Exclusive: Syrian rebels, including dominant jihadist elements, torpedoed Geneva peace talks by setting preconditions to come to the table. But the maneuver also renewed pressure on President Obama to commit to a “regime-change” invasion of Syria alongside Saudi and other Sunni armies, as Joe Lauria explains.
By Joe Lauria
The Russian-backed Syrian Army’s encirclement of Aleppo, the battle that could determine the outcome of the five-year-old war, has sparked a Saudi plan with allied Arab nations to hold a war maneuver next month of 150,000 men to prepare for an invasion of Syria.
Saudi Arabia’s desire to intervene (under the cover of fighting Islamic State terrorists but really aimed at ousting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) has been welcomed by Washington but dismissed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander and some Western analysts as a ruse.
Iranian Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari told reporters in Tehran, “They claim they will send troops, but I don’t think they will dare do so. They have a classic army and history tells us such armies stand no chance in fighting irregular resistance forces.”
“The Saudi plan to send ground troops into Syria appears to be just a ruse,” wrote analyst Finian Cunningham on RT’s website. “In short, it’s a bluff aimed at pressuring Syria and Russia to accommodate … ceasefire demands.”
But I don’t believe it is a bluff or a ruse and here’s why: It appears instead to be a challenge by the Saudis to get President Barack Obama to commit U.S. ground troops to lead the invasion. The Saudis made it clear they would only intervene as part of a U.S.-led operation.
After meeting Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “The coalition will operate the way it has operated in the past, as an international coalition, even when there is a ground-force contingent in Syria. There would be no international coalition against ISIS [an acronym for the Islamic State] in Syria if the U.S. did not lead this effort.”
Riyadh knows better than anyone that it doesn’t have the military capability to do anything beyond pounding the poorest Arab country into dust, that would be its neighbor Yemen. And it can’t win that war either. But when Saudi Arabia’s ambitions outsize their capabilities, who do they call? The “indispensable nation,” the United States.
President Obama has so far resisted direct U.S. combat involvement in the Syrian civil war despite longstanding Saudi, Israeli and neocon pressures. They clamored for intervention after the chemical weapons fiasco in Ghouta in the summer of 2013. The attack supposedly crossed Obama’s “red line,” (although there is growing evidence that the sarin attack was a “false flag” provocation by the rebels to draw the U.S. military into the war on their side).
Obama came close to acceding to that pressure. On Aug. 30, 2013, he sent out a breast-beating John Kerry, playing the role normally reserved for the president, to threaten war. However, after the British parliament voted against intervention, Obama threw the issue to Congress. And before it acted, he accepted a Russian deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons (though Assad continued to deny any role in the sarin attack).
Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh contends Obama backed away because British intelligence informed him it was the rebels and not the Syrian government that carried out the chemical attack.
Even earlier in the conflict, Obama resisted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pressure to set up “a no-fly zone” inside Syria (which would have required the U.S. military destroying Syria’s air defenses and much of its air force, compromising the government’s ability to battle Sunni jihadist groups, including those associated with Al Qaeda).
Obama also defied the Saudis, Israelis and the neocons in pushing through the Iranian nuclear deal over their strident opposition in 2015. But Obama has not shown the same resolve against the neocons and liberal interventionists elsewhere, such as in Libya in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s new offer to intervene in Syria, the Obama administration has welcomed the Saudi plan but has not committed to sending in U.S. ground troops, preferring instead to deploy some air power and a limited number of Special Forces against Islamic State targets inside Syria.
However, the Saudi plan is being discussed at a NATO defense ministers’ summit in Brussels this week. In Istanbul last month, Vice President Joe Biden hinted at a possible Obama change in position when he said if U.N.-led peace talks in Geneva failed, the United States was prepared for a “military solution” in Syria. (In making that comment, Biden may have given the rebels an incentive to sink the peace talks.)
The talks collapsed last Wednesday when Syrian rebel groups set preconditions for joining the talks, which were supposed to be started without preconditions. (However, the U.S. mainstream media has almost universally blamed Assad, the Iranians who are supporting Assad, and Russian President Vladimir Putin who has committed Russian air power to the offensive around Aleppo).
So, with the Syrian government now realistically viewing victory in the war for the first time, the panicked Saudis appear to be prodding Obama on whether he’s ready to be remembered as the president who “lost” Syria to the Russians and Iranians.
Like most leaders, Obama is susceptible to his “legacy,” that vain concern about how ‘history will view him.” It is an attitude that can conflict with doing what’s best for the country he leads and, in this case, would risk direct confrontation with Russia. Even embedding only hundreds of U.S. Special Forces with Saudi and other Arab troops inside Syria could lead to disaster if they are struck by Russian warplanes.
The Saudis are counting on U.S. domestic criticism to motivate Obama, such as this from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen: “Syria is now the Obama administration’s shame, a debacle of such dimensions that it may overshadow the president’s domestic achievements. Aleppo may prove to be the Sarajevo of Syria.”
Emile Hokayem, a Middle East scholar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote that it’s understandable for Obama to seek a negotiated settlement of the war. “But to do so while exposing the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught and without contingency planning is simply nefarious.”
It is up to Obama to resist such pressure and not commit the folly of risking a direct confrontation with Russia by committing U.S. ground forces to what would amount to an illegal invasion of Syria. It might be in Saudi Arabia’s interests, but how is it in America’s?
Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.
Lest anyone think the Saudis have given up on regime change and instead care about defeating ISIS, this is from the Saudi foreign minister on Thursday (NYT).
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister is insisting that Syrian President Bashar Assad must go to make it possible to defeat the Islamic State group in Syria. He says that “we will achieve” political change in the country.
Adel al-Jubeir addressed the Munich Security Conference on Friday after joining foreign ministers from global and regional powers in agreeing to seek a temporary “cessation of hostilities” in Syria.
Al-Jubeir said his country is working for political change in order to remove “a man who is the single most effective magnet for extremists and terrorists in the region.” He said “that’s our objective and we will achieve it.”
“Unless and until there is a change in Syria, Daesh will not be defeated in Syria,” he added, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
ISIS and all the rest of them are an invention of the West and its allies. The Turks would not be able to send a single truck full of (American) weapons without prodding by Uncle Sam.
The same goes in spades with the story of “chemical weapons”. These were provided to the “foreign fighters” by NATO. It is all pretty obvious stuff and I am disappointed that the various myths created in the mainstream media are still doing the rounds.
Just what is the imperative for Saudi and Turkey to force “regime change” in Syria? Have either country ever been existentially threatened by any actions of the very low profile Syrian government? Of course, the answer is “no.” Syria was attacked from time to time by Israel, but never even responded to those provocations, not wishing to incur further destruction. In fact, Syria even cooperated with the United States in its invasion of Iraq and in its extraordinary rendition program to torture innocent civilians just because they weren’t white Americans. So, what would be the catastrophe for America, Saudi and Turkey if the Assad government remained in power for the foreseeable future? Would it be so bad if it meant we wouldn’t have to fight World War III against Russia? That seems to be the default consequence if we militarily force regime change in Syria by attacking their Russian allies. How is World War III a preferable outcome to Assad remaining in power? I don’t get the logic of King Salman, President Erdogan or President Obama. Are their egos simply too big to ever back down, even in the face of guaranteed overwhelming catastrophe (like the deaths of millions, perhaps even billions)? Does anyone here have any insight into the minds of these madmen?
As I mentioned, Obama’s “legacy” may motivate him not to change his position that Assad must go. But resources may be playing a bigger role here. There is an alternative theory out there (http://tinyurl.com/z9hcdc4) saying that the Saudis and Turkey could settle for a new sub-state, so-called Sunnistan, comprised of parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq currently largely controlled by ISIS. Through this territory they would send Qatari natural gas into Turkey and on into Europe, cutting into Russian gas sales there. Would Damascus, Teheran and Moscow stand for this? Assad refused a Turkish-Qatari pipeline deal before the war began leading many to speculate that was a main reason for powerful regional players to exploit the Arab uprisings for democracy to pursue their goals. An alternative pipeline deal from Iran, Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean and into Europe has sparked Russian (Gazprom) interest. When this war is over, is should be sorted out. Pipeline intrigue can’t be dismissed as war motives all around.
Under this “Sunnistan’ scenario, the Turks and Saudis would invade Syria to actually fight Daesh if necessary if they didn’t agree to this program. I don’t vouch for this theory, but it’s out there.
In the meantime, as the Saudis pressure Obama to lead a ground invasion of Syria, the US public would apparently support such use of U.S. troops, according to this CNN poll in December: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/12/06/politics/isis-obama-poll/index.html
The American public would risk World War III to get a few more licks in on “Isis” (or whomever the president disingenuously claims we were attacking), which poses no existential threat to the United States whatsoever? Or has Putin been so effectively demonized by the mass media and the shameless presidential candidates that Americans are itching for a war with Russia without considering the consequences? The morons just might get their wish. Some might like it. They wouldn’t have to get up and go to work the next day.
The Moon of Alabama site has a summary of this scenario which finally makes a bit of sense.
My understanding is that the Saudis would assemble in western Iraq, then invade eastern Syria from there in their drive for Raqqa. Once there they could be supplied from the airfield the US is repairing and expanding. Presumably the US would assist at least to the degree it has in Yemen. In the worst case, it would be a dominant feature of the Syrian invasion.
I doubt if this will work. Saudi Arabia is not a NATO nation, and I expect a purely Saudi invasion would be decimated by Russian air attacks. But what if elements of the 101st Airborne are included as human shields?
There has been a lot of discussion about how Erdogan is off his rocker. If the US participates in this scheme, a person has got to wonder about Obama’s sanity as well.
What is in the mind of King Salman? Apparently not much, as he’s got advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Which is why Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, all of thirty years old, has so much power. What’s in the Prince’s mind?
I had this explained to me some years ago on a very long taxi ride to Heathrow. What’s in Prince Salman’s mind is not just Syria, and not just this century; what he’s interested in is a war that has been going on since AD 632, when Mohammed died. This is a battle between Sunni and Shia, and the particular circumstances in Syria are irrelevant. Same goes for Yemen. It’s the grand, fifteen hundred year long war they’re fighting, here as well as in Yemen. An existential battle between Shia, led by Iran, and Sunni, led by Saudi. The Shia are trying to take over the Islamic world, and only the Saudis can stop them.
It’s often hardest to predict people who are operating on the basis of a complete fantasy.
But that’s where we are.
Part or all of the reason may be the American and Saudi desire to pump Iranian and Saudi oil and gas directly to Europe without going through or under any country that is under control of the Russians and to thus minimize Russian influence and importance in Europe by ending European dependence on Russian oil and gas for almost half or more of its energy needs (especially in Winter), This would weaken and marginalize Russia further even as it becomes more integrated into Southern and Eastern Asia. Its just one possibility but it connects with US/NATO attempts to surround Russia with US offensive and defensive missiles and the US paid for overthrow of a democratically elected government in Ukraine. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton organized a special task force to study the use of oil and gas as strategic weapons. The person she chose to head the group was the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
The dip in Russian energy sales to Europe might also limit Russia’s ability to support Iran and Hezbolla — Saudi Arabia’s perceived enemies. The current low oil prices are probably already creating more strain on Russian military assistance programs.
Saudi Arabia can handle fighting Daesh , Assad’s Regime or Iran . Its some of the U.S military so called experts who do not understands when the real thing , the Saudi-GCC military moved into Syria is happening . They just calculate the strength of will power and human skills on paper . These things cannot be calculated on paper . It can only be measured when the real confrontation between the Islamic Army and the Nusyairi-Shiite-Kuffars armies meet on battlefield , weapon blazing . So , to the supporters of Russia-Assad’s Regime-Iran , do not be too arrogant . Just wait till next month and wait what will happened .
There’s only logical thing to do at a time like this:
Increase aid to Israel
â€œJust understands it that way.â€
Republican talking points to follow…
It’s a crisis. Western media are inundated with shocking claims that “refugees tell of the horrors of the flight from Aleppo”.
It was July 2012.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city with a population of 2.5 million people, had remained undisturbed during the first 16 months of the mercenary terrorist assault on Syria that had started in Daraa in March 2011.
The Battle of Aleppo began on 19 July 2012 when 6,000 to 7,000 terrorist fighters in 18 battalions, supplied via Turkey, attacked the Syrian Arab Army forces defending the city.
After one week of fighting, The UK Guardian proclaimed, “The US says it fears that the Assad regime is ‘lining up’ to commit a massacre in Aleppo”.
Western media have repeated this mantra on a regular basis for the past four years.
In August 2012, President Bashar al-Assad said “the army is engaged in a crucial and heroic battle … on which the destiny of the nation and its people rests …”
Attacks by terrorist forces caused catastrophic destruction to the Old City of Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. On 26 November 2012, terrorist forces captured Tishrin Dam, further isolating Syrian Arab Army forces and leaving only one route into Aleppo.
By late January 2013 Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil said all supply routes to Aleppo had been cut off by terrorist forces, comparing the situation to the Siege of Leningrad. By late February 2013, Aleppo International Airport was almost surrounded by terrorist forces.
There were no urgent calls from the U.S. and its allies to “protect” the people of Aleppo from the terrorist forces during this dire siege.
Syrian Arab Army forces lifted the siege of Aleppo in October 2013. In 2014 and 2015 the offensive continued against al-Nusra, Al-Qaeda and ISIL forces that have been continuously supplied via Turkey in the north.
On 4 February 2016, Syrian National Defence Forces (NDF) fighters allied with Hezbollah fighters, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisors and Russian and Syrian Army airstrikes, broke the three-years siege of Nubl and Al-Zahraa north of Aleppo. The towns of Mayer and Kafr Naya were reported to have been liberated by Syrian government forces.
On 5 February 2016, Syrian Arab Army forces freed the village of Ratyan north-west of Aleppo and continued the advance toward the border with Turkey.
The terrorist forces that remain in Syria are either encircled or retreating.
That is why the U.S. and its allies are once again screaming to high heaven about “refugees” and “the horrors of the flight from Aleppo”.
I’ve spent the last half-hour trying to make some sense out of this, and have had no luck at all.
Looking at a map, there aren’t all that many places to invade from except across the Turkish border. Unless the US has been secretly moving troops to Turkey, our participation in a ground force is a non-starter. Attacking south into Syria without air support will be suicidal for anybody, so it can’t happen unless the local Russian Air Forces are destroyed. The Turks have the firepower to do this, but the consequences for them would be horrific. If the US destroys the Russian bases, say hello to WW3.
The reflections from my tin foil hat tell me that Turkey is becoming a bit big for its britches – sort of like Saddam’s Iraq did a few decades back. NATO might be setting Turkey up for a fall, and by using the Russians as the clubbing force would accomplish that trimming-down job and also continue the demonizing of Russia.
Repeating myself, none of this makes a bit of sense.
You have to see , the aspect of Islamic spirit of Brotherhood . I am not surprise by the reactions of the Saudi Kingdom to the latest development in Syria . Muslims are expected to react the way the Turkish AKP Party and the Saudi-GCC did . The have the faith that Russia is not invincible . Only Allah/ the God is invincible . So , they do not fear Russia , and they only fear Allah/the God . And Allah is the Giver of Victories . Just understands it that way .
This comment is laughable Hasbara dung issued from the Saudis’ and Turks’ (and al Qaeda/Daesh’s) BFF down on the southern front: Israel.
Nice ‘splainin’, “bin Ibrahim”.
Israel is the player that most fears having Russian military forces next door.
Given the neo-Nazi horrorshow unleashed in Ukraine by Israel’s neocon confrÃ¨res in Washington, Tel Aviv’s angst right now is entirely understandable.
It ain’t the Saudis and the Turks doing the goading. They are the proxies.
“Just understands it that way.”
Supposing what you say is right, how come the Saudis and the Turks, in the name of Islamic spirit of Brotherhood, are so cordial with Israel?
There are already US military and CIA forces stationed in Turkey at Incerlik Air Force Base and at least one other air base.
US troops have been stationed in Jordan for some time carrying out training exercises and running men and supplies into southern Syria. Jordan would be the most likely route for an invasion of Syria by Saudi Arabian forces.
If things go well for the Syrian Arab Army and Aleppo is completely surrounded, the Syrian Government may be able to negotiate a ceasefire and political settlement — possibly involving amnesty for most of the fighters — as they have done in some other areas
If the Syrian Arab Army is successful and completely surrounds Aleppo, the Syrian Government might be able to negotiate a cease-fire directly with the fighters and a political resolution involving amnesty for most of them as has happened in other locations in Syria.
Is there a more repulsive ally of the US than the Saudis? I’ve ofent asked myself – At what point does the behaviour of an ally become so untenable that you just cant bring yourself to continue treating them as such?
There must be a massively high threshold.
The Saudis have nothing on the Israelis for repulsive.
Itâ€™s worth noting that the Russian-led military offensive clearly hews to UN resolution 2254 which states:
“â€¦ for Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terroristgroups, [â€¦] and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Syria, and notes that the aforementioned ceasefire will not apply to offensive or defensive actions against these individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, as set forth in the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement.â€ (Thanks to Moon of Alabama)
In other words, Moscow is not going to comply with any ceasefire that spares homicidal jihadists or undermines UN resolution 2254. Russian military operations are going to continue until ISIS, al Nusra and the other terrorist militias are defeated.
Even so, Kerry has not abandoned the diplomatic track. In fact, Kerry plans to meet Russian Foreign Minsiter Sergei Lavrov in Munich on February 11 for a meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) to discuss â€œall the aspects of the Syrian settlement in line with the UN Security Council resolution 2254.â€
The emergency meeting underscores the Obamaâ€™s administrationâ€™s utter desperation in the face of the inexorable Russian-led military offensive. Itâ€™s clear now that Obama and his lieutenants see the handwriting on the wall and realize that their sinister plan to use proxy armies to remove Assad and splinter the country into three powerless regions is doomed to fail […]
Last weekâ€™s fighting in northern Aleppo has transformed the battlespace and shifted the momentum in favor of the government, but it has not yet dampened support for the jihadists in places like Ankara or Riyadh. In fact, the Saudis have offered to deploy ground troops to Syria provided they are put under US command […]
Turkish officials have denied that they are preparing for an invasion, but at the same time, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has admitted that Turkey will not stay on the sidelines if it is asked to participate in a future campaign […]
While itâ€™s impossible to know whether Turkey, Saudi Arabia or the US will actually invade Syria, itâ€™s clear by the panicky reaction to the encirclement of Aleppo, that all three countries feel their regional ambitions are more closely aligned with those of the jihadists than with the elected government in Damascus. This tacit alliance between the militants and their sponsors speaks volumes about the credibility of Washingtonâ€™s fake war on terror.
Finally, in less than five months, loyalist forces aided by heavy Russian air cover, have shifted the balance of power in Syria, forced thousands of terrorist insurgents to flee their strongholds in the west, cleared the way for the return of millions of refugees and displaced civilians, and sabotaged the malign plan to reshape the country so it better serves Washingtonâ€™s geopolitical interests.
Putinâ€™s Aleppo Gamble Pays Off
By Mike Whitney
Before Russiaâ€™s troops moved into Syria, Anakra still had hopes to create a 98 kilometers wide â€œbuffer zoneâ€ stretching from Jarabulus to Azaz. But now, with Russiaâ€™s S-400 being deployed in Syria it is more or less off the table. The only option it has left is a direct military intervention in Syria, but NATO has imposed upon Ankara the condition that this should be planned in close cooperation with Western experts, no longer giving Turkey a free hand. Typically, even Saudi representatives are forced to travel to NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss its possible actions in Syria.
The front line in northern Syria is rapidly approaching the Turkish border. There is a growing risk of direct military confrontation between the rapidly advancing Syrian army, the Iranian and Iraqi volunteer fighters and members of the Lebanese Hezbollah with Turkish regular troops, should the latter receive an order to start an invasion of Syria. According to some reports, thereâ€™s more than 500 Turkish special force operatives deployed in Syria, who are operating under the guise of â€œtrainersâ€ and â€œadvisersâ€. Turkeyâ€™s General Staff hasnâ€™t had the determination to send more troops due to pressure that Syriaâ€™s government forces are applying on the militants in the Aleppo Governorate. Their lines of defense are starting to fall apart, therefore government troops have taken control of the highway running from Aleppo to the Syrian city of Azaz on the very border with Turkey. The Syrian army has relieved the villages of of Nubol and Zahraa that were besieged by militants for several years. The general offensive is being carried on with strong support provided by Russian and Syrian aircraft.
In the meantime, Washington has only been making promises, for example, it announced that itâ€™s going to send EA-18 Growler warplanes that are reported to possess â€œadvanced electronics-jamming capabilitiesâ€ to an air base in Turkey to try to counter Russiaâ€™s S-400 systems deployed in Syria, while Turkish authorities have been desperately trying to meddle with the situation on the ground in Syria. For instance, Turkish long-range artillery units have been shelling mountainous areas in Latakia. Near the fighting in Aleppo, Turkey is pulling together its armored forces to create a sort of armored fist that should overwhelm opposing forces. Turkey has been redeploying its heavy units from the border with Greece to the border areas with Syria.
But itâ€™s clear that Moscow has finally tired of all the â€œtricksâ€ that Arabs, Turkey and NATO have been playing. On February 8, at 5 AM in the morning, Russiaâ€™s Southern Military District was raised on alert to check the readiness of its troops for combat. Special attention was paid to the readiness of airborne troops and military transport aircraft, the Black Sea Fleet and the Caspian Flotilla, in accordance with the decision of Russiaâ€™s Supreme Commander. Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoygu supervised the training of Fourth Armyâ€™s air force and air defense units personally. The minister said that the inspection was required to evaluate the readiness of the Southern Military District to respond to any sort of crisis and check the readiness of aviation and air defense forces to repel enemy air attacks and protect important Russiaâ€™s military and government facilities.
Will There Be an End to Saudi and Turkish Provocations in Syria?
By Viktor Titov
The Empire Files: Examining the Syria War Chessboard
The war in Syria is marked by a complex array of alliances that the U.S. Empire hopes to command: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and more. To simplify this web of enemies and friends, Abby Martin interviews Dr. Vijay Prashad, professor of International Studies at Trinity College and author of several books including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (2012)