ISIS vs. the Kurds so totally dominates our attention and our passions that we’ve failed to notice that the Russians are up to their necks in the fighting on the Syrian battlefield. As usual, our focus is too narrow, and we don’t see the big picture: the global war.
There’s a lot of blood being shed by the jihadis, and there’s plenty of killing by and of members of fanatical religious groups, militias, and armies that hate each other. But that’s not the whole story, by any means. Syria is enormously important to both Iran and Russia, and those bloody regimes are — and will remain — fully engaged.
I’m as hostile to Putin as is Gary Kasparov, but I wouldn’t call the Russian dictator a jihadi or a religious fanatic. Yet he’s on a mountaintop in Syria.
Assuming you didn’t hear about the Russians, start with this, from the invaluable Interpreter blog and the Oryx blog: “Russian Military Intelligence Coordinating Syrian-Iranian Attacks on Rebels, Spying on Israel.” Anti-Assad rebels captured a base, which turned out to have global significance:
Syrian rebels who overran the base have found evidence that the Syrian Army was not alone on the top of the hill. The rebels say that their evidence proves that Russian military intelligence officers were also operating on the base, and appear to have left some of the equipment — and pictures — behind. A video tour of the facility, posted on YouTube (below, click here for a copy) shows that inside the base there is evidence of the presence of Russian “Spetsnaz,” special forces units who were members of the radio electronic intelligence agency of Russia’s GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate, the Russian military’s chief foreign intelligence unit).
That base was a big deal, and it shows us something we haven’t thought about all that much — a major Russian role in the Syrian battle:
(T)he facility was of vital importance for the Assad regime as it was responsible for recording and decrypting radio communications from every rebel group operating inside Syria, making it likely the Russian-gathered information at this facility was at least partially responsible for the series of killings of rebel leaders by airstrikes.
Let that sink in for a moment, and then say to yourself: “but I thought all this slaughter was a Muslim thing.”
It IS a Muslim thing. Too. But above all it’s a global thing, it’s part of the war against the West, in which the two biggest forces are Russia and Iran.
Look at this useful graphic from the Washington Post, showing the influx of “foreign fighters” to Syria. The Russian figure is huge, and does not include the sort of covert actions uncovered by the Syrian opposition. Nor does it include the even bigger number of Iranian forces, including Hezbollah and the foreign arm of the Revolutionary Guards — the “Quds Force” — commanded by the currently iconic General Suleimani.
The mission undertaken by the Iranians and Russians cannot be defined in terms of religious war: that mission is strategic and secular, designed to keep Assad in power. And Assad’s regime, like his father’s, is decidedly a “maverick” in religious terms. Assad’s survival is crucial to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, because if Syria fell into the hands of his enemies, Hezbollah would face an existential crisis. Consequently, so would the Iranian regime itself.
If there is a “religious” element at the heart of the global war, it is anti-Semitism. There have been several outstanding recent essays about the anti-Semitic boom in Europe, especially in France. Michel Gurfinkiel and Robert Wistrich have led the convincing analyses of this miserable revival. This too is global, as shown by the recent turn against the Jews in Argentina, which follows the path blazed by Venezuela under its two recent pro-Iranian dictators, Chavez and Maduro. The Argentinian case is reminiscent of the dark days of the Perons, who threw in with the Nazis during the Second World War.
Then, as now, anti-Semitism went hand-in-mailed-glove with military power and military victory: Nazism’s popularity spread as Nazi armies marched forward, and democracy became increasingly unpopular as free countries failed to fight against their enemies’ imperialism. We should not be surprised at the new anti-Semitism any more than we should be surprised to find Spetznaz forces, Hezbollah, and Quds Force fighters and commanders in Syria or Iraq. It’s an integral part of the global war against us.
At present, no Western country and virtually no Western thinker will even acknowledge the existence of the global war, let alone consider designing and conducting a successful campaign against our enemies. There are indeed Russians in them there hills, but our thinking about Czar Putin is limited to Ukraine, Crimea, and the flow of natural gas to the EU.
We’ve got a very long way to go.