Hassan Hassan writes: Nearly two weeks after the Russian intervention began in Syria, one could say it has not got off to a good start. Last week, the Syrian regime launched its first ground offensive against the rebels under Russian air support.
The assault, in Hama’s northern countryside, failed spectacularly – rebels affiliated to the Free Syrian Army destroyed at least 18 tanks and held their ground. The anti-government forces had advanced last month towards Al Masasnah, where the battles took place on Monday, and one of the villages that would lead the rebels further into the regime’s heartlands. The offensive was thus an important operation for the government and at the heart of the Russian forces’ role in Syria.
The following day, US officials claimed cruise missiles fired by Russian warships in the Caspian Sea crashed in Iran. And over the weekend, the Syrian army also lost control of “the UN hill” in Quneitra.
But the most significant development happened on Wednesday, when ISIL swept through several rebel-held villages and reached the doorsteps of Aleppo. The advances, made possible by the disruptive targeting of opposition forces committed to fighting ISIL, were the most important gains for the organisation in Aleppo since the rebels expelled it from much of the north in early 2014.
Of course, it is hard to judge the Russian intervention based on last week’s performance. But the developments so far serve as a reality check for early speculation about the scope of the Russian role, such as a ground offensive to expel ISIL from Palmyra. Moscow will be forced to focus its mission on the daunting task of securing the regime’s vital areas. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Iran’s parliament voted Tuesday to support implementing a landmark nuclear deal struck with world powers despite hard-line attempts to derail the bill, suggesting the historic accord will be carried out.
The bill will be reviewed by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, a group of senior clerics who could return it to lawmakers for further discussion. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on key policies, has said it is up to the 290-seat parliament to approve or reject the deal.
Signaling the nuclear deal’s likely success, a spokesman for moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s administration welcomed the parliament’s vote and called it a “historic decision.”
“Members of parliament made a well-considered decision today showing they have a good understanding of the country’s situation,” Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said. “We hope to see acceleration in progress and development of the country from now on.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who helped facilitate the nuclear talks, also praised the vote as “good news” in a message on Twitter.
In the parliamentary session carried live by state radio, 161 lawmakers voted for implementing the nuclear deal, while 59 voted against it and 13 abstained. Another 17 did not vote at all, while 40 lawmakers did not attend the session.
A preliminary parliamentary vote Sunday saw 139 lawmakers out of the 253 present support the outline of the bill. But despite getting more support Tuesday, hard-liners still tried to disrupt the parliament’s session, shouting that Khamenei himself did not support the bill while trying to raise numerous proposals on its details. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, rather than easing as a result of July’s nuclear accord, are increasing over a wide spectrum of issues tied to the broader Middle East security landscape and to domestic Iranian politics, current and former U.S. officials say.
Just in the past two days, Iran has test-fired a ballistic missile and announced the conviction of American journalist Jason Rezaian, fueling suspicions the historic nuclear agreement has allowed Tehran’s Islamist clerics to step up their long-held anti-U.S. agenda.
Washington’s closest Mideast allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are more broadly concerned about Iran’s ability to use the diplomatic cover provided by the nuclear accord—and the promised release of tens of billions of dollars of frozen oil revenues—to strengthen its regional position and that of its allies. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday banned any further negotiations between Iran and the United States, putting the brakes on moderates hoping to end Iran’s isolation after reaching a nuclear deal with world powers in July.
Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, already said last month there would be no more talks with the United States after the nuclear deal, but has not previously declared an outright ban. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The Washington Post said on Monday that its correspondent Jason Rezaian, who has been jailed for 14 months in Iran on espionage charges, had been convicted after a trial that ended two months ago.
While the conviction could not be independently confirmed — a spokesman for the Iranian judiciary said on Sunday that a verdict had been handed down, but he did not disclose specifics — Iran appeared to be moving on Monday to position Mr. Rezaian’s case as part of a broader effort to get the release of Iranians detained in the United States.
On Monday, a state television news channel accused Mr. Rezaian, a dual American-Iranian citizen, of providing information to the United States about individuals and companies who were helping Iran circumvent international economic sanctions.
Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, have raised the idea of a prisoner swap, suggesting that Mr. Rezaian, 39, could be exchanged for people who Tehran says are being held by or on the orders of the United States for violating sanctions. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: A top Iranian military commander who played a crucial role in Tehran’s efforts to defend the Syrian regime was killed in the outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Iran’s state media said Friday.
Brig. Gen. Hossein Hamedani died at the hands of “Daesh terrorists” on Thursday while conducting advisory duties, Iranian state media said, quoting a statement by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.
Although the statement used the Arab acronym for the extremist group Islamic State to describe those responsible for Gen. Hamedani’s death, the circumstances of his demise weren’t disclosed. The Iranian government, like the Syrian regime, tends to use “Daesh” and “terrorists” as catchall terms for all opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
Gen. Hamedani, a longtime commander in the elite military unit of the IRGC, is believed to have directly overseen the organization of pro-Assad forces into groups such as the Popular Committees, which were later folded into the so-called National Defense Force.
These local militias are now estimated to number anywhere between 150,000 and 190,000 people. They are mainly members of Mr. Assad’s Shiite Muslim-linked Alawite sect, while some belong to Syria’s own small Shiite community. The majority of those fighting Mr. Assad are Sunni.
Before he was dispatched to Syria to provide know-how and training to the Assad regime, Gen. Hamedani was a commander in the IRGC’s elite military unit that led crackdowns on Iranian protesters in 2009. [Continue reading…]
Christoph Reuter writes: Just as in Damascus, Latakia and Jabla, increasing numbers of hosseiniehs — Shiite religious teaching centers — are opening. The centers are aimed at converting Sunnis, and even the Alawites, the denomination to which the Assads belong, to “correct” Shiite Islam by way of sermons and stipends. In addition, the government decreed one year ago that state-run religion schools were to teach Shiite material.
All of this is taking place to the consternation of the Alawites, who have begun to voice their displeasure. “They are throwing us back a thousand years. We don’t even wear headscarves and we aren’t Shiites,” Alawites complained on the Jableh News Facebook page. There were also grumblings when a Shiite mosque opened in Latakia and an imam there announced: “We don’t need you. We need your children and grandchildren.”
In addition, Iranian emissaries, either directly or via middlemen, have been buying land and buildings in Damascus, including almost the entire former Jewish quarter, and trying to settle Shiites from other countries there.
Talib Ibrahim, an Alawite communist from Masyaf who fled to the Netherlands many years ago, summarizes the mood as follows: “Assad wants the Iranians as fighters, but increasingly they are interfering ideologically with domestic affairs. The Russians don’t do that.” [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: At a meeting in Moscow in July, a top Iranian general unfurled a map of Syria to explain to his Russian hosts how a series of defeats for President Bashar al-Assad could be turned into victory – with Russia’s help.
Major General Qassem Soleimani’s visit to Moscow was the first step in planning for a Russian military intervention that has reshaped the Syrian war and forged a new Iranian-Russian alliance in support of Assad.
As Russian warplanes bomb rebels from above, the arrival of Iranian special forces for ground operations underscores several months of planning between Assad’s two most important allies, driven by panic at rapid insurgent gains.
Soleimani is the commander of the Quds Force, the elite extra-territorial special forces arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Senior regional sources say he has already been overseeing ground operations against insurgents in Syria and is now at the heart of planning for the new Russian- and Iranian-backed offensive. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Russian missiles fired from Caspian Sea warships traveled more than 900 miles to strike targets in Syria on Wednesday as Syrian government forces opened a ground offensive into areas that include Western-backed rebel factions, officials said.
The bombardment marked the first naval salvos in Russia’s week-old military intervention, and another sharp escalation of Moscow’s firepower in Syria’s multi-faction civil war.
It also adds another layer of complexity to efforts at restarting talks between the Pentagon and Russian commanders on their separate military operations in Syria.
A map from Russia’s Defense Ministry showed the path of the cruise missiles crossing Iran and Iraq — which would apparently require coordination from both nations and draw them indirectly into the Russian military intervention as gateways for attacks.
Like Moscow, Iran is a key backer of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad. Iraq’s leadership has close ties with Iran, but also depends on support from the United States and Western allies.
Such a route bypasses NATO-member Turkey, where previous violations of Turkish airspace by Russian warplanes brought stern warnings from the Western military alliance.
In Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said four Russian warships carried out 26 missile strikes against 11 targets, but gave no other details.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a television meeting with Shoigu, said the missiles were fired from “the water of the Caspian Sea from 1,500 kilometers away.”
Putin added that the strikes “destroyed all the planned targets,” which he attributed to “the good preparation and the enterprises of the military-industrial complex and the good training of the personnel.” [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Iran is expanding its already sizable role in Syria’s multisided war in the wake of Russia’s airstrikes, despite the risk of antagonizing the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies who want to push aside President Bashar al-Assad.
Politicians in the region close to Tehran as well as analysts who have been closely following its role in Syria say a decision has been made, in close coordination with the Russians and the Assad regime, to increase the number of fighters on the ground through Iran’s network of local and foreign proxies.
Experts believe Iran has some 7,000 IRGC members and Iranian paramilitary volunteers operating in Syria already.
Separate from the regular army, the IRGC was founded in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution as an ideological “people’s army” reporting directly to the supreme leader, Iran’s top decision maker.
The more than 100,000-strong force controls a vast military, economic and security power structure in Iran and is in charge of proxies across the region. Its paramilitary organization, the Basij, was the lead force in the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 2009.
Since late 2012 Iran has played a lead role in organizing, training and funding local pro-regime militias in Syria, many of them members of Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority, a branch of Shiite Islam. Experts believe they number between 150,000 and 190,000—possibly more than what remains of Syria’s conventional army.
What’s more, some experts estimate 20,000 Shiite foreign fighters are on the ground, backed by both Shiite Iran and its main proxy in the region, the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.
About 5,000 of them are new arrivals from Iraq in July and August alone, said Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland. He said this figure was compiled through his own contacts with some of these fighters, flight data between Baghdad and Damascus as well as social media postings. “It looks like it was timed out to coincide with the Russian move,” Mr. Smyth said. [Continue reading…]
Alex Vatanka writes: In Washington, Iran’s stance on the Syrian war is seen as intractably pro-Assad due to Tehran’s ideological fortitude and regional hegemonic ambitions. But the sentiment among Iran’s elites is not as monolithic as it may appear.
The hard-liners, to be sure, remain purists in their anti-Americanism. In what they see as an epic zero-sum game, they are willing to tolerate a stronger Russian foothold in the Middle East as long as it costs the United States and its allies, the Saudis and the Turks. They are interested in quick wins and will worry about the implications later.
However, this is not necessarily the prevailing view among the moderates in Tehran around President Hassan Rouhani, despite the Iranian president sounding categorical in his defense of Assad at the UN General Assembly on September 28. While the moderate Iranian voices on Syria have been drowned out over the last four years, Russia’s military buildup might push them to speak up again. There are some heavy hitters among their ranks, and they have a strong case to argue.
Take Mohammad Sadr, a leading Iranian diplomat and today a top advisor to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. In 2013 Sadr spoke against unconditional support for the Assad regime and warned about the damage it could do to Iran’s regional standing. He famously recalled how he had witnessed the Syrian security force’s brutality while serving as deputy foreign minister in the 1990s. Sadr is no peripheral figure in Tehran. Although his claim that “Assad is no different than Saddam” irked hard-liners, his political heft and family ties, including a relation to Ayatollah Khomeini, was enough to insulate him. He embodies the underlying reservations in the Rouhani camp about Tehran’s most controversial foreign policy pursuits. Russia’s blatant power grab has given this camp new space to raise hard questions. [Continue reading…]
Ian Black writes: Syrian military weakness, painfully exposed over the last few months, is the main reason for direct Russian intervention in the war – whether its goal is to strike at Islamic State or, more likely, to take on any rebel force fighting Bashar al-Assad in order to shore up his position and stave off demands that he step down.
Officials and analysts say Moscow decided to deepen its involvement after the fall of the northern towns of Idlib and nearby Jisr al-Shughour in May served as a “wake-up call” about the parlous state of the Syrian army. Both were taken by the Jaysh al-Fateh (the Victory Army), a coalition of Islamist rebels.
Russia’s move was prompted in part by Assad’s other main ally, Iran, which plays a powerful though discreet role in Syria but is usually reluctant to commit its own forces. “The Iranians told the Russians bluntly: if you don’t intervene, Bashar al-Assad will fall, and we are not in a position to keep propping him up,” said a Damascus-based diplomat. [Continue reading…]
Foreign intervention escalates: Iranian troops arrive in Syria for ground offensive backed by Russia – sources
Reuters reports: Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria in the last 10 days and will soon join government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies in a major ground offensive backed by Russian air strikes, two Lebanese sources told Reuters.
“The (Russian) air strikes will in the near future be accompanied by ground advances by the Syrian army and its allies,” said one of the sources familiar with political and military developments in the conflict.
“It is possible that the coming land operations will be focused in the Idlib and Hama countryside,” the source added.
The two sources said the operation would be aimed at recapturing territory lost by President Bashar al-Assad’s government to rebels.
It points to an emerging military alliance between Russia and Assad’s other main allies – Iran and Hezbollah – focused on recapturing areas of northwestern Syria that were seized by insurgents in rapid advances earlier this year.
“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisors … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” the second source said. Iraqis would also take part in the operation, the source said. [Continue reading…]
Nouriel Roubini writes: With the US on the way to achieving energy independence, there is a risk that America and its Western allies will consider the Middle East less strategically important. That belief is wishful thinking: a burning Middle East can destabilize the world in many ways.
First, some of these conflicts may yet lead to an actual supply disruption, as in 1973, 1979, and 1990. Second, civil wars that turn millions of people into refugees will destabilize Europe economically and socially, which is bound to hit the global economy hard. And the economies and societies of frontline states like Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, already under severe stress from absorbing millions of such refugees, face even greater risks.
Third, prolonged misery and hopelessness for millions of Arab young people will create a new generation of desperate jihadists who blame the West for their despair. Some will undoubtedly find their way to Europe and the US and stage terrorist attacks.
So, if the West ignores the Middle East or addresses the region’s problems only through military means (the US has spent $2 trillion in its Afghan and Iraqi wars, only to create more instability), rather than relying on diplomacy and financial resources to support growth and job creation, the region’s instability will only worsen. Such a choice would haunt the US and Europe – and thus the global economy – for decades to come. [Continue reading…]
Neil Quilliam writes: Yesterday President Barack Obama called for a political transition in Syria that would leave Bashar al-Assad temporarily in power. It is a proposal that seems to enjoy support among other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
Though a bad policy, the move should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Syrian history. The Assads — father and son — have learned that if they dig in and wait for the tide to turn, they will not only survive, but prosper. As Bente Scheller argues, they are masters at the ‘waiting game’.
Assad’s back was firmly against the wall when he crossed US President Obama’s red line in the summer of 2013 by using chemical weapons, but then Russia stepped in to save him and embarrass the US. The subsequent advance of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in June 2014 handed Assad another opportunity to sidestep international opprobrium, which he used to intensify atrocities against civilians. Since the US-led anti-ISIS coalition came together and prioritized degrading and destroying that organization, Assad’s regime has, in effect, been let off the hook. This despite the Syrian regime being responsible for more civilian fatalities and injuries than ISIS — at least 110,000 according to some sources.
Although Western leaders may grit their teeth, they are now willing to allow Assad to be part of a ‘managed transition’. Their own transition to accepting Assad is the result of a combination of factors, namely the likely longevity of the civil war and its impact on the EU in terms of refugees, unerring Russian and Iranian commitment to securing the regime, and their own diplomatic shortcomings. Western powers, it seems, have no answers, haunted as they are by the ghosts of interventions past. In short, they have nothing left in their diplomatic tool bag and begrudgingly accept that Russia and Iran are better positioned to impose a settlement; one that includes Assad. [Continue reading…]
Hisham Melhem writes: President Obama’s epic failure in Syria brought Putin out of the cold and now Putin is trying to bring Bashar Assad out of the cold and into a Russian led coalition to fight ISIS and other radical Islamists like Jabhat al-Nusra, with the promise to the Europeans that this new coalition will help alleviate their Syrian refugee crisis, the very crisis Putin had helped in creating by his considerable lethal support of the Assad regime. If there ever was a deal made in hell this would be it.
Putin the arsonist is fading away, and Putin the fireman is emerging as the indispensable leader to fight Islamist terrorism in Syria, and to save Western Europe from those refugees storming its ramparts and trying to enter its rapidly closing gates. Every Russian move and every Iranian decision in Syria scream loudly that the two states are as committed as ever to the survival of the Assad regime.
Before his arrival in New York, Putin confirmed his intentions to support Assad in an interview with Charlie Rose of the “60 Minutes” program on the CBS television network when he was asked if he was planning to “rescue” Assad. “Well, you’re right.” Then he warned that the destruction of “the legitimate government” in Syria would create chaos and disintegration as was the case in Libya and Iraq, in a clear jab against American interventions in those two states. “And there is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform.”
The false narrative of the Obama administration, and some European countries and a growing number of analysts that confronting ISIS, al-Nusra and other Islamists is the urgent priority now, has played into Putin’s narrative and is beginning to reflect a very disturbing shift towards rehabilitating Assad.
Assad’s regime is the most brutal military machine in Syria, responsible for the killing of more than 95 percent of civilians, according to human rights organizations. Syrians in the main are fleeing the country because of the depredations of the Assad regime. The United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura said it explicitly that it is “totally unacceptable that the Syrian air force attacks its own territory in an indiscriminate way, killing its own citizens. The use of barrel bombs must stop. All evidence shows that the overwhelming majority of the civilian victims in the Syrian conflict have been caused by the use of such indiscriminate aerial weapons.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: For the second time this month, Russia moved to expand its political and military influence in the Syria conflict and left the United States scrambling, this time by reaching an understanding, announced on Sunday, with Iraq, Syria and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State.
Like Russia’s earlier move to bolster the government of President Bashar al-Assad by deploying warplanes and tanks to a base near Latakia, Syria, the intelligence-sharing arrangement was sealed without notice to the United States. American officials knew that a group of Russian military officers were in Baghdad, but they were clearly surprised when the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command announced the intelligence sharing accord on Sunday.
It was another sign that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was moving ahead with a sharply different tack from that of the Obama administration in battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, by assembling a rival coalition that includes Iran and the Syrian government. [Continue reading…]
Hassan Hassan reports: Syrian Islamist rebels linked to al-Qaida have struck a wide-ranging ceasefire deal with Bashar al-Assad’s regime. If it holds, the agreement will in effect cede sovereignty of the city of Idlib, create a de facto no-fly zone, and freeze the conflict in several hotspots.
The 25-point deal was brokered by Iran, acting for Damascus, and by Turkey, representing the rebel coalition Jaish al-Fateh, which includes the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. The deal, which urges UN monitoring and implementation, covers 14 towns in the north and south of the country, where intense fighting along sectarian lines had devastated the ranks of all those fighting, taken a bloody toll on civilians left in the area and ravaged towns and infrastructure.
The accord may not hold, especially now that Russia is scouting targets in the ceasefire zone and after reports that renewed clashes erupted between the two sides when pro-regime forces fired into Taftanaz, a town north of Idlib specified in the deal. But the deal itself and the circumstances that led to it are worth pondering.
If it holds it will be a remarkable development in the Syrian conflict. Rebels are claiming the deal as a strategic triumph at a time when Russia is sending extra forces to help prop up Assad’s regime, and western voices that once called for the president’s ousting are apparently softening. It also follows a three-month offensive by pro-Assad Hezbollah forces to clear Al-Zabadani, a southern city near the Lebanese border. It suggests that, even as the tide of foreign opinion is turning towards him, Assad is so hard-pushed he is willing to accept unpalatable realities on the ground in return for military breathing space.
Sources from Jabhat al-Nusra said terms were seen as favourable to Jaish al-Fateh. The jihadi coalition’s chief cleric, Abdullah al-Muhaysini, also heralded the deal as a historic victory for the anti-Assad forces.
Most important, the agreement prohibits the regime from flying helicopters or planes in certain areas controlled by Jaish al-Fateh in Idlib, even to drop aid and ammunition to fighters on the ground. That deprives Damascus of the air power that has been perhaps its biggest advantage over rebel forces, sowing both death and fear around the country. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: Russia’s expanding military intervention in Syria has the potential to tilt the course of the war in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, leaving U.S. policies aimed at securing his departure in tatters and setting the stage for a new phase in the four-year-old conflict.
Exactly what Russia intends with its rapidly growing deployment of troops, tanks and combat aircraft in the Assad family heartland on Syria’s northern coast is difficult to discern, according to military experts and U.S. officials, who say they were not consulted on the Russian moves and were caught off guard by the intervention.
Already, however, the Russian activity has thrown into disarray three years of U.S. policy planning on Syria, derailing calculations about how the conflict would play out that may never have come to fruition and now almost certainly won’t.
Foremost among those was the expectation, frequently expressed by officials in the Obama administration, that both Iran and Russia would eventually tire of supporting the embattled Syrian regime and come around to the American view that Assad should step down as part of a negotiated transition of power. The conclusion of the nuclear talks with Iran in July further raised hopes that Washington and Tehran would also find common ground on Syria.
Instead, the arrival of hundreds of Russian marines, sophisticated fighter jets and armor at a newly expanded air base in the province of Latakia appears to signal a convergence of interests between Moscow and Tehran in support of Assad.
The intervention has given the regime a much-needed boost at a time when government loyalists had been losing ground to the opposition, and it has been broadly welcomed by Syria, Iran and their allies. [Continue reading…]
NOW reports: A leading pro-Hezbollah daily claimed on Tuesday that the party has joined a new counter-terror alliance with Moscow and that Russia will take part in military operations alongside the Syrian army and Hezbollah.
Al-Akhbar’s editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin wrote that secret talks between Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq had resulted in the birth of the new alliance, which he described as “the most important in the region and the world for many years.”
“The agreement to form the alliance includes administrative mechanisms for cooperation on [the issues of] politics and intelligence and [for] military [cooperation] on the battlefield in several parts of the Middle East, primarily in Syria and Iraq,” the commentator said, citing well-informed sources.
“The parties to the alliance are the states of Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah as the fifth party,” he also said, adding that the joint-force would be called the “4+1 alliance” – a play on words referring to the P5+1 world powers that negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran.
The Al-Akhbar article came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow over the latter country’s major military build-up in Syria. [Continue reading…]
The Wall Street Journal reports: Russia and Iran have stepped up coordination inside Syria as they move to safeguard President Bashar al-Assad’s control over his coastal stronghold, according to officials in the U.S. and Middle East, creating a new complication for Washington’s diplomatic goals.
Senior Russian and Iranian diplomats, generals and strategists have held a string of high-level talks in Moscow in recent months to discuss Mr. Assad’s defense and the Kremlin’s military buildup in Syria, according to these officials.
The buildup is continuing: On Monday, U.S. defense officials said Russian surveillance drones have started flying missions over Syria, and Moscow has sent two dozen more fighter jets to Syria. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Rebels who have inflicted big losses on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say Russia’s intervention in support of its ally will only lead to an escalation of the war and may encourage the rebels’ Gulf Arab backers to pour in more military aid.
Russia’s deployment is prompting a reassessment of the conflict among insurgents whose advances in western Syria in recent months may have been the catalyst for Russia’s decision. U.S. officials say Russian forces are already arriving.
Rebels interviewed by Reuters say they have already encountered stronger government resistance in those areas – notably the coastal heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect – and now predict an even tougher war with Russian involvement.
Some see an opportunity in the Russian deployment, predicting more military aid from states such as Saudi Arabia. That signals one of the risks of Russian involvement: a spiral of deepening foreign interference in a conflict already complicated by a regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. [Continue reading…]