Russia means business in Syria. Within a week of launching airstrikes against rebel positions in Syria, Russian warships in the Caspian Sea on Wednesday fired 26 missiles, targeting what Moscow called terrorist positions. But the United States and its allies instead of hailing the Russian action are denouncing it, saying Russia is targeting the good rebels. No good rebel or bad rebel, a terrorist is a terrorist in the Russian eye.
With the 9/11 terror attacks, a worldview gained currency that the monopoly of organised violence should be only with the State and any other group taking arms to pursue its political goals should be treated as a terrorist organisation and effectively dealt with. But self-centred states which are into power games make the rules and then bend the rules. They now say there are terrorists and there are freedom fighters. However, for them, the Palestinians fighting for freedom of their country are terrorists.
So, now we have good rebels and bad rebels or good terrorists and bad terrorists. As the discourse persists in the media, we forget that the first casualty in a war is the truth.
Listen to international news channels churning out breaking news from Syria, especially after the Russian military intervention. Couched in carefully crafted words are attempts to resurrect the Free Syrian Army that had been long forgotten in the Syrian war and promote it as good guys who fight President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. In the early days of the civil war, the FSA was known for its barbarity. It was an FSA rebel who shocked the world by eating the liver of a Syrian soldier after he was killed. Yet its atrocities did not attract the same levels of opprobrium as those committed by the Assad’s regime. There is little difference between the FSA and the ISIS. The rules of the savage game in Syria dictate that you win or you die, there is no middle ground. The adage ‘my enemy’s enemy is my enemy’ has been blasted in Syria. In Syria, it is ‘my enemy’s enemy is sometimes my enemy and sometimes my friend and sometimes neither’.
The Free Syrian Army fights the government troops. The ISIS also fights the government troops. But the ISIS also fights the FSA and other rival rebel groups. This is a clear case of my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.
The United States and its Middle Eastern allies regard Assad as an enemy. The FSA and its allied groups fight Assad’s forces. In this case, my enemy’s enemy is my friend. But ISIS which also fights the Syrian troops is still an enemy.
The Russians and the Iranians support the Assad regime and take on ISIS targets. The US and its allies also attack ISIS targets. But the US and its allies cry foul when the Russians hit ISIS and FSA targets. This is a case of my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend. In fact, the US and its allies with their anti-Russia stance appear as friends of ISIS.
The lightning speed with which Russia moved in Syria took the Americans by surprise. President Obama who has given the Americans the impression that he is fighting ISIS, had to say the US would work closely with Russia and Iran to eliminate the terror group.
But, when Russia in another surprise move this Wednesday launched missile attacks from ships anchored 1,500 kilometres away, the US began to realise Russia’s true intention. It is to protect the Assad regime, which the US seeks to oust. When the Russian missiles fell on rebel positions in Syria, Washington said it is a costly mistake.
With the Syrian equation beginning to change in favour of Assad after the Russian intervention, the US and its allies are now mounting pressure on Russia. This week, what could be easily dismissed as a non-issue or a genuine mistake when a Russian fighter jet strayed into Turkish airspace was blown out of proportion in the Western media which made it look like as if Russia had attacked Turkey, a Nato member. This was followed by reports Russia was going after largely FSA targets. Heaping more criticism on the Russians, the Western media say civilians, including children are being killed in Russian air attacks.
But these allegations against Russia mysteriously disappeared the moment the United States military came under fire for bombing a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing patients and Médecins Sans Frontières volunteers.
Unruffled, Russia continues its war in Syria. Russia wants to finish the Syrian war and finish it fast.
But Russia felt it had to act decisively. If Assad falls and a government supportive of the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey is set up, Middle Eastern oil and gas will go to Europe through new pipelines via Syria and Turkey. This will end Russia’s dominance in the European oil market and diminish its political and economic clout.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB spy chief, is a great strategist. He has been working behind-the-scenes with the Iranians since the crisis began in February 2011. In July, the two countries felt the urgent need for drastic action. Assad was losing ground, the rebels were advancing from all fronts towards the few remaining government strongholds, which includes Tartous where Russia maintains a naval port. At a secret meeting in Moscow that month, Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, unfurled a map of Syria to explain how the situation could be turned into a victory with Russia’s help.
It is following this meeting that Putin decided to enter the Syrian war ostensibly to take on the ISIS, a terror group known for its savagery which includes forcing women into sex slavery, killing captives and destroying world heritage sites.
Russia has now set up two operating rooms, one in Damascus and one in Baghdad. This shows that the Iraqis, who have been fighting the ISIS with little success despite US military help are also on board.
What’s next? Will there be Russian boots on the ground? Will Russia takes its war to Iraq? Already a few Russian military advisors are in Syria, where hundreds of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and some 3,000 Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon are propping up Assad’s forces.
What will be the reaction of the US? Any drastic response in the form of slapping economic sanctions on Russia or Iran may aggravate the situation. If the push comes to a shove, the Iranians may pull out of the nuclear deal and may even go for a bomb at the cost of courting attacks from Israel or the United States. The situation may lead to a major regional war or even a world war. The end result is suffering and more suffering for the people of the Middle East which is already burning in several places – in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Palestine.