We have just entered the final phase of three, where the intent of the so-called ‘Franco-British tandem’ was to dominate the region without resistance. Originally, after Libya, the French and British accord was supported by the US and it was anticipated that no other actors would engage. However, Russia and China objected and a period of disagreement stoked the beginnings of a domestic political battle into something more serious. The second phase saw Syria’s neighbours engage. The monarchies of the Persian Gulf, Turkey and indirectly Israel began, then came various terrorist factions. This second phase has escalated into a question – what Syria will become after someone wins. That question is now driving the third phase. This phase is by far the most dangerous – it’s now a global conflict and preparations are being made for the show-down with no-one seemingly showing any signs of backing down.
Military analysts from various sources report that US troops are setting up a new military base in the area between Tell Baydar and Tell Tamr in northern Syria. There is speculation that the military base includes an airstrip of about 1.5km and, according to reports, will be able to house well over 1,000 troops.
Defense News is also reporting that the US is building up its military forces contrary to mainstream media reports that President Trump wants all US troops withdrawn from Syria. “The U.S. has a military presence in several key locations, but there are two areas with heavy U.S. troop presence that are being transformed to military bases, according to a military source: The first is located in Al Tabaqah near Al Raqqa north Syria, where the U.S. special forces troops are training.
The increasing military presence of the US-led coalition in northern Syria is aimed at strengthening its influence and countering Russian and Iranian efforts in the region. Officially there are 11 US military bases in Syria but there are now reports that this could be as high as 20.
A Turkish news agency released an online map of 10 military bases located in Northern Syria last July much to the anger of the US. Their infographic is HERE albeit, it is out of date by now.
In the meantime, Washington is also weighing the option of keeping the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group in the Mediterranean Sea “for a long time.” Defence News reports separately that three defence officials with knowledge of the deliberations said the move would be a response to Russian activities in the region.
Again, this appears to confirm on the one hand that a political move is aimed at projecting power in the region whilst on the other leaving everyone guessing if the US military is preparing for further strikes against the Syrian government. This strategy is a dangerous one as it encourages the build-up of forces, equipment and preparations for a wider conflict, which is exatly what appears to be happening.
According to United Nations figures, the Israeli military violated Syrian airspace more than 750 times in the four-month period leading up to last October, with its warplanes and drones spending some 3,200 hours over the country. On average, more than six Israeli aircraft entered Syrian airspace each day in that period. Since war broke out in Syria just over seven years ago, Israeli fighter jets are believed to have carried out hundreds of offensive missions.
Jonathan Cook reporting from Israel makes a good point:
“Israel’s largely successful ploy till now has been to play both sides of the Syrian war – assisting its US patron in keeping Iran on the back foot while co-operating with a Russian military committed to stabilising the Syrian government.
That approach is now beginning to unravel as Israel and the US seek to prevent Moscow and Iran from helping consolidate Assad’s hold on power. The longer the fighting continues, the more likely it is that Israel will make an enemy not just of Iran but of Russia too.”
Tehran has threatened to retaliate after Israel attacked and killed Iranian troops at a Syrian air force base and Israel has made clear that it’s prepared to keep fighting “until the last man.”
The Iranian response — considered now not a question of if, but when — could take many forms, ranging from missiles launched from Iran, Lebanon, or Syria against Israeli cities to cross-border raids from Syria or Lebanon to terror attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets abroad. Israel has taken the view that any permanent Iranian military bases is another red-line and won’t be tolerated.
Vox Political has a report that confirms: “Israel will get the necessary response sooner or later,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson promised on April 16, adding that “the days of hit and run are over.” Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah went further, saying on April 13, “the Israelis need to know that they are in a face to face confrontation with Iran.” Israel, for its part, shows no inclination of backing down. As one former IDF spokesperson told Israel’s Army Radio in mid-April, “We’re in open warfare with the IRGC in an ongoing campaign.”
Russia may “soon” deliver its S-300PMU-2 missile defence systems to Syria, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on April 23 citing two military diplomatic sources.
The S-300PMU-2 ‘Favorite’ is an export version of the Russian S-300 missile defence system. It has the range of 195 km and uses the 48N6E2 missile. This missile can be used against aircraft, cruise missiles, UAVs, theatre ballistic missiles, even against intercontinental ballistic missiles.
According to the newspaper’s sources, the alleged goal of the effort is to assist the Syrian military in establishing a multi-layered air defence across the country.
Russia already has an air-defence net in Syria in order to protect own military facilities, but this move clearly demonstrates that tolerating infringements of Syrian airspace is coming to an end. However, as another military analyst reports: “Israel and its key ally, the US, will likely fiercely react to such a move, which they will consider as a direct threat to their regional military diplomatic strategy.”
The Jerusalem Post spells out their view on this with their headline: RUSSIAN SUPPLY OF S-300 SYSTEMS TO SYRIA MAJOR THREAT TO ISRAELI AIR FORCE. This report states that Israel’s air superiority is at risk of being challenged and confirms that: “Russia has fully restored Syria’s air defence system and continues to further upgrade it.” Its report also confirms that any Israeli pilot killed by Russian air defence systems would instantly escalate the conflict.
Asia Times reports that there is now much greater concern about an escalation into a wider conflict. “Washington politicians tend to project their own fears, desires, and lack of understanding on to others, assuming they will react according to the assumptions held in the Beltway. However, the inability for self-reflection and to stand in others’ shoes so as to understand their perspectives is dangerous – and risks misperception, miscalculation, and escalation of limited military conflict into a larger war.”
The paper also confirms that Chinese troops are already on the ground in Syria to protect its interests. China needs energy resources from the Middle East and requires market access. The US and its allies are using oil supplies as a secondary threat to Beijing (quite possibly in trade negotiations) which only ramps up tensions in the region overall. Various American commanders have openly stated their support for bringing China’s economy to a halt by restricting oil supplies. This forces China into the Syrian campaign and back its allies and its major oil suppliers – Russia and Iran.
“They (America/UK/France) risk escalating their “surgical strikes” into a full-scale great-powers war in the Mediterranean,” says the paper.
FRENCH troops have entered Syria to a US base in the Kurdish-controlled northeastern town of Remelan from their former positions in Iraq, Turkish state-owned Anadolu Agency reported. They are moving across to five US military bases and have provided weapons and military equipment. Numbers are unknown.
Operation Shader was exposed early last year. The operation began on 26 September 2014. By September 2017, the Ministry of Defence had announced that over 1,000 British personnel were engaged in the Syrian theatre.
The Royal Air Force is operating at its most intense for 25 years in a single theatre of operation which far outstripped the UK involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan – RAF jets have dropped 11 times more bombs on Syria than in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The RAF is joined by ground troops. It is not known how many as the MoD have not confirmed. There are reports of British Special Forces having been captured by Syrian government forces – according to the Fars News Agency. The MoD has denied these stories.
British ground troops are embedded with American troops – meaning that the MoD and British government technically do not need to declare there are any troops in Syria. This Guardian reportconfirms the presence of British troops but only that they are embedded. One British special forces soldier was confirmed killed in this same report.
Time magazine – the original Cold War mouthpiece of the American establishment – heralded the beginning of Cold War II in 2014. This much has been evident in the mainstream media. On the other side though, after two decades of NATO expansionism up to the borders of Russia, it appears red lines have now been breached in both Ukraine and Syria as far as the Russians go and it’s time to make a stand.
China cannot see its own domestic growth stall as a result of a lack of resources and also see the region as a business opportunity. Rebuilding will take decades.
All sides are now preparing for the worst and as the tone of the stand-off is about building up military facilities to force the other to back down – all it takes is a spark. The stakes are very high – whoever backs down or blinks now loses.
It is difficult to forecast what will happen next. Many commentators think the stand-off will hold, while just as many think full-blown open warfare on the ground is inevitable. There is no doubt though, the risk for the latter has never been greater and looks more likely than peace breaking out.