Russia Is in the Middle East to Halt the War, Not Take Part in the Iran-Israel Conflict

Russia Is in the Middle East to Halt the War, Not Take Part in the Iran-Israel Conflict by Elijah J Magnier – Strategic-Culture

Frequent misconceptions surround the Russian role in the Middle East, and particularly its role in Syria. Many Syrians claim to see Russia attacking Israel or delivering to the Syrian government all its advanced weapons, technology and modern jets so these can be used against Israel’s continuous violation of its air space and invasion of its sovereignty. Actually, Syrians would like to see Russia bombing Israel or taking sides in the Iran (plus allies) – Israel conflict, and delivering the advanced anti-air missiles S-300 or even S-400 to Syria. Until today, all those with anti-Israeli feeling find Russia’s role (in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular) hard to understand. This goes for the nature of its relationship with Israel too, and even the US. We see accusations of “betrayal” launched against Russia and President Vladimir Putin

The time has come to shed some helpful light on the Russian role in the Middle East and look at the recent history of its involvement in the Levant.

Russia in Syria:

Until July 2015, Russia was providing weapons and spare parts to the Syrian Army. Many ships landed in the Syrian Mediterranean, where Russia maintained a naval base from the 1970s. Iran contributed generously to the payment of these shipments and Russia offered weapons at very low cost (half free and the other half paid), aware of its ally’s needs to face the Salafi Wahhabi Takferee in the Levant.

Actually, Russia believed, if the worse came to the worse, the Takferee of al-Qaeda and the “Islamic State” (ISIS) would never be able to control Lattakia where the Russia naval base is situated, and that the central government of Damascus would be able to secure the capital, Homs and Hama, Zabadani and Lattakia provinces along with its (temporarily) allies in the “Axis of the Resistance”.

In July 2015 Iran and its allies decided to retreat from all rural areas into the main Syrian cities due to the impossibility of protecting the immense territories controlled by Jihadists. This is when Iran sent its special envoy in Syria, the head of the IRGC – Quds Brigade General Qassem Soleimani, to Moscow, who later was followed by Admiral Ali Shamkhani, to lay out the military situation and clarify the difficulties faced on the ground. Soleimani met more than once with the highest Russian authorities and explained that it may be too late to protect all of Lattakia from the jihadist rockets and missiles, and that the Russian base and warm water presence would definitely be in danger.

Iran and its allies were able to protect the capital Damascus, the road from the airport, the surrounding area of Sayyeda Zeinab, the borders between Lebanon and Syria from Talkalakh to Zabadani and Tartous. These kept a status quo for the central government and for the “Axis of the Resistance” to keep the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in place and  the military support flowing from the airport and the Syrian harbour into Lebanon.

After long hesitation, Russia took the decision to send its Air Force to Syria in September 2015. Putin was not enthusiastic about declaring animosity to the US in what it had operationally designated as its own playground, the Middle East. The US had invested billions of dollars from its own and Saudi-Qatar’s money in Syria to change the regime.

US Special Forces and the CIA were running training programmes in Jordan, Qatar and Turkey for the same purpose. The UK invested, along with the US, tens of millions to train jihadists in fake propaganda and social media intelligence to attract the world’s public opinion in favour of “regime change” and portray a harsh camouflaged reality: “Even if we offer help to the jihadists of al-Qaeda, they are the lesser evil and Bashar al-Assad must be removed”. There was no strategy or plan to deal with an eventual failed state.

The world went along with this theory and mainstream media played its “dirty share”, drifting away from the essence of its duty and function to inform people about reality rather than take part in the conflict. The whole world was a victim of this biased mainstream media coverage based on an absence of reliable sources. The American doctrine and strategy of using regime change to “promote” peace is clearly counter-productive, and in fact promotes only one thing: American hegemony.

Putin didn’t feel ready to plunge into the Syrian quagmire. Too many countries were involved and the shadow of Afghanistan was still haunting the Russian leadership. However, the “unintended consequences” of the US policy towards Ukraine and its attempt, along with the European Community, to kick Russia out of the country and disrupt its huge economic income from gas selling into Europe was enough to make the Russian bear dive into the Levant.

Putin allocated more or less the existing Ministry of Defence yearly budget for training and weapons development to be invested in Syria. He seized the golden opportunity to move his chess game to make the US to understand that Russia is no longer weak and is capable of protecting its interests outside its territory or comfort zone. The Russian message to the US was clear: if you want to play in our Ukrainian garden Moscow will play in your Middle Eastern forest.

Russia moved to Syria not to win a war but to halt it, to prevent jihadists from having the upper hand and to protect its interests and those of its allies. Russia wanted to eliminate all Caucasian jihadists who joined ISIS and al-Qaeda to prevent these from travelling back home (or recruiting similar back home). It also wanted three more things: to ensure a long-term presence for its naval Mediterranean base in Tartous, for all parties to come to the political negotiation table, and for the US to stop the “regime change” goal. Russia also has in mind to exploit the very rich Syrian oil and gas and protect its gas supply line to Europe.

For Russia – unlike Iran – Assad was not an essential character to protect: it was the stability of the Syrian government that was paramount. Russia was ready to compromise (though Iran was totally against the removal of Assad and refused any compromise on this point) and ask Assad to go and choose another Alawite if that was the price of stopping the war. Moscow’s objective was not to defeat Washington on all grounds in Syria and there was therefore room for compromise and negotiation. Putin was apparently trying to imitate what Yasser Arafat said once: I hold the olive branch in one hand and the Ak-47 in another.

Moscow wanted the diplomacy channel to remain open with the Americans and was ready to play a “soft power” game but not to the point of alienating the US establishment. It was only when Turkey shot down a Russian jet at the end of 2015 that Russia understood how far the US was ready to go to face down Russia and bring its reputation to the ground. Putin refused to fall into the same US trap Leonid Brezhnev fell into when he sent the Soviet Army to Afghanistan in 1979.

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