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Advantage Assad After Five Years of War in Syria – Selcan Hacaoglu/Bloomberg Business

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After five years of war and a quarter-million dead, President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies now have the upper hand in Syria, and they’re seeking to drive home a growing battlefield advantage rather than negotiate.

In the past week, the United Nations has tried to get peace talks under way in Geneva, and European leaders met in London to seek ways to halt a refugee influx that’s creating political havoc across the continent. But those events looked like sideshows to the action unfolding in northern Syria, where Assad’s forces — backed by pro-Iranian fighters and Russian planes — are moving closer to winning the most decisive victory of the war by recapturing Aleppo.

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The Moscow-Jerusalem axis over Syria – Geoffrey Aronson/Al Jazeera English

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If Syria is now the Kremlin’s backyard, then Israel is Russia’s much-concerned next-door neighbor.

Russia’s offensive in Syria is paying big dividends, and not only for the coalition assembled by Russian President Vladimir Putin. As a consequence of understandings reached between Putin and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since the beginning of the Russian bombing campaign in September, Israel has become a silent if uneasy partner, along with Iran and Hezbollah, in the energised campaign to defeat the increasingly besieged opposition.

If “Syria is now the Kremlin’s backyard”, then Israel is Russia’s much-concerned next-door neighbour. In the past decades, Israel has evolved an expanded security doctrine regarding Syria that asserts unchallenged control of the skies over the entire country, a doctrine at once complicated and threatened by Russia’s military escalation.

On the face of it, the Russian deployment represents a strategic challenge to long-held advantages enjoyed by Israel. The Russian deployment in Syria, spearheaded by the transfer of Sukhoi 35 multi-role fighters, the installation of S400 Triumf radar/missile units and the signing of a status of forces agreement, confers upon Russia powers unprecedented in the post-1967 era.

Russia’s operational presence

These developments relate not merely to Russia’s operational presence. They also represent a Russian commitment to the Assad regime and to the role being played by allies Hezbollah and Iran far beyond any previous demonstration of Russian support in the past half-century.

Three essential features of deep concern to Israel have been affected by the Russian deployment. Foremost among these is Israel’s long-enjoyed and unchallenged air superiority throughout the country.

Not since the war of attrition over Suez in 1969 have Russian and Israeli combat aircraft confronted each other in contested airspace.

Putin’s daring move forces Israel to assess a range of complications, and to think twice before undertaking actions in Syria that were formerly unremarkable.

Russia’s deployment has the potential to threaten Israel’s ability not only to fly unmolested in Syrian skies but also to take large-scale military measures in Syria such as the 2007 destruction of the Syrian nuclear site near Deir ez-Zor.

Russia is also positioned to threaten and disrupt Israeli attacks on arms depots destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon, force and border protection actions along the Golan frontier and, last but not least, pinpoint operations against individuals like the assassination of Jihad Mughniyeh one year ago.

The deployment of S400 system is another key anchor of the Russian deployment and, like Russian aircraft, it represents not only evidence of the changed operating environment but also a potential challenge to Israel’s security doctrine on its northern frontier.

With a range of 400km, the S400 can “see” all the way to Tel Aviv and beyond, not to mention the Golan frontier. Israel’s air force operations throughout this sector are now transparent to Russia. But it is far less likely that Russia’s allies in the joint operations room shared with the Syrian army, Hezbollah and Iran’s IRGC, are privy to this data.

A Jerusalem-Moscow axis

Given the capabilities introduced by Russia, and the possible advantage Syria, Iran and Hezbollah might enjoy as a result, it is no surprise that Netanyahu jumped on a plane for Moscow literally moments after the Russian deployment was announced in September.

His critical mission was twofold – to win assurances that Russia would not interfere in the existing rules of the game that enable Israel to undertake at will missions in sovereign Syrian airspace against Syrian, Hezbollah, and Iranian targets, and to make operational arrangements to reflect these understandings.

The arrangements reached since September between Israel and Russia are of a different order from the protocols established between Washington and Moscow. The latter are restricted to “deconfliction”, while the favoured description of the Jerusalem-Moscow axis is a more expansive “coordination”.

By all accounts the top-level diplomatic and operational efforts between Israel and Russia have succeeded.

Netanyahu and Putin met in Paris less than a week after the Turkish Air Force on November 24 downed a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 over the Syrian-Turkish border – the first such incident between a NATO country and Russia in the post-World War II era, and one that highlighted, in Tel Aviv as elsewhere, the troubling uncertainty of this new era.

Netanyahu explained to Putin that “the events of recent days prove the importance of our coordination, our deconfliction mechanisms, our attempts to cooperate with each other to prevent unnecessary accidents and tragedies, and I believe that we’ve been successful.”

At a January 15 news conference, Netanyahu confirmed that Russia and Israel “acknowledge the fact of each other’s special interests and plan to do so [in order that] this coordination and absence of confrontation continue”.

Other bitter conflicts

The Russian security umbrella over Syria enables the bombing campaign against the opposition, but it also has the potential to more broadly dampen the potential for other bitter conflicts.

This has been the case with the operations of the Syrian air force, which, now outfitted with more modern Russian supplied hardware, routinely flies missions alongside Russian aircraft in the south and elsewhere, under Israel’s watchful eye to be sure, but less concerned than in the past about an Israeli attack.

The current Russian-led offensive in the south around Deraa, perhaps more than the “deconfliction” protocols separating the Israeli and Russian air forces, has the potential to challenge what Israel’s defense minister Moshe Ya’alon has described as “an open channel [with Russia] for coordination in order to prevent misunderstandings” and to complicate the shared Israel and Russian preference for a successful Russian campaign.

Tehran is keen to suggest that the Russian participation in the newly energised campaign around Deraa is meant as a warning to Israel, rather than a demonstration of the advantages of coordination with it.

“The seizing back of Sheikh Meskin can result in the ultimate defeat of the foreign terrorists in Southern Damascus and the Resistance force’s domination over the Southern borders of Syria that will, in turn, pave the way for opening a new front against the Zionist regime,” informed military sources said.

Russia’s entry into the war shows no such intentions. Its strategic presence aims at maintaining rather than upending the existing balance of forces between the regime, its regional allies, and Israel.

Whether they like it or not, expanding Russian control limits the power of lesser players in Jerusalem or Tehran to dictate Syria’s future.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The Moscow-Jerusalem axis over Syria – Al Jazeera English

Appeasing Iran, Then Shortchanging Israel – Editorial/InvestorsBusinessDaily

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Middle East: President Obama got friends of Israel in Congress to support his Iran nuclear deal by pledging he would compensate the Jewish state with military aid.  It’s another broken promise.

The Israeli DEBKAfile news site reports that Israeli officials meeting with the Obama administration’s National Security Council at the White House were denied a request for additional $1.9 billion in military aid to counter new and enhanced threats.  The threats include the increased arms Iran will be able to give the Hezbollah terrorist group with the tens of billions of dollars Tehran will have available from the nuclear deal’s lifting of sanctions.

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Netanyahu and Erdogan flee to the moon

by Taxi

There are two deckchairs on the moon.  Netanyahu is slumped in one; Erdogan is splayed in the other.  A billboard beside them says:  Welcome to the Sea of Crisis.

Netanyahu:  At least you can’t see Aleppo from here.

Erdogan:  And no one can see us crying here either – god – never been so embarrassed in all my life!

Netanyahu:  What the hell went wrong?!  It was such a perfect plan.  We smuggled in so many thousands of terrorists – we trained and armed and nursed them like one of our own – like wacko terminators they chopped off heads of men and boys and raped women and girls – they looted factories and oil wells – our media threw buckets of shit at their army’s name–

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Showmanship: Donald Trump calls Ted Cruz a “pussy”

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A newly married couple took their wedding photos in Homs, Syria’s most devastated city – Adam Taylor/The Washington Post

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Newlywed Syrian couple Nada Merhi, 18, and Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a wedding picture amid heavily damaged buildings in the war-ravaged city of Homs on Feb. 5. (Joseph Eid/Agence France-Presse)

Homs may be the clearest evidence of the destruction that the Syrian civil war has wrought upon the country. The city, which is about 100 miles north of the capital, Damascus, was once the country’s third-largest, with a population of more than 600,000. However, after Homs became a rebel stronghold in 2011, it was hit by a military assault by government forces. The ensuing battle nearly destroyed Homs and left it a husk of a city.

Despite the destruction, ordinary life goes on — to an extent, at least.

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The Clash Rock the Casbah – Wikipedia

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The song was chosen by Armed Forces Radio to be the first song broadcast on the service covering the area during Operation Desert Storm. In one of the campfire scenes late in the 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, a Granada friend states that Strummer wept [from grief!] when he heard that the phrase “Rock the Casbah” was written on an American bomb that was to be detonated on Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War.[12]

Following the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, the song was placed on the list of post-9/11 inappropriate titles distributed by Clear Channel.[13] In 2006, the conservative National Review released their list of the top 50 “Conservative Rock Songs”, with “Rock the Casbah” at No. 20, noting the Clear Channel list as well as frequent requests to the British Forces Broadcasting Service during the Iraq War.[14] Cultural reviewer and political analyst Charlie Pierce commented that “the notion of the Clash as spokesfolk for adventurism in the Middle East might have been enough to bring Joe Strummer back from the dead.”[

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The Pilgrim’s Progress: Russia In The Middle East – Dr. Sanu Kainikara/Eurasia Review

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For nearly four years of the Civil War, Russia was content with providing traditional support through the provision of arms and logistics to its client-state Syria, while the Assad regime battled for its very existence. Therefore, the direct military intervention in September 2015 can be considered a revolutionary act by the Russian leadership.

Although the stated intention of the intervention is the destruction of the Islamic State (IS), Russia has also set other more nuanced objectives to achieve. First, the Russian military campaign is a pre-emptive strike to contain the possible spread of fundamentalist Islamic groups into Russian territory. This action was necessitated by the inability of the US-led coalition to contain and defeat the IS. Second, and a more subtle objective, is to deflect world attention from its proxy intervention in Ukraine. There is also the added advantage of gaining more bargaining power in future negotiations through the increased influence that the intervention will bring.

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Palestinian Attacks Wound Israel’s Reputation – Stacey Shick/Bloomberg View

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intifada girl 169908_600

Palestinians’ recent attacks on Israelis are, at first blush, not an existential threat to Israel. Horrific as the losses are, the future of the state is not in question.

Or so it seems. But in a closer look, it appears that this round of violence is costing Israel more than the human toll. As the Palestinians clearly intend, the renewed conflict is doing serious damage to Israel’s international standing.

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