Russian intervention — a brand new ball game

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“In contrast, the US seems to have been trying to keep the chaos alive…”
October 5, 2015

October 10, 2015
Translated from Italian by Tom Winter

In any war the first casualty is truth. Any news is thus picked through with tweezers because it’s a tough job – for those who are not on the ground or in the control room of an army – to know with some precision what is happening.

But one thing seems certain, almost a week after the Russian intervention in support of Assad: the situation on the ground has changed.

Reports come in hourly of new raids of MiGs and Sukhois on jihadist bases, whether they are ISIS or other formations supported by the US, European Union, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia for being anti-Assad and anti-Iranian (e.g, the Al Nusra Front, affiliated to Al Qaeda, Ahrar Al Sham, etc.).

The defense ministry in Moscow has announced that the Russian air force has struck at least three structures of the self-styled Islamic State in the area of Homs, and destroyed two weapons caches. The offensive seems to be focused on the province of Idlib, bordering Turkey and considered one of the main channels that foreign jihadists, fighters of various militias, including Isis use to get themselves and their supplies into the country. But the Idlib province is also near the north coast of Syria, where there is the naval base of Tartus with the Latakia airport, both operational centers of the Russian military.

Finally there are countless reports of arms depots, command, training facilities, and the like, destroyed by bombing.

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So the strategy in this first stage seems clear: eliminate anti-Assad pockets that break up the continuity of the government-controlled territory, while also bearing down on the strategic foundations of Isis, that are geographically more distant.

The same spokesman reported that “About 600 ISIS militants have abandoned their positions, scrambling to escape into Europe”, i.e., passing through Turkey, which has so far been very hospitable to the jihadists of the various sects. Other sources speak of 3,000 fighters, crossing the desert border of Jordan, which implies, in short, an involvement – albeit an indirect one – of the Jordanian monarchy in the conflict.

It should be emphasized that, contrary to custom, these releases from the Russians are not being denied by the Western military commands. 

At best, as in recent days, the west is complaining that their protégé jihadi militias are getting hit instead of ISIS.

To an outside observer, it therefore appears that, in a few days of aerial surgery, Russian aircraft have produced results unseen in over a year of bombings claimed by the US and Western allies against ISIS. And ISIS’ only response worthy of note is not even military, but purely symbolic: the destruction of the Arc de Triomphe in the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, which is still under their control.

Without falling into delirious praises of the Putin fans, it does seem that the difference in effectiveness is due – as mentioned indirectly by several expert analysts of the Middle East – to the greater clarity and simplicity of goals on the side of the Russians. Namely to keep the Alawites in charge, not necessarily with Assad at the helm, so as to keep a military presence in the Mediterranean and thus a decisive role in the Middle East.

In contrast, the US seems to have been trying to keep the chaos alive on both the diplomatic and military levels as on the military, changing alliances and priorities in order to prevent the emergence of a stable solution, which soon could become independent from them. They could not, at any rate, not stand more openly with Sunni Islam, with the Saudis at its center, because from there was born (called initially by the US anti-Soviet) jihadism that for some decades now has also been turning against Western imperialism. Nor could they manage with Shiites, almost always classified as “terrorists” or “sponsors of terrorism”, even now that they have reached a suspected agreement with Tehran, after nearly 40 years of undeclared war.

And it is on the political plane that things are becoming much clearer. The alliance between Russia, Iran, Assad and Iraq is now openly declared by all of them. And, just in, the military rulers of Egypt have decided to consider the Russian intervention “positive and useful.”

A consequence is isolating, among the “moderate” Muslims, the Turkish president Erdogan who, for his part, continues to call it “unacceptable”, as it largely puts an end to Turkish ambitions of gaining regional hegemony.

Furthermore the long interview granted by Assad to Iranian state television brings new elements, to some extent favorable ones for those who say they want to find a political solution to the lengthy Syrian crisis. While appearing very conscious of renewed military strength on the ground, in fact, Assad for the first time talked about his possible departure from the scene: “If it could be of help, I wouldn’t hesitate to resign.”

There is as yet no official confirmation about the presence in Syria of Chinese warships or Chinese nuclear submarines, whose alleged arrival was rather amplified in recent days by a number of ‘Eurasianist’ sites.

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