Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Syria. Show all posts

22 January 2020

Escalation and Deterrence in Syria

By Itai Shapira
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The chances of military escalation between Israel and Iran have steadily risen in recent months. Israel has struck Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq; Iran has retaliated, and Russia has done little to actively minimize Iranian presence in Syria while trying to limit Israeli freedom of action. The longer these dynamics continue unabated, the more likely a confrontation between Israel (probably backed by the United States), Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah, the Syrian military, and perhaps even Russian forces might seem. In the aftermath of the U.S. killing of Soleimani, Iranian Quds Force Commander – these chances might even increase. This creates the possibility of an unintended escalation – such as the one Israel had already experienced in the past.

However, Iran, Syria and Russia are rational, avoid unnecessary risks, know how to differentiate between vital and ad-hoc interests, and are sensitive to all forms of American and Israeli power tools. They can be deterred from reacting to Israeli and American actions relating to Syria, and perhaps even from using Syria to respond to the killing of Soleimani. However, rolling them back from preserving their mere presence and influence in Syria might prove harder.

16 January 2020

Russia’s Role in Syria is Changing

By Dmitriy Frolovskiy
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This year could bring challenges for Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, despite it having been at the forefront of efforts to resolve the crisis in the past. 

With the regime in Syria becoming less likely to undergo a reshuffle and Iran reaping the benefits of its wide-scale involvement, Moscow might face difficulties in promoting its vision of a political settlement, while competition with Tehran could become more evident. 

Threats of a military operation in Idlib, unresolved issues with refugees and expanding confrontation in Libya might introduce new twists to Russia-Turkey relations that would, nonetheless, be unlikely to change the stone-cold pragmatism at their core.

Russia could end up at a crossroads between its actual and declared goals in Syria. 

Although Moscow champions countrywide political settlement, it also places a high premium on its strategic military stronghold in the Latakia region. 

Could Syria Become Iran's Very Own Vietnam?

by Seth J. Frantzman

Israel’s new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Iran that Syria will become its version of Vietnam, where its forces will sink in the sand under Israeli airstrikes.

“There’s nothing for you in Syria,” he said during a late November trip to northern Israel. “Whatever you try to do, you will encounter a strong and determined IDF that will strike you.” The Israel Air Forces have already been striking Iran frequently in Syria, with more than a thousand air strikes against hundreds of targets. Israel has also been more open about recent airstrikes, mentioning the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically and uncovering Iran’s role, from “killer drones” to precision missiles.

Bennett appears to want to add to what Israel is already doing. Named Defense Minister on November 13, he has previously been Minister of Education but has encouraged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a tougher stance against Hamas in Gaza and Iranian threats. This is a bit ironic considering that Netanyahu has been one of the loudest voices globally against Iran’s role in the Middle East, opposing the Iran Deal and seeking an arrangement with both Moscow and Washington regarding Israel’s attempts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

6 January 2020

The US Literally Doesn’t Know How Many ISIS Fighters Have Escaped In Syria

BY KATIE BO WILLIAMS

“We just have less eyes on the ground to know for sure what is happening,” said one senior defense official.

For the better part of a year, Defense and State Department officials have been issuing dire warnings about the risk that thousands of captured ISIS fighters could escape from a network of makeshift prisons dotted across rebel-held territory in northern and eastern Syria.

Now, as the United States carries out a sudden and unplanned withdrawal from the country, senior officials across government say that the U.S. has no real idea how many fighters have already escaped amid the fierce fighting between Turkey and Kurdish fighters that Washington previously backed in the fight against ISIS. 

“Nobody does,” a senior government official involved in the issue told Defense One. 

5 January 2020

Syria Isn’t Just About Syria


Only last week the president was demanding that U.S. generals draw up plans to pull all assets out of Syria as soon as possible. But on April 7, almost as if to force the U.S. not to withdraw, Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian army attacked a civilian population with chemical weapons and laid siege to Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus. Scores were murdered, including civilian men, women, and children. Hundreds were admitted to hospitals with grievous signs of poisonous gas inhalation.

Whether Trump’s public statements about withdrawing from Syria provoked Assad into using chemical weapons cannot be known, and western commentators and politicians should avoid implying that anyone but Assad is responsible. The timing is notable for reasons other than Trump’s recent comments: Almost exactly one year before the latest chemical attack—on April 4, 2017—Assad’s forces attacked residents of Khan Shaykhun using sarin gas, provoking an almost immediate U.S. missile attack on the Syrian army’s Shayrat airbase.

31 December 2019

Russia Takes Over Third U.S. Base in Syria – The Moscow Times


Russian military police have taken over another base that was recently abandoned by the United States in northern Syria, the state-run TASS news agency reported Thursday.

U.S. troops reportedly held the former school building as a base north of Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State terrorist group, until “days ago.” Russian television showed soldiers hoisting the national flag on its rooftop and armored vehicles assembling nearby.

“The unit will be deployed by day’s end and we’ll start patrols today,” TASS quoted Russian military police officer Arman Mambetov as saying.

The Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda news channel reported that special units were the first to assume key positions at the base in the village of Tal Samin. Bomb disposal experts then inspected the site for mines before the main forces entered the territory and raised the Russian flag, the broadcaster said.

26 December 2019

The Syrian Civil War Might Be Ending, but the Crisis Will Live On


The Syrian civil war that has decimated the country for eight years now, provoking a regional humanitarian crisis and drawing in actors ranging from the United States to Russia, appears to be drawing inexorably to a conclusion. President Bashar al-Assad, with the backing of Iran and Russia, seems to have emerged militarily victorious from the conflict, which began after his government violently repressed civilian protests in 2011. The armed insurgency that followed soon morphed into a regional and global proxy war that, at the height of the fighting, saw radical Islamist groups seize control over vast swathes of the country, only to lose it in the face of sustained counteroffensives by pro-government forces as well as a U.S.-led coalition of Western militaries.

Assad now faces the challenge of rebuilding the country, including areas where he allegedly deployed chemical weapons against his own citizens. The question of who will foot the bill is still an open one. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been eager to distance itself from the situation in Syria, highlighted by his abrupt decision in October to withdraw U.S. forces from northeastern Syria. Assad’s allies in Moscow are unlikely to take on the costs of reconstruction, which the United Nations has estimated at $250 billion.

24 December 2019

Israel Threatens Iran, Says Syria Could Become Their Version of Vietnam

by Seth J. Frantzman

Israel’s new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Iran that Syria will become its version of Vietnam, where its forces will sink in the sand under Israeli airstrikes. 

Israel’s new Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has warned Iran that Syria will become its version of Vietnam, where its forces will sink in the sand under Israeli airstrikes.

“There’s nothing for you in Syria,” he said during a late November trip to northern Israel. “Whatever you try to do, you will encounter a strong and determined IDF that will strike you.” The Israel Air Forces have already been striking Iran frequently in Syria, with more than a thousand air strikes against hundreds of targets. Israel has also been more open about recent airstrikes, mentioning the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps specifically and uncovering Iran’s role, from “killer drones” to precision missiles.

Bennett appears to want to add to what Israel is already doing. Named Defense Minister on November 13, he has previously been Minister of Education but has encouraged Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a tougher stance against Hamas in Gaza and Iranian threats. This is a bit ironic considering that Netanyahu has been one of the loudest voices globally against Iran’s role in the Middle East, opposing the Iran Deal and seeking an arrangement with both Moscow and Washington regarding Israel’s attempts to prevent Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

18 December 2019

How Syria Became The Centerpiece Of Russia's Middle East Strategy

by Nikolay Pakhomov

International analysis of Russia’s military action in Syria has been mostly focused on the main goals of the campaign. Reporters, politicians, experts and pundits have argued whether Russia is trying to rescue Assad or whether it is fighting ISIS and other terror groups in the area. These debates are often politically significant, but tend to be quite divisive and do not contribute much to understanding the background, broader context or consequences of the Russian operation. It seems that there could be a more promising analytical approach. Experts can spend years studying doctrines of foreign policy and speeches of decision makers, yet remain unable to decipher how the country in question would act in various circumstances. In this regard, Russia’s actions towards Syrian crisis speak volumes, providing significant amount of food for thought for those trying to understand Russian foreign policy.

Whether one thinks that Russia is rescuing Assad, which tends to be the Western perception, or fighting ISIS, several things are very difficult to argue with.

First of all, Syria is considered Russia’s ally in the Middle East: President Assad asked Moscow for help, and Russia has stood by its ally in very difficult circumstances. American pundits and politicians, especially Republicans, during the last month have often mentioned that the Russian military campaign represents Moscow’s return to the Middle East. According to these statements, Moscow has been absent in the area since Anwar Sadat switched Egypt’s loyalty from the Soviet Union to the United States. It is far from the truth.

17 December 2019

What can we learn from the escalating Israeli raids in Syria?

Eyal Tsir Cohen and Kevin Huggard

On Wednesday afternoon, an Iranian ammunition depot in Al-Bukamal, Syria was hit by an airstrike. This attack comes after Israel reportedly conducted four air strikes in Syria between November 12 and November 20, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. While Israel has reportedly carried out thousands of strikes in Syria and neighboring Iraq in recent years, the frequency, intensity, and toll of these recent attacks are unprecedented.

The last month marks a peak in Israel’s war against Iran’s presence in Syria. Air strikes have targeted advanced air defense systems, surface-to-air missiles, reconnaissance sites, and warehouses, among other targets. Notably, the attacks carried out late on the night of November 20 hit the “Glass House,” the nickname given to the headquarters of Iran’s Quds Force in Syria at Damascus International Airport. The choice of this target, an important symbol of Iran’s presence and regular stopping point for Iranian VIPs in Syria, highlights this shift in Israel’s security policy.

There are a couple reasons for this shift. First, Israel has come to see that Iran is not forsaking its project in Syria, and further may be pursuing more sophisticated means of threatening Israel’s northern border. This week’s report that Iran is moving missiles into Iraq only reinforces this perception. Beyond this, Iran was bold enough not just to build its forces there but to deploy them by firing four rockets at civilian targets in Israel. For Israel, this crossed a red line.

11 December 2019

Understanding Russia's Intervention in Syria

by Samuel Charap, Elina Treyger, Edward Geist

Research Questions

What were the key factors that led to the Russian decision to intervene in Syria in 2015?

What were the drivers of the recent smaller-scale Russian interventions in conflicts such as Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and Syria itself before 2015?

Where and under what conditions could Russia intervene in other civil conflicts outside of post-Soviet Eurasia?

What drives Russian leaders' decisionmaking on intervention?

Russia's 2015 military intervention in Syria's civil war took many by surprise and raised questions about the potential for similar actions in other conflicts outside of post-Soviet Eurasia. The authors of this report assess where and under what conditions Moscow could intervene again by analyzing the factors that drive Russian decisionmaking on intervention. In addition to the 2015 intervention in Syria, they examine four smaller-scale interventions in conflicts outside of Russia's immediate neighborhood: Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria itself before 2015.

10 December 2019

Welcome to the Era of Wars Without an End

by Cian O'Driscoll

Kurdish forces seized control of the Syrian town of Kobani in January 2015 after a four-month battle with Islamic State fighters. Footage of their triumph was relayed around the world. A global audience witnessed Kurdish troops indulge in raucous celebrations as they raised their flag on the hill that once flew the IS black banner.

And so it came as something of a shock when, in October 2019, President Donald Trump granted Turkey carte blanche to seize territory held by the Kurds. Consequently, what once appeared an emphatic victory for the Kurds has since descended into yet another dismal defeat.

This is not an unusual tale. Victories have also been proclaimed in the recent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, only for violence to continue unabated.

The spectre of these apparently endless wars gives us cause to consider whether the notion of “victory” has any purchase or meaning in respect of contemporary warfare. Having spent the best part of the last decade thinking about this very question, I have come to believe that the idea of victory in modern war is nothing more than a myth, albeit an enduringly dangerous one.

8 December 2019

Oxford study reveals Pakistan is 3 times more dangerous to humanity than Syria


Report says Pakistan has highest number of terrorist bases
Says Pakistan hosts or aids some of world's most dangerous terrorist groups There are significant number of Afghan terror groups based in Pakistan Astudy published by the Oxford University and the Strategic Foresight Group (SFG) has revealed that the risk posed to humanity by terrorism in Pakistan is three times the risk posed in Syria. The report titled 'Humanity at Risk-Global Terror Threat Indicant (GTTI)', says, "Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) pose the maximum threat to international security and Pakistan is placed on top of the list of countries with the highest number of terrorist bases and safe havens."

It said that if one looks at the most dangerous terrorist groups, based on hard facts and statistics, one finds that "Pakistan hosts or aids majority of them". "Also, there are a significant number of groups based in Afghanistan, which operate with the support of Pakistan."

The report has been prepared to discuss security challenges in the next decade and it presents an analytical framework for policymakers to tackle terrorism.

7 December 2019

Rift Emerges in PKK Command Structure over Ties to U.S. Coalition Forces in Syria

By: Kyle Orton

Even by the standards of Syria’s complicated war, October 2019 was a tumultuous month. The contradictions inherent in the U.S. effort to conduct a counter-terrorism war against the Islamic State (IS) divorced from the realities of the underlying conflict erupted into view. Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria on October 6 and effectively green-lit a Turkish incursion, codenamed Operation Baris Pinari (Peace Spring), which began on October 9. Trump then changed course, applying sanctions on Turkey for moving against the United States’ Kurdish partner force, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the political and legal cover for the blacklisted Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (See TM, June 14).

There was a week of fighting, with Turkish troops and their Arab proxies, the Syrian National Army (SNA), taking over the Tel Abyad-Ras al-Ayn zone, an Arab-majority corridor that had formed the link between Kobani and Qamishli—two core Kurdish-majority parts of “Rojava”, as the PKK calls its Syrian statelet.

A U.S.-brokered ceasefire with Turkey on October 17 gave Ankara (on paper) virtually everything it had asked for, ratifying the conquests already made and, crucially, proclaiming a twenty-mile corridor inside Syria free of the PKK, plus lifting the sanctions imposed over the incursion (Al-Hurra, October 17).

6 December 2019

Syria Stands No Chance Against Israel's F-35s And Kamikaze Drones

by Sebastien Roblin
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On January 21, Iranian, Syrian and Israeli forces unleashed a hail of missiles upon each other in what is becoming yet another flare-up of violence along the Syria-Israel border. Afterwards, the Israeli Defense Force released a video depicting unidentified munitions eliminating two or three short-range air defense systems—apparently including Russia’s latest short-range system, the Pantsir-S2.

In fact, the recent raids may reveal improvements to Syria’s air defense forces due to ongoing Russian training and weapons transfers. However, they also reveal Israel’s continuing ability to defeat, including through likely use of kamikaze-drones.

The succession of tit-for-tat attacks apparently began with the launch of a Fateh 110 short-range ballistic missile by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, targeting an Israeli ski-resort on Mount Hebron in the Golan Heights. As the solid-fuel rocket blazed towards to the snowy mountain, it was intercepted and destroyed by two missiles from the Israel Iron Dome air defense system, as you can see in this video.

4 December 2019

Who Are Turkey’s Proxy Fighters in Syria?

Elizabeth Tsurkov
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A small Turkish flag was standing on the desk of the offices of the Turkish-backed faction in a residential area of Şanlıurfa, in southern Turkey. The men in the room, most of them veteran fighters from eastern Syria, were expecting me and did their best to locate a Syrian revolutionary flag in time for our meeting in the summer of 2019. They could not find one. Everything about the meeting, its location, décor, and content, indicated to me that the men in the room were not the ones in charge. They hoped soon to launch an offensive on northeastern Syria, but had no idea when the real decision-makers, Turkish officials, would give them their marching orders.

The creation of the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA), also known as the Syrian National Army (SNA), was the result of a strategic shift in Turkey’s position in Syria. In the early years of the civil war, Turkey aimed to remove Assad from power. Following Russia’s direct intervention in the war, in September 2015, the balance of power decisively shifted in favor of the Assad regime. Turkey therefore adjusted its ambitions to advance a narrower set of interests. At the top of Ankara’s priorities were the aim of preventing the entry of additional Syrian refugees and a desire to combat the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the leading component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella that also includes Arab and Syriac militias. The YPG is a Syrian-based offshoot of the armed movement inspired by the teachings of the imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan that has waged a bloody insurgency against Turkey since the 1980s. Because the SDF worked closely with the US military in the campaign against ISIS in Syria, Ankara watched with growing concern as the Kurdish-led militia gained control over large swaths of that country.

29 November 2019

The Fighting Continues in Northern Syria

by Jonathan Spyer

When President Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeast Syria in October, a Turkish invasion swiftly and predictably followed. The Syrian Kurds were faced with the choice of meeting the Turkish onslaught alone, or inviting regime and Russian forces into their area. They chose the latter course. This appeared initially likely to herald the rapid demise of the Kurdish autonomous authority in Rojava, which had been carved starting in mid-2012.

The current reality on the ground, however, belies this simple picture. The Assad regime is decrepit and lacking in manpower. The Kurdish-led SDF, meanwhile, remains vigorous and strong. For this reason the regime has yet to attempt to establish control on the ground in cities such as Derik, Hasakah and Qamishli, where checkpoints and daily security control remains in the hands of the Kurds and their allies.

28 November 2019

No ‘End Date’ for U.S. Troops in Syria

BY LARA SELIGMAN
MANAMA, Bahrain—Less than two months after U.S. President Donald Trump demanded all U.S. troops withdraw from northeastern Syria for the second time, the general in charge of all U.S. forces in the Middle East now says he has no orders to leave the region. 

“I don’t have an end date,” Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told a small group of reporters in Bahrain on Saturday. 

Roughly 500 U.S. forces will remain in northeastern Syria with their Kurdish-led partners, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to continue fighting the remnants of the Islamic State, McKenzie said during a visit to Bahrain for the Manama Dialogue security summit. Under Trump’s directive, the troops will primarily be stationed in the Deir Ezzor province to guard the region’s rich oil fields, but the Defense Department insists that the mission is part of the broader campaign to defeat the terrorist group.

27 November 2019

Russian troops take command of U.S. airbase in northern Syria


Northern Syria — Russian troops have taken command of a U.S. airbase in northern Syria — and without firing a shot. Russian state media showed commandos staging what looked like a military invasion.

Choppers descending onto the dusty runway, troops taking up combat positions. The Russians are playing up the takeover of the Kobani airfield as a victory.

The former U.S. airbase that served as the main logistical hub for America's fight against ISIS, now with the Russian flag flying above it.

The Russians moved in just a day after U.S. forces moved out, leaving behind barracks, beds, abandoned medical supplies and the skeleton of a gym with weights removed, to render it useless.Russians have taken command of the Kobani airfield in northern Syria. The same can't be said of the runway, however. An American-made landing strip now under Russian management.

26 November 2019

Israel Demolished Iranian Republican Guard Corps HQs in Syria in Retaliation for Rocket Attack

by Sebastien Roblin

What happens next? Is a Middle East War possible? 

What prompted this ineffectual attack from Iranian forces?

Like the Ouroboros, the snake that is forever preoccupied devouring its own tail, the side-show war between Israel and Iranian forces in Syria seemingly stretches out into an infinite series of violent affronts repaid in kind.

Since 2013, Iran has built up a military presence in Syria not only to combat rebels opposing the Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad, but to build up a military infrastructure that could pressure Israel, including by transferring arms to proxies like Hezbollah. Over that same period of time, Israel has retaliated with hundreds of airstrikes blasting the Iranian bases.

For example, in August, Israel warplanes killed two people in an attack described as pre-empting a scheme to deploy a swarm of drones to attack targets in Israel.

Several commentators have connected the November 19 rocket attack is being a response to Israel’s assassinated Bahaa Abu al-Ata, the commander of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with a surprise air strike in Gaza on November 12. The same day, Syria reported a reported missile attack on the home of another PIL leader living in Damascus named Akram al-Ajouri, killing his son and one bystander.