For two days Russian planes, escorted by Syrian MiG29, have been flying over the Daesh/Isis areas without bombing, while the Syrian, Egyptian, Iranian and Iraqi intelligence services are cooperating actively with the Russian military services.
From the strictly strategic viewpoint, the operation launched by Russia and meticulously prepared in recent months, is the closure of the Greater Middle East to all the operations of the NATO Southern flank.
With the energy and geopolitical effects we can easily imagine, also in relation to the Russian oil and gas supplies.
If the Russians – which hit both the posts of the pro-Qaedist jihadist “brigades” and, in the near future, those of Daesh/Isis – succeed in their intent, the region stretching from the Syria-Iraq link (let us not forget that Al Baghdadi is the successor to Zarqawi, the leader of the rebellion of Al Anbar in Iraq) to the Persian Gulf will pertain to Russia, and the United States and the Atlantic Alliance shall pay a price the pledge to penetrate into it, but only as secondary powers.
As a result of this Russian intervention, a linkage has been created between the Russian hydrocarbons and the huge Middle East ones. It is as if Russia drafts – with a regional war – its accession treaty to OPEC, but on its own terms and conditions.
So far twenty-eight Russian warplanes, including aircraft and helicopters, have been moved to Latakia, nearly all transferred from the bases 387 and 368 bases of Budjonnovsk, in the Caucasus, while the United States are stationed in Incirlik, Turkey and Bahrain.
Israel has already sent two Gulfstream 550 mini-AWACS – aircraft for signal detection – to the Lebanese coast, on patrol and signal detection missions.
The Pchela IT Russian drones have repeatedly flown over the Isis/Daesh formations to identify the attack forces near the Latakia area, but the first Russian operations have hit the Al Qaeda and Daesh militants in Dair Hana and Ghanam, again in the area of Latakia and, three hours later, the jihadist posts in Laminah and Qafr Zita, in the governorate of Hama, in addition to the “third wave” of airstrikes which hit the areas of the Caliphate in the other towns of the Homs governorate.
All the operations had been reported, hours earlier, to the Israeli and North American intelligence services.
Hence while the Russian help and support join the Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi forces against the Qaedist and “territorial” jihad, such as the Isis/Daesh ones, the USA and NATO are excluded automatically from the Middle East region, with the aggravating circumstance for the USA of having kept – over the last few months – the worst kind of relationship with Israel.
Therefore the Jewish State shall come to terms primarily with Russia, as well as with an increasingly lukewarm and distant America, while the Russians create a network of contacts with the Shia world, which excludes the Sunni power of their only ally left in the Middle East, namely Saudi Arabia, which is increasingly engaged in a bid for supremacy in the Sunni-Wahhabi world and against the “sect of Ali ” in power in Iran.
We cannot even rule out that Russia may get its hands on the intelligence material held by the Iraqi secret services – material which could be useful to neutralize the US and Saudi forces present in the area of fighting.
In the Latakia area, however, there are not yet many men of the Caliphate, but especially the al-Nusra qaedists and the jihadists of the Army of Conquest, Jaish Al Fatah, an alliance of Jihadist groups in the area of Idlib.
The Russian military presence and deployment in Syria includes also sophisticated missile structures, the Sa 15 and Sa 21 anti-aircraft missiles – which is strange, considering that Isis/Daesh has not a military air force. Nevertheless its protectors may have it.
Moreover, there are reports that a Russian nuclear submarine, the TK 208 Dmitri Donskoy (Typhoon NATO code), is moving towards the Syrian coast.
It is likely, however, that land-based posts and units will be needed at a later stage, when the Russian-Syrian operations are extended to Turkey and to the other border areas of the Syrian system.
Also the Russian war in Syria will be a “hybrid war”: a mix of conventional operations, guerrilla warfare, psyops and peaceful uprisings covering the entire spectrum of hostilities. As in Ukraine and, earlier, in Georgia.
It is a variant of the “unlimited war”, developed by some Chinese strategists years ago.
Turkey is the country representing the true axis of ambiguity with the Caliphate, which it partially supports, together with Saudi Arabia, and partially fights, but particularly to hit the Kurdish areas which, for Turkey, are the real target of the current war.
Even in wartime there are what Pareto called “residues” and “derivations”, i.e. the general assumptions based on old facts and memories of past actions. They both distort the real and effective perception of events.
Once again, for Turkey, the issue mainly lies in settling the Kurds’ issue, while President Erdogan still dreams of conquering Syria’s Sunni areas to expand his Panturanic project to Central Asia up to Turkmenistan and the “Turkic” minority present in China.
It is strange that NATO, of which Turkey is a very important member, has not yet reflected on this Turkish global strategy, fully alien to the purposes and defensive logic of the Atlantic Alliance.
Everybody knows that the United States are out for the scalp of Bashar el Assad, who is certainly a ferocious “tyrant”, but is less dangerous than the Caliphate, while Russia is an old and strong ally of the Alawite Syria, born from the pro-Shiite mysticism of the Arabist from the French intelligence services who participated in the Sykes-Picot agreement: Luis Massignon, a Franciscan tertiary “initiated” into the mysteries of the “Old Man of the Mountain”.
Russia might think of creating – under its tutelage and protection – a sort of “Alawistan” with the heterodox Shiite area of the Syrian coast and the Lebanon of Hezbollah, while Iranian fighters are currently joining the Lebanese “Party of God”, the central Shiite areas of Iraq and the Alevi areas in the internal parts of Turkey.
If this redesign of the Greater Middle East is successful, the Sunnis directed from Saudi Arabia will have an equivalent and opposite Shia power, supported both by Iran and Russia.
And the West will be excluded from it, despite the ambiguous P5 + 1 nuclear treaty with Iran and the future trade openings to Europe and the United States made by the “liberal” Iran of Hassan Rowani.
Trade comes after strategy – it does not found and justify it.
Like mathematics, global strategy is self-demonstrating.
Nevertheless there is a geoeconomic rationale in this new Middle East system: in 2009, the Qatar Petroleum increased its investment with a view to tripling its production of natural gas by the end of 2013.
Again in 2009 Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar proposed to Assad to build a section of the pipeline passing through the Syrian territory to European markets.
To this end, Qatar planned to use an already operating section of Nabucco, which was supported by the ever scarcer gas reserves of the Azerbaijani field Shah Deniz II.
On the contrary, Bashar al-Assad agreed immediately with Iran on an alternative pipeline passing through Iraq to Syria.
Hence the Sunni countries interested in the agreement with Qatar, that Bashar al-Assad had refused, organized – by spending the huge sum of four billion US dollars – jihadism in the Syrian-Iraqi region, with the support of Turkey, increasingly linked to Saudi Arabia both at strategic and economic levels.
Also the United States and the European Union agreed on eliminating Assad and, in fact, the Americans organized an initial group of 5,500 Sunni jihadists coming from all the Wahhabi or extremist areas.
Subsequently the United States trained a few hundred “moderate” jihadists to overthrow the “tyrannical” Assad, while often those “moderates” defected to the Caliphate or the Al Nusra Front, as happened with the “Squadron 30”, trained by the Americans, which defected in mass to the Al Nusra Front, the Syrian armed wing of Al Qaeda.
Basically, if Russia wins its game in the region, we will have a new arrangement of the Arab world’ strategic potential: no longer a division between the Middle and the Greater Middle East, but a geopolitical merger between the Gulf region and the oil and non-oil world of Central Asia so as to deflect, at least partially, the flow of hydrocarbons towards the Shanghai Cooperation Organization group, and China in particular, which, in fact, is said to be partially funding the Russian efforts in Syria, which are needed to create a safety buffer for China’s historical ally in the region, namely Iran.
Giancarlo Elia Valori (@GEliaValori)
Honorable of the Académie des Sciences of the Institut de France.