when the violence in Syria ends.

"Russia will look carefully at where they go to make sure they don't come back into Russia ... they won't be successful trying to get back into the North Caucasus," said Vatchigayev.

Putin has told security forces to be on high alert to protect against attacks before and during the Games, for which Russia has estimated a price tag of some ${esc.dollar}50 billion. Calling itself the Caucasus Emirate, Umarov's Islamist militant group has promised to attack the Games. It claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport in January 2011 that killed 37 people and also said it was behind near-simultaneous suicide bombings in the Moscow subway that killed 40 people in 2010.

It is unclear whether any of the North Caucasus fighters in Syria have the blessing of Umarov to fight in Syria. Last year Umarov appeared in a video telling Syrian militants that they were in the prayers of the Caucasus Emirate. The presence of foreign fighters in Syria, many of them espousing a more firebrand form of Islam, has troubled many Syrians who see the fight as a secular war to oust Assad.

"We call all brothers from all the countries, please, my brothers we do not need men. Stay in your own countries and do something good inside your own countries. If you want to help us just send us weapons or funding or even pray for us but you do not have to come to Syria," said Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a rebel military command.

"(Those) who are entering the country have a negative impact on the revolution, because we need the help from (Western and regional) countries. Please understand this issue," he said. (Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Jon Hemming)


The Geopolitics of Gas and the Syrian Crisis

What has one of the most democratic countries of the Middle East, Syria, done to tick off some of its neighbors in the West, the fierce fighters for democracy? The irrationality and unscrupulousness of the approaches Western countries have taken to the Syrian crisis, when the same people who in Europe are considered terrorists are declared «freedom fighters» when it comes to Syria, becomes clearer in light of the economic dimension of the Syrian tragedy. There is every reason to think that by helping destroy its own cultural and historical roots in Syria, Europe is first and foremost fighting for energy resources. And a special role is played by natural gas, which is emerging as the main fuel of the 21st century. The geopolitical problems connected with its production, transportation and use are perhaps more than any other topic on the radar of Western strategists. 

In the apt expression of F. William Engdahl, «Natural gas is the flammable ingredient that is fueling this insane scramble for energy in the region.» A battle is raging over whether pipelines will go toward Europe from east to west, from Iran and Iraq to the Mediterranean coast of Syria, or take a more northbound route from Qatar and Saudi Arabia via Syria and Turkey. Having realized that the stalled Nabucco pipeline, and indeed the entire Southern Corridor, are backed up only by Azerbaijan’s reserves and can never equal Russian supplies to Europe or thwart the construction of the South Stream, the West is in a hurry to replace them with resources from the Persian Gulf. Syria ends up being a key link in this chain, and it leans in favor of Iran and Russia; thus it was decided in the Western capitals that its regime needs to change. The fight for «democracy» is a false flag thrown out to cover up totally different aims.

It is not difficult to notice that the rebellion in Syria began to grow two years ago, almost at the same time as the signing of a memorandum in Bushehr on June 25, 2011 regarding the construction of a new Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline… It is to stretch 1500 km from Asaluyeh on the largest gas field in the world, North Dome/South Pars (shared between Qatar and Iran) to Damascus. The length of pipeline on the territory of Iran will be 225 km, in Iraq 500 km, and in Syria 500-700 km. Later it may be extended along the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea to Greece. The possibility of supplying liquefied gas to Europe via Syria’s Mediterranean ports is also under consideration. Investments in this project equal 10 billion dollars. (1)

This pipeline, dubbed the «Islamic pipeline», was supposed to start operation in the period from 2014 to 2016. Its projected capacity is 110 million cubic meters of gas per day (40 billion cubic meters a year). Iraq, Syria and Lebanon have already declared their need for Iranian gas (25-30 million cubic meters per day for Iraq, 20-25 million cubic meters for Syria, and 5-7 million cubic meters until 2020 for Lebanon). Some of the gas will be supplied via the Arab gas transportation system to Jordan. Experts believe that this project could be an alternative to the Nabucco gas pipeline being promoted by the European Union (with a planned capacity of 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year), which doesn’t have sufficient reserves. It was planned to run the Nabucco pipeline from Iraq, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan through the territory of Turkey. At first Iran was also considered as a resource base, but later it was excluded from the project. After the signing of the memorandum on the Islamic Pipeline, the head of the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC), Javad Oji, stated that South Pars, with recoverable reserves of 16 trillion cubic meters of gas, is a «reliable source of gas, which is a prerequisite for the building of a pipeline which Nabucco does not have».It is easy to observe that about 20 billion cubic meters per year will remain from this pipeline for Europe, which would be able to compete with Nabucco’s 30 billion, but not the 63 billion from the South Stream.

A gas pipeline from Iran would be highly profitable for Syria. Europe would gain from it as well, but clearly someone in the West didn’t like it. The West’s gas-supplying allies in the Persian Gulf weren’t happy with it either, nor was would-be no. 1 gas transporter Turkey, as it would then be out of the game. The new «unholy alliance» which formed between them shamelessly declared its goal to be «protecting democratic values» in the Middle East, although logically speaking the U.S. and its allies ought to begin this with their own partners in the coalition against Syria from among the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, which are questionable in this regard.

The Sunnite countries also see the Islamic Pipeline from the viewpoint of interconfessional contradictions, considering it a «Shiite pipeline from Shiite Iran through the territory of Iraq with its Shiite majority and into the territory of Shiite-friendly Alawite Asad». As renowned researcher on energy issues F. William Engdahl writes, this geopolitical drama is intensified by the fact that the South Pars field lies in the Persian Gulf directly on the border between Shiite Iran and Sunnite Qatar. But tiny Qatar, which is no match for Iran in power, makes active use of its connections with the military presence of the U.S. and NATO in the Persian Gulf. On the territory of Qatar are a command node of the Pentagon’s Central Command of the U.S. Armed Forces, the headquarters of the Head Command of the U.S. Air Force, the No. 83 Expeditionary Air Group of the British Air Force and the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing of the U.S. Air Force. Qatar, in Engdahl’s opinion, has other plans for its share in the South Pars gas field and is not eager to join efforts with Iran, Syria and Iraq. It is not at all interested in the success of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, which would be completely independent of the transit routes of Qatar or Turkey leading to Europe. In fact, Qatar is doing all it can to thwart the construction of the pipeline, including arming the «opposition» fighters in Syria, many of whom come from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Libya. (2)

Qatar’s resolve is fed by the discovery by Syrian geological exploration companies in 2011 of Syria’s own large gas-producing area near the Lebanese border, not far from the Mediterranean port of Tartus which Russia leases, and the detection of a significant gas field near Homs. According to preliminary estimates, these discoveries should substantially increase the country’s gas reserves, which previously amounted to 284 billion cubic meters. The fact that the export of Syrian or Iranian gas to the European Union could take place through the port of Tartus, which has ties to Russia, is unsatisfactory to Qatar and its Western patrons as well. (3)

The Arabic newspaper Al-Akhbar cites information according to which there is a plan approved by the U.S. government to create a new pipeline for transporting gas from Qatar to Europe involving Turkey and Israel. The capacity of such a pipeline is not mentioned, but considering the resources of the Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean region, it could exceed that of both the Islamic Pipeline and Nabucco, directly challenging Russia’s South Stream. The main developer of this project is Frederick Hoff, who is «in charge of gas issues in the Levant» and a member of the U.S. «Syrian Crisis Committee». This new pipeline is to begin in Qatar, cross Saudi territory and then the territory of Jordan, thus bypassing Shiite Iraq, and reach Syria. Near Homs the pipeline is to branch in three directions: to Latakia, Tripoli in northern Lebanon, and Turkey. Homs, where there are also hydrocarbon reserves, is the «project’s main crossroads», and it is not surprising that it is in the vicinity of this city and its «key», Al-Qusayr, that the fiercest fighting is taking place. Here the fate of Syria is being decided. The parts of Syrian territory where detachments of rebels are operating with the support of the U.S., Qatar and Turkey, that is, the north, Homs and the environs of Damascus, coincide with the route that the pipeline is to follow to Turkey and Tripoli, Lebanon. A comparison of a map of armed hostilities and a map of the Qatar pipeline route indicates a link between armed activities and the desire to control these Syrian territories. Qatar’s allies are trying to accomplish three goals: «to break Russia’s gas monopoly in Europe; to free Turkey from its dependence on Iranian gas; and to give Israel the chance to export its gas to Europe by land at less cost». (4) As Asia Times analyst Pepe Escobar indicated, the Emir of Qatar apparently made a deal with the «Muslim Brotherhood» according to which it will support their international expansion in exchange for a pact of peace within Qatar. A «Muslim Brotherhood» regime in Jordan and in Syria, supported by Qatar, would abruptly change the entire geopolitical world gas market – decidedly in favor of Qatar and to the detriment of Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq. It would also be a crushing blow to China. (5)

The war against Syria is aimed at pushing this project through, as well as at the breakdown of the agreement between Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus. Its implementation has been halted several times due to military action, but in February 2013 Iraq declared its readiness to sign a framework agreement which would enable the construction of the pipeline. (6) It is worth noting that after this, more and more new groups of Iraqi Shiites have risen up in support of Asad; as The Washington Post admits, they have «no little battle experience» in confronting Americans in their country. Along with fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, they make an ever more formidable force. (7) The stakes in the «elimination game» started in Syria by the West over the gas pipeline continue to grow. The end of the European Union’s embargo on supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition, which according to the BBC the majority of EU member countries were against (8) (democracy, where are you?), might not be able to help the rebels.

As for civilization and justice, when profit is at stake, sentiment doesn’t matter. The main thing is not to play the wrong card in this unfair game that smells of blood and gas.

Turkey’s False-flag Operation against Syria Backfires: The Reyhanli bombing attacks in a larger context

“Syria is worrying that it will be attacked by Turkey from above and by Israel from below. It is worrying that it will be squeezed between us like a sandwich.”   [Israeli President Ezer Weizman (1993-2000), interview with Guneri Civaoglu,Caesarea, Israel, 11 June 1996]  [1] “Although Turkey has never taken part in a war alongside us, it is a positive factor for Israel that Syria has an enemy on its northern frontiers. Syria will never attack Turkey, but it cannot exclude the reverse.”  [Former Israeli Defence Minister Uri Or (1995-1996), interview with Alain Gresh, Tel Aviv, October 1997]  [2]


When the U.S. and its allies launched the covert war on Syria in 2011, they were expecting that either Syria’s political establishment would collapse within a short duration or they would find a way to ignite an open war. As Syria’s leaders and people proved to be exceptionally resilient, increasingly more brutal means have been deployed to tear the country apart. Being at the forefront of this covert war in every respect, Turkey has been thoroughly complicit in monumental war crimes committed against the neighbouring people of Syria. Turkey’s phony peace with its neighbours Syria (since December 2004) and Iran (since November 2008) came to an abrupt end in May 2011, when its central role in NATO’s covert war against Syria became evident. [3]

As for Turkey’s phony conflict with Israel, which began with the May 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre, has also been fully exposed when Turkey overtly supported Israel’s blatant acts of military aggression against Syria in 2013. The repercussions of the May 2013 Reyhanli false-flag bombing attacks near Turkey’s border with Syria is the latest evidence of a deep crisis of legitimacy for the United States, Britain, Israel and Turkey; the four countries whose alliance has been dominating the political scene in the Middle East and beyond since 1990.


As NATO’s international mercenary forces from 29 different countries started suffering heavy defeats against the Syrian Army, Israeli Air Forces came to their rescue by launching two separate air strikes in Syria, both of which were blatant acts of war.  [4]  [5] After the first Israeli air attack on Damascus on January 30th, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu made the following remarks  [6]:
“Why did the Syrian Army, which has been launching attacks on its own innocent civilian population for the past 22 months with jets from the air and with tanks and artillery fire from the ground, not retaliate against this Israeli operation?  Why doesAssadnoteven throw a pebble whenthe Israeli jets fly over his palace and violate the dignity of his country? Why is Assad, who gives an order to fire Scud [missiles] at Aleppo, not doing anything against Israel? Is there a secret pact between Assad and Israel? [...]  The Assad administration knows only to abuse. Why doesn’t he use against Israel, [a country] which they have regarded as an enemy since its foundation, the same force that he uses against defenceless women ? ”  [7]
On May 5th, UN human rights investigator Carla del Ponte announced the findings of the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria:
“According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons [in Syria], making use of sarin gas.”  [8]
The same day, Israel launched another air attack on Damascus. [9]  In response to this second act of war by Israel against Syria, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, lashed out at Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for war crimes that were actually perpetrated by NATO’s international mercenary forces in Syria  [10] :
“The scenes in [the Syrian town of] Baniyas are as tragic as those in Karbala [in AD 680]  and the murderers are at least as despicable as Yazid [...] [who killed] our beloved Prophet’s beautiful grandchildren Hassan and Hussein [...]  Those organisations which are lending support to the illegal regime of Syria, those countries which are backing the illegal regime of Syria, the United Nations and the [U.N.] Security Council in particular, will not be able to exonerate themselves of this sin. Those who ignore this massacre, this inhumane scene in the name of sectarian solidarity, in the name of [political] conjuncture or in the name of international [political] interests will not be able to exonerate themselves of this major sin. [...] I need to point this out as well: Israel’s air attack on Damascus is certainly not acceptable either. No reason, no excuse can justify this operation. Such attacks serve as trump cards, golden opportunities offered to the Syrian regime. In fact, by using Israel’s attack as an excuse, Assad engages in an effort to cover up the genocide in Baniyas. [However] , even this Israeli operation will not be able to save Assad who does not shed a drop of sweat, let alone a drop of blood for the Golan [Heights] .”  [11]
Four days after the second Israeli air attack on Damascus and United Nations’ statement on the mercenaries’ use of chemical weapons in Syria, Mr Erdogan gave an interview to the U.S. television channel NBC, where he said that if the U.S. were to launch a ground military invasion of Syria, then Turkey would support it. [12]  However, as this statement amounted to a de facto declaration of war on Syria, it has been instantly censored by the NBC and the Prime Minister’s office issued a press release which denied it. [13]  Here are excerpts from the edited version of this interview: 

“ERDOGAN:  It is clear that the regime has used chemical weapons and missiles. They used about 200 missiles, according to our intelligence. There are different sizes missiles. And then there are deaths caused by these missiles. And there are burns, you know, serious burns and chemical reactions. And there are patients who are brought to our hospitals who were wounded by these chemical weapons. You can see who is affected by chemical missiles by their burns.  [14] NBC:  So has President Assad crossed President Obama’s red line? ERDOGAN:  A long time ago. My question is, the United Nations, U.N. Security Council, are you doing what you are supposed to do? Why do you exist in the first place? What is your job? I mean, is there a deadline, like they are not going to move until 1 million people are killed? NBC:  Will you encourage President Obama to get involved directly in the situation in Syria? ERDOGAN:  We want the United States to assume more responsibilities and take further steps. NBC:  What is the just punishment for Mr. Assad, in your view? What is your message to him today, at this moment in history? ERDOGAN:  Well, I am saying that he should leave Syria immediately. Sooner or later, the opposition are going to get him. And I hope that his end does not be like Qadhafi’s.”  [15]

During the interview, Mr Erdogan also said that he plans to share the evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria with the U.S. President Barack Obama. [16]  However, no evidence at all was presented by either Mr Erdogan or Mr Obama after their meeting in the following week on May 16th.  [17] The same day, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Davutoglu reiterated the last Anglo-American propaganda argument before the launch of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, by making a reference to the Iraqi Army’s mass murder of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988  [18] :
“From now on, we will be carrying out these tests [for chemical weapon wounds] on every injured person coming [from Syria] so that no one could dare to commit a crime against humanity, like the one in Halabja, by using [chemical weapons] in Syria.” [19]
The same day, the Associated Press reported the ongoing preparations at Turkey’s border with Syria:
 “Turkey had stationed a team of eight experts to screen injured Syrians at the frontier. They were manning a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense vehicle deployed at the main Cilvegozu border gate with Syria.”  [20]
Again on the same day, a news report entitled “Forensic medicine establishment proves that al-Assad has used chemical weapons” was published by Turkish newspaper Star:
“It has been definitely determined that [Syrian President Bashar] Al-Asad has used chemical weapons against his own people. The Public Health Institute and the Ankara Forensic Medicine Establishment have found the substance “Ricin”, which in the world is found only in Iran, China, and Russia, in 13 wounded individuals coming from Syria. [...]  It is stated that Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan will place the dossier before [US President Barack] Obama on his US visit [on May 16] .The affair emerged when 13 wounded Syrian oppositionists were brought on 29 April from Syria to the Reyhanli State Hospital.  [21]
All this evokes the war propaganda back in February 1998, when the Bill Clinton administration made an unsuccessful attempt to instigate a war with Iraq. According to an AFP report;
“Turkish authorities have sent 60,000 gas masks to its southeast regions bordering Iraq to protect civilians from possible chemical and biological attacks by Iraqi forces, [Turkish] dailies Sabah and Yeni Yuzyil said Friday. The masks, sent by civil defence chiefs, are destined for civil servants working in the region bordering Iraq [...] . Southeast Turkey borders Iraq and the region is thought to be in a potentially dangerous position in case Iraq decides to use the chemical and biological weapons it is suspected of having.”  [22]
It is worth also mentioning two allegations made against Turkish Armed Forces’ use of chemical weapons in the past. In August 2011, five members of parliament from Germany’s Die Linke party held a press conference to condemn the appointment of the current head of Turkish Armed Forces Necdet Ozel: 
  “When [Necdet] Ozel was the General Commander of the Gendarmerie, he was not only responsible for the death, torture and violence in the Kurdish region [of Turkey] . In 1999, he ordered the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish guerrillas [near the Ballikaya Village in Silopi] .”  [23]
In October 2011, two months after Necdet Ozel’s appointment, 37 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerrillas were killed in the Kazan Valley of the Hakkari province during an operation by the Turkish Armed Forces. The following month, a European delegation visited the Kazan Valley to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use during this operation.  [24] As the earlier quote from Turkish newspaper Star shows, the Reyhanli State Hospital near Turkey’s border with Syria was at the forefront of the chemical weapons propaganda over the April 29 incident. Two days after this press report, the same hospital was inundated with the victims of a far more devastating false-flag operation.


On May 11, international media agencies reported that twin car bombs have killed at least 43 people and injured at least 100 in the Turkish town of Reyhanli, near the Syrian border. [25]  Shortly after the bombing attacks, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc pointed the finger at Syria: “Our thoughts are that their Mukhabarat [Syria’s intelligence agency] and armed organisations are the usual suspects in planning and the carrying out of such devilish plans.”  [25] Hours after the Reyhanli bombing attacks, the head of global military alliance NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued a press release:
“I express full solidarity with the people and the authorities of our Ally Turkey.”  [26]
The following day, Turkey’s Interior Minister Muammer Guler held a press conference:
“For the time being there is no evidence suggesting that al-Qaida was involved.”  [27]
This is a rather interesting comment considering that until 2012, when al-Qaeda’s role in NATO’s covert war on Syria became fully exposed, Turkey’s political authorities were quite at ease in holding Al Qaeda responsible for any atrocity committed in Turkey or abroad. [E]  That same day, Prime Minister Erdogan also accused Syria:
“These attacks betray the intention of a country on fire which is trying to drag Turkey into the same fire. These attacks, to put it bluntly, are the bloody Baath regime’s attempt to provide an opportunity to its collaborators. [...] These attacks aim to provoke those who live together in peace, in serenity, in fraternity, particularly in Hatay. Most importantly, these attacks target Turkey which has resolved its terror issue, reinforced fraternity, put an end to mothers’ tears. [...]
Even if Turkey were to remain silent, stand idly by in the face of the tragedy in Syria, these traps would still have been set up, Turkey would still have been targeted. Those who criticise Turkey’s policy on Syria in the wake of these attacks with utter brazenness, a sheer lack of common sense and pure opportunism exhibit ignorance and an absence of policy. These attacks do not target our policy on Syria, they target our fraternity, our stability, our growth.”  [28] The next day, Mr Erdogan spoke even more categorically:
“This incident is definitely connected to the [Syrian] regime. The [Syrian] regime is behind this incident. That is evident.”  [29]
Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi responded to Mr Erdogan’s accusations in full force:
“The real terrorist is the government of Turkey under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It opened Turkey’s border with Syria to the terrorists. [Turkey] became a hub of international jihadi terrorism. It unleashed these terrorists on Turkish people’s houses and fields. It hosted terrorists coming from all over the world. Without any consideration, it provided them with all types of arms, bombs and explosive devices so that they could massacre people of Syria. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his interior and foreign ministers bear a political and moral responsibility towards all the people of the world in general and the people of Syria and their own people in particular. [...]
The sole responsibility for the bombing attacks in Reyhanli lies with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. These [attacks] couldn’t have been perpetrated by Syria. Despite all the things they did to the people and army of Syria for such a long time, neither our decency, nor our ethics, nor our policy would allow us to do something like this. [...]
No one has got the right to accuse others. Shortly after [the attacks] , Turkey’s Interior Minister [Muammer Guler] has said that they suspect that [the attacks] were connected to Syria. To put it plainly, the reason why he came up with such quick accusations without any evidence at hand, is to fabricate the evidence they had in mind. These [attacks] were directly perpetrated by Erdogan and the AKP. They are the ones who, through their intelligence and security forces, supplied Al Qaida with chemical and got them to penetrate all the way to Aleppo. They are the ones who transported terrorists, arms and deaths through their planes. Erdogan himself and his party want to destroy Syria. What occurred in Reyhanli was the ambition of destroying Syria itself. Whoever wants death and massacre is the one who carried out this massacre in Turkey.
When bombs explode in Turkey, we know why these bombs have been made to explode. The whole world knows why the bombs are exploding in Syria. But why in Turkey and why now? And why particularly before Erdogan’s meeting with Obama? Erdogan wants to get the United States into action. And then he will say ‘I am a member of NATO, Syria is attacking me’. In fact, in his latest statement, he said ‘we are capable of making war with Syria’. [...]  Turkey’s Foreign Minister [Davutoglu] said yesterday that Turkey is strong enough to defend itself. Against whom is it going to defend itself ? Who actually poses a threat to Turkey ? ”  [30]
Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah’s statement was equally straightforward:
“These terrorist bombings came as part of a series of similar crimes that affect innocent people in several Arab and Islamic countries, which can only be made [by] criminal hands. It also bore the hallmarks of international intelligence agencies, aimed at destabilizing and creating discord and unrest in these countries.”  [31]
Two weeks later, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag targeted Hezbollah for its political and military support to Syria  [32] :
“ [Hezbollah] says that it stands by Assad. [...]  From where does it draw its strength?  Having sided with those who unleash death upon their fellow Muslim brothers [...] , [Hezbollah] has no right to draw strength from Islam and the Quran. The source of their strength would actually be the Satan who wants to pit Muslims against each other, who wants to have them slaughter each other. [...]  Hezbollah should change its name to ‘Hezbol-satan’ [i.e. Party of Satan] . ”  [33]

On the day of the incident, which was a Saturday, the Government managed to get the local court of Reyhanli to issue a blanket censorship ban regarding the broadcasting of news about the bombing attacks in Reyhanli. According to this ban, only statements made by senior authorities and police reports would be allowed to be reported on the media and the internet:
 “Within the framework of the investigation concerning the blasts in Reyhanli district on 11.05.2013 [...] , broadcasting and displaying information concerning the site of the incident, concerning the dead and injured casualties of the incident and concerning the content of the incident on all types of audio-visual, written and visual media and the internet is banned according to Article 153 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.”  [34]
Actually, this blanket ban was mainly targeting the information flow through the Internet considering that Turkey’s mainstream media have been fully complicit in the Government’s constant war propaganda against Syria from April 2011. Nevertheless, the ban on the Internet proved to be somewhat ineffective in the face of an overwhelming sense of indignation towards to Government across the country. Medical staff in the Hatay province, where Reyhanli is located, was ordered to “limit the death toll to 50”. Local authorities said they ‘were instructed not to give any statement to the press’. [35]  Journalist Ferdi Ozmen revealed the actual figure by posting the number of deaths in seven local hospitals with a total of 177. He has been arrested for defying the blanket ban.  [36] Republican People’s Party (CHP) member of parliament Mevlut Dudu explains how the evidence was instantly destroyed after the incident:
“The police officers refused us entry to the site of the attacks on the grounds that they are collecting evidence. Nevertheless, we did [manage] to enter and saw that no evidence was being collected. Quite on the contrary, they were destroying the evidence using heavy construction equipment.”  [37]
It transpired that none of the 73 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in the town recorded the bombing attacks. Due to a “system error”, they had been out of order four days before the incident. Most of these 73 CCTV cameras were directly viewing the points where the bombing attacks occurred.  [38] CHP member of parliament Aytug Atici revealed that electricity was cut off just five minutes before the bombing attacks. [39]  In fact, according to activist Hamide Yigit, cutting off the electricity was a strategy used by Turkey’s authorities in smuggling international mercenaries into Syria:
“Electricity is cut off along the [Harbiye-Yayladagi] itinerary; everywhere, including streets and roads, becomes totally dark. Meanwhile, vehicles carrying military ammunition and armed groups to the border pass by. Once their passage is over, the electricity resumes. The local residents, who are prevented from witnessing this transport, are feeling deeply restless about it.”  [40]
On the day of the bombing attacks, the militants who wanted to cross from Syria into Turkey were guided towards the Cilvegozu border gate instead of their habitual point of entry in Reyhanli.  [41] A currently censored video which was posted on Youtube shortly after the bombing attacks was recorded from an angle which oversaw the site of the attacks. Arabic speaking “Free Syrian Army” militants are seen to be recording the blasts in jubilation, shouting “Allah-u Akbar” (God is great) and mentioning the location of the blasts and the date.  [42] Only two days before the bombing attacks in Reyhanli, ABC reported “a secret visit” by the former U.S. Ambassador to Syria (January-October 2011) Robert Ford, who is the mastermind of NATO’s covert war on Syria  [43] :
“A U.S. official confirmed [Robert] Ford’s secret visit, which occurred along the Turkey-Syria border. He briefly crossed into Syria to meet with opposition leaders before returning to Turkey.”  [44]
In fact, there is a long history of false-flag incidents occurring in Turkey ahead of almost every top level meeting between Turkey’s politicians and their U.S. or Israeli counterparts. Of all the false-flag operations in Turkey, by far the most devastating was the bombing attacks on 15th and 20th November 2003, which targeted two synagogues, HSBC bank headquarters and the British Embassy in Istanbul, killing 57 people and wounding another 700. The attacks coincided with U.S. President George Bush’s meting with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London.  [45] Baki Yigit was on of the five people who were sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment in 2007 for their roles in these attacks. He was released from prison in 2010 and died in 2012 whilst fighting in Aleppo among the ranks of the Free Syrian Army.  [46]

Furthermore, foreign intelligence agencies CIA (U.S.), Mossad (Israel), MI6 (Britain) and BND (Germany) have a very prominent presence across Turkey’s border region with Syria. Located some 100 km from Turkey’s border with Syria, NATO’s Incirlik Airbase is being used as the command centre for the covert war on Syria.  [47]


Immediately after the bombing attacks, spontaneous protests broke out in Reyhanli and in various parts of the Hatay province. Incensed protesters were chanting “Erdogan resign” Turkey’s military deployed a huge number of air and ground military reinforcements to Hatay and Reyhanli in order to prevent spontaneous protests in Reyhanli and other parts of the Hatay province turning into a full-scale uprising.  [48]  [49] Even the Reyhanli State Hospital was under siege, where riot police, plain-clothes police officers and an armoured police vehicle were deployed.  [50] Nine months before the bombing attacks in Reyhanli, activist Hamide Yigit describes the state of mind of the people in the Hatay province where Reyhanli is located:
“The mendacity of the media in ‘marketing’ war to the people is seen more clearly from Hatay. From the very first day the incidents started in Syria, they have been aware and observe that the media is reporting lies. The people of Hatay have relatives in every city in Syria, they speak its language [i.e. Arabic] , watch its broadcasts, read its press, and even if none of that is the case, can inform themselves about any incident at the convenience of a phone call, they are furious towards the media for its distortion of the facts to such an extent. [...]
For the past seventeenth months, the people [of Hatay] have been living in fear of [the possibility that] a war, for which they can find no reason, might explode on their doorstep. Hatay’s economy is stagnating, its revenues have stopped, its bread has shrunk. Hatay has enjoyed harmonious fraternity among its diverse population up until the present day. However, [the Government] is trying to disrupt this by pitting groups against each other, by emphasising differences of identity [Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish, etc.] , sectarian differences [Sunni, Alevi, etc.] . The people of Hatay are constantly hearing news of deaths and injuries from relatives [in Syria] and live in constant fear of hearing such news.
The worst of this is that Hatay is being used as the command centre for attacks launched on their brotherly, blood-related people of Syria and hosting those who are firing bullets at them… With the anger and sorrow this, what is being spoken on every street and household [in Hatay] is the following: ‘We refuse to endure this disgrace any longer. We don’t want to keep waiting for this catastrophe which is advancing rapidly and looms closer every day. The refugee camps should be immediately removed from Hatay and re-arranged in a way to prioritise a humanitarian function. The flow of weapons and ‘terrorists’ across the border [with Syria] must stop! ” [40]
In 2013, tensions between the local population of the Hatay province and the international mercenary forces have reached a peak. Numerous riots broke out between the Syrian refugees and Turkey’s security forces in the refugee camps in Hatay and other southern provinces of Turkey. [51]  [52]  According to the Government’s own figures, a total of 114,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey have returned to Syria.  [53] In fact, since last year, Hatay took the lead in protesting Turkey’s pro-imperialist policies against Syria. The particularly massive and vibrant demonstrations held last September were retaliated by draconian restrictions against the freedom to protest in Hatay.  [54]

Furthermore, regardless if it was a false-flag attack or an accident by NATO’s mercenary forces fighting in Syria, after every incident that occurred along the border with Syria which resulted in deaths in Turkey, the local people have protested against the Government. Massive protests occurred spontaneously across Hatay on the day of the bombing attacks and demonstrations are being held across the country on a daily basis to denounce the Government’s responsibility for the attacks and its warmongering policies against Syria.

Large protests held by students from a number of universities in Ankara and Istanbul were suppressed in a particularly brutally manner by the riot police forces. In Istanbul, beyond its standard lavish use of pepper gas and pressurised cannon water, the riot police went so far as firing plastic bullets at a university campus.  [55]  [56]

On the weekend the bombing attacks occurred, during the singing of the national anthem to mourn the victims ahead of two separate football games in Istanbul, the fans of Besiktas and Fenerbahce teams started shouting “Government resign”. The company broadcasting the games censored this unexpected mass protest by muting the voice of the transmission.  [57]

All these instances of spontaneous popular dissent highlight the conspicuous absence of a genuinely anti-imperialist stance among a wide range of the largely co-opted, misguided and divided opposition groups in Turkey. A protest held in Reyhanli seven days after the bombing attacks became yet another scene of police brutality where a large amount of pepper gas was fired.  [58]  

Two weeks after the attacks, Reyhanli was under a state of military occupation during Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit which was announced with 2 days’ notice. 5000 special forces troops, 5000 police officers, marksmen on the rooftops, 5 Skorsky helicopters, 20 thousand barriers and 50 tons of pepper gas have been deployed to Reyhanli.  [59]

600 bus loads of Justice and Development Party (AKP) supporters from neighbouring districts and provinces as far away as Nigde (400 km), Syrian refugees who did not speak Turkish and workers who were threatened with dismissal for non-attendance by their employers were transported by the authorities to Reyhanli. They were lined up in front of Mr Erdogan in a military order in a manner reminiscent of the periods under military rule. Meanwhile, the local people were not allowed to go out of their homes.  [60]  [61]

Ten days before Mr Erdogan’s visit, government officials began distributing a significant amount of money to the local population of Reyhanli in an effort to buy off their silence. [62]  Likewise, during his fifteen-minute speech in Reyhanli, Mr Erdogan announced various financial incentives for the people of Reyhanli as well as promotion of Hatay to metropolitan municipality status in the next year.  [63]


The day after the bombing attacks in Reyhanli, the co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which is the only pro-Kurdish party in Turkey’s parliament, Mr Selahattin Demirtas rushed to Mr Erdogan’s rescue:
“The fact that the attacks took place at Reyhanli on the Syrian border brings instantly to one’s mind a Syrian connection of this matter. [...]  [These attacks] could be interpreted as the extension of Syria’s civil war and internal chaos to Turkey. [...]  Were [these attacks] connected to the ongoing resolution process [between the Government and the Kurdish opposition] in Turkey? It is hard to figure that out. What is clear is that the political atmosphere in which Turkey currently finds itself was the target.
Since the day the civil war began in Syria, we have been pointing out that the Government’s stance, its foreign policy is wrong. [...]  However, particularly in the face of attacks perpetrated in this period against Turkey, attacks which target civilians, our citizens; our priority should be to act in unity instead of holding the Government responsible. [...]  We will stand by the Government [in its efforts] to take precautions against these attacks, to adopt an attentive, sensitive stance towards these attacks.”  [64]
Mr Demirtas’ stance is all the more surprising considering the sheer number of false-flag operations of the past three decades which have targeted Kurdish politicians, activists and civilians in Turkey. At the end of April, four days after the PKK’s military leader Murat Karayilan announced the withdrawal of the PKK guerrillas from Turkey in line with a ceasefire agreement, The Times reported the transfer of over 1,500 guerrillas from Turkey into northern Syria to secure the Kurdish areas there. [65]  In an interview held eleven days after the bombing attacks, Mr Demirtas spoke even more straightforwardly:
“Three Kurdish states may come into being: A Kurdish state in Iran, a Kurdish state in Iraq, a Kurdish state in Syria. Now it is certain that there will be an autonomous region in Syria just like the one in Iraq. Of course, if the Kurdish entity in Syria incorporates Lattakia as well, a big problem for the Kurds would have been resolved. [Then] they would have access to the sea and a total dependence on Turkey would come to an end. [...]  The Kurds are Turkey’s luck. There is a Kurdish buffer [separating Turkey from both Syria and Iraq] . If the central administration in Iraq persists in its current mentality, then the Kurdish state in Iraq may come into being as a fully independent [entity] .”  [66]
Nine days after the bombing attacks, the co-chair of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), which is another pro-Kurdish party in Turkey, Mr Ahmet Turk visited the United States. Following three consecutive meetings held at the U.S. State Department, Mr Turk spoke to the press:
“A Turkey that embraces its own Kurds, that wins the hearts and minds of its own Kurds will play a more effective role in the Middle East, will be an actor capable of bringing democracy to the Middle East. [67]
We need to bring into life the project of a Syria where all sorts of different [identities] could freely exist, could freely express themselves. [The U.S. officials] have very clearly stated that they see eye-to-eye with us on this matter.”  [68] The ‘peace process’ with the Kurdish armed and political opposition in Turkey is actually a classic divide and rule strategy which aims to pacify the Kurdish opposition in Turkey ahead of a planned invasion of Syria and Iran whilst implementing the U.S. plan to divide both the occupied Iraq and Syria into three separate entities.


The day after Israeli Air Forces’ May 5th attack on Syria, Turkey and Israel have launched separate military exercises near their respective borders with Syria. Israeli drills took place in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, while Turkey’s ‘Yildirim-2013 Mobilization Exercise’ was held at NATO’s Incirlik Airbase. [69] According to a statement by Turkey’s General Staff, the aim of Yildirim-2013 exercise was to test Turkish Armed Forces’ readiness for battle and coordination with Government ministries. The ten-day exercise finished on May 15th, the day before Mr Erdogan met Mr Obama in Washington D.C.  [70]

The same day, a unit consisting of hundreds of armed personnel carrier vehicles carrying ‘Free Syrian Army’ militants, accompanied by tanks defending them, crossed from Turkey’s Ceylanpinar border gate into Syria. This military deployment, considered to be the largest ever from the region, occurred at a time when the militants squeezed in Ras al-Ayn [in Northern Syria] needed help.  [71] Again, on the same day, U.S.-led IMCMEX 2013 naval exercise in the Persian Gulf against Iran was launched. Although the list of participant countries has been kept secret, in all likelihood Turkey is among the 41 countries taking part in these exercises which runs from May 6 until May 30.  [72]

Turkey will also be among the 18 countries taking part in the U.S.-led ‘Eager Lion 2013’ exercise due to be held in Jordan in June.  [73] Recently, particularly in the run up to Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to the United States, there has been an increase in flights along Turkey’s border with Syria to detect Syria’s air defence systems, collect military intelligence and transmit intelligence to armed groups supported by Turkey’s government.  [74] Furthermore, according to the Government’s own figures, in 2012 Turkey has spent over 694 million Turkish Liras (over 386 million U.S. dollars) from its discretionary operations fund. [75]  This fund is financing Turkey’s covert war on Syria.

It is worth bearing in mind that NATO’s Incirlik Airbase is notorious for the role it played during the wars against Iraq (1991), Yugoslavia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003) and Libya (2011) and for hosting the largest nuclear weapons of mass destruction arsenal outside the U.S. territory.  [76]


When the U.S. and its allies launched the covert war on Syria in 2011, they were expecting that either Syria’s political establishment would collapse within a short duration or they would find a way to ignite an open war. As Syria’s leaders and people proved to be exceptionally resilient, increasingly more brutal means have been deployed to tear the country apart. Being at the forefront of this covert war in every respect, Turkey has been thoroughly complicit in monumental war crimes committed against the neighbouring people of Syria.

Having very skilfully manipulated the world public opinion with the help, among other measures, of a gigantic public relations apparatus, for more than ten years; Mr Erdogan’s government, like its main allies, is currently experiencing a deep crisis of legitimacy both at home and abroad. Instead of boosting Mr Erdogan’s standing, the false-flag bombing attacks in Reyhanli have actually unleashed a nationwide popular reaction against his total subservience to Western imperialism.

Turkey’s Hatay Province, Mossad, CIA spy hub: Turkish MP

A member of Turkey’s parliament says the country’s Hatay Province on the border with Syria has become a hub for swarms of CIA and Mossad spies infilterating into Syria freely. The legislator of the Republican People’s Party, Refik Er-Yilmaz, said that thousands of CIA and Mossad agents are currently in the province and are moving freely in the area, Turkish media reported.
He noted that local people in the province are getting agitated over the presence of the strangers.
Turkish police remain mute spectators as the spies carry various types of identification, Er-Yimaz went on to say. He also accused the authorities of allowing American and Israeli troopers on Turkish soil without any approval from the parliament.
Er-Yilmaz’s comments came after the deputy of the Republican People’s Party, Osman Faruk Logoglu, on Monday blamed Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party for fomenting the unrest in Syria.
Logoglu criticized the Turkish government for aggravating the situation by sending military forces and vehicles towards the Syrian border. The former Turkish ambassador to the United States also criticized Turkey’s foreign policy towards its neighbor, saying it has been irrational and unsuccessful. Syria has been the scene of unrest since March 2011. The violence has claimed the lives of many people, including large numbers of security forces. Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, asserting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.

Joint Qatari-Turkish Plot to Explode Syrian President’s Plane Foiled

A joint plot by Qatar and Turkey to explode the plane carrying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was thwarted by the timely information given by the Jordanian intelligence agency to the Syrian security officials. Jordan’s intelligence agency disclosed the assassination plot on Assad’s life, informing their Syrian counterparts that terrorists intended to cause a blast in Assad’s private plane at Latakia airport, the Lebanese al-Diyar newspaper reported on Sunday, quoting the ambassador of one of the Arab countries who asked to remain anonymous.

Based on the plot, the terrorist al-Nusra Front fighting against Syria were ordered to ambush the plane carrying the Syrian president with missile attacks. The terrorists wanted to target the plane with Sam-7 missiles, which were supplied to the terrorists by Qatar via Turkey, near Latakia airport, the newspaper reported. In a relevant report, the British newspaper Financial Times published an investigation in May which revealed that Qatar spent billions of dollars in the past two years to fund the Syrian terrorist and rebel groups.

“Qatar has spent about three billion dollars in the past two years to support the opposition in Syria, which far exceeds what provided by any other government. However, the Saudi Arabia competes now in leading the bodies providing Syrian opposition with weapons,” the paper said. “The cost of the Qatari intervention in Syria only represents a very small part of the international investment of Qatar,” it added.

FT claimed that Qatari support for the Syrian opposition overwhelms the western support. The UK daily also noted that during scores of interviews it made with militant opposition leaders at home and abroad, along with senior western and regional officials, everyone stressed the growing role of Qatar in the Syrian crisis, and this has become a controversial issue. The paper pointed out that “the small state with huge appetite” is the largest donor of aid to the Syrian opposition, offering generous grants for dissidents, amounting fifty thousand dollars per year for the dissident and his family, according to some estimates.

Sources close to the Qatari government said that the total spending on the Syrian crisis reached $3bln, while the armed opposition and diplomatic sources said the amount of Qatari assistance reached one billion dollars at most.

“According to the Institute for Peace Research in Stockholm which tracks the arms supply to the Syrian opposition,” the paper added, “Qatar is the largest arms exporter to Syria, where it funded more than 70 cargo flights of weapons to neighboring Turkey between April 2012 and March 2013.”

Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organized attacks by well-armed gangs against Syrian police forces and border guards being reported across the country. Hundreds of people, including members of the security forces, have been killed, when some protest rallies turned into armed clashes. The government blames outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups for the deaths, stressing that the unrest is being orchestrated from abroad.

In October 2011, calm was almost restored in the Arab state after President Assad started a reform initiative in the country, but Israel, the US, its Arab allies and Turkey sought hard to bring the country into chaos through any possible means. Tel Aviv, Washington and some Arab capitals have been staging various plots to topple President Bashar al-Assad, who is well known in the world for his anti-Israeli stances.


Iran Extends 4 Billion Dollars in Credit to Syria

Iran has opened two lines of credit totaling $4 billion to help Syria counter the economic impact of a civil war and international sanctions, Syria's government daily Tishreen reported, citing the country’s Central Bank. Iran’s support is one of the key elements safeguarding the survival of Syria’s embattled regime of President Bashar Assad.

“Iran continues to support Syria, by opening one line of credit worth $1 billion to finance the import of consumer goods and another line of credit worth $3 billion to finance the purchase of oil and oil products,” Tishreen quoted Syria’s Central Bank Governor Adib Mayale as saying.

Mayale said Syria’s economic losses since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011 were estimated at 25 million euros ($32.2 bln). The Syrian banking chief said the Syrian pound fell from 50 pounds to the dollar to 150 pounds to the dollar in the past two years, threatening to leave the country without sufficient reserves to satisfy the needs of the struggling economy.

Meanwhile, the European Union decided on Monday to extend economic and financial sanctions against Assad’s regime until at least August, while lifting an arms embargo on Syrian opposition in a breach of previous commitments not to supply weapons to either side of the bloody conflict that killed by UN estimates 80,000 people so far. EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton said after a day-long meeting of 27 EU foreign ministers in Brussels that from now on every EU member country has the right to make its own decision on arms exports to Syria.


Iran begins 'massive' deployment of long-range missile launchers

As the Islamic Republic of Iran prepares for presidential elections next month it is fielding a "massive" number of new long-range missile launchers, Iranian media reported on Sunday. Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi was quoted as saying the new weapon systems give Iranian forces the ability to "crush the enemy" with the simultaneous launching of long-range surface-to-surface missiles, according to Fars, the semi-official Iranian news agency.

The report did not specify the type of missile that would be fired, or provide details on the number of launchers allegedly deployed. Iran’s military does possess surface-to-surface missiles that are capable of traveling over 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), able to reach of targets inside Israel and US bases in the region. Vahidi did not specify who was the "enemy," and emphasized that Iran would never start a war.

Although Tehran occasionally announces military achievements that cannot be independently verified – like the claim it developed a state-of-the-art stealth drone capable of evading enemy radar – they come in the face of relentless external pressure. Only last year, as the United Nations slapped Tehran with another round of harsh sanctions, Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, through which 18 million barrels of oil flows every day – roughly 35 percent of the world’s total. Any disruption of this supply route would have a huge impact on oil prices, and by extension the global economy.

The stand-off resulted in a tense military parade as the US sent three full US carrier groups, each accompanied by dozens of support vessels and carrying more aircraft than the entire Iranian air force, to participate in the Hormuz exercises. Tehran watched with apprehension as the fleet came and went.

Earlier this month, another US-led naval drill began in the Persian Gulf in a second such display of maritime strength in less than a year. The exercises involved 35 ships, 18 unmanned submarines and unmanned aircraft. At the same time, Washington has been engaged in constructing a European missile defense system that it says will protect Europe from a “rogue state” missile attack.

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exhorted the UN General Assembly to draw "a clear red line" to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The hawkish government of Likud leader Netanyahu has said in the past that “all of the options are on the table” – a thinly disguised remark suggesting military action – in order to halt Iran’s nuclear research. These fears are shared by the US and EU who have imposed severe sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sectors against the Persian country, and by many other nations across the globe.

Tehran has rejected the allegations, arguing that it is developing its nuclear capabilities for purely civilian purposes, and demanding that the world acknowledge its right to peaceful nuclear research.


In Syria, Hezbollah forces appear ready to attack rebels in city of Aleppo!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_620/image.jpg

Thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah militants were massed around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday, according to rebels and a senior commander in the Lebanese Shiite movement, broadening Hezbollah’s backing of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and stoking fears of an imminent assault on the city. 

The commander, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said there were about 2,000 Hezbollah fighters in Aleppo province, largely stationed in Shiite towns north of the city. The Free Syrian Army said Hezbollah forces had gathered in a suburb of the city Sunday and appeared to be preparing for an attack.

Rebels have secured swaths of Aleppo — Syria’s commercial capital and most populous city — since fighting engulfed it last summer, but the two sides have been locked in a grinding stalemate for months. An assault on the city could stretch rebel forces, which have sent reinforcements from Aleppo to fight against Hezbollah and Syrian army troops in the battle for the town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border.

The claims of a Hezbollah presence in Syria’s north follow a pledge by its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, to back Assad to victory and indicate that the movement could be used as a guerrilla force wherever required. A long-standing ally of Syria and Iran, its decision to knuckle into the fight raises the specter of a regional conflagration spilling over Syria’s borders, pitting Sunni against Shiite. Underscoring that point, Syrian rebels and Hezbollah fighters engaged in their first serious clashes on Lebanese soil on Sunday.

“The Aleppo battle has started on a very small scale, we’ve only just entered the game,” said the Hezbollah commander in an interview in Beirut on Saturday while on leave from fighting in Qusair, where he oversees five units. “We are going to go after strongholds where they think they are safe. They are going to fall like dominoes.”

He said that the militants were largely concentrated around the Shiite towns of Zahra and Nubol, which have been under siege from largely Sunni rebel forces. A spokesman for Hezbollah said he could not confirm or deny their presence. Louay al-Mokdad, political and media coordinator for the Free Syrian Army, said Hezbollah militants had gathered at a military academy in Aleppo’s western district of Hamdaniya on Sunday. He put the number of the Shiite movement’s soldiers in the area at 4,000, quoting rebel intelligence.

“We think they are going to engage inside Aleppo and the province,” he said.

In what appeared to preparation for that, pro-government forces began a push to secure supply lines to the city on Sunday, activists said. Aleppo-based activist Kareem Abeed said that pro-government forces had advanced from the military academy in Hamdaniya, with rebels repelling an attack in the neighborhood of Rashideen. The infiltration of Hezbollah fighters into Syria — along with the supply of weapons from Russia and Iran — has helped turn the tide in favor of Assad’s government, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday.

“We are seeing, unfortunately, a battlefield situation where Bashar al-Assad now has the upper hand, and it’s tragic,” McCain, who slipped into Syria last week to meet with rebel fighters, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

McCain, who has repeatedly called for military action in Syria and who has been among the harshest critics of the Obama administration on the issue, recalled claims from U.S. officials dating back more than year ago that Assad’s fall was inevitable.

“I think we can’t make that statement today,” he said. “Hezbollah [has] now invaded. The Iranians are there. Russia is pouring weapons in. And anybody that believes that Bashar Assad is going to go to a conference in Geneva when he is prevailing on the battlefield — it’s just ludicrous to assume that.”

McCain was referring to an international conference planned for this month or possibly July to bring the warring sides together. The Syrian opposition has said it will not attend while Hezbollah’s siege of Qusair continues. The siege showed no sign of abating Sunday, as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem rejected a request from the United Nations to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to enter the town immediately and tend to an estimated 1,500 wounded trapped inside.

The Hezbollah commander boasted about gains in Qusair, saying that when he left the battlefield for leave a week ago, the movement controlled 70 percent of the city at the cost of 72 of its men. He said there are 3,000 Hezbollah fighters in the town, among “no more than 10,000” in the whole of Syria. However, Sami al-Rifaie, an activist based in Qusair, said rebels have made gains since reinforcements arrived, with Hezbollah and army control reduced to 20 percent of the city.

Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, one of the largest opposition groups in the area, has sent men from Aleppo to back embattled rebels in Qusair. In a sign that Hezbollah may be under more strain than expected, the commander said that seven-days-on, seven-days-off military rotations have been changed to 20 days on before a week-long leave.

Justifying Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, its leader Nasrallah has painted the largely Sunni opposition to Assad as extremist Muslims backed by the United States and Israel, Hezbollah’s long-standing enemy. He has warned that they will eventually invade Lebanon if they are not put down across the border. But even after announcing all-out backing for Assad, Hezbollah fighters had been largely confined to Qusair, which is just a few miles from Lebanon, and in Damascus suburbs around the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab, which it has pledged to protect.

In a video posted online Saturday, a battalion of the Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade declared it was leaving for Zahra and Nubol to fight the “party of the devil,” a term often used by rebels to refer to Hezbollah, a tern which translates as Party of God. If Hezbollah is present in Aleppo, it is plausible it could be utilized anywhere in the country, said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“A deployment so deep into Syria and in such a crucial place would be a clear indication that Hezbollah’s role in Syria was never limited to defensive aims but is geared toward helping Assad score major victories,” he said.

Hezbollah’s entanglement in Syria has already sparked a backlash within fragile Lebanon, with Syrian rebels firing rockets onto Shiite areas of the country with increasing frequency in recent weeks.

On Sunday, according to Lebanese security individuals quoted by Reuters, one member of Hezbollah and at least 12 rebels were killed in clashes in Ain el-Jaouze, a finger of Lebanese territory which juts into Syria, near Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley town of Baalbek. The men may have been ambushed by Hezbollah as they tried to fire rockets at Shiite areas of the Bekaa Valley, they said.

“The presence of Hezbollah units around Aleppo will only deepen the divide in Lebanon and confirm, in the eyes of its rivals, Hezbollah’s complete alignment with Assad,” said Hokayem. 

Ahmed Ramadan and Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report.


PressTV: US Marines deployed along Jordan border with Syria

US Marines have reportedly been deployed along Jordan border with Syria as the Syrian Army continues to inflict heavy losses on foreign-backed militants. Over 1,000 US troops, who had arrived in the Jordanian port of Aqaba via Israel earlier in the week, have headed toward the kingdom's border area with Syria under heavy Jordanian military escort, Israeli sources reported on Friday.

The troops are reported to be members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force. Washington and Amman have imposed a news blackout on the deployment of US troops on Jordanian soil. US sources have confirmed that the presence of the Marines in Jordan has nothing to do with military drills set to be held between American and Jordanian troops later this month.

In April, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Washington is sending 200 troops to Jordan to help contain the violence in Syria, increasing speculation that US is setting the stage for intervention in the Arab country. At the time, Russia criticized the deployment of US troops to Jordan over the Syrian crisis, describing the move as an unconstructive step that threatens to expand the conflict. Jordan’s opposition party, the Islamic Action Front, also denounced the presence of American troops in the kingdom and asked the government to review its decision to authorize the deployment of foreign troops on Jordan’s soil.


CNN: U.S. to send Patriot missile battery, fighter jets to Jordan as part of exercise

The decision to deploy a Patriot missile battery and F-16 aircraft to Jordan was made late Friday at a meeting with top military and civilian Defense Department officials to bolster U.S. military support for Jordan - a crucial ally in the Middle East - as the violence from the Syrian civil war spreads, according to a senior U.S. official, CNN has learned.

The official declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation and also declined to say who was in the meeting. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been traveling outside the United States, and it could not be learned if he attended via teleconference, although several officials tell CNN he was aware of the discussions and approved the deployment.

The overall goal is to demonstrate U.S. military support for an increasingly fragile Jordan, which is bearing the burden of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and a growing potential threat from extremist elements including an al Qaeda affiliate organization operating inside Syria. The weapons systems will be sent initially as part of a military exercise called Eager Lion, planned for later this month, with an understanding they may stay in the country. There is clearly a broader message being sent, according to U.S. military officials.

"In order to enhance the defensive posture and capacity of Jordan, some of these assets may remain beyond the exercise at the request of the government of Jordan," Lt .Col. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman at the U.S. Central Command, told CNN.

The Patriot missiles were originally expected to be sent from their base at Ft. Bliss, Texas, but the senior official said they may simply be redeployed from Patriots already in the Middle East. Jordan does not face a Scud missile threat from Syria, but the deployment comes amid growing concern that some Syrian missiles are being shipped to Hezbollah and could be used to attack targets across the region.

In recent days, violence has spread to Lebanon, and Israeli forces have increased security along their northern border. The F-16s and air crews will train with Jordanian combat air forces amid growing pressure from some in Congress for the White House to support a no-fly zone over Syria.

Separately from the exercise, the United States is sending 200 military planners from the headquarters of the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss to Jordan to assist in long-term planning with Jordanian forces in case a chemical weapons crisis erupts, or if a wide scale humanitarian relief mission is ordered.


Iran to ‘deploy 4,000-strong force’ to Syria as US military set to stay in Jordan

Iran will deploy 4,000 Revolutionary Guards to Syria to bolster Damascus against a mostly Sunni-led insurgency, media reported. Meanwhile, US F-16s and Patriots will stay in Jordan – speculatively, to help establish a no-fly zone to aid Syrian rebels. The deployment of the first several-thousand strong military contingent was reported by The Independent on Sunday who quoted Iranian sources tied to the state’s security apparatus. The sources said the move signals Iran’s intention to drastically step up its efforts to preserve the government of President Bashar Assad.

The Islamic Republic’s heightened military commitment could reportedly extend to the opening up of a new “Syrian” front on the Golan Heights against Israel. Golan Heights have recently become a source of new instability with increasing cross-border fire and Austria withdrawing its peacekeepers from the buffer area after a checking point became the spot of military dispute between and Assad's and opposition's forces. This stirred concern in the UN with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warning the fragile state of no-war between Tel-Aviv and Damascus is at risk.
“The ongoing military activities in the [Golan] area of separation continue to have the potential to escalate tensions between Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic and to jeopardize the cease-fire between the two countries,” Ban Ki-moon said in a June 13 statement.

Journalists have frequently asked Assad whether he plans to open a resistance front at Golans. The option discussion was brought back to the table after every air strike on the Syrian territory pinned on Israel. Tel-Aviv always stopped short of confirming the strikes but hinted that it would do “whatever it takes” to stop arms supplies to Lebanon’s Hezbollah even if convoys are found going through Syria. The strikes resonated across the world – and back in February Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s National Security Council, warned Israel would “regret” them.

…vs. US troops in Jordan?

Reports of Iran’s decision to get directly involved in the Syrian conflict come just days after Israel’s ally, the US, chose to reverse its policy of not providing lethal aid to rebel fighters. The argument the Obama Administration used was that Damascus had crossed a red line by deploying chemical weapons against opposition forces on four separate occasions. Washington’s policy shift has quickly materialized on multiple fronts, some of them also in the press.

On Saturday, the Pentagon announced a detachment of F-16s and US Patriot anti-aircraft missile systems dispatched to Jordan for the ongoing joint Eager Lion military exercise will remain in the country once the training drills conclude. The same day, The Washington Post reported that clandestine bases in Jordan and Turkey would serve as conduits for arms being delivered to the rebel fighters.
US military support will thus far be limited to light arms and other munitions, although Washington’s shifting calculus has potentially given a green light to regional Sunni allies to provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the Assad opposition.
Just one day before the Pentagon announced its intention to leave Patriot missiles and F-16s in Jordan, senior Western diplomats in Turkey announced Washington was mulling the establishment of a no-fly zone, “possibly near the Jordanian border." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that any attempt to impose such a zone would be in clear violation of international law.

Syria vortex: Saudi Arabia, Al-Nusra, Hezbollah

The US, Israel and Iran are not the only actors to have “activated” recently. On Sunday, the German daily Der Spiegel, citing the German foreign intelligence service, said Saudi Arabia is looking to provide European-made Mistral-class MANPADS – man-portable air-defense systems – to the Syrian opposition. Notably, on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia condemned the role of another party to the conflict – Hezbollah – announcing that measures would be taken against those loyal to the group who lived in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states.
Hezbollah, the Shia Islamist militant group based out of Lebanon, played an integral part in the recapture of the strategic city of Qusayr last week. Damascus announced its intentions to use the Qusayr victory as a stepping stone to retaking large swaths of the northern city of Aleppo and surrounding provinces. Some 2,000 of Hezbollah’s 65,000 strong force has reportedly been operating in the city since early June. Shortly after these reports emerged, the New York Times rolled out an article saying Israel accelerated  planning for a “shock and awe” campaign to wipe out Hezbollah forces out of Syria.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Hezbollah’s “blatant interference” in the Syrian conflict, a report issued by Intelligence Online in January said that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the radical al-Nusra Front’s very existence and operational superiority within the country.  
"The Saudi General Intelligence, controlled by Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, exploited its broad calls with Takfiri [atoning] movements in Iraq to help establish al-Nusra Front, a low-profile Takfiri movement," the report stated. "Thanks to funding from the General Intelligence Department and support from the Saudi Intelligence in Lebanon, al-Nusra was able to swiftly arm its forces, and make the Syrian regime suffer painful blows through its expertise in Iraqi bombings," it continued.
The Al-Nusra Front, with its alleged Saudi connections, is incidentally the Syrian branch of the Islamic State of Iraq, which aims to establish a caliphate in the Sunni dominated regions of Iraq. This brings a strong sectarian smell to the two-year conflict and lifts far above local “anti-government” sentiments. The increased effectiveness of pro-Assad forces has been met with frustration by prominent Sunni clerics. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a prominent Egyptian theologian, called on Sunnis in the region to join the battle against Damascus, asking: “How could 100m Shia [worldwide] defeat 1.7bn [Sunni]?

With the United States, its Sunni allies in the region and Israel all preparing to step up involvement in the Syrian conflict, Iran’s commitment to defend the Assad government is likely just as motivated by self-preservation as Shiite solidarity.


AP: US War Games Send Signal to Assad

Under the watchful eye of stern-faced American advisers, hundreds of U.S.-trained Jordanian commandos fanned across this dusty desert plain, holding war games that could eventually form the basis of an assault in Syria. With the recent deployment of Patriot missiles near the Syrian border, and the mock Syrian accents of those playing the enemy, the message was clear: There is fear of spillover from the Syrian war in this U.S.-allied kingdom, and the potential for a Jordanian role in securing Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles should Bashar Assad's regime lose control.

Dubbed Eager Lion, the 12-day exercise involves combined land, air and sea maneuvers across the country. It brings together 8,000 personnel from 19 Arab and European nations to train on border security, irregular warfare, terrorism and counterinsurgency. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Duke Shienle said Syria "is a concern that all our regional partners share." The Syrian crisis is "causing all military in the region to increase intensity," he said as he supervised masked commandos in black uniforms from Jordan and two other Syria neighbors — Iraq and Lebanon — in a mock exercise to free a hijacked aircraft on an airstrip in the eastern Jordanian desert.

Nearby, U.S. military strategists taught Jordanian riot police to quickly contain a mock protest by angry mobs in a crowded refugee camp. The trainers refused to name the camp, but the trainees said it was "Zaatari," a reference to a refugee settlement straddling the border with Syria that shelters around 185,000 displaced Syrians. "We want freedom! We want a free Syria!" the trainees shouted, speaking the Syrian dialect as they depicted Syrian refugees. Others looked on from under dusty tents pitched on a strip of desert outside a Jordanian army compound. The location of this exercise and others could not be disclosed in line with Jordanian army regulations.

Elsewhere, in the south, hundreds of masked Jordanian commandos in black uniforms used machine-guns, rocket propellers and tanks to overwhelm an enemy target as Jordanian helicopters and fighter jets — all part of previous American donations — buzzed the skies overhead. "We want to tell anyone with malicious intentions toward Jordan that we can hit back where it hurts most painfully," said one Jordanian commando, speaking under scorching sun in the arid mountain region. He could not be named under army regulations and declined to say if the enemy he was fighting was Assad's army.

Other training focused on humanitarian relief and crisis management and involves 7,000 civilians from non-governmental organizations engaged in providing assistance to Syrian refugees, said Tawfiq Hennawi of the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the participating NGOs. Jordan hosts more than half a million Syrians who fled Assad's military onslaught and that number is expected to rise to 1.2 million by the end of the year. "These exercises bolster our defense capabilities," said Jordanian army Maj. Gen. Awni Edwan, adding that the Eager Lion exercises, which end Thursday, are routine, having being held twice before at the same time.
"We don't intend to attack anybody," he said.

Jordan has been leery that Assad may eventually use his chemical weapons against his neighbors, or if his regime starts to collapse, his stockpile may fall into the hands of al-Qaida or other militants who are trying to rise to power in Syria. There has been mounting speculation that should Assad's regime begin to lose control, Jordan will dispatch its highly-skilled, U.S.-trained and equipped commandos to secure Assad's chemical weapons and create a safe haven for Syrian refugees along the 230-mile (375-kilometer) border with Jordan, according to a Western diplomat who monitors Syria from his base in Jordan.

The purpose is to prevent a further influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan out of fear that Shiite militants from the Lebanese Hezbollah group or other Iranian agents may slip across the border to destabilize this key U.S. ally, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because identifying him might jeopardize his intelligence-gathering on Syria. Jordan's predominantly Sunni Muslim population is traditionally a fiery critic of the growing influence of Iran and its rival Shiite sect.

Regional media reports this week suggesting that Hezbollah activists are deploying near the Jordanian border to help Assad regain control of southern Daraa province— which has been a lifeline for arms shipments to rebels seeking to topple him — sent jitters across Jordan. Officials said that security was immediately beefed up, with more Jordanian soldiers deployed along the border with Syria.

In recent weeks, Assad's forces have appeared to be regaining control over areas seized by rebels, particularly the strategic town of Qusair. Jordan also fears that Assad's sleeper cells, including Hezbollah, may already be in the country and would act if instructed by Iran or Syria, where an uprising that started in 2011 has descended into all-out civil war. Eager Lion coincides with Washington deploying one or two Patriot batteries along the border with Syria and agreeing to keep a squadron of 12 to 24 F-16 fighter jets after the exercises — a move Syria's regime and its Russian patron have expressed concern over.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying that the deployment of the air-defense systems in Jordan in order to set up a no-fly zone over Syria would be a violation of international law. The United States has said it has no plans for military intervention in Syria, although President Barack Obama has left the door open for any possibility.

"With this exercise being the biggest fire power show ever in Jordan, coupled with the deployment of Patriot air defense systems and U.S. fighter jets, it is clear that the ground is being set for military intervention in Syria," said Col. Khalil Rawahneh, a Jordanian military strategist who participated in at least 16 U.S. and British-sponsored maneuvers until he retired four years ago.


DebkaFile: Putin offers Russian troops in lieu of Austrian Golan peacekeepers. UN: Thank you but no

Just 24 hours after Austria decided to withdraw its 380-strong contingent from the UN force policing the Golan separation zone, President Vladimir Putin stepped forward Friday, June 7, with an offer of a Russian force to take its place on the highly sensitive Syrian-Israeli border. Thursday, two peacekeepers were injured by falling ordnance from a battle between Syrian and rebel troops around Quneitra.

debkafile: The Russian president saw his opportunity to pluck the fruits of Moscow’s success in backing the Syrian-Hizballah forces’ advances in major battles against rebels, notably at al Qusayr, and position Russian troops face to face with the Israeli army. They would constitute a barrier against any military intervention being mounted against the Assad regime from Israel. UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Hak said: "The UN would welcome Russia’s contribution to peacekeeping efforts in the region."

Our military and intelligence sources doubt whether the Israeli government will be enthusiastic about Russian troops policing the Golan sector separating Israeli and Syrian forces. Jerusalem may be expected to seek advice from Washington in order to get the Russian contribution disqualified on the grounds that Moscow can hardly claim to be a neutral party when it is so heavily committed militarily to one side of the Syrian conflict.

The Obama administration’s reaction to Putin’s move is hard to predict because a rejection could torpedo the fading prospects of the US-Russian-sponsored Geneva conference for a political solution of the Syrian war - for which no date has yet been set. The Russian president appears to be aiming at having Russian troops posted on Syrian soil under the US flag when – and if - the conference ever gets off the ground.

What Putin said was this: “In view of the complicated situation which is currently unfolding on the Golan Heights, we could replace the Austrian peacekeeping contingent, which is withdrawing from this region, on the disengagement line between Israeli troops and the Syrian army.” The Russian president made no mention of the presence of Syrian rebels on the Golan. Israel has four major concerns in this matter:

1. The presence of Russian troops on the Syrian side of the Golan would inhibit Israeli cross-border military action should it become necessary for its security.

2.  It would upset the relations the IDF has developed with certain Syrian rebel units, manifested by their war wounded receiving treatment at the military field hospital set up especially at the Tel Hazaka post on the Golan and transferred in severe case to hospitals in Haifa and Safed. Last week, US military released data with pictures showing the movements of Israeli special forces in and out of Syria.

3.  The possibility of Russian officers in blue helmets interfering with Israeli military movements on the Israeli side of the Golan as well cannot be ruled out.

4.   Some of the Russian contingent may be assigned to gather intelligence on Israeli military movements in the north of the country. There is no way to stop them handing those secrets over to the Syrian and Hizballah. In the event, the UN thanked Moscow but explained that the Syrian-Israeli 1974 disengagement accord did not allow permament UN Security Council members with veto power to serve in UNDOF.


Obama Asks Pentagon for Syria No-Fly Zone Plan
The White House has asked the Pentagon to draw up plans for a no-fly zone inside Syria that would be enforced by the U.S. and other countries such as France and Great Britain, two administration officials told The Daily Beast.

The request was made shortly before Secretary of State John Kerry toured the Middle East last week to try and finalize plans for an early June conference between the Syrian regime and rebel leaders in Geneva. The opposition, however, has yet to confirm its attendance and is demanding that the end of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s rule be a precondition for negotiations, a condition Assad is unlikely to accept.

President Obama’s dual-track strategy of continuing to pursue a political solution to the two-year-old uprising in Syria while also preparing for more direct U.S. military involvement includes authorizing the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the first time to plan for multilateral military actions inside Syria, the two officials said. They added that no decisions on actually using force have yet been made.

“The White House is still in contemplation mode but the planning is moving forward and it’s more advanced than it’s ever been,” one administration official told The Daily Beast. “All this effort to pressure the regime is part of the overall effort to find a political solution, but what happens if Geneva fails? It’s only prudent to plan for other options.”

In a May 8 meeting of the National Security Council Principals Committee, the White House tasked several agencies with reporting on the pros and cons of two additional potential courses of action: arming vetted and moderate elements of the Syrian opposition, such as the Free Syrian Army, and formally recognizing the Syrian opposition council as the government of Syria, which would mean removing formal U.S. recognition of the Assad regime.

Sen. John McCain—who’s advocated for more aggressive U.S. support of the Syrian rebels and who traveled secretly into the country Monday to meet with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army—told The Daily Beast last week that despite the request for plans he doubts the White House will decide to implement a no-fly zone in Syria. The Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs are opposed to the idea, he said.

“One thing about the Pentagon, if they don’t want to do something, they will tell you all sorts of reasons why they can’t do it. It’s going to take significant pressure for them to come up with realistic plans,” McCain said. “They will invent ways for us not to do it until the president of the United States says we’ve got to do it.”

McCain said a realistic plan for a no-fly zone would include hundreds of planes, and would be most effective if it included destroying Syrian airplanes on runways, bombing those runways, and moving U.S. Patriot missile batteries in Turkey close to the border so they could protect airspace inside northern Syria.

In April, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense that the military was planning for a range of options in Syria but that he did not necessarily support using those options.
"It’s only prudent to plan for other options.”
"We're prepared with options, should military force be called upon and assuming it can be effectively used to secure our interests without making matters worse,” he said. “We must also be ready for options for an uncertain and dangerous future. That is a future we have not yet identified." The administration probably won’t make any decisions about greater intervention in Syria until after the Geneva conference, McCain said. “I think they’re moving towards the planning because the pressure is so great, but we’re in a full-court stall until this conference in Geneva,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region Phil Gordon traveled to Turkey from May 9 to 11 and met there with leaders of the Syrian opposition to encourage them to attend the Geneva conference. A White House official told The Daily Beast that the administration agrees that Assad should step down but does not agree that this should be a precondition to moving forward with the Geneva plan.

“In meetings with Syrian opposition leaders to discuss the implementation of the Geneva Communiqué we underscored our support for the Syrian Council (SC) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, reaffirmed our support for a political transition based on the framework of the Geneva Communiqué, and reiterated that Assad must go,” the official said.

Critics of the administration, including McCain, doubt that the new Geneva conference—coming a year after the earlier summit produced the Communiqué that called for an end to violence and democratic transition –will produce any progress toward a political solution. They also doubt that the Russians are committed to such a solution, considering that they continue to provide arms to the Assad regime. But Kerry has continued to endorse and push for the conference as a way to begin real negotiations between the regime and the opposition.

“This is a Kerry initiative,” an administration official said. “It’s also a test of the veracity of the Russian claims that they are committed to a peaceful outcome that reflects the will of the Syrian people.”

The Geneva conference will happen at about the same time as a huge set of military exercises conducted in Jordan called “Eager Lion,” which will include 15,000 troops from 18 countries, including the United States. The U.S. could leave military assets in Jordan following the exercise that might be useful for a no-fly zone, such as F-16 fighter aircraft.

Caitlin Hayden, the spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Staff, told The Daily Beast that the White House is considering a range of possible actions in Syria.

“As the president reiterated last week, all options are on the table with regard to Syria, though a scenario involving American boots on the ground is not likely,” she said.We are prepared for all contingencies,” she said. “We will continue to urgently work to support the opposition. We are consulting with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Supreme Military Council about how we can continue to elevate our assistance; we are leading the world in providing humanitarian assistance for those affected by the violence; and we will continue to coordinate international efforts to end the bloodshed and hasten a political transition to a Syria where Bashar al-Assad has no role.”

Some Syria experts praised the White House’s decision to plan more options in Syria, but doubted that Obama would actually make the decision to intervene in the near term.

“No doubt, the United States and its like-minded allies and partners are fully capable, without the use of ground troops, of obviating the Assad regime’s degraded, fixed, and mobile air defenses and suppressing the regime’s use of airpower,” said Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, a Washington-based group that advocates for aggressive U.S. military action in support of human rights and democratic allies. “But the question is whether that’s something President Obama actually has the will and resolve to do.”


‘US and Israel aim for Hezbollah in Syria’

Syrian government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies seized control of the border town of Qusair on June 5, 2013. (Reuters / Mohamed Azakir)

The US’s decision to arm Syrian rebels may be due to Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict, with Washington and Jerusalem seeing it as a chance to counter anti-Israeli actions, author and historian Gerald Horne has told RT. US President Barack Obama has given the green light to military support for the Syrian opposition after his administration concluded that Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against rebels numerous times over the last year. However, Horne, from the University of Houston, does not believe that the US will be able to produce evidence of the use of chemical agent sarin by regime troops, saying that he doubts such evidence exists.
RT: These claims of the use of poison gas by Assad's forces seem to mean that Obama's “red line” has been crossed and that [Obama] has just pledged to arm the rebels. How far is the White House likely to go?

Gerald Horne: I am afraid that they are re willing to go quite far. They are under enormous pressure. Former US President Bill Clinton has released a statement criticizing the Obama administration for not intervening more deeply into the Syrian morass. Obama’s former election rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, just took to the floor of the US Senate saying that arming the rebels is not enough. Presumably, he has called for airstrikes to create a so-called no-fly zone. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous and ominous moment. Particularly since the Sunni clerics have just met in Cairo, Egypt and called for a Holy War against the Assad regime and Damascus. Instead of trying to calm things down, it seems to me that the Obama administration is about to throw fuel on the fire.  
RT: What will this do to the US-Russia-sponsored peace conference in Geneva?
GH: You may have heard that the UN has suggested that everyone is on board for this Geneva conference, except the Syrians. It seems to me that the opposition, the rebels have made clear that they have no interest in negotiating with Assad. As they see it, they will win this conflict on the battlefield, and the Europeans – particularly the British and French – will be sending them more weapons sooner rather than later. And, as they see it, they can win. Though I think that they are mistaken.

RT: Two months ago, Carla del Ponte, the chief UN investigator in Syria, said that she was “stupefied” by the testimony of victims of the Syrian conflict claiming that rebels used the nerve agent sarin. She also said that there was no evidence that the government resorted to this measure. How does this sit with Washington's allegations?
GH: It is in contradiction with Washington's allegations, bearing in mind also that, just a few weeks ago, Turkish authorities found that some rebels residing in Turkey had sarin weapons. It is difficult to say whether these weapons were used, and if so, who used them?  For example, what was the chain of custody that allowed the Obama administration to conclude that it was Damascus and not the rebels? How did those samples get from the battlefield to Washington? How do we know that a renegade soldier in the Syrian military used these weapons precisely to invite an intervention to Washington? There are so many questions. I look forward to seeing the evidence, though I doubt that the administration will be able to provide any.   
RT: Why would Assad resort to chemical weapons when recent reports suggest that he's gaining the upper hand in the war?
GH: I think that one reason the Obama administration is edging towards more direct intervention in Syria is that Assad’s forces are triumphing on the battlefield, not least because of the assistance they are receiving from Hezbollah forces in neighboring Lebanon. This assistance has outraged the Israelis and the Israeli lobby in Washington. As they see it, they would like to see Hezbollah degraded on the battlefield of Syria and, therefore, you see this new call from Washington for military intervention in Syria.  
RT: John McCain recently visited Syria, and, while the administration has shown reluctance to intervene, it has been under domestic pressure to do so. What is pushing the White House to intervene?
GH: You mentioned McCain, who is a de facto leader of the opposition conservative Republican Party. I have already mentioned that Clinton has called for intervention. Last year, his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then CIA Director David Petraeus, called for stalwart intervention. Interestingly enough, polls show that the US public is against intervention. They see no advantage in arming Al-Qaeda forces, who are the tip of the spear of the rebels. It thus seems that US politicians do not have the best of this argument.


US to give military support to Syrian rebels as ‘red line' crossed

After concluding that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the country's insurgency, thus crossing a ‘red line,’ the Obama administration has decided to start sending arms to anti-Assad rebels for the first time, officials say. The Obama administration has assessed that chemical weapons, most likely the nerve gas sarin, were used in battle against the Syrian rebels, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said in a statement. 
The “intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year,” he said.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry branded the US statements on the use of chemical weapons a “caravan of lies”. "The United States, in resorting to a shameful use of pretexts in order allow President Obama's decision to arm the Syrian opposition, shows that it has flagrant double standards in the way it deals with terrorism," it said.  Syria had insisted in the past that it did not use its chemical arsenal in the ongoing conflict and would not do so unless invaded by a foreign nation. President Obama has authorized to release of at least some US arms for Syria’s rebels as part of new military and political aid measures, according to a source who spoke with Reuters.

White House officials speculated over evidence that nerve gas had been used as of April, but that evidence is now being called “definitive” – with Congressional sources describing the conclusion as crossing the “red line” for US military intervention or backing as previously defined by the president.

"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition, that will involve providing direct support to the (Supreme Military Council), that includes military support," Rhodes told reporters on a conference call on Thursday. "This is going to be different in both scope and scale in terms of what we are providing to the SMC than what we have provided before," he adds.

The change of US policy was praised by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Friday. "I welcome clear US statement. Urgent that Syria regime should let UN investigate all reports of chemical weapons use," he tweeted. Rasmussen’s praise was echoed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who tweeted: "There is a dictatorial and brutal leader who is using chemical weapons under our noses against his own people." Russia scrutinized the evidence that made the US accuse Damascus of using chemical weapons against the rebels, but didn’t find it conclusive.

“The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” said presidential aide Yury Ushakov on Friday. Beijing called for restraint when commenting on the US allegations.“China hopes that the UN will conduct an objective and fair investigation of the problem of chemical weapons in Syrian  in accordance with the international law and the decisions of the UN Security Council,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told journalists on Friday.

The US is studying setting up a no-fly zone in Syria along its border with Jordan, according to US officials. "Washington is considering a no-fly zone to help Assad's opponents," one diplomat told Reuters. He said it would be limited "time-wise and area-wise", without giving details.

The potential no-fly zone may stretch for up to 25 miles (40km) into Syrian territory, and would be set up in a bid to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees, according to US media. The Wall Street Journal says even a limited no-fly zone may cost the US at much as $50 million per day while a full-scale operation would be much more expensive. The Pentagon hopes US foreign partners will help in footing the bill, if it comes to this.

France believes that the no-fly zone scenario is unlikely because it would require approval of the UN Security Council it said on Friday. Veto-holding members of the UNSC Russia and China are opposing foreign intervention into the Syrian crisis. A no-fly zone solution is viewed with suspicion in Moscow and Beijing after the Libyan debacle, where it resulted in a full-scale NATO bombing campaign, which tipped the balance in favor of rebels and allowed them to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Jordan currently has massive presence of US troops, which took part in a major exercise, dubbed Eager Lion. On Thursday Pentagon decided that it will keep its F-16 fighter jets and Patriot anti-aircraft missiles, which took part in the drill, according to a US defense official, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

The US deployed its 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to take part in the exercise. The 2,400 troops and equipment were delivered by a group of three amphibious ships. Congress was being notified of the conclusions over chemical weapons use in the country on Thursday in classified documents. Findings were corroborated by evidence sent to the US by France, which along with the UK claimed that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons. 


"There is a growing body persuasive evidence showing that the regime used - and continues to use - chemical weapons, including sarin," a spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office said Thursday. "The room for doubt continues to diminish. Assad must grant the UN investigation unrestricted access to investigate on the ground in Syria and establish the full facts," he added.

In a conference call to reporters on Thursday, the White House said that the intelligence community estimates that between 100 and 150 people have been killed by chemical weapons used by pro-Assad forces. That would be about 0.16 per cent (0.0016) of the 93,000 deaths in the Syrian conflict, which is the latest UN estimate of the death toll. The UN says more than 6,500 of the victims were minors, including more than 1,700 children under 10.

The White House said during the same call that the US “will make decisions on our own timeline" regarding the next steps on Syria. President Obama will consult with G8 partners, including Russia, about Syria next week. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham called on the US to provide "lethal assistance, especially ammunition & heavy weapons" to Syria’s rebels on Thursday.

The President must rally an international coalition to take military actions to degrade Assad’s ability to use airpower and ballistic missiles and to move and resupply his forces around the battlefield by air,” said a joint statement by the pair.

As a UN probe was underway into allegations of chemical weapons use in May, lead investigator Carla Del Ponte said the findings showed that rebels were behind at least one chemical weapons attack. "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities," Del Ponte told Swiss TV. But the final report released in early June said the UN investigators failed “to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator” in the investigated attacks.


On several occasions media reported seizure of small amounts of sarin from militants of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front. This happened both inside Syria and in neighboring Turkey, where many Syrian refugees live in camps along the border. The US move comes at a crucial point when an effort is being made to start political settlement of the Syrian conflict at a conference in Geneva. The conference was organized by Russia and the US and is aimed at finding a way for the adversaries to agree on how a ceasefire can be established and a transitional government formed to end the two-year-long civil war. 

The Obama administration did not reveal its timetable for providing military assistance to rebels, so it’s not clear whether it will start before the conference or afterwards in case of the talks’ failure. Abayomi Azikiwe, international affairs expert and journalist, says that US claims will be used to justify intervention at a time when the rebels are threatened with defeat on the battlefield.
“Based upon the developments that have been taking place in Syria over the last two weeks, in regard to the removal of rebels from various parts of the country, and also the overall international situation -- which is very disadvantageous to US or NATO direct intervention in Syria --I believe that this being utilized to provide a rationale and justification for the escalation of military, political as well as diplomatic pressure against the Syrian government,” he adds.

Author and historian Gerald Horne said that Washington's allegations are in “flagrant contradiction” with an assessment from the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry, and may only serve to escalate the conflict.

They’re under enormous pressure from former US President Bill Clinton, who just came out with a statement criticizing the Obama administration for not intervening more deeply in the Syrian morass,” Horne said. “Mr. Obama’s former competitor, Senator John McCain of Arizona, just took to the floor of the United States Senate saying that arming the rebels is not enough, presumably calling for air strikes to create a no-fly zone. It seems to me this is a very dangerous and ominous moment, particularly as Sunni clerics have just met in Cairo, Egypt and called for a holy war against the Assad regime. Instead of trying to calm things down, it seems to me the Obama administration is about to throw gas on the flames.”


US-NATO Are Training “Opposition” Rebels in the Use of Chemical Weapons

The chemical weapons accusations are fabricated. In a bitter irony, the evidence amply confirms that the chemical weapons are being used not by Syrian government forces but by the US supported Al Qaeda rebels. In a twisted logic whereby realities are turned upside down, the Syrian government is being accused of the atrocities committed by the US sponsored Al Qaeda affiliated rebels. The Western media is feeding disinformation into the news chain, casually refuting its own news reports. Confirmed by various sources including CNN, the Western military alliance has not only made chemical weapons available to the Al Nusrah Front, it has also sent in military contractors and special forces to train the rebels:
The training [in chemical weapons], which is taking place in Jordan and Turkey, involves how to monitor and secure stockpiles and handle weapons sites and materials, according to the sources. Some of the contractors are on the ground in Syria working with the rebels to monitor some of the sites, according to one of the officials. The nationality of the trainers was not disclosed, though the officials cautioned against assuming all are American. (CNN, December 09, 2012, emphasis added
While the news report does not confirm the identity of the defense contractors, the official statements suggest a close contractual relationship to the Pentagon:
The US decision to hire unaccountable defense contractors to train Syrian rebels to handle stockpiles of chemical weapons seems dangerously irresponsible in the extreme, especially considering how inept Washington has so far been at making sure only trustworthy, secular rebels – to the extent they exist – receive their aid and the weapons that allies in the Gulf Arab states have been providing. It also feeds accusations that the Syrian Foreign Ministry recently made that the US is working to frame the Syrian regime as having used or prepared for chemical warfare. “What raises concerns about this news circulated by the media is our serious fear that some of the countries backing terrorism and terrorists might provide the armed terrorist groups with chemical weapons and claim that it was the Syrian government that used the weapons,” the letters said.”( John Glaser, Us Defense Contractors Training Syrian Rebels,, December 10, 2012,  emphasis addded)
Lets be under no illusion. This is not a rebel training exercise in non-proliferation of chemical weapons. While president Obama accuses Bashar Al Assad, the US-NATO military alliance is channeling chemical weapons to Al Nusrah, a terrorist organization on the State Department blacklist. In all likelihood, the training of Al Nusrah rebels in the use of chemical weapons was undertaken by private military contractors.

The United Nations Independent Mission confirms that Rebel Forces Are in Possession of Sarin Nerve Gas

While Washington  points its finger at president Bashar al Assad, a United Nations independent commission of inquiry confirmed in May 2013 that the rebels rather than the government have chemical weapons in their possession and are using sarin nerve against the civilian population:

U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday. The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte. [see image right] “Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television. “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added, speaking in Italian. (“U.N. has testimony that Syrian rebels used sarin gas: investigator,” Chicago Tribune, May, 5  2013, emphasis added)

Turkish Police Report: US Supported Al Nusrah Terrorists Possess Chemical Weapons
According to Turkey’s state media agency Zaman, the Turkish General Directorate of Security (Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü):
[Police have] ceased 2 kg of sarin gas in the city of Adana in the early hours of yesterday morning. The chemical weapons were in the possession of Al Nusra terrorists believed to have been heading for Syria. Sarin gas is a colourless, odorless substance which is extremely difficult to detect. The gas is banned under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. The EGM [Turkish Police] identified 12 members of the AL Nusra terrorist cell and also ceased fire arms and digital equipment. This is the second major official confirmation of the use of chemical weapons by Al-Qaeda terrorists in Syria after UN inspector Carla Del Ponte’s recent statement confirming the use of chemical weapons by the Western-backed terrorists in Syria. The Turkish police are currently conducting further investigations into the operations of Al-Qaeda linked groups in Turkey. (For further details see Gearóid Ó Colmáin, Turkish Police find Chemical Weapons in the Possession of Al Nusra Terrorists heading for Syria, Global, May 30, 2013)
Who has Crossed the “Red Line”? Barack Obama and John Kerry are Supporting a Terrorist Organization on the State Department List

What is unfolding is a diabolical scenario –which is an integral part of US military planning– namely a situation where opposition terrorists of the al Nusrah Front advised by Western defense contractors are actually in possession of chemical weapons. The West claims that it is coming to the rescue of the Syrian people, whose lives are allegedly threatened by Bashar Al Assad. Obama has not only “Crossed the Red Line”, he is supporting Al Qaeda.  He is a Liar and a Terrorist.

The forbidden truth, which the Western media has failed to reveal, is that the US-NATO- Israel military alliance is not only supporting the Al Nusrah Front, it is also making chemical weapons available to its proxy “opposition” rebel forces.

The broader issue is: Who is a threat to the Syrian people? Syria’s President Bashar al Assad or America’s President Barack Obama, who has ordered the recruitment and training of terrorist forces which are on the US State Department blacklist. In a bitter irony, according to the US State Department Bureau of Counter-terrorism, President Obama and  Secretary of State John Kerry, not to mention Senator John McCain could be held responsible for “knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, al-Nusrah Front”: 
The Department of State has amended the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) and Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 designations of al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) to include the following new aliases: al-Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, and Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant.  The consequences of adding al-Nusrah Front as a new alias for AQI include a prohibition against knowingly providing, or attempting or conspiring to provide, material support or resources to, or engaging in transactions with, al-Nusrah Front, and the freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States or the control of U.S. persons. (emphasis added)
The State Department advisory acknowledges that from November 2011 to December 2012:
“Al-Nusrah Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks – ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and improvised explosive device operations – in major city centers including Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib, and Dayr al-Zawr. During these attacks numerous innocent Syrians have been killed. ….
The advisory also confirms that “the United States takes this action [of blacklisting the Al Nusrah Front] in the context of our overall support for the Syrian people. … ” What it fails to mention is that the Obama administration continues to channel money and weapons to Al Nusrah in blatant defiance of US counter-terrorism legislation.


Foreign Policy: Here's a map of the 23 places the U.S. will bomb if there's a Syria no-fly-zone

Forget the small arms. If the White House really wants to alter the course of the Syrian civil war, it may well need to impose a no-fly zone. The good news is it probably won't be too hard to pull off, given the battered state of Assad's air defenses. The bad news is it could drag the U.S. into a wider war. Bashar al-Assad's air force that has conducted between 115 and 141 air strikes a month from January through April of this year, largely with old Czechoslovakian-made L-39 Delfin trainer jets and helicopters such as the Soviet-designed Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-24.

The weapons may be old, but many analysts believe that they've made a crucial difference as pro-regime troops have seized the momentum in Syria's civil war. Some in the U.S. government are pushing for a total no-fly-zone similar to the one imposed on Libya in 2011 in order to take out that air force. (The map above shows the location of Assad's main air bases - the prime targets of any American campaign to limit Assad's power to strike from the sky.Let us know if we're missing any.)

On Friday, Anthony Cordesman of the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies said that anything less than (a pretty darn expensive) no-fly zone that totally grounds Assad's air force would be a "half-pregnant" solution similar to "supplying too few arms of too few lethality," as the U.S. and other nations have been said to be doing secretly for months without giving the rebels enough of an advantage to overthrow Assad.

A full-on no-fly-zone would involve the U.S. and any other nations launching a high end assault with everything from B-2 stealth bombers to submarine and ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles aimed at destroying Assad's radars, missile sites and air defense control networks. It'd be similar to what was done at the start of Operation Odyssey Dawn, only bigger due to the fact that Syria has a much better air defense network than Libya did. Once these door-kickers have taken out the most dangerous elements of Syria's air defenses, other strike fighters such as U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16 Vipers -- some of which are already in neighboring Jordan --, and U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F/A-18 Hornets would then be relatively free to hunt down and destroy Assad's aircraft on the ground or in the air.

As Cordesman points out, all of these jets would need to be flown off at least one aircraft carrier. The attack would also involve aircraft based in nearby Turkey, perhaps in  Jordan, as well as in other Middle East nations that host American warplanes. The strike jets would have to be supported by aerial refueling tankers, AWACS and possibly JSTARS radar planes, EA-18G Growler and EA-6B Prowler radar jamming jets, reconnaissance drones and other intelligence-gathering jets. A huge undertaking that would cost a ton and take a long time to achieve full effect. Remember, the U.S. and NATO patrolled the Libyan skies from March 2011 through October 2011, when Muammar al-Qaddafi.

However, as Christopher Harmer of the Institute for the Study of war points out, Assad's high-end air defenses are stationary - making them easy targets for rebel ground attack and have likely been seriously degraded by months of fighting.

"The fixed site portion of the Syrian [air defenses] - the heavy radar, heavy [surface to air missiles], etc., belong to the Syrian Air Force, and in my opinion, have suffered significantly in the fighting," said Harmer. "They can't get out of the way of the rebels; more problematic, these old Soviet legacy systems are maintenance and training intensive.  My guess is the Syrian Air Force has lost significant capability on its heavy, fixed site IADS due to a lack of maintenance, repair, and training."

He also points out that even Syria's most modern air defense weapons - mobile, Russian-made SA-17s and SA-22s -- don't have the reach to shoot down U.S. planes, which fire off long-range missiles like the Joint Stand-off Weapon. Nor can the defenses hope to stop American ships launching Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Furthermore, America's radar jamming EA-18Gs and EA-6Bs "can overwhelm the relatively low power radar of the SA-17 and SA-22; any fixed site (heavy power output) radar that starts to illuminate, we'll just put an (AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile) into it. Game over for them," said Harmer. SA-17 and SA-22 are capable weapon systems, but our ability to defeat those weapons systems is far greater than the Syrians ability to interdict our air power."

There is one air defense system that could make life much more difficult for U.S. pilots, the Russian-made S-300 surface to air missiles. But the S-300 is not yet in country, despite the fact that Assad has ordered them from Russia. Those orders just got a lot more urgent, now that the U.S. is getting more directly involved in the Syrian civil war.


TIME World: Israel and U.S. Coordinating How to Target Assad’s Arsena

52 days after an Israeli general publicly declared that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels, the Obama administration reached the same conclusion, and used the finding to justify announcing it would send small arms to the side of the victims. “I will not say ‘We told you so,’ only, okay, the proof is there, so there’s no more question about it,” says Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, taking with a smile the easy part of the equation now laid before Israel. As for the hard part: “Now, what should be done? It’s not for Israel to say, because the international involvement in this should not include Israel. Israel follows very closely developments there. It’s very concerned about activity on its borders. But we’re not aspiring to be involved in any action about what’s happening in Syria.”

In fact, of course, Israel is closely involved already, and in more ways than they are acknowledged publicly. Israeli military officials tell TIME that American intelligence had the same information that Brig. Gen. Itai Brun cited in his April 23 presentation to a public conference – video footage showing victims foaming at the mouth, and other indicators that made it clear that sarin had been used on the battlefield more than once. “We are sharing,” one Israeli intelligence official said at the time. “We have our cards on the table with the Americans for a long time. They’ve had all this information.”

Though the speech embarrassed President Obama, who had repeatedly called use of chemical weapons “a game changer” in his Syria policy, it was officially inadvertent. No one in Israel’s political echelon knew of Brun’s remarks in advance, and officials from both countries spent several days publicly repairing the impression that Israel was trying to force Obama to intervene. At an operational level, cooperation between the two countries has been exceptionally close — and growing closer as Washington publicly ramps up its military involvement in the Syrian conflict.

“Things are happening behind the scenes,” says one Israeli official. “Things are really happening.” Earlier this month, the Pentagon announced it was sending F-16s and Patriot missile batteries to Jordan, ostensibly for an exercise (“Eager Lion”), but which would remain in the Hashemite Kingdom afterward. “It’s a clear, purposeful, presence of a strike force near the border of Syria,” the Israeli official noted. “I think it’s a message, a clear message.” The message is also meant to be legible to Iran, which is arming Syria and the Lebanese militia Hizballah by air, as well as testing the resolve of Western powers who threaten to strike its nuclear program. “It’s only a short leap to the Gulf,” the official said.

Patriot batteries went into Turkey last year, under the banner of NATO. And the chief of Mossad, Israel’s overseas intelligence agency, traveled to Ankara this week to meet with Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization, known by its Turkish initials MIT. As opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad organize themselves to assist the rebels opposing him, Israel feels obliged to lay low. Though closely aligned with Washington, and maintaining diplomatic relations with Jerusalem, countries like Jordan and Turkey have majority Muslim populations who would not welcome overt military cooperation with Israel. “If this is to hold water, this cannot involve Israel,” the Israeli official said.

Behind the scenes, however, Israeli and U.S. military officials are coordinating how to target and destroy Assad’s arsenal of unconventional weapons under assorted scenarios, Israeli military and intelligence officials tell TIME. One scenario would be the sudden removal of Assad from the scene, be it by flight, death or if he simply disappears. That would prompt the allies to launch operations on the estimated 18 depots and other sites where WMDs are stored, the officials said. Search and destroy operations would also be launched if the weapons appeared to be about to fall into the hands of the rebels, which include Islamist extremists aligned with al-Qaeda.

The Israeli officials emphasized that it had not been decided whether both Israeli and U.S. forces would act, or who would do what. But the U.S. plans called for deploying forces on the ground as well as waves of airstrikes, to assure that the chemical and biological components are neutralized, according to the Israeli officials.

Israel already has struck by air inside Syria three times this year, targeting advanced weapons systems such as anti-aircraft batteries and highly accurate Russian-made missiles that officials said were being transferred to Hizballah, something Israeli officials repeatedly had warned would prompt discreet, surgical action intended only to safeguard its military advantage over the Lebanese militia, which is sponsored by Iran and supported by Syria (where Hizballah recently sent troops to help Assad).

“The main arms of concern to us are the arms that are already in Syria — these are anti-aircraft weapons, these are chemical weapons and other very, very dangerous weapons that could be game changers,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the BBC in April, in remarks the Israeli foreign ministry said remained operative in the wake of Obama’s decision to arm the rebels. “They will change the conditions, the balance of power in the Middle East. They could present a terrorist threat on a worldwide scale. It is definitely our interest to defend ourselves, but we also think it is in the interest of other countries.”

Rebel group won’t fight Israel if it enters Syria

Arebel group that operates on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights stated Thursday that it would not fight Israel if Israel sends forces into Syria. A spokesman for the rebel group, which is based in Quneitra, made the comments to Al-Jazeera. “We’ll leave the fighting to Hezbollah and to [Syrian President] Bashar Assad’s men,” said Abu Jafar. “We won’t fight Israel.” Israel has said repeatedly that it has no desire to intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Hezbollah, which has taken an increasing active role in defending Syrian President Bashar Assad, threatened recently to open up a new front against Israel in the Golan Heights. Also, in comments attributed to Assad in a Lebanese daily last week, the embattled Syrian leader allegedly said that opening a new front against Israel in the Golan could serve to unify his people. Amid the rhetoric, a mortar shell fired from Syria landed on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights early Thursday morning. There were no reports of injuries or damage from the rocket, which landed just over the border, according to Army Radio.

Mortar shells have struck Israel several times over the past year as fighting in the Syrian civil war has spilled over into Israel, though they largely tailed off during June. The rockets and small arms fire are usually assumed to be errant strikes, but Damascus recently boasted that it had retaliated against Israel for reported air strikes against Damascus weapons sites. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has vowed to respond to spillover of the Syrian civil war into Israel, and the IDF has shot at Syrian army positions in the past after incidents of cross-border fire.

Why Obama is Declaring War on Syria

The short answer is Iran and Hezbollah according to Congressional sources. “The Syrian army’s victory at al-Qusayr was more than the administration could accept given that town’s strategic position in the region. Its capture by the Assad forces has essentially added Syria to Iran’s list of victories starting with Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, as well as its growing influence in the Gulf."  

Other sources are asserting that Obama actually did not want to invoke direct military aid the rebels fighting to topple the Assad government or even to make use of American military power in Syria for several reasons. Among these are the lack of American public support for yet another American war in the Middle East, the fact that there appears to be no acceptable alternative to the Assad government on the horizon, the position of the US intelligence community and the State Department and Pentagon that intervention in Syria would potentially turn out very badly for the US and gut what’s left of its influence in the region. It short, that the US getting involved in Syria could turn out even worse than Iraq, by intensifying a regional sectarian war without any positive outcome in sight.

Obama was apparently serious earlier about a negotiated diplomatic settlement pre-Qusayr and there were even some positives signs coming from Damascus, Moscow, and even Tehran John Kerry claimed. But that has changed partly because Russia and the US have both hardened their demands. Consequently, the Obama administration has now essentially thrown in the towel on the diplomatic track. This observer was advised by more than one Congressional staffer that Obama’s team has concluded that the Assad government was not getting their message or taking them seriously and that Assad’s recent military  gains and rising popular support  meant that a serious Geneva II initiative was not going to happen.

In addition, Obama has been weakened recently by domestic politics and a number of distractions and potential scandals not least of which is the disclosures regarding the massive NSA privacy invasion. In addition, the war lobby led by Senators McClain and Lindsay Graham is still pounding their drums and claim that Obama would be in violation of his oath of office and by jeopardizing the national security interest of the United States by allowing Iran to essentially own Syria once Assad quells the uprising.” Both Senators welcomed the chemical weapons assessment.  For months they have been saying that Obama has not been doing enough to help the rebels. “U.S. credibility is on the line,” they said in a joint statement this week. “Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions,” they said, such as using long-range missiles to degrade Assad’s air power and missile capabilities. Another neo-con, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said the opposition forces risk defeat without heavier weapons, but he also warned that may not be enough. “The U.S. should move swiftly to shift the balance on the ground in Syria by considering grounding the Syrian air force with stand-off weapons and protecting a safe zone in northern Syria with Patriot missiles in Turkey,” Casey said.

According to some analysts, Obama could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone. That appears unlikely according to this observers Washington interlocutors because the Pentagon wants to end the Syrian crisis by summers end, the observer was advised “rather than working long term with a motley bunch of jihadists who we could never trust or rely on. The administration has come to the conclusion apparently that if they are in for a penny they are in for a pound, meaning would not allow Iran to control Syria and Hezbollah to pocket Lebanon.”

Secretary of State Kerry had meetings with more than two dozen military specialists on 5/13/13. The Washington Post is reporting that Kerry believes supplying the rebels with weapons might be too little and too late to actually flip the balance on the Syrian ground and this calls “for a military strike to paralyze Al-Assad’s military capacities.” A Pentagon source reported that  the USA, France, and Britain are considering a decisive decision to reverse the current Assad momentum and quickly construct one in favor of the rebels” within a time period not exceeding the end of this summer.

Shortly after the meetings began, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia quickly returned to Saudi Arabia from his palace at Casa Blanca, Morocco after receiving a call from his intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan. Bander reportedly had a representative at the White House during the meetings with President Obama’s team. King Abdullah was reportedly advised by Kerry to be prepared for a rapid expansion of the growing regional conflict.

What happens between now and the end of summer is likely to be catastrophic for the Syrian public and perhaps Lebanon.  The “chemical weapons-red line” is not taken seriously on Capitol Hill for the reason that the same “inclusive evidence” of months ago is the same that is suddenly being cited to justify what may become essentially an all-out war against the Syrian government and anyone who gets in the way.  Hand wringing over the loss of 125 lives due to chemical weapons, whoever did use them, pales in comparison to the more 50,000 additional lives that will be lost in the coming months, a figure that  Pentagon planners and the White House have “budgeted” as the price of toppling the Assad government.
“We are going to see a rapid escalation of the conflict”, a staffer on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee emailed this observer: “The president has made a decision to give whatever humanitarian aid, as well as political and diplomatic support to the opposition that in necessary. Additionally direct support to the (Supreme Military Council), will be provided and that includes military support.” The staffer quoted the words of Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes to the media on 5/13/13 to the same effect.

A part of this “humanitarian assistance” the US is going to established in the coming weeks a “limited, humanitarian no-fly zone, that will begin along several  miles of the Jordanian and Turkish borders in certain military areas into Syrian territory, and would be set up  and presented as a limited bid  to train and equip rebel forces and protect refugees. But in reality, as we saw in Libya a Syrian no fly zone would very likely include all of Syria.

Libya’s no-fly zones made plain that there is no such thing as a “limited zone”.  Put briefly, a “no-fly zone” means essentially a declaration of all-out war.  Once the US and its allies start a no fly zone they will expand it and intensify it as they take countless other military actions to protect its zones until the Syrian government falls. “It’s breathtaking to contemplate how this in going to end and how Iran and Russia will respond,” one source concluded.

The White House is trying to assuage the few in Congress as well as a majority of the American public that it can be a limited American involved and that the no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries.  This is more nonsense.  During the no-fly zone I witnessed from Libya in the summer of 2011 the US backed it up with all manner of refueling, electronic jamming, special-ops on the ground and by mid-July a kid peddling his bike was not safe. Over the 192 days of patrolling the Libyan no-fly zones, NATO countries flew 24,682 sorties including 9,204 bomb strike sorties. NATO claimed it never missed its target but that was also not true. Hundreds of civilians were killed in Libya  by no-fly zone attack aircraft  that either missed their targets and emptied their bomb bays before returning to base  while conducting approximately 48 bombing strikes per day using a variety of bombs and missiles, including more than 350 cruise Tomahawks.

At a Congressional hearing in 2011, then US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates got it right when he explained which discussing Libya “a no-fly zone begins with an attack to destroy all the air defenses … and then you can fly planes around the country and not worry about our guys being shot down. But that’s the way it starts.”

According to the accounts published in American media, Obama could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone. That appears unlikely because the Pentagon wants to end the Syrian crisis by summers end, the observer was advised “rather than working long term with a motley bunch of jihadists who we could never trust or rely on. The administration has come to the conclusion apparently that if they are in for a penny they are in for a pound.” In response to a question from this observer about how he thought event might unfold in this region over the coming months, a very insightful long-term congressional aid replied: “Well Franklin, maybe someone will pull a rabbit out of the hat to stop the push for war. But frankly I doubt it.  From where I sit I’d wager that Syria as we have known it may soon be no more. And perhaps some other countries in the region also.”

Are America and Russia Set for a Showdown in Syria?

A showdown between Russian and American forces has been talked about during every confrontation between Russian and American interests. And the closest we came to it was in Yugoslavia at Pristina Airport where a demented Wesley Clark did his best to start WW3, before being relived of duty prematurely by Clinton. But despite all the blustering from both sides, Russia was unable to save Yugoslavia. Similarly the United States was unable to save Georgia, which is back in the grip of the Russian bear.

Russia has relied less on force, aside from Georgia, than on subversion through its network of agents and on being the alternative to the United States. That was why Russia could afford to lose Saddam knowing that whoever replaced him would eventually come calling. And that is what happened as Iraq’s Maliki has turned to Russia for weapons and support as a member of the Shiite axis.

Syria is important to Russia, especially since Putin has bet big on the Shiite axis of Iran, Syria and Iraq, because it’s the last remaining Arab Socialist power which has old ties with Moscow dating back to the Soviet era. It also has a large Russian emigre population, particularly of women who married Syrian men. But Russia can afford to lose Syria.

The Cold War is over and China is on the way up, but the global map is still divided in somewhat similar ways. You’re either dealing with the United States or looking for alternatives. And Russia is the big alternative. If the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria, they will want American weapons, but sooner or later they’ll also want Russian weapons because they come with fewer restrictions which comes in handy when using them against the United States or American allies. All that is important to keep in mind when reading stories like these about the gathering storm clouds of war.
Russia has concentrated five landing ships in the eastern Mediterranean in a show of force  meant to deter Western nations from intervening militarily in Syria, The Sunday Times quoted a Russian diplomat as saying. According to the report, the ships are carrying military vehicles and hundreds of Russian marines, and are being accompanied by combat vessels. While officially Russia has claimed the ships have been deployed to partake in an exercise to “improve the management, maintenance and testing of the interaction of naval forces,” the Times quoted the diplomat as saying the marines were meant to deter the West from deploying ground forces in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
No doubt Russia does not mind doing a little extra intimidation. But it’s even more likely that any such noises are an empty bluff.
However, a Russian intelligence source was quoted on Sunday as saying that the presence of over 300 marines on the ships was meant as a deterrent to keep countries hostile to the Bashar Assad regime — a key ally of the Kremlin — from landing special forces in the country.
300 Russian Marines aren’t likely to do much to stop even the Turkish and Qatari special forces operating with Sunni terrorists in Syria. It’s even less likely that Russia would try to use them against the British and French special forces, or some of the CIA sneakers on the ground, who are probably already in Syria. Even the USSR would have hesitated at that. Still in 1967, the Soviet Union apparently contemplated an invasion of the Israeli city of Haifa during the Six Day War using its shipboard marines.
The British newspaper on Sunday quoted an Israeli source who said that it was conceivable that a Russian ground force would step in “to defend the Alawite corridor stretched between the Lebanese border in the south and the Turkish border in the north.”
Again that would take a sizable force for a messy fight and a significant long term investment, which it is doubtful that Russia is interested in making. If the Alawites lose Syria, then Russia may be willing to send them some military supplies and use them for propaganda purposes, but any kind of Russian military intervention is unrealistic. The USSR was at least somewhat motivated to protect politically sympathetic states. Russia is no longer interested in a world revolution. It knows that 10 years down the road, it will have a deal with the new Syria.


Are We On the Brink of World War III?

Several commentators have pointed to the similarities between the pre-World War I era and our own. While every historical analogy is, by definition, inexact, they are right to raise the alarm.

In 1914, Europe was divided into two camps: the Entente, consisting of Britain, France, and Russia, and the Central Powers, predominantly Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (Italy was formally a member, but went neutral when the war started, eventually joining the Entente). While this division had its roots in the long history of inter-imperialist rivalry over the acquisition of colonies in Africa and the Far East – with the “haves” being Britain and France, and the “have nots” being Germany and Austria – by the turn of the century the conflict began to re-focus on the European theater, where the breakup of the Ottoman Empire in Southeastern Europe – the Balkans – put the rival camps on a collision course.

Intent on penetrating the region and promoting its pan-Slavic agenda, Russia was fanning the flames of Serbian nationalism in the region, and the Kingdom of Serbia was the logical launching pad for this campaign. Serbia was a cauldron of ultra-nationalist sentiment, where – at the instigation of Russian agents – secret societies sprang up militantly agitating for a “Greater Serbia.” A pseudo-mystical ultra-nationalist narrative was elaborated for popular consumption, based on the idea of restoring the old “Greater Serbia” of the pre-Ottoman era, a supposedly glorious chapter in the history of the race that ended with the defeat of Prince Lazar on the famous Field of Blackbirds: Lazar died heroically, fighting off Turkish Janissaries. The great problem of the Serbian nationalists, however, was – and is – their expansive concept of what “Greater Serbia” consists of: every spot on which a Serbian Orthodox church or monastery ever existed is, today, considered Serbian territory by these radicals, and back in 1914 they were far more numerous – and powerful – than they are at the present moment. Indeed, as Ralph Raico points out:

“The immediate origins of the 1914 war lie in the twisted politics of the Kingdom of Serbia.[1] In June, 1903, Serbian army officers murdered their king and queen in the palace and threw their bodies out a window, at the same time massacring various royal relations, cabinet ministers, and members of the palace guards. It was an act that horrified and disgusted many in the civilized world. The military clique replaced the pro-Austrian Obrenovic dynasty with the anti-Austrian Karageorgevics. The new government pursued a pro-Russian, Pan-Slavist policy, and a network of secret societies sprang up, closely linked to the government, whose goal was the ‘liberation’ of the Serb subjects of Austria (and Turkey), and perhaps the other South Slavs as well.”

The foreign policy of the Serbian government, with ultra-nationalist Prime Minister Nicolas Pasic at its head, “aimed at the creation of a Greater Serbia,” writes Raico, “necessarily at the expense of Austria-Hungary.” The Russians, the British, and the French all backed the Serbs’ expansionist claims, and, with Russian help, a series of Balkan wars saw the doubling in size of the Serbian kingdom as the decibel level of Serbian revanchist agitation picked up. It was in this volatile context that a Bosnian Serb fanatic, one Gavrilo Princip, shot and killed Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. Princip and his collaborators were members of the “Black Hand,” an extreme nationalist group headed up by the chief of Serbian intelligence.

The Austrian annexation of Bosnia had added fuel to the fire, and set off a series of assassination attempts on Austrian officials by the “Black Hand.” When the Archduke visited Sarajevo, Austrian troops were massing on the Bosnian-Serbian border, backing up an Austrian demand that the Serbs renounce all claims to the territory. The Serbs complied, but the actions of Princip and his co-conspirators set off an explosion that ended with the destruction of European civilization.

What turned a regional conflict over narrowly defined issues of chiefly local interest into a global conflagration was the system of alliances and resulting intrigues that plagued world politics. I won’t go into the longstanding controversy over who bears the chief burden of “war guilt”: suffice to say here that the structural logic of the two rival alliances had an escalating effect, one that dragged the rest of Europe – and us – into the vortex of destruction. From the trenches of the Great War sprang the worst monsters of the twentieth century: fascism, national socialism, and Bolshevism. The death toll was in the millions.

In its broad outlines, we face a similar situation today. The Balkans of the new millennium is undoubtedly the Middle East, and here it is that, once again, a country imbued with a religiously-inspired vision of a “Greater” version of itself is pushing an expansionist policy, having roughly doubled its size since its inception as an independent nation. Inspired by an ideological vision that seeks to recreate a glorious past kingdom, and driven by the religious fanaticism of a militant ultra-nationalist movement, the state of Israel is the Serbia of our time – the epicenter and catalyst of the coming conflict.

Of course, the specifics are quite different: yet the broad outlines of the Balkan scenario fit the Middle East to a tee. We have the modern day Entente – the “haves,” i.e. the Western powers of the US, Britain, and France, versus the “have nots,” those being Russia, Iran, and Syria. Standing warily on the sidelines is China, a formerly “have not” nation on its way to becoming a superpower, which is increasingly tilting toward the latter. And of course the Western allies have their Middle Eastern protectorates, or what’s left of them, in Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states.

Under normal conditions, the narrowly defined issues of whether the Ba’athists should continue to rule Syria, or the status of the occupied territories of Palestine, would be of chiefly local interest. Under the conditions of inter-imperialist rivalry, however, every local ethnic-religious-territorial dispute has the potential to become an issue of global import. That’s what gave Gavrilo Princip the opportunity to fire the first shot of the Great War and achieve a malign immortality. It’s not hard to imagine a similarly explosive incident somewhere in the Middle East signaling the first volleys of World War III. The region is so crowded with tripwires that it’s only a matter of time before Uncle Sam stumbles over one and is driven by the structural logic of its alliances into a war with Iran: indeed, the first shots of that war have already been fired, in Syria, where the World War I analogy seamlessly segues into a parallel with World War II.

The end of the cold war did not lead to a “unipolar world,” as Charles Krauthammer and his fellow neocons celebrated it in the early 1990s. Instead of the “benevolent global hegemony” envisioned by Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan in their nineties foreign policy manifesto, we are back to the pre-WWI era of old-fashioned inter-imperialist rivalry. Instead of the “end of history,” we stand at the beginning of a new era of nationalism, religious fanaticism, and ideologically-driven violence. Combined with the structural incentives for conflict inherent in our system of alliances and the built-in dangers of a policy of “collective security,” this is a recipe for another world war.

In reading various accounts of the origins of World War I, I am struck by the leitmotif of unintended consequences that runs throughout that tragic story: it is a narrative of events that took on a life of their own, and created such a momentum for war that all the combatants were dragged along the road to destruction in spite of themselves.

As the Russians send missiles to Syria, and the US (and its Gulf allies) support and arm the Islamist rebels, the involvement of Iran is bound to drag in the United States sooner or later. Meanwhile, our modern day Serbians, the Israelis, are busy swallowing up ever-greater portions of the occupied territories of Palestine, and conducting bombing raids on Syrian territory. In short, the Middle East is a tinderbox, even more explosive than the Balkans of 1914 – and 2014 may mark the beginning of yet another hundred-year cycle of global conflict.


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