Escalation in Syria – How Far Can the Russians be Pushed?
Events in Syria have recently clearly taken a turn for the worse and there is an increasing amount of evidence that the Russian task force in Syria is being targeted by a systematic campaign of “harassing attacks”.
First, there was the (relatively successful) drone and mortar attack on the Russian Aerospace base in Khmeimin. Then there was the shooting down of a Russian SU-25 over the city of Maasran in the Idlib province. Now we hear of Russian casualties in the US raid on a Syrian column (along with widely exaggerated claims of “hundreds” of killed Russians). In the first case, Russian officials did openly voice their strong suspicion that the attack was, if not planned and executed by the US, then at least coordinated with the US forces in the vicinity. In the case of the downing of the SU-25, no overt accusations have been made, but many experts have stated that the altitude at which the SU-25 was hit strongly suggests a rather modern MANPAD of a type not typically seen in Syria (the not-so-subtle hint being here that these were US Stingers sent to the Kurds by the US). As for the latest attack on the Syrian column, what is under discussion is not who did it but rather what kind of Russian personnel was involved – Russian military or private contractors (the latter is a much more likely explanation since the Syrian column had no air cover whatsoever). Taken separately, none of these incidents mean very much, but taken together they might be indicative of a new US strategy in Syria: to punish the Russians as much as possible short of an overt US attack on Russian forces. To me this hypothesis seems plausible for the following reasons:
First, the US and Israel are still reeling in humiliation and impotent rage over their defeat in Syria: Assad is still in power, Daesh is more or less defeated, the Russians were successful not only in their military operations against Daesh but also in their campaign to bring as many “good terrorists” to the negotiating table as possible. With the completion of a successful conference on Syria in Russia and the general agreement of all parties to begin working on a new constitution, there was a real danger of peace breaking out, something the AngloZionists are absolutely determined to oppose (check out this apparently hacked document which, if genuine, clearly states the US policy not to allow the Russians to get anything done).
Second, both Trump and Netanyahu have promised to bring in lots of “victories” to prove how manly and strong they are (as compared to the sissies which preceded them). Starting an overt war against Russian would definitely be a “proof of manhood”, but a much too dangerous one. Killing Russians “on the margins”, so to speak, either with plausible deniability or, alternatively, killing Russian private contractors, is a much safer and thus far more tempting option.
Third, there are presidential elections coming up in Russia and the Americans are still desperately holding onto their sophomoric notion that if they create trouble for Putin (sanctions or body bags from Syria), they can somehow negatively impact his popularity in Russia (in reality they achieve the opposite effect, but they are too dull and ignorant to realize that).
Last but not least, since the AngloZionists have long since lost the ability to actually get anything done, their logical fall-back position is not to let anybody else succeed either. This is the main purpose of the entire US deployment in northern Syria: to create trouble for Turkey, Iran, Syria and, of course, Russia.
The bottom line is this: since the Americans have declared that they will (illegally) stay in Syria until the situation “stabilizes,” they now must do everything in their power to destabilize Syria. Yes, there is a kind of a perverse logic to all that…
For Russia, all this bad news could be summed up in the following manner: while Russia did defeat Daesh in Syria, she is still far from having defeated the AngloZionists in the Middle-East. The good news is, however, that Russia does have options to deal with this situation.
Step one: encouraging the Turks
There is a counterintuitive but in many ways an ideal solution for Russia to counter the US invasion of Syria: involve the Turks. How? Not by attacking the US forces directly, but by attacking the Kurdish militias the Americans are currently “hiding” behind (at least politically). Think of it: while the US (or Israel) will have no second thoughts whatsoever about striking Syrian or Iranian forces, actually striking Turkish forces would carry an immense political risk: following the US-backed coup attempt against Erdogan and, just to add insult to injury, the US backing for the creation of a “mini-Kurdistsan” both in Iraq and in Syria, US-Turkish relations are at an all-time low and it would not take much to push the Turks over the edge with potentially cataclysmic consequences for the US, EU, NATO, CENTCOM, Israel and all the AngloZionist interests in the region. Truly, there is no overstating the strategic importance of Turkey for Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle-East, and the Americans know that. From this flows a very real if little understood consequence: the Turkish armed forces in Syria basically enjoy what I would call a “political immunity” from any US attacks, that is to say that (almost) no matter what the Turks do, the US would (almost) never consider actually openly using force against them simply because the consequence of, say, a USAF strike on a Turkish army column would be too serious to contemplate.
In fact, I believe the US-Turkish relationship is so bad and so one-sided that I see a Turkish attack on a Kurdish (or “good terrorist”) column/position with embedded US Special Forces far more likely than a US attack on a Turkish army column. This might sound counter-intuitive, but let’s say the Turks did attack a Kurdish (or “good terrorist”) column/position with US personnel and that US servicemen would die as the result. What would/could the US do? Retaliate in kind? No way! Not only is the notion of the US attacking a fellow NATO country member quite unthinkable, but it would most likely be followed by a Turkish demand that the US/NATO completely withdraw from Turkey’s territory and airspace. In theory, the US could ask the Israelis to do their dirty job for them, but the Israelis are not stupid (even if they are crazy) and they won’t have much interest in starting a shooting war with Turkey over what is a US-created problem in a “mini-Kurdistan”, lest any hallowed “Jewish blood” be shed for some basically worthless goyim.
No, if the Turks actually killed US servicemen, there would be protests and a flurry of “consultations” and other symbolic actions, but beyond that, the US would take the losses and do nothing about it. As for Erdogan, his popularity at home would only soar even higher. What all this means in practical terms is that if there is one actor which can seriously disrupt the US operations in northern Syria, or even force the US to withdraw, it is Turkey. That kind of capability also gives Turkey a lot of bargaining power with Russia and Iran which I am sure Erdogan will carefully use to his own benefit. So far Erdogan has only threatened to deliver an “Ottoman slap” to the US, and Secretary of State Tillerson is traveling to Ankara to try to avert a disaster, but the Turkish insistence that the US chose either the Turkish or the Kurdish side in the conflict very severely limits the chances of any real breakthrough (the Israel lobby being 100% behind the Kurds). One should never say never, but I submit that it would take something of a miracle at this point to really salvage the US-Turkish relationship. Russia can try to capitalize on this dynamic.
The main weakness of this entire concept is, of course, that the US is still powerful enough, including inside Turkey, and it would be very dangerous for Erdogan to try to openly confront and defy Uncle Sam. So far, Erdogan has been acting boldly and in overt defiance of the US, but he also understands the risks of going too far, and for him to even consider taking such risks, there have to be prospects of major benefits from him. Here the Russians have two basic options: either to promise the Turks something very beneficial or to somehow further damage the current relationship between the US and Turkey. The good news here is that Russian efforts to drive a wedge between the US and Turkey are greatly assisted by the US support for Israel, Kurds, and Gulenists.
The other obvious risk is that any anti-Kurdish operation can turn into yet another partition of Syria, this time by the Turks. However, the reality is that the Turks can’t really stay for too long in Syria, especially not if Russia and Iran oppose this. There is also the issue of international law which is much easier for the US to ignore than for the Turks.
For all these reasons, using the Turks to put pressure on the US has its limitations. Still, if the Turks continue to insist that the US stop supporting the Kurds, or if they continue putting military pressure on the Kurdish militias, then the entire US concept of a US-backed “mini-Kurdistan” collapses and, with it, the entire US partition plan for Syria.
So far, the Iraqis have quickly dealt with the US-sponsored “mini-Kurdistan” in Iraq and the Turks are now taking the necessary steps to deal with the US-sponsored “mini-Kurdistan” in Syria, at which point *their* problem will be solved. The Turks are not interested in helping Assad or, for that matter, Putin and they don’t care what happens to Syria as long as *their* Kurdish problem is under control. This means that the Syrians, Russians, and Iranians should not place too much hope on the Turks turning against the US unless, of course, the correct circumstances are created. Only the future will tell whether the Russians and the Iranians will be able to help to create such circumstances.
Step two: saturating Syria with mobile modern short/middle range air defenses
Right now nobody knows what kind of air-defense systems the Russians have been delivering to the Syrians over the past couple of years, but that is clearly the way to go for the Russians: delivering as many modern and mobile air defense systems to the Syrians. While this would be expensive, the best solution here would be to deliver as many Pantsir-S1 mobile Gun/SAM systems and 9K333 Verba MANPADs as possible to the Syrians and the Iranians. The combination of these two systems would immensely complicate any kind of air operations for the Americans and Israelis, especially since there would be no practical way of reliably predicting the location from which they could operate. And since both the US and Israel are operating in the Syrian skies in total violation of international law while the Syrian armed forces would be protecting their own sovereign airspace, such a delivery of air-defense systems by Russia to Syria would be impeccably legal. Best of all, it would be absolutely impossible for the AngloZionists to know who actually shot at them since these weapon systems are mobile and easy to conceal. Just like in Korea, Vietnam or Lebanon, Russian crews could even be sent to operate the Syrian air defense systems and there would be no way for anybody to prove that “the Russians did it” when US and Israeli aircraft would start falling out of the skies. The Russians would enjoy what the CIA calls “plausible deniability”. The Americans and Israelis would, of course, turn against the weaker party, the Syrians, but that other than feeling good, that would not really make a difference on the ground as the Syrian skies would not become safer for US or Israelis air forces.
The other option for the Russians would be to offer upgrades (software and missile) to the existing Syrian air defense systems, especially their road-mobile 2K12 Kub and 9K37 Buk systems. Such upgrades, especially if combined with enough deployed Pantsirs and Verbas, would be a nightmare for both the Americans and the Israelis. The Turks would not care much since they are already basically flying with the full approval of the Russians anyway, and neither would the Iranians who, as far as I know, have no air operations in Syria.
One objection to this plan would be that two can play this game and that there is nothing preventing the US from sending even more advanced MANPADs to their “good terrorist” allies, but that argument entirely misses the point: if both sides do the same thing, the side which is most dependent on air operations (the US) stands to lose much more than the side which has the advantage on the ground (the Russians). Furthermore, by sending MANPADs to Syria, the US is alienating a putative ally, Turkey, whereas if Russia sends MANPADs and other SAMs to Syria, the only one who will be complaining will be the Israelis. When that happens, the Russians will have a simple and truthful reply: we did not start this game, your US allies did, you can go and thank them for this mess.
The main problem in Syria is the fact that the US and the Israelis are currently operating in the Syrian skies with total impunity. If this changes, this will be a slow and gradual process. First, there would be a few isolated losses (like the Israeli F-16 recently), then we would see that the location of US and/or Israeli airstrikes would gradually shift from urban centers and central command posts to smaller, more isolated targets (such as vehicle columns). This would indicate an awareness that the most lucrative targets are already too well defended. Eventually, the number of air sorties would be gradually replaced by cruise and ballistic missiles strikes. Underlying it all would be a shift from offensive air operations to force protection which, in turn, would give the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah a much easier environment to operate in. But the necessary first step for any of that to happen would be to dramatically increase the capability of Syrian air defenses.
Hezbollah has, for decades, very successfully operated under total Israeli air supremacy and their experience of this kind of operation would be invaluable to the Syrians until they sufficiently built up their air defense capabilities.
Conclusion: is counter-escalation really the only option?
Frankly, I am starting to believe that the Empire has decided to attempt a partial “reconquista” of Syria; even Macron is making some noise about striking the Syrians to “punish” them for their use of (non-existing) chemical weapons. At the very least, the US wants to make the Russians pay as high a price as possible for their role in Syria. Further US goals in Syria include:
- The imposition of a de facto partition of Syria by taking under control the Syrian territory east of the Euphrates river (we could call that “plan C version 3.0”)
- The theft of the gas fields located in northeastern Syria
- The creation of a US-controlled staging area from which Kurdish, good terrorist and bad terrorist operations can be planned and executed
- The sabotaging of any Russian-backed peace negotiations
- The support for Israeli operations against Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Syria
- Engaging in regular attacks against Syrian forces attempting to liberate their country from foreign invaders
- Presenting the invasion and occupation of Syria as one of the “victories” promised by Trump to the MIC and the Israel lobby
So far the Russian response to this developing strategy has been a rather a passive one, and the current escalation strongly suggests that a new approach might be needed. The shooting down of the Israeli F-16 is a good first step, but much more needs to be done to dramatically increase the costs the Empire will have to pay for its policies towards Syria. The increase in the number of Russian commentators and analysts demanding a stronger reaction to the current provocations might be a sign that something is in the making.
ER recommends other articles by The Unz Review, and The Saker’s blog
Featured image courtesy of Russian Defense Ministry