The stiff encounter between the US and Russian presidents at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland Monday, June 17, portends five months of even bloodier and more intractable violence in Syria – up until their next meeting in September. Both powers are set to escalate their military participation in the savage contest which is driving Syria inexorably toward its doom.
Thursday, June 20, Russia said it will honor its controversial contract to deliver S-300 air defense missile systems to Syria, after holding back on delivery in response to strong protests from the US and Israel.
Looming ahead in those fateful months, according to US and Israeli intelligence watchers cited by DEBKA Weekly, are seven developments – none of them good.
1. A long bloodbath in the country will be touched off by the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s second and largest (population: 2.2 million) city. The Syrian army fighting for the Assad regime and the opposition fighting wall-to-wall will throw everything they have, manpower and weapons, into a decisive victory to win the city. Military experts estimate that by late August, Aleppo and other parts of rebel-held northern Syria will have fallen to Assad’s forces.
Two big powers pump in more military assistance
2. Neither side can expect to win the Syrian war outright because both lack game-changing weapons – unless the United States or Russia decides to hand them over.
3. America and Russia alike will pump up their military input in the war up to a point just short of exploding into a straight US-Russian military clash on Syrian soil – or some other part of the Middle East. This breakout point is expected to come in August. American intelligence analysts say their forecast of a clash is realistic after dissecting Vladimir Putin’s comments in his conversation with Barack Obama at the G8 summit. They judged him to be ready to go all the way – no holds barred – on Syria, and describe his attitude as “brutal.”
4. Iran, Hizballah and Iraq will likewise ratchet up their battlefield presence.
5. The Middle East Shiites flocking to Syria, to line up with Russia and save the Assad regime from US-backed Sunni-dominated rebel forces, will overturn the secret negotiating track the US has launched with Iran on its nuclear program (see a separate article in this issue). This track first manifested itself with the election of Hassan Rouhani as President of Iran on June 14.
For Obama, this track is a vital and integral component of his policy for the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. For Moscow and Tehran, it is of secondary importance, because their prime objective is a Shiite victory over the Sunni forces fighting in Syria.
Political solutions trampled by military escalation
6. The Geneva-2 Conference on a political solution to end the Syria war has been thrust aside by the rush of military action. The resolutions reached by the Group of Eight in Northern Ireland were anyway a carbon copy of those reached at Geneva-1 exactly a year ago. Since then, Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand in the war and are putting the rebels to flight on almost every front.
Even the decision to establish a transition government in Damascus is meaningless. The Syrian president has sole jurisdiction over the army, the police and all intelligence and security agencies under the national constitution. The G8 summit abstained from demanding that he step down. So long as he remains in control of all those instruments of power, he is there to stay.
7. The chances are that in the coming months, the ferocity and scale of the widening Syria war will ignite a regional conflict involving Iran, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon – or some of them. It would take only a small military mistake by one of the parties in the Syrian conflict to push Israel or Jordan, for instance, into a response and so activate a chain reaction that could swell into a hostile confrontation.
Dragged into a widening Shiite-Sunni contest
This thinking by Israel’s military planners was behind the comprehensive war exercise, conducted almost secretly, by all IDF ground, sea and air units, and the US-Jordanian Eager Lion maneuver, now in its second week in the kingdom.
The scenario they each rehearsed was a massive Syrian missile assault on Tel Aviv or on Amman, including chemical weapons. Israeli military planners based their assessments on an estimated 300 missiles blasting Greater Tel Aviv. Eager Lion reckoned on 100 striking the Jordanian capital with the capacity for overthrowing the throne of Abdullah II.
President Obama has gone to extreme lengths to keep America out of the Syrian war. However, say DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, his hesitancy and belated military arms to the rebels have put him on the horns of a dilemma. He must either plunge in with both feet, or stay out and let the rebels sink, along with all the positions the United States has established in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.