In a continuing mini-series on events in Syria (see Syria in Crisis
and Syria-Russia Axis: The Plot Thickens
for previous commentary), on June 8, the Syrian Army began to retake Hraytan, Kafr Hamra and Atareb north, east and west of Aleppo. They call this offensive, Operation North Storm. In a separate operation, they’ve also moved against Homs in west central Syria. In both cases, Syrian government military forces are augmented by Hizballah (Iranian proxy forces).
The move appears to be one where Aleppo is encircled as a prelude to retaking the city in earnest (see Syria in Crisis opcit above).
Should you care?
That’s the question, isn’t it? If you’re Syrian or if you have family living in the cauldron, you should care. If you’re President Bashir Assad, it goes without saying that you have a horse in the race. If you’re the USGOV, the problem is a lot stickier. And for once, I agree with President Obama — but only in part.
The situation is more complicated than that because it involves Russia flexing muscle and trying to get back into the international game after its absence. On 7 June, President Putin suggested that Russia could replace departing Austrian peacekeeping forces on the Golan Heights, if all the regional powers are interested and the UN asked.
Defense and Foreign Ministry sources said Russia is ready to allocate a specially trained airborne-assault battalion of 300 men supported by Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters to a peacekeeping mission if ordered by President Putin.
The Russian offer appears to have been genuine. A Russian brigade has been formed to support peacekeeping commitment. However, President Putin knew it would be rejected because a Syrian and Israeli agreement prohibits peacekeepers from the armed forces of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Putin was striking a Russian pose: Russia is willing to put boots on the ground to restore peace, but the United States is not. Russia is looking for opportunities to make themselves look consequential in a power vacuum.
The UN thanked the Russians but turned down the offer.
Context – The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights is authorized 1,000 soldiers, but was reduced to just over 900 when the Coatians left. Indian and Philippine soldiers make up the remaining two thirds of the force.The Russian were offering to replace the 377 Austrian soldiers who are departing this week because of an engagement on the Heights on the 6th when a band of Syrian opposition fighters seized an Austrian checkpoint. Two UN troops were injured before Syrian government soldiers retook the checkpoint. The Austrians, like the Croatians in February, decided the security situation is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of their soldiers.
From an American political standpoint, there are different perspectives. The Libertarian stance would be to one of complete disengagement, which is more or less where the Obama Administration now stands. The US had nothing to gain from yet another land war in Asia. By taking out Saddam Hussein, the only regional check on Iran, we only created a bigger problem for ourselves. Syria would seem to be a disturbingly similar situation. Assad, a tyrant like his father, may slaughter his own people. But do we care if he does and is it worth seeing him replaced by another al Qaeda proxy state the way we did in Egypt?
The Republicans, led by John McCain would like to see the US face off against the Russian-backed Assad government while we support al Qaeda-friendly rebels. The litmus test for these sorts of “worthless wars” should be – Mr. McCain are you willing to send your sons there to certain death to support the cause in question? Because somebody’s sons are going to die there. There are wars where that may be required to save the USA, but this isn’t one of them.
Do I care that the Russians may set up a base in Syria? No, not really. They may decide to port their new Mediterranean fleet there. I do understand their long game. But the US has nothing to gain by taking sides in the Syrian conflict.