Friday, September 18, 2015
Importantly, al-Moualem also indicated that Syria would be willing to make an official request for Russian combat troops “if needed.”
Now clearly, it seems likely that Russian troops have already joined the battle and indeed, when the bullets start flying, the distinction between “logistical” support and “combat” support quickly becomes blurred, but through all the sabre rattling and back-and-forth banter between Kerry and Lavrov, both sides are still keen to at least pay lip service to the unwritten rules of international diplomacy which is why before Russia can admit that its troops are actually on the ground to fight, they’ll be a charade where Syria will pretend to be raising the issue with the Kremlin for the first time at which point the Kremlin will take a few days to “consider” things. As of Friday, it appears as though that process has begun. Here’s Bloomberg:
Russia said it’s willing to consider sending troops into combat operations in Syria if President Bashar al-Assad’s government requests assistance.While the possibility is hypothetical now, “if there is a request, it will be discussed as part of bilateral contacts,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Friday. “Of course it will be discussed and considered.”The prospect of direct Russian involvement in the country’s civil war, in which more than 250,000 people have died since 2011, would mark a sharp escalation in President Vladimir Putin’s support for the embattled Assad government. The U.S. has accused Russia of increasing military aid to Syria in recent weeks by sending tanks, artillery and personnel, as well as setting up what the Pentagon says might be a forward airbase near the coastal city of Latakia. Syria also hosts Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet Union at Tartus.The possibility of troop involvement emerged before a visit to Moscow by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday for talks with Putin about Russia’s growing military involvement in Syria. Netanyahu “will present the threats posed to Israel as a result of the increased flow of advanced war material to the Syrian arena and the transfer of deadly weapons to Hezbollah and other terror organizations,” the Israeli government said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.
To be sure, Netanyahu’s Russian visit comes at an interesting time. In the US, the last challenge to the Iran nuclear deal was defeated in the Senate on Thursday, paving the way for the agreement’s implementation. Needless to say, Netanyahu isn’t particularly pleased with The White House’s stance on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and US-Israeli relations have deteriorated markedly this year thanks in large part to the Iran deal. But the Israeli PM is also concerned that Russia’s move to reinforce Assad could have implications for Hezbollah, something Netanyahu and Putin will discuss on Monday. Here’s Reuters:
Western officials and a Russian source said last week that Russia was sending an advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria in support of Assad.The Western officials said the SA-22 system would be operated by Russian troops. A U.S. official, who confirmed the information, said the system may be part of a Russian effort to bolster defences at an airfield near Latakia, an Assad stronghold.Even if Russians operated the missiles and kept them out of the hands of the Syrian army, the arrival of such an advanced anti-aircraft system could unsettle Israel, which in the past has bombed sophisticated arms it suspected were being handed to Assad's Lebanese guerrilla allies, Hezbollah.(Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah)Worried about accidentally coming to blows with Russian reinforcements in Syria, Israeli officials said last week they were in contact with Moscow. But Israel also made clear it would continue its policy of stopping advanced arms reaching Hezbollah.
And let’s not forget that just one month ago, Israel hit targets inside Syria after Damascus-based Islamic Jihad lobbed rockets at a village in Northern Israel. Netanyahu claimed the militants were acting on order from an "Iranian general."
“This is another clear and blatant demonstration of Iran’s continued and unabating support and involvement in terrorist attacks against Israel and in the region in general. This attack has also occurred before the ink on the . . . nuclear agreement has even dried, and provided a clear indication of how Iran intends to continue to pursue its destabilising actions and policies as the international sanctions regime is withdrawn in the near future,” Israel's foreign ministry said at the time.
That came just four weeks after Quds commander Qassem Soleimani reportedly met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow where, according to GOP mouthpiece Fox News, the Russian and Iranian leaders discussed "a new joint military plan to strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad, a plan that is now playing out with the insertion of Russian forces in Syria."
In what looks like a rather conveniently timed announcement ahead of Netanyahu's trip to Russia, the Treasury said on Thursday that any Iranian bank receiving sanctions relief as part of the Iran nuclear deal would have sanctions re-imposed in the event they support Hezbollah or the Quds.
(Soleimani who, according to a CIA officer who spoke to The New Yorker in 2013, is "the most powerful operative in the Middle East today")
So this is the backdrop for Netanyahu's visit to the Kremlin and, as mentioned above, it's complicated by the fact that the Prime Minister is now at odds with the US over Washington's handling of the Iran Nuclear Deal. At the end of the day, one is certainly left to believe that Israel's "worries about accidentally coming to blows with Russian reinforcements in Syria" will quickly evaporate should Netanyahu get confirmation that the Quds are indeed on the ground as some reports have recently suggested and if it becomes clear that weapons are being funneled to Hezbollah, well, then all bets will officially be off.
Credit to Zero Hedge
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Now that Moscow has officially confirmed that Russian boots are on the ground at Latakia and that the Kremlin is actively ramping up its technical and logistical support for the Assad regime, one point we've been keen to drive home is that rebels, "freedom fighters", and marauding, black flag-waving jihadists alike will now have a much tougher time routing government forces and taking control of the country.
After all, battling Assad's depleted army (which is effectively fighting a three-front war with limited resources) is one thing, but fighting Russian special forces is entirely another, which is of course why the US is so "concerned" about the Russian presence in Syria. Put simply: if the Kremlin doesn't want Assad to fall, then Assad will probably not fall if the only challenge comes from various ragtag militias and Islamic militant groups. That calculus obviously changes if the challenge suddenly comes from a US-backed coalition consisting of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, Britain, Jordan, and Qatar.
It's with that in mind that we go to Reuters, who reports that the Russians may have breathed new life into Assad's forces which have reportedly begun using new weaponry and launching offensive strikes on Raqqa (the de facto ISIS capital). Here's the story:
The Syrian military has recently started using new types of air and ground weapons supplied by Russia, a Syrian military source told Reuters on Thursday, underlining growing Russian support to Damascus that is alarming the United States."The weapons are highly effective and very accurate, and hit targets precisely," the source said in response to a question about Russian support. "We can say they are all types of weapons, be it air or ground."The source said the army had been trained in the use of the weapons in recent months and was now deploying them, declining to give further details other than saying they were "new types".Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Thursday Russia has provided new weapons and trained Syrian troops how to use them, without saying when or naming any specific systems.He told state television the government would be prepared to go further and ask Russian forces to fight alongside its troops if needed - though he said there were no such soldiers there now.Activists said Syrian government war planes had mounted at least 12 air strikes in Raqqa, often described as Islamic State's de facto capital. The raids started at around 11:30 a.m. and came in three separate waves that hit eight targets.The strikes hit close to at least four Islamic State offices, including one used by its self-appointed religious police force, said an activist in Raqqa who was contacted via the internet and declined to be named for security reasons.Islamic State imposed a curfew in two parts of the city.
What this seems to indicate is that regime forces are now set to take the fight to ISIS, which could mean that an already fluid situation is about to become even more indeterminate, so we thought this an opprtune time to remind readers that if you're having a difficult time keeping track of who's fighting who and why, you're not alone.
Take it from us, the haphazard collection of foreign forces, jihadists, rebels, mercenaries, and militants is hard enough to keep track of on its own, and the situation is further complicated by ever shifting alliances, divergent objectives, and external meddling.
Throw in the fact that the US has, at various times, trained and inserted a variety of makeshift contingents, all of which (well, with the exception of “four or five”) have been either killed or captured, or have otherwise disappeared into the desert and you have, to quote an unnamed Pentagon official who spoke to CBS last month, “a friggin’ mess.”
Complicating things further is the fact that the Russians are on the ground and building forward operating bases near Latakia and Turkish troops, if they ever get tired of chasing Kurds in the mountains of Northern Iraq, will probably find themselves operating somewhere between Kobani and Aleppo. As for US SpecOps (which the Pentagon swears are not engaged in combat despite what Gen. Lloyd Austin seemed to suggest when speaking to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday), there’s no telling where and with whom they’re fighting.
So, as the confusion and violence intensifies we present the following map from Reuters, which will hopefully be useful in helping to explain who controls what and where.
Credit to Zero Hedge