The shipments of advanced Russian materiel piling up in Syria – most recently the six Sukhoi Su-34 advanced strike fighters which touched down in Latakia this week – have attracted plenty of Western interest in Moscow’s military intervention. But little or no attention has been paid to another central part of Moscow’s military plans: the structure constructed for the use of this hardware. It consists of nine joint Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi commands each allotted precise tasks in the running of their combined war machine.
This structure’s importance transcends the purely military; it has strategic ramifications reaching far into the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, and the Caucasus, including the countries bordering the Black Sea.
America’s almost complete disengagement from the Middle East – even after President Barack Obama was repeatedly warned that Russia and Iran would step into the vacuum – has generated fallout, which was well registered on the faces and in the body language of Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met Tuesday, Sept. 28, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
In former interviews as recently as a year ago, Putin looked tense, irritated and uncomfortable. This time, it was Obama who seemed ill-at-ease, while Putin was relaxed and confident with the mien of a man who holds the whip hand.
Nuclear accord was springboard for muscular Iranian-Russian alliance
In the ten days leading up to the summit, the White House and the Kremlin bickered over the agenda. The former demanded that Ukraine dominate the talks, while the latter insisted on the Syrian crisis taking up most of the conversation. They finally compromised on equal time for the two issues, on both of which the two leaders were at almost irreconcilable odds.
To counter Putin’s proactive military moves in Syria, Obama had very little to offer, aside from the widely-spaced air strikes against the Islamic State conducted by the US-led coalition. In his speech to the UN Assembly Monday, Obama hailed the nuclear accord with Iran as an historic achievement, which halted the nuclear arms race and averted a Middle East war. It was obvious by now to his audience that this accord had quickly evolved into the platform for an unprecedented military partnership between Tehran and Moscow, rather than Washington. No one can tell where this alliance is going from there – perhaps even toward a future regional war.
Nine joint commands dig in for full-scale war
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources have the details of how this military partnership works and offer a rundown of its backbone: the nine combined command centers:
- Three joint air force command centers based in Moscow, Tehran and Baghdad, have set up an aviation section to coordinate all the flights of the Russian fighters and bombers landing in Syria or making their way there, as well as the Iranian airlifts of troops and weaponry to the country.
Russian Air Force Tu-154s flew to Syria over the Caspian Sea through Iran and over Iraqi airspace. Did they have Iraqi clearance or did they sneak in under the radar signature of larger planes, as US officials reported last week? DEBKA Weekly reports that the aviation section set up by the joint Russian-Iranian-Syrian-Iraqi higher command obtained the necessary clearance from Baghdad. Just before the first Russian air strikes in Syria Wednesday, Moscow advised Washington to coordinate flights with its Baghdad center.
- Three joint military intelligence commands, located in Moscow, Damascus and the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, seat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards headquarters. They synchronize all joint intelligence- gathering, not only in Syria, but throughout the Middle East. Both Moscow and Iran stay on the lookout for unforeseen situations that might interfere with their military plans.
Such occurrences could be unexpected US, Turkish or Israeli flights over Syria or the eastern Mediterranean. Those commands would expect to be tipped off by Russian spy planes or radar or Syrian and Hizballah surveillance and passed to the supreme joint command to decide on action.
Iranian naval officers transferred to Russian Fleet HQ
- A joint logistical command to coordinate the transfer of forces from Russia and Iran to Syria, as well as the placement of those troops at the different fronts in Syria and Iraq.
This command will operate across four countries – Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria – to prepare the troops for full-scale war, not just a limited ad hoc operation. Large units would be held in reserve to relieve front-line forces; transport laid on to carry them swiftly to battle grounds; ordnance and gas held ready for armored vehicles and tanks, together with a stock of spare components for the different weapons systems. Military hospitals will be located outside the Syrian frontier to accommodate the wounded.
- A joint command to coordinate the operations of the Russian and Iranian fleets. In the framework of this command, Iranian naval officers have been based for the first time at Russian Fleet headquarters in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol and are responsible for naval deployments to Syrian waters.
- The Supreme Joint Command, which functions as general staff and passes down instructions to the command centers on the ground.
Twin Russian, Iranian commanders prepare for long haul
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that this supreme command acts as the conduit for cooperation between the Russian military and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. It has two joint heads, Russia’s deputy chief of staff, Gen. Nikolay Bogdanovsky, and the commander of Iran’s Al-Qods Brigades, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
When Soleimani first met Putin in Moscow on April 30, the Russian president agreed to him serving as the senior Iranian commander for the war on the Islamic State and terrorist groups. Since then, he has paid regular visits to the Russian general staff in Moscow, calling in every 10 days or two weeks.
Ten days ago, several hundred Iranian armed troops landed in Syria to take part in the fighting. Their arrival was announced Thursday, Oct. 1, although it was reported at the time by debkafile.
All these activities and preparations point to a long-term Russian-Iranian master plan for transforming the face of the Middle East in a way that eradicates American influence.
The US, Israel and other pro-Western allies have little hope of reversing this plan – especially in the face of the swift initiative the Russians demonstrated without ado this week to launch their first bombing raids against Bashar Assad’s enemies, according to a well-scripted strategy still to unfold.