Going to War?
Fellow PJM columnist Jonathan Spyer, one of the best reporters on things Syrian, now believes that the tide of battle has turned against President Assad, and that the regime may be forced to retreat to a rump state in the western coastal region sometime in the next several months. If that happens, it would be a stunning defeat for Assad and his allies in Moscow, Beijing, and Teheran, even though the regime might well live on in an amputated form for many years.
The Russians and the Iranians have been arming and funding the regime's Army. We've read recently about Iranian airplanes exploiting Iraqi airspace to smuggle weapons, and there's a busy ground traffic as well. The Iranians have also been doing a good deal of the killing. You'll recall that they started by sending snipers and advisers at the beginning of the uprising--figuring that the same methods they used in the streets of Iran would succeed in Syria as well--and today there are abundant Iranian Revolutionary Guards on the battlefields, thereby violating the regime's strong preference for sending others (preferably Arabs) to fight and die for the Islamic Republic. They are losing a considerable number of them; in the last 10 days alone, more than 45 RGs have been killed by opposition forces, and this does not take into account a significant number of Hezbollahis.
The strategic importance of Syria is demonstrated by the surprising fact that supreme leader Ali Khamenei has given Assad a blank check. The Syrian tyrant has been promised all the money, all the weapons, and all the manpower he needs to survive. The Russians are acting with similar resolve.
It isn't very difficult to figure out why the Russians and the Iranians are going all in: Syria provides the Russians with their only reliable ally in the region, as well as that warm water port the czars always coveted, while for the Iranians Assad's country has provided the operational base for Hezbollah, and a training center for terrorists who killed so many Americans in Iraq.
So when you hear stories about the misery Western sanctions are inflicting on the Iranian people, remember that the regime is dispersing a lot of hard currency and a lot of bodies to the Syrian war. And that comes on top of all the money going to Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and various terrorists and supporters of the Islamic Republic all over Africa and the Middle East, most notably Jordan of late.
The misery of the Iranians, which is real and getting worse, is the result of strategic decisions made by the Iranian tyrants, and their Russian (and often also their Chinese) allies, to arm the mass murderers from Syria to Nigeria.
But few things go according to plan in this life, and in recent weeks some of the most effective Russian weapons have ended up in the hands of Assad's enemies in the Free Syrian Army. Last month the opposition forces conquered "Base 46" in the north, and "liberated" some valuable Russian antiaircraft missiles, the SA-16s, known as "Gimlets." Already, one helicopter and one jet fighter have been destroyed by Gimlets.
The FSA are so pleased they are bragging about their ability to create a "no-fly zone" even if the United States continues to withhold effective military training and support.
But don't forget Khamenei's (and presumably Putin's) blank check: Assad is entitled to use any and all methods to win. No surprise, then, when we learn that even the Obama Administration is "concerned" about the possibility that Assad will deploy chemical weapons against the FSA if push comes to shove. Hillary is warning that the United States might be forced to act (imagine!) if that occurs. Here she is in her finest stern schoolmarmish mode:
I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but sufficing to say that we’re certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur...
I know what you're thinking, and I quite agree: what? Obama is going to war in the Middle East on the basis of "credible information" of the use of weapons of mass destruction? Do Sy Hersh and his loyal followers at Code Pink know about this?
Hard to believe, and I doubt Assad, Putin and Khamenei take it very seriously. After all, this is the same American president who bravely intoned "Assad must go" on August 12th, 2011, and subsequently has done virtually nothing to advance the dictator's departure.