• Russia alters Mideast power balance by answering Syria’s call for help.
By Richard Walker —
In just a matter of months, the Russian military has strategically shifted the balance of power in the Middle East, outflanking Washington, Israel, Turkey and their Arab allies. The Russian decision to answer calls for help from the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally, has left neocons in Washington and their backers in Tel Aviv scratching their heads. They never expected Russia to assert its right to confront nations that have, for decades, consistently sought violent regime change in countries across the region.
Suddenly forgotten is the threat made in 2013 by Israel and its defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, to bomb any Russian ships transporting Russian S300 air defense missile batteries to Syria to enable the Syrian military to protect its own skies.
According to sources in Moscow, Russia has not only installed S300 missiles in Syria, but has added to Syrian air defense capabilities by incorporating an unknown quantity of the upgraded variant of the missiles, sometimes referred to as S400s. The newer missile has been described by experts as a “scary weapon” and is used to protect Russian airspace. S400s were apparently installed in recent weeks to ensure even greater protection as Russia adds more hardware to the growing arsenal it is using to take the war to the Islamic State (ISIS) and other extreme Islamic
The way in which Russia has moved so quickly to attack ISIS with a staggering array of weapons from the air and from ships at sea has confounded many military watchers in the West who had grown to believe Russia had a decrepit military. That view changed the moment two small Russian naval vessels in the Caspian hit ISIS targets in Syria 1,000 miles away with cruise missiles.
But the most impressive element of the Russian presence in Syria is the electronic net Russia has established over Syria and the region, using satellites, high-flying aircraft, and drones, and the electronic warfare capabilities of frigates and cruisers it moved into the Mediterranean, some of them armed with S400 batteries carrying up to 60 missiles.
Russia can now see all military activity in the air and on land in the region, a fact that troubles Israel and Turkey, two countries that have consistently invaded Syrian airspace and attacked Syrian military positions. Israel in particular has to be concerned because the Russian air defenses now in place can detect and eliminate any threat. Boasts that Israel could use stealth aircraft to breach Russian defenses around Syria fail to take into account that Israel has never been able to test S300 or S400 capabilities. Therefore, Israeli pilots would be taking a massive risk launching attacks and even greater risks if an attack caused Russian casualties. In such an eventually, Russia has made it clear it would retaliate.
As this writer has pointed out in previous articles, Israel has been put on notice by Russian nationalist President Vladimir Putin that Moscow will not permit Israeli planes to attack Syrian military positions. The same message was conveyed to the Turks. It was also pointed out in past articles that Russia has positioned elements of its special forces in Syria. Those include units from Spetsgruppa A, B, and C. The latter specializes in seizing high-value targets.
Contrary to mass media reports, there is no Zaslon unit in Syria. Zaslon is in fact an armed radar system used to protect fixed military sites. There are also no Cuban soldiers driving Russian tanks in Syria. That was a recent lie that found its way into the news programs of major news outlets.
One of the noticeable aspects of Russia’s proactive war against ISIS and militias funded by the Saudis and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is that Washington has toned down its anti-Russian rhetoric, realizing that Russia is determined to eradicate the threat from ISIS and bolster the Syrian government.
In intelligence circles in Europe there are suspicions that Washington has begun working secretly with Russia, even down to planning special forces operations to seize or eliminate the ISIS leadership.
This newspaper revealed some time ago that such a strategy was proposed by Putin in talks with President Barack Hussein Obama.
None of this has stopped members of Congress from calling for more support for Syrian groups trained and armed by the CIA and the Pentagon. Moves may be afoot, however, to set aside that policy in favor of adopting Russia’s uncompromising strategy of targeting all extreme Islamist elements. Russia’s concern is that if ISIS is not stopped it will move into Central Asia. Russian intelligence reports suggest that is already happening.
One thing is certain. The balance of power in the Middle East has been altered dramatically, and those who doubted Russia’s commitment or its ability to take the fight to ISIS have been proved wrong.
The Iraqi leadership is watching closely and is prepared to allow Russia to expand its campaign against ISIS into Iraq. It would prefer if Washington would join Moscow as an equal partner in the war against ISIS on all fronts.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.