Bad news coming out of Syria for the US and its Arab allies

The editor-in-chief of Rai al-Youm has said that Russia’s recent military movements in Syria usher in a new international phase in Syria, adding that what happens next in Syria is anybody’s guess.

An Arab journalist has said that reports that Russia is sending military aid to Syria and its forces are active in combat zones in that country are sad news for the United States and its Arab allies which are the enemy of Syria and its government.

Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of Rai al-Youm, a digital newspaper, wrote this in an editorial and added that it is not surprising that the US and its Arab allies express concern over reports on developments in Syria because news coming from Lattakia and Idlib suggests that the Russian forces and armored vehicles are fighting along with the Syrian Army against the opposition. This indicates that the Russian leaders have decided to show in practice that they are against the ouster of Bashar Assad.

The Islamic Republic News Agency on September 7 published the Farsi version of the Arab journalist’s editorial on the Syrian crisis and the US concern over Russia’s enhanced military build-up in Syria. The following is the translation of the report:

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern – in a telephone call with his Russian counterpart on Saturday (September 5) – over reports of Russian movements in Syria and asked Sergei Lavrov whether Russia is sending military hardware to Syria.

The New York Times published a report in its Friday issue saying that Russia has sent a military unit complete with weapons and ammunition to Syria. The Daily Telegraph wrote that the Syrian state TV reportedly broadcast footage of Russian soldiers and armored vehicle fighting alongside pro-Assad troops in Lattakia, adding “it is reportedly possible to hear Russian being spoken by the troops in the footage. [In further indications of Russian “mission creep” in Syria], a Twitter account linked to Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, published images of what appeared to be Russian planes and drones flying over Idlib.”

On the sidelines of an Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, President Vladimir Putin confirmed Moscow’s military aid and said, “[…] But we are already providing Syria with quite strong support in terms of equipment, training of military servicemen and weapons”.  He also said that it is premature to say Moscow is ready to participate in the anti-ISIL operations, adding that involvement in such military operations is different from supporting the Syrian regime.

The Russian president’s remarks which were reflected in the Syrian media carry a message for different sides: Moscow will not drop support for its ally, Bashar Assad; as the Syrian opposition forces are marching toward the Syrian coasts getting prepared for a massive onslaught, Russia does not allow the enemies of the Syrian regime to get to Lattakia and other coastal areas in Syria.

This message carries weight given its timing: it has come following insistence by the Saudi foreign minister – in different circles – on the overthrow of Bashar Assad, either militarily or diplomatically, saying that Assad is part of the Syrian problem, not its solution.

Perhaps Putin’s remarks that “The Syrian president agrees with that, all the way down to holding early elections, let’s say, parliamentary ones, [establishing contacts with the so-called healthy opposition, bringing them into governing]” reflects Moscow’s views on the diplomatic settlement of the Syrian crisis: necessary political reforms in Syria with Bashar Assad remaining atop the pyramid of power.

In his remarks, Putin did not talk about the political framework which is to be established in the post-elections era. In other words, he did not discuss whether a transition period should be in place in Syria, or a new constitution – which underlines a multi-party system in the Arab country – will be adopted in post-elections Syria. He also did not say anything about the powers of such an elected parliament.

Presently there are no answers to these questions, but Putin’s words can indicate that Russia is likely to get involved in a direct war to keep Bashar Assad in power. The US is well aware of this; that’s why Washington has focused on the elimination of ISIL, not the ouster of the Syrian regime, [in its involvement in Syria].

Comments by General David Petraeus, the retired American military officer and the former CIA director, on the formation of new forces with the moderate fighters (terrorists) of Nusra Front lying at the core [that he supports using “so-called moderate members of al Qaeda’s Nusra Front to fight ISIS in Syria.”] sends an important signal because he is the mastermind of the Awakening Councils in Iraq which fought against Alqaeda in 2007-8 and diminished its influence.

Also interesting are remarks by US President Barack Obama in a meeting with Saudi King Salman on Friday. Obama did not raise the issue of Bashar Assad leaving office and the US secretary of state too fell short of mentioning Assad’s departure as a prerequisite when he was talking about a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis.

If reports on the Russian military presence in Syria are sound – which seem to be correct – this means that the Syrian crisis has entered an international phase, militarily. This is a very important development which can have something to do with the Syrian refugee crisis.

In the midst of the crisis, Turkey is piling pressure on the West to help resolve the Syrian crisis the way Ankara seeks: establishment of a buffer zone at the border to accommodate the Syrian refugees. There are also reports which say Turkey has directly or indirectly forced the Syrian refugees to head for Europe, because it will not continue settling them if the current trend persists.

The new developments which are rapidly unfolding in Syria have concerned and depressed many sides, especially the Saudi-Turkey-Qatar coalition which has always called for the Syrian government to be toppled and Bashar Assed to be forced out of office. But the fact is that they need to know that the entry of big military powers into the Syrian question will tip the balance [in this country].

The coming weeks and months in Syria will be pregnant with unexpected events. What the future holds for this country remains to be seen.

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