by Ghassan and Intibah’s Kadi for The Saker Blog

Or is it the Battle for Idlib? And whose battle? And who is fighting who? And where?

The only thing that is clear about this seemingly upcoming battle is the fact that Idlib has been “used” as a sink hole and dumping ground for all anti-government/anti-Syria terrorists. Such a status quo cannot last.

Ever since the battle of Al-Qusayr and the collapse of the terrorist forces, fighters were sent to Idlib, pending political settlement. This influx continued unabated and even included “deals” between Hezbollah and the terrorists when the Qalamoun region was cleansed. This included fighters who were present on Lebanese soil.

The list of fighters who ended up in Idlib includes those who were kicked out of Zabadani, Ghouta, Palmyra, Aleppo, just to name a few. It is little wonder therefore why some estimate the number of fighters there to currently exceed 50,000. Even a 100,000 figure was touted by some. This is perhaps an exaggerated figure but it would be very difficult to make an accurate estimate.

Five years ago or so, it would have been plausible to think that the final battle was going to be fought for Aleppo, not Idlib. But, given that all fighters were sent to Idlib and not Aleppo, it was a prelude to what is happening now.

So, the question now is, are we expecting a political resolution or a military one or both? And were the fighters convinced by their negotiators that in going to Idlib they will eventually be granted a political resolution or did they go there to perish as “martyrs” in their Jihadi pursuit?

In reality, the situation is much more perplexing than meets the eye. On one hand, Turkey has alleged its total withdrawal from any support to ISIS and, even though the official Turkish narrative is leaning against supporting any other terror organisation operating within Syria, Turkey doesn’t make its position about Al Nusra Front very clearly known.

On one hand, Turkey pledges its tacit support to Al Nusra but, at the same time, the Free Syria Army (FSA), which is a de-facto Turkish army operating within Syria, has made several statements over the last year or so indicating that it will be fighting to oust Al Nusra in Idlib. Their announcements fall a tad short of saying the FSA will be supporting the SAA in its efforts to regain Idlib.

And if the Idlib-based terrorists are receiving supplies, they would have to be receiving them via Turkey, after all, this is the only route they have to the outside world. So on whose side is Erdogan?

But contradictions of this nature are not alien to Erdogan. After all, he is the NATO member who is exchanging sanctions with the USA, buying weapons from Russia, and desperate to join the EU even though he regards the union members as Muslim-hating Crusaders, and has recently expressed interest in joining BRICS.

But America is intent to hit Syria even in the absence of any justification. Apparently, it is busy making a list of potential targets  Historically, when America could not find a reason to attack any particular country, it created one and convinced the world’s media and people of the West that they have a genuine and justified reason. Iraq’s alleged WMD’s are perhaps the best example. And even though Russia has submitted proof to the UN that it is the terrorists who are planning a chemical attack, it is unexpected that the Russian warnings will be heeded.

The situation becomes more complex if we take into account both the American Deep State relations with Russia as well as Trump’s relationship with Putin/Russia. In this US Deep State/Trump/Russia-Putin triangle, Trump is perhaps the meat in the sandwich and any new strike will probably be similar to the one of last April; ie enough to keep the neo-cons happy without risking a high escalation with either Russia or Syria.

I have always argued that America cannot attack Syria with the same ferocity that it attacked other nations. Any full-scale attack on Syria will place Israel under risk of retaliatory strikes from both Syria and Hezbollah. It must be remembered that given that America places a greater priority on Israel’s security than its own, it will always be highly improbable that America will deliberately undertake military action that puts Israel’s neck on the chopping board. Furthermore, at this very sensitive period, any such escalation may justify a bigger role for Iran. It is not likely that Trump will take such a risk, even if by not doing so he will aggravate the neo-cons of the Deep State. To this effect, the death of John McCain is a blessing in disguise that has landed on Trump’s lap during this critical time.

Furthermore, a major escalation with Syria can potentially put American naval vessels in the Mediterranean in danger. America does not know what Syrian defences have up their sleeve or what state-of-the-art defence hardware has been provided to them by the Russians. We have recently seen Syrian ground-to-air defences rising to the occasion. Have ground-to-sea defence systems been upgraded as well?

The previous NATO build-up leading up to the April 2018 assault was accompanied by Russian requests to America not to escalate. The current Russian rhetoric however is accompanied by a reciprocal build-up of their own warships and submarines. Is this in preparation for an impending showdown that Russian knows is inevitable or, is it just a show of force?

Much speculation abounds, and any scenario is on the table, but the most unlikely probability is a direct confrontation between America and Russia; unlikely but a limited one this time is possible; especially if any such attacks can be attributed to errors and/or blamed on others. After all, with its world influence waning, its economic might collapsing, and its military superiority challenged by state-of-the-art hypersonic Russian weaponry that America could be decades away from being able to compete with, America is under mounting pressure to show the world, and itself too, that it is still on top. For this reason therefore, America may go a step further.

America does not need to hit Russian targets per se in order to cross Russia’s red line. By betting on Russian wisdom and the knowledge that Russia will only use force if and when necessary, and even then, it will use it in a measured way, America may take a gamble and launch a relatively big strike on Syria; including targeting some sensitive and key locations.

However, Russia will not even try to manage the Syrian response, and if Syria for argument’s sake, retaliates by sinking an American naval vessel, then what? Will America further escalate or pull back?

In reality, ever since the end of WWII, and even though America has been in a constant state of war with some nation or another, America did not engage in a single war with an opponent anywhere near its own size. Picking on countries like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq is nothing short of bullying. Notwithstanding that America lost its war in Vietnam against all odds, the Vietnamese Army nonetheless did not have the technology and fire power of America.

However, as the geo-strategic makeup of the world reconfigures, as new powers emerge and older ones decline, if America continues to look for wars, sooner or later it will find itself confronting a real and sizeable foe. Unless Russia gets directly involved with America in Syria, the sizeable foe will not present itself in any upcoming battle staged around Idlib. But given that in this time and age a nation does not have to be a super power to possess effective weapons, and because again, it is unclear as to what Syria’s defence capabilities are right now, it is possible that Syria’s defences may produce some surprises. Even Hezbollah back in 2006 was able to destroy an Israeli frigate at sea.

Some voices of “concern” have been beating the drums of panic, insinuating that America will turn Syria into rubble and dust. With America’s soft underbelly (ie Israel) around the corner with tens of thousands of rockets poised to be launched at it if the redline in Syria is crossed, with the upgraded Syrian defences, with Iran on board, and last but not least, with Russian presence, such a scenario is only good for Hollywood material. Such voices which regurgitated the same fearmongering rhetoric for the last five years or so do not serve Syria at all, and if anything, they inadvertently reposition America on top; a position America has lost the day Russia entered Syria nearly three years ago, and on the 28th of September 2015 to be exact.

But the events of the 28th of September 2015 did not eventuate suddenly and unpredictably. They were the outcome of a gradual reversal in technology, economy and power shift that saw a lessening global clout of the West with a concurrent rise of power of leading Eurasian nations. The I-do-as-I-please American policy can no longer be viable, and the most America can do now is to impose sanctions and tariffs on nations that do not follow its directives.

At the end of the day, America has no business at all in Idlib. If America were intent to stamp out terrorism as it claims, it should not stand in the way of the SAA’s push into Idlib; the current global hub for terrorists. Furthermore, using the cliché pretext of a chemical weapons attack, if it happens, is not a justification for the arms build-up in the Mediterranean. And if such a chemical weapons attack does happen, it would be like its predecessors; a false flag orchestrated by the terrorists themselves, under American knowledge and blessing.

In attacking Syria now, America would only be prolonging the war and the suffering of the Syrian people as well as helping the terrorists that it alleges it wants to eradicate.

Any high level escalation that goes beyond the efforts of cleaning up Idlib itself will bring far reaching disaster. After all, as a matter of pragmatic military reality, Russia’s new hypersonic Kinzhal potentially renders all American vessels in the entire Mediterranean as sitting ducks. Such an escalation is extremely unlikely and not one to look forward to in anticipation either, as it can lead to a global nuclear holocaust. But just like the days of the Cold War, the spectre of carnage resulting from an all-out American-Russian confrontation has served as a good deterrent for WWIII not to happen; and it will not happen now either.

Any rational analysis of what is happening in the Mediterranean now clearly indicates that even though America is under more pressure to flex muscle than back in April 2018, the risks of the outcome of a major escalation are not any less; quite the contrary in fact. The real difference, if there is any at all, is that the Russian/Syrian side is now more prepared; should America take bigger gambles.

The most probable outcome of this current bravado is therefore for America to launch yet another tokenistic raid on Syria, one similar to the previous attack of April 2018, all the while, the SAA, unhindered by this show, will move into Idlib, the last remaining terrorist hub west of Euphrates, and what a battle it will be.

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