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Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran?

Syria: Can the ‘New Coalition’ Win Against ISIS without Syria and Iran? | 15/09/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

‘Elusive at best’ might be the proper terminology to describe the chances of winning against ISIS without the cooperation of Syria and Iran.

Think about it for a minute. If WE don’t make friendly with the Syrian leadership and the Iranian leadership, then perhaps ISIS will.

If you look at a map of the region you will see that both Syria and Iran border Iraq, both have large populations, both are almost 100% Muslim nations and both have trust issues with the West that go back decades.

Not only that, but both Syria and Iran do billions of dollars of business with Russia every year. And, therein lies the story.

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University

Caspian Sea region. Image by Harvard University

Syria:

The Syrian port of Tartus hosts a Russian Navy facility (Tartus port). During the Cold War it was a massive base which you can still see today as you fly into Tartus. Many former Russian citizens live in Tartus and many Russian sailors lived with their families their entire navy careers. Except when they were at sea, or called to Russia for training, some Russian sailors had never been anywhere else in their young lives (back in the 1980’s when that base was going full tilt). Russia’s Mediterranean fleet operated out of that base and it was also the refueling base for the Black Sea fleet. Inside the sprawling Syrian federal government buildings in Tartus all the signs were written in Arabic and Russian, for obvious reasons.

When I was there a couple of decades ago, a Russian officer told me that 100,000 Russians lived in Tartus and that they easily outnumbered the Syrians, although most of them give up their Russian citizenship to become Syrians at the end of their Russian Navy career. Some of them take on Arabic-sounding names to better blend in. I verified that with at least one taxi driver and with the concierge at my hotel. It certainly seemed like it could have been true at the time. Retired Russian Navy personnel often worked as Tartus traffic cops — apparently, that’s the job to have. Nice weather, and at the end of your working life, two pensions — one from the Russian Navy and one from the Tartus police. Not a bad post-Russian Navy gig for those Russians who don’t want to move back to 8 months of bitter cold every year.

Tartus port, Syria

These days, “Officially” the Russian Navy base at Tartus, Syria is closed — or only has an official staff of 20-50 people. It depends upon whom you ask. As recently as 2012 however, Russia spent millions to dredge the Tartus harbour to allow its largest military ships to enter the port and Russian aircraft carriers and other capital ships have docked there since the dredging operations completed. Image courtesy of Google.

Iran:

Iran shares a peaceful maritime border with Russia which goes back centuries. The newest Iranian nuclear power plants are of Russian design, the Russians built them with Iranian labourers for the non-technical parts and all the spent nuclear fuel is required to be returned to Russia for disposal. In fact, the Iranian’s don’t get their new nuclear fuel rods until all of the returned spent fuel is carefully weighed and examined, so that the Russians can account for every gram of nuclear material that goes into or out of Iran. (Russia has this arrangement with other countries too)

Iran Update:

As of September 15, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Iran to discuss the building of 8 new Russian nuclear power plants with the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss oil-for-nuclear-power-plants in this AP photo from September 12, 2014.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss Oil-for-Power policy during the SCO conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. RIA Novosti/AP photo dated September 12, 2014

Sometimes it isn’t all about you — or who you want on your team — it’s about preventing the other team from signing them

Unless you want them playing against you. Does everyone get that? You may not like a certain all-star NFL player and you may not want him on your team, but do you really want to get flattened by that guy every couple of weeks? Say a guy who would be the size of the great ‘Refrigerator Perry’ of Chicago Bears fame.

“Uh, welcome to the team, Mr. Perry. Take my seat!” — See what I mean? SO MUCH BETTER than getting flattened, and the food is better at home anyway. Even though some people claim that they like hospital food. Whatever.

If we don’t work it out with the Syrians and the Iranians, then the Russians will. Do we really want to drive the Syrians, Iranians, and Russians together to the point where they feel compelled to team-up to offer mutual aid to each other? Is that in our best interest?

That’s simply not in the West’s best interests and we have to find a way past it. That’s what diplomacy is all about and Western diplomats are supposed to be the best. Well, let’s see it then!

If the United States feels that it must not back down from its stance on the Iranian nuclear power file, that’s almost understandable. The Iranian nuclear ‘problem’ represents a low or non-existent risk to the Western world for the next 10 years — while clearly, ISIS represents a clear and present danger to the West over the next 10 years (if they’re not dealt with now) which means it’s time for the West to re-prioritize.

If America doesn’t feel comfortable with it, then surely some of the well-known European diplomats could assiduously work to craft an agreement between Iran and the Europeans, that would eventually become detrimental to ISIS. Even securing landing and refueling rights within Iran for Western aircraft delivering aid to Kurdistan (for example) would be a start. Similar could be done by the Europeans with regards to Syria — maybe landing rights aren’t the issue, but the ability to overfly parts of Syria is the issue. Or something like that. We have to start somewhere as the present situation will increasingly work in favour of ISIS, Syria, Iran, and Russia — and not the coalition.

For now, we’re off to a great start to tackle ISIS, but two of the major countries in the region aren’t coalition members. And that does not portend a successful outcome.

But Russia thanks us for our efforts to drive Syria and Iran even further into the Russian orbit.

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