It’s been a week since the Russian airstrikes began in Syria.
From the Syrian military standpoint this was perfect timing. Morale has been an all-time low amongst the Syrian Arab Army and Hezbollah forces deployed in Syria. Heavy intermixed regular and irregular fighting for a better part of four and a half years is draining to any military, let alone a small country such as Syria. [Source]
Syria is a destroyed country. It is nothing but a husk of its former self. Ancient historical sites that once drew in the tourists have been pillaged and demolished by the Islamic State. Infrastructure such as roads, power lines, and water systems has been set back forty years. Major segments of its population are refugees displaced internally and abroad. Syria truly will never be the same again. [Source]
So one can safely say the Russian air strikes (and potential increased involvement) has been a blessing to the Pro-Assad forces on the ground. Syria has been restricted to fighting one military front at a time due to manpower shortages, giving opponents the ability to take advantage of lightly reinforced government-held areas and outskirt outposts. These Russian air strikes will not only strengthen SAA ground offensives but also support defending forces at the fringes of government control. For the Syrian draft dodgers the Russian air strikes are taken as a form of hope; finally there are other countries besides Iran that want to see a stabilized Syria. Islamists are now being struck by US jets in Iraq but by Russian jets in Syria, leaving only Jordan and Turkey as the only safe havens left.
As for Russia, it has decided to step up and do what the Americans can’t (or won’t) do and that is to try to put the Islamic extremism genie back in the lamp, in Syria anyway. For Russia this is a gamble. Many hawkish individuals are screaming that this will be a second Afghanistan. Undoubtedly Wahhabi Islamists within the Caucuses are fuming at the Russian involvement in the Middle East, and unlike the United States, Russia is within reach of these domestic jihadists. It’s safe to assume Russia probably stepped up domestic surveillance and security in potential hotspot areas within its territory. [Source] After all it wasn’t that long ago when Prince Bandar was talking about how he can “turn-on and turn-off” the Chechen Jihadists. Who knows how much truth that holds… if any… but better to play it safe. [Source]
For Russia has a lot to lose in this intervention. A downed and captured pilot may be a domestic political nightmare. Even though the Russian airbase is heavily guarded and patrolled 24 hours of the day, the potential for material loss of fighter jets in a surprise suicide attack is still there. Let’s not forget how resourceful Islamists can be. It seems over the years even the most blockheaded of mujahids can surprise you in today’s 21st century of warfare. Take a look at the Taliban’s successful attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan in 2012 where they successfully destroyed six harrier jets (and severely damaging two more), a C-130 plane, and killed 2 marines while trying to gun for Prince Harry himself (who was stationed at the base as part of his military service). [Source]
The government of Syria formally requested aid from Russia and Russia replied in the form of airstrikes. Why Russia chose now to help Assad and not earlier is still a puzzle. Of course Russian gains a few things from this expedition.
For one, it’s better to these Wahhabis, especially the Chechens who were imported to the area thanks to Saudi Arabia, in Syria than to have to fight them in Russia.
Secondly this is a perfect chance to test out some military hardware. Not only is this an opportunity to see how well these aerial weapon systems work in conjunction with coordinated ground operations in real life combat scenarios (with a ground force comprised of ex-Soviet and Russian equipment) but also test out the electronic warfare systems against the regional players. Turkey, Israel and Jordan all have electronic warfare units. Air warfare and electronic warfare go hand-in-hand. There is no such thing as a modern air operation without electronic warfare being involved.
And finally to keep Assad afloat, an ally and for some reason one that has had a long history of support from Russia (and once USSR). In the past providing advanced weaponry of all forms, from anti-tank missiles to anti-air weapon systems, tanks to fighter jets, etc. etc. Of course in keeping the Assad government alive so too are the Russian naval base in Syria.
Still one must wonder. Russia must gain something more than that. Especially with the risk it is undertaking.
ISIL is not a stupid player in this conflict. The Islamic State has been able to fool the US into providing weapons and training for the jihad for quite some time. ISIL has also endured a year of strikes from the US and its Arab partners, sometimes averaging to a dozen strikes a day. There have been more bombs dropped on ISIL in the past year than the 5 years in Afghanistan. [SOURCE] But now there is a sense of despair in the air. The difference is the effectiveness of the Russian strikes. Thanks to the human intelligence assets infiltrated inside opposition groups by Syrian intelligence the Russians have been able to get very accurate information on rallying points, command posts, storage areas, and even locations of leadership personnel of these terrorists. Human intelligence provides more accurate data than drones, flybys, signal interception, or game theory analysis. Human intelligence is right there, right now.
So let’s take a look at the actions, potential actions, and events of each actor in this theater of war:
• Expanded an airbase and reinforced it with ground security forces which include round-the-clock helicopter gunship patrols.
• Advanced electronic warfare platforms spotted at Latakia [Source]
• Has created a Joint Information Center (co-ordination) with the organizations that have units on the ground such as Syria, Iran and Iraq. [Source]
• Plans to cull the number of renegade Chechens in Syria instead of waiting for them to come home and cause trouble in Russia
• The opportunity to test out the latest variants or upgrade kits on fighter jets in combat situations for realistic performance data (Su-24M, Su-25SM, and Su-30SM are upgraded variants of their original make design for a modern electronic warfare-laden battlefield).
• Consistently attacking ALL opposition positions, starting with those threatening the Syrian regime first and moving up to ISIL; perhaps in tangent with an Iraqi ground op.
• Mulling expanding its mission into Iraq if requested by the Iraqi military.
• Big international prestige and PR campaign…. If successful.
• The Russian deployment is somewhat an assurance against Israeli air strikes on IRGC and Hezbollah forces.
• Russia has the option to punish Turkey for its support in allowing ISIL to use its borders by discretely (or overtly) aiding the Kurds; as the Kurds have been a US ally since the Iraq invasion in 2003 the US can’t overtly denounce the aid.
• This entire air operation might be a way to bridge the gap between the US and Assad. The US is unwilling to work with Assad and Iranian forces on the ground, but Russia has no scruples in doing so. The US, with its considerably larger air force in the region, can strike while Iran and Syria provide the intel alongside Russia. The US can save face, Russia can save an ally, and Syria and Iraq are literally just saved. (Wishful thinking).
• Syria right now is taking cover to recoup and to play some propaganda cards to try to get as many people on the regimes side as possible.
• Draft dodgers may be incentivized to commit to their conscription due to the positive foreign intervention from a superpower (finally, a nation with high-tech equipment actually bombing the terrorists for once).
• Syrian military morale, which was low due to the never ending flow of foreign fighters, has slightly increased because of the Russian air strikes.
• The Syrian military has been restructured twice times throughout the conflict. First from its old Soviet-modelled format to a hybrid military incorporating conventional and irregular forces to a garrison-style force adjusting for a protracted conflict. [Source]
• Syrian Air Force is freed up to provide direct air support to Syrian Arab Army units while Russian Air Force maintains pressure on the “rear” of the opposition with surgical strikes on command centers, training sites, and storage areas.
• There are some heavy urban battles to come for the Syrian Arab Army which is projecting a lot of causalities (some even suggesting the Russians will provide the SAA infantry-based thermobaric weaponry to help clear our urban city centers).
• News everywhere of amassing ground forces. It seems that Iran and Hezbollah are going to commit larger forces in ground offensives orchestrated along Russian air strikes.
• Iran, under the cover of Russian air strikes, has managed to transfer mores weapons that were too hard to do with the threat of Israeli air strikes. This includes advanced anti-air missiles and converted SCUDs for anti-ship roles. [Source]
• Iran might be committing IRGC battalions in Syria and may be mulling the deployment of greater assets.
• Hezbollah counter-intelligence (or Syrian secret police) units may attempt to assassinate opposition rebel leadership being harbored in Jordan or Turkey. In the past an FSA commander was found murdered, Jordanian government claimed it was criminal and not politically motivated. Others claim it was an assassination. [Source]
• The US currently has a significant number of advisers in Iraq and specifically Baghdad. This includes AH-64 Apache gunships which turned back ISIL when it was about to descend on the capital. [Source]
• Iraq has consistently provided fuel and diesel to Syria as part of its struggle against ISIL. Both Iraq and Syria are plagued by ISIL and other dissident factions.
• Iraq may petition Russia to envelop Iraq in its air operation should events in Syria turn for the better. [Source]
• US support for Iraq is extend
• Right now ISIL is reinforcing towns and cities under its control by constructing tunnels, reinforced foxholes, and other bunkers to ride out the Russian air strikes; much like the tactics used by Hezbollah in the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah. This is to preserve the manpower for any ground assaults. Expect multi-month sieges.
• Probably planning for some type of attack inside Russia proper as retaliation like those seen in Europe. Perhaps targeted on ambassadors or other dignitaries.
• Some forces have retreated to Turkey and Jordan until the situation dissipates.
• Might commit to a PR stunt such as bombing internationally protected civilian facilities like schools or hospitals and blame it on Russian air strikes. Remember the Chlorine gas attack which was immediately pinned on the Assad government, but both the UN and Russia proved was committed by the rebels in hopes of drawing foreign intervention. [Source]
• Convince Turkey to provide high-tech anti-air weaponry (Turkey has been proven to have direct talks to the leadership of ISIL) [Source]
• Human shields can possibly be used in some PR stunt.
• It seems that ISIL has been taken by surprise by the Russian air strikes. This means that the US has been purposely leaving them alone in certain areas.
• The current interim operating procedure for ISIL is to spot when Russian fighters take off from their base and begin warning units. So far it may involve “moving munitions 15 meters underground”, “moving tanks, cars, and cannons daily never leaving them in one spot”, “keeping your engines on at all times”, “be prepared to move at a moment’s notice”, “destroy sim cards of all ‘senior’ commanders”, “stay away from villages” [Source]
GCC-Supported Opposition ARMY OF CONQUEST (FSA & remnants of Al-Qaeda in Syria; Al-Nusra Front):
• These groups are seen as terrorists in the eyes of Russia and have been struck.
• A number of FSA fighters have already surrendered to the government and a larger number has already fled to Jordan thanks to the psychological impact of the Russian strikes.
• Fresh reinforcements, most likely thanks to Saudi Arabia and Qatari money, has arrived from the North Caucasus including Ukrainian specialists and experts (suggesting some new type of weapon system may be soon given to the opposition forces or targeted against the Russian forces in Syria). [Source]
• Right now the Army of Conquest is a conglomeration of forces which include various Islamist factions including Al-Nusra Front, and mercenary forces hired, trained, or supplied by the CIA, Turkey, GCC, or other Western-affiliated actors. They “fight alongside” the FSA. It fights against the Islamic State, Hezbollah, and the Syrian government. [Source]
• The FSA is rumored to be gone, just a media myth. The majority defecting to ISIL. There are only Islamists of varying shades. [Source]
• The Army of Conquest is being coordinated by commanders stationed in operation rooms sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar and hosted in Jordan and Turkey, safe from Russian air strikes (for now….) [Source]
Arab Nations (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan):
• Saudi Arabia right now is being bogged down with its operations in Yemen. Iran may have tipped the scales by offering some sort of material support to the Shia-Houthis now engaged in fighting the Yemen government and its Saudi backers.
• Saudi Arabia is also trying to confront Iran in other proxy wars, including Iraq, Lebanon and potentially Bahrain.
• If the US doesn’t act in time Saudi Arabia will take it upon itself to finance some sort of attack on Russia either in Syria or somewhere. If this doesn’t materialize then Saudi Arabian capabilities are beyond incompetence.
• Qatar will be fronting the majority of the financing for the opposition forces. Qatar has always been the hotbed of international terrorist financing [Source]
• Jordan has been playing both sides. It assisted the US in training a proxy force which would cross from Jordan into Syria, but has also tipped off Syrian intelligence of these forces so they may be arrested or destroyed before doing harm. It has been trying to shift back to neutral. [Source]
• Israel has been informed of the Russian air operation.
• Israel will not risk an air confrontation with Russia. After the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war, secretary-general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah was giving a speech in Beirut right after the ceasefire as a show of solidarity with the people. Israel was denied the ability to launch an air strike assassination against this very important target due to the deployment of French Air Force fighter jets during his speech [Source]
• Israel has committed mock air attacks on UNIFIL before to trigger a response. It may commit the same action against Russian or Assad forces in a hope to draw out a reaction. [Source]
• A weakened Syrian state, now without large stockpiles of chemical weapons, may be forced to accept the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights.
• Israel will continue to provide medical aid to rebel and Islamist fighters in the Golan Height [Source]
• Israel claims it can overcome the S-300 and deal a marketing blow to Russia if it needs to strike targets inside Syria, such as weapon shipments to Hezbollah. [Source]
• Probably the biggest loser of the entire debacle. Not only is Assad going to remain standing but it looks like the Kurds will be in a better position to resist Turkey thanks to their quasi-state-like Kurdistan that intersects through Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.
• Wants a NATO or US-sponsored no-fly zone on its border with Syria to allow operations against the Kurds to remain unimpeded.
• Turkey, being denied further escalation against Syria, has used the Syrian refugee crisis as means to attack the EU by letting them pass through into EU proper.
• Turkey has had to deal with jihadis seeping over the border, with car bombs and other terrorist acts occurring throughout the country. If jihadis flee back into Turkey this could be more trouble.
• A ground invasion of Northern Syria to create a buffer zone for the opposition seems unlikely.
• Russia has accidentally strayed into Turkish air space for a few seconds, creating some chest-thumping by NATO [Source]
• US Patriot missiles mandate expires on October. Are they still in Turkey? [Source]
• The EU is currently working on a crisis plan with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees. [Source]
United States of America:
• The US currently has limited options to the Russian air strikes.
• The US still has a significantly larger air fleet in the region and has committed a ludicrous amount of airstrikes, drone strikes, missile strikes, and other strikes.
• It will suffer an international PR fiasco if Russia can restore some order in Syria within a few months. [Source]
• US along with its allies (perhaps Turkey and/or France) may attempt a ground operation in the North-East part of the country; perhaps to divide the country in some spring 1945 Berlin situation.
• The US can actively arm opposition forces with heavier weapons, risking their proliferation, to deny any Russian gains.
• The Ukrainian operation may be ramped up again.
• The US may be looking to accept any face-saving measure to get out of the Syrian mess seeing the red line the Russians have drawn in regards to Assad. Avoiding major conflicts with Russia as more important than pleasing the Saudis and their secret war against Iran.
• Currently the US and Russia are just starting to work on an agreement to coordinate air operations in Syria. [Source]
• Air strikes are still being commenced in Iraq against ISIL and Afghanistan against the Taliban.
• Chances are both the US and Russia are monitoring each other’s electronic emissions.