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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Whats Up with Syrian President Assad And His Moscow Handlers?

Links: Russia And The Syrian Civil War
           What Are Assad And Putin Up To?

Since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, it seems that the Soviet Union/Russia has always sided with the Arabs while the United States sides with the Jewish nation.  To be–Palestinian_conflict
fair, the Soviet Union voted in favor of the UN resolution that partitioned Palestine and created two separate states (the Palestinian state never really got off the ground; the Jewish half became Israel).  Given its strong support of a Jewish state following World War II, it's no surprise that the United States supported Israel from the beginning (I'm not saying a word about the politically influential Jewish lobby). However once Cold War tensions elevated, the Soviets sided with the Arab regimes in the Arab-Israeli conflicts in order to maintain thier position in opposition to the United States, Israel's strongest ally.  Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians/Arab states brings to mind three separate military engagements: the War of Independence (1947-1949), the Six Day War (June 1967), and the Yom Kippur War (October 1973).  In truth, my earliest memory as a child was my father celebrating President Richard Nixon's re-election in 1972; my family lived on U.S. Army Bases in Germany (Bad Kreuznach,  Kaiserslautern, and Bad Hersfeld). But I can still recall the attack on the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  I was barely out of diapers but I remember being so confused at how easy it was for some people to hurt others.  As I sit here in 2014, it seems as if Israel and the Palestinians have never really taken a break in their conflict.

The Soviet Union seldom went in for "half-measures".  They supported the Arab states both diplomatically and militarily.  Egypt's Presidents Nasser and then Sadat were dependent upon the Soviets for a never-ending stream of tanks and jet fighters.  The Soviets kept flying the tanks in, the Egyptians and Syrians kept rushing them into battle, and the Israelis kept creating bombed-out crematoriums for their crews.  I'm sure that Egypt, Syria and Iraq paid what they could, but there is not doubt in my mind that most of the military equipment that the Arabs lost came gratis from Moscow.  To the Soviets it was a necessary expenditure: Syria and Egypt gave the Reds access to the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal.  I don't think that the Russians had a particular dislike for Israel; more than anything else it was a strategic issue (the enemy of my enemy is my friend).  Its been some years since Syria, Egypt and Israel actually met on the battlefield.  The Egyptians are now equipped with modern U.S. military hardware (and training), but the Syrians have stayed loyal to Mother Russia. A number of times in the last two decades there was some concern that Turkey and Syria might duke it out (once over a territorial dispute, and once over the flow of a river).  The Turkish military would have humiliated old man Hafez al-Assad and his outdated weaponry. 

Syria has had great difficulty keeping its Soviet-era equipment up-to-specs.  Before the start
Syrian T-55 ARV armored recovery vehicle
of the Syrian Civil War, the army still laid claim to 2,000 T-55 tanks, for goodness sake.  The only way to keep a few of those old junks running would be to cannibalize some of the others.  At one time Syria had a healthy number of T-62S, T-72S, and T-72Ms in its arsenal.  I have no clue how many have been destroyed in the war, how many have been captured, or how many just don't run anymore; the Soviets were not known for their weapons craftmanship (ever fired an AK-47?).  As for the Syrian Air Force, the great majority of its jet fighters were aged Mig 21s, 23s, and 25s.  They also have a handful of Sukhois and Mig 29s.  It was rumored that Russia has been hesitant to supply Syria with the new model Mig 31 because of pressure from the west.  The truth is, for offensive purposes, the Syrian Air Force no longer exists.  I realize that the media puts out the odd report of Syrian government Helicopter Gunships shooting up civilian areas, but if the Syrian Air Force had any real offensive capability, they would be laying it to the Islamic State (safe to assume?).  Interestingly enough, I have seen more conversation lately regarding the Islamic State and Migs than I have the Syrian Air Force.

Over the past month, the Islamic State has been forced into the dreaded two-front war.  It's fighting the Iraqi Army in Anbar Province and in north central Iraq it's waging war on the
Bashir al-Assad
Kurds in Kurdistan. Additionally the IS is attacking the Kurds full-force in north central Syria (Kobani) all the while under a regular barrage of death from the sky (Carl von Clausewitz is spinning in his grave).  What is most amazing is that the Islamic State continues to have the initiative on all fronts.  Be that as it may, Bashir al-Assad could not be happier, as the Americans and their allies (some are hated enemies of Assad and his Ba'ath Party) degrade the fighting ability of the Islamic State forces (I'm being optimistic).  No doubt Assad has used this respite to reorganize his army, repair and upgrade his armor, train new recruits, and prepare the West for an inevitable diplomatic offensive, sponsored by Putin.  I just hope Bashir has had a few extra minutes to try and locate his missing chin. Seriously.  Never in my life have a seen such a "chinless" person.  Too bad he doesn't live in Beverly Hills; he could've bought a chin and had it installed over lunch.

Speaking of the upcoming charm offensive, I predict that Assad will try to stay in power by reminding the west of what happens in a vacuum in this part of the world.  Can we afford
another Libya?  Assad knows that Obama can't support a coup orchestrated by the U.S.-trained New Syrian Army.  It would be to much meddling for Obama to stomach, and would also infuriate Russia.  If the New Syrian Army defeats the Islamic State, they will probably make a play for control in Damascus.  However, Obama can't let that happen, and Assad is aware of this fact.  I expect that the New Syrian Army and the regular Syrian Army will actually be fighting side-by-side against the Al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State, Khorasan, and all the other baddies.  Assad may offer blanket amnesty to the Syrian military officers who originally deserted to form the New Syrian Army.  When the time comes, Assad will have many Aces up his sleeve, and will have Vladimir Putin to watch his back.  It's not difficult to imagine Assad making amends with the leaders of the New Syrian Army, and presenting a fait accompli to the United States and its allies.  So from my optic, Assad is in the cat bird's seat.  The chair is a bit wobbly, though.  He needs to continue do everything possible to reconstitute his military, especially the Air Force.  I started this post pointing out the historic ties between the Russians and the Arabs, and I want to end it on a similar note.  Why is Putin so intent on keeping Assad in power?  Because Syria has a bit of land that serves as a coastline to the Mediterranean Sea.  Putin has visions of Russian Navy ships and, more importantly, submarines, having a home away from home in the Levant.  How the Obama Administration deals with this evolving situation will be a fascinating piece of the puzzle.

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