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Syria: The Definition of Insanity

by John Brian Shannon | September 26, 2015

The world witnesses the underwhelming response to the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII.

The United Nations calls the Syrian crisis the worst humanitarian crisis in a quarter of a century, with half of Syria’s population displaced within Syria or fled to other countries. Some 310,000 innocent civilians have been killed in the crossfire of civil war.

CNN image. The Syrian population and where they are presently located.

CNN image. The Syrian population in 2015.

“The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. And we think people should know more about it.

Of the 4 million refugees, the vast majority are women and children. And nearly 3 million of those children are out of school with no hope of returning to any formal education.” See: The worst humanitarian crisis since World War II — PBS NewsHour

Since 1999 the socio-political structure in Syria has been deteriorating due to many factors and it has been too convenient for some commentators to blame Bashir Al-Assad the country’s democratically-elected leader for all of Syria’s troubles.

But things are rarely as they seem. This is true for the Middle East and North Africa nations (MENA) but is especially true in the case of Syria

For just one example, more than half of the people who live in the port city of Tartus, Syria are retired Soviet or Russian military people who chose to receive their pensions and live out their lives in warmer climes, as compared to say, Moscow or Siberia. I can’t blame them as it is a beautiful part of the world, full of important historical sites.

Farmlands east of Tartus, Syria.

Farmlands east of Tartus, Syria. Visit this link to see some excellent images of the region.

During the Cold War, thousands of Soviet Navy personnel had occasion to debark their ships while they took on supplies at the Russian Navy facility located just south of Tartus.

Not only that, but Soviet merchant ships unloaded everything from Lada cars to borscht, returning to Russia loaded with produce of every kind, especially figs, dates, olives and wine. The punishment for not returning to their ship on time was to be shot by the Soviets, so every sailor (whether Soviet Navy sailor or Soviet merchant mariner) took pains to return to their ship prior to sailing. Yes, really.

Soviet Naval Facility near Tartus Syria taken from a Turkish F-4 Phantom II in September of 1990.

Image now owned by Google. Soviet Naval Facility near Tartus Syria taken from a Turkish F-4 Phantom II in September of 1990.

Over several decades this fraternization between Soviet/Russian citizens and Syrians turned Tartus into the wedding capital of the eastern Mediterranean with many thousands of marriages between Soviet sailors of every rank and background marrying the beautiful young women of Tartus.

Hamrat Street in Tartus, Syria

Hamrat Street, Tartus, Syria. “Hamrat” by Ahmadac at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by nopira. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

When I visited Tartus in 1989 and again in 1990 as the Cold War was ending, I was struck by the fact that all of the road signs were written in the Syrian, Arabic and Russian languages only.

And similar was true in Syrian government offices where I also noted that everyone chatted easily in the Syrian and Russian languages — as I waited over an hour for an English-speaking government employee to arrive from a nearby town so that I could have my passport returned to me. Holding passports until the last day of a person’s visit was standard practice during the Cold War, as was the requirement for government officials to phone the local police to verify that no crimes had been committed before handing the passport back. Sorry about that speeding ticket.

Syria has sourced uncountable billions of dollars of Soviet and Russian military aircraft and other military vehicles through Moscow since WWII. Indeed, Syria was one of the first nations outside of the Soviet Union to receive the export version of the MiG-25 fighter/interceptor aircraft, a very advanced jet fighter for the time.

Petroleum trade between the two countries has likewise been brisk.

Suffice to say that the deep links between Syrian citizens and Russians span several decades and I’ve hardly touched on them.

Therefore, it is quite a natural thing that Russia should lend economic, military, and political support to its ally and we should not interfere in that profound and long-term relationship.

What has been tried for the past five years has not worked and will continue to not work

And the proof of that is that fully half of Syria’s population are internally displaced or have fled the country, living as refugees in neighbouring countries like Turkey which is on track to accept over 2 million Syrians in 2015.

In addition to that, some 3 million (non-Syrian) refugees have arrived in Turkey from Iraq and the Arab Spring nations in recent years.

Must see: Al-Jazeera video showing some of the devastation in Homs, Syria

CNN image of Syrian refugees accepted in the region

CNN image. Note: Jordan says it has 1.4 million Syrian refugees within it’s borders, but the UNHCR has documentation on only 630,000 of them.

Jordan says that more than one million Syrian refugees have arrived in 2015, while tiny Lebanon reports that 1-in-4 people within its borders are Syrian refugees.

JORDAN says it has taken in 1.4 million Syrians, although the UNHCR counts 629,266 registered refugees. Jordan prides itself on its hospitality toward these and other refugees, but the high numbers — about 20% of the population, based on government figures — have taxed the small kingdom, already struggling with strained resources such as energy and water.LA Times

Europe opened its doors to 310,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 with Germany taking a huge share of that number, while Sweden offers almost automatic residency and a full social safety net to 80,000+ Syrians per year.

CNN image Syrian refugee destinations

CNN image. “Conflict, persecution and poverty are creating more refugees than the world has seen in decades.” — CNN

I’ll give the last word to the citizens of Iceland (total population 329,100) who went over the heads of their elected leaders with more than 11,000 private citizens offering their homes to Syrian families after Iceland said it would accept only 50 Syrian refugees

Kudos to the citizens of Iceland. Let’s hope this catches on.

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Syria: With the US and Russia Fighting Terrorists in Syria, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

by John Brian Shannon | September 12, 2015

We explore three different scenarios in the fight to defeat ISIS and other terror groups operating in Syria.

Now that Russia has entered the frame, it may change the Syrian crisis for the better, or it may trigger concern by some nations already in the fight, or by regional nations that must deal with the consequences of the Syrian civil war.

What could possibly go wrong?

ISIS forces 100,000 Syrian Refugees to Turkey in 48 hours on September 23/24, 2014.

“The war has killed 250,000 people and driven half of Syria’s 23 million people from their homes. Some have traveled to European countries, creating a refugee crisis there.” — Reuters (File photo)

1. Israel vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

Israel. That’s what could go wrong. It’s not the only thing that could go wrong in this dangerous situation but it would be irresponsible to overlook that particular potential for catastrophe.

The state of Israel could decide that its best interest would be served by inducing the Russian military to leave Syria by bombing the Russian airfield, supply depot, and barracks which are presently under construction near Latakia, Syria.

And to prevent retaliation by Russian naval forces, Israel would need to destroy any Russian Navy vessels in the Mediterranean or tied up at any of Syria’s ports. It would be unthinkable from a military standpoint to neutralize the Russian airfield/barracks and not destroy the Russian naval component.

That would lead to a wider war, one that would have Israel calling the United States instantly. Geopolitics could change in the space of 15 minutes.

If you don’t think that’s very likely, people who know their history will recall how quickly the world changed when Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two hours of bombing that dramatically changed world history.

For its time, the attack on Pearl Harbor was a massive effort and was seen in Japan as a major success against the United States. Indeed, most of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was parked dockside with their sailors enjoying shore leave. Consequently, many ships were either sunk or damaged although few casualties occurred as the dockyards were largely empty at the time of the attack.

Just as few foresaw the attack on Pearl Harbor, few are of the opinion that Israel would launch a preemptive attack against Syria’s ally Russia, taking out the Russian airfield in Latakia, Syria or those Russian vessels docked in Tartus, Syria or sailing in the eastern Mediterranean.

It’s not like Israel hasn’t attacked ships or aircraft from other nations in the past.

The USS Liberty incident stands as proof of Israel’s willingness to attack foreign vessels that might be in a position to attack Israel, regardless of how unlikely an attack may be.

The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy supply and communications ship of no significant size nor capability, a WWII relic that posed no real threat to Israel. Yet, because it appeared in the sea during a time of conflict between Israel and Egypt, it was neutralized by a combined force of Israeli fighter jets, fighter bomber jets, and torpedo boats on June 8, 1967, because in the opinion of the relevant Israeli military commanders, the Liberty represented a threat.

If you’re of the opinion that Israel won’t act against something they perceive as a threat, then history says you’re wrong.

The opinions of observers who say there’s no threat to Israel posed by the Russian airbase, or of increased Russian Navy activity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or of increased Russian troop numbers in Syria, are irrelevant.

The only relevant opinions are those who press bomb-release buttons in Israeli bomber-jets.

2. The U.S. vs. Russia inside Syrian territory

As recently as Friday, the Foreign Minister of Russia, Mr. Sergei Lavrov, asked the U.S. to cooperate with Russia in Syria, saying on Friday that “we are always in favour of military people talking to each other in a professional way” as one-military-to-another operating in the same country it is “important for the avoidance of undesired, unintended incidents”.

Russia called on Friday for military-to-military cooperation with the United States to avert “unintended incidents” as it stages navy exercises off the coast of Syria, where U.S. officials believe Moscow is building up forces to protect President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States is using Syrian air space to lead a campaign of air strikes against Islamic State, and a greater Russian presence raises the prospect of the Cold War superpower foes encountering each other on the battlefield.

John Kerry the U.S. Secretary of State said, “We would welcome constructive efforts by Russia against ISIS, but that cannot be a function of continued support to the Assad regime. The most productive thing that they can do is to stop aiding the Assad regime.” — Reuters

3. The U.S. and Israel vs. Syria and Russia inside Syrian territory

Only a few dedicated think-tank fellows are missing sleep over that one.

But in a war zone, events happen in seconds and then the politicians race to catch up with what has happened during the night.

It’s at least conceivable that the U.S. or Israel decide to show their colours to Syria or Russia and a number of fighter jets are shot down in less than a minute — even before a telephone call can be placed between the various politicians to resolve the issue, and by then the initial attack and the guaranteed-to-be-devastating-counter-attack is already over.

A parallel situation could occur at sea with any number of ships being attacked and counterattacking within seconds of the first shot being fired.

Many ships could be sunk in the space of 15 minutes (which is about the same amount of time it takes to properly brief a decision-maker/politician) on the many events that are occurring simultaneously.

If there aren’t clear communication links between the various forces fighting ISIS in Syria, and if each group follows different rules of engagement, it’s a recipe for disaster

If the ultimate goal is ‘a world war over Syria’ we’re running headlong towards it.

It’s an insult to the intelligence of people everywhere that any nation would refuse to participate in and abide by the standard communications and rules of conduct in conflict zones, especially when so much is at stake.

Secretary of State for the United States, John Kerry, and his State Department spokesman John Kirby, risk far too much for too little. Risking a wider conflict in an attempt to belittle the Russians is feckless at best and criminally irresponsible at worst.

Without a proper communications plan, there’s no doubt that an incident between the various military units operating in Syria will occur at some point.

Lives will be lost. Of that, there’s no doubt. Citizens of one or more countries will become enraged and demand a response, and consequently the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about (a.k.a. the so-called war economy) will be back to full production again!

An astonishing lack of diplomacy enabled the Syrian crisis to occur and now we’re willfully blocking standard communication plans. What next?

Let us hope that superior minds overturn this seemingly deliberate march towards conflict between superpower U.S.A. (perhaps with Israeli involvement) on the one hand, vs. Syria and Russia (a former superpower but still extremely powerful) with Iran and China assisting.

It’s the worst B-movie script that I’ve seen. And we’re on course towards catastrophe if the present script is allowed to continue…

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Syria: The Wisdom or Waste of ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq and Syria

Syria: The Wisdom, or Waste, of ‘Boots on the Ground’ in Iraq and Syria | 08/10/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

President Barack Obama has charted a wise course with regards to the developing terrorist situation in Iraq and Syria, thus far neither committing too much nor too little in an attempt to mitigate the threat posed by ISIS to the U.S.A.

A lack of reaction to the threat might have emboldened the terrorist entity known as ISIS or ISIL, while overreacting may have turned every American voter against the President and his party which would have been incredibly bad timing with midterm elections just weeks ahead.

Rather than veer to either extreme, Obama has pursued a unified effort aiming to build a broad-based coalition to fight ISIS with airpower in Iraq and Syria. And he has succeeded in building that broad-based effort.

It is a mature response to a rising threat which could, conceivably, cause harm to America, someday

So far, the threat from ISIS is 95% ‘smoke’ and 5% ‘fire’ as ISIS seems content with murdering it’s own countrymen and women. It’s true, that could change in the future. But the President must react to what is real and present now — not to ‘sky is falling’ scenarios — that may or may not ever occur.

Addressing ISIS with a measured response and a ramping-up humanitarian aid as Mr. Obama has done has taken much of the wind out of the sails of ISIS, which had been poised to loudly accuse the West of being the biggest bully on the block, of killing huge numbers of civilians in major air campaigns and street-to-street fighting and of wreaking wholesale destruction in the region.

While the President has skillfully charted a middle course, the expected cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground to contain and destroy ISIS’ is becoming louder by the week.

The political hawks can barely contain their excitement — imagining all of the additional capability that ‘boots on the ground’ could add to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and in Syria! They could name it; Operation Déjà Vu.

So if all that, is so good; Why didn’t 10-years-worth-of ‘boots on the ground’ work in Iraq?

At the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, the United States alone had some 356,000 combat troops along with hundreds of warplanes and artillery pieces inside the country. Not to mention a formidable US Navy presence in the Persian Gulf that fired hundreds of Tomahawk missiles into Iraq from positions in the Gulf.

But ten years of combat, $1 trillion dollars, and 4487 deaths/32,223 wounded, didn’t solve the terrorist threat in Iraq. Now it’s worse than ever. The very definition of failure

Yet, the cry of; ‘We need Boots on the Ground in Iraq and Syria to deal with the growing terrorist threat’ persist! What is it with some people? A failed policy, is a failed policy, is a failed policy — and you can shoot the messenger all you want — but at the end of the day it’s still a failed policy!

Raise your hand if you honestly think that yet another 10 years of war, another $1 trillion dollars and another 5000 U.S. troop deaths/32,000 wounded, will solve the ISIS problem for good

If you put up your hand, go turn in your Drivers Licence and your gun permit right now — you are too dumb to drive a car and too dumb to own a gun. You’re not smarter than a 5th-grader! If you need help with any of this ask your kids.

It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work the second time. By the way, it didn’t work in Afghanistan either. There are thousands more terrorists there now too

Out of a handful of bad choices, President Obama has, so far, chosen the least-bad choice. We should give him credit for that.

Continually degrading ISIS capabilities, ramping-up humanitarian aid and dramatically increasing diplomatic and other ‘soft power’ efforts, is the long-term solution to this long-term problem. Increasing awareness and investigation of suspect individuals here in the West is also an important step.

Military power can only solve military problems — and the rise of Islamism is not a military problem.

But we’ve got all of these bombs, we might as well use them!

The problem with that — is that every time you kill 1 person in war, you make 250 new enemies. That’s right, each person on the planet is acquainted with or is related to, 250 other people on average. When you drop a bomb, lob a shell, or fire a few hundred bullets — and thereby kill 100 people — you’ve just made 25,000 new enemies.

If you drop a lot of bombs and kill 100,000 people (regardless if they’re terrorists or innocent casualties) each 1 of them have 250 friends and families — living somewhere in the world — and you’ve just made 25 million new enemies.

That’s the way it is with bombs, shells, and bullets. And friends and family, by the way.

Which is why war — that is, killing people who disagree with you politically — is always a bad idea and should be reserved for the most extreme of emergencies and only in actual cases of self-defence.

By some counts, the original coalition is responsible for the deaths of between 654,965 people (The Lancet) and 1,033,000 people (ORB International) during the Iraq War (all of whom likely had the global average of 250 family and friends each) and we’re scratching our heads here in the West wondering why those bad ‘ol Iraqis and Syrians hate us.

Here’s the math on that:
654,965 X 250 family and friends each = 163,741,250 (using the Lancet’s Iraq War body count total)
1,033,000 X 250 family and friends each = 258,250,000 (using ORB International’s Iraq War body count total)

Why would we want to add to those numbers? Why would we want to get another 4,500 US military members killed? Why would we want to spend another $1 trillion dollars?

What reason is good enough? I’d like to know and so would a lot of people. You can call those people ‘taxpayers’ or ‘voters’ — your choice

We can keep ISIS down to a dull roar via the use of airpower, by negating their anti-Western propaganda effort through enhanced humanitarian aid in the region, and by ‘boxing them in’ to a tiny region of the world via coalition-building in the West and especially with and among the Middle East nations.

We shouldn’t shrink back from prosecuting ISIS criminals in Iraqi or the International Court of Justice

Hey! We’re in the right. They’re acting against their particular nations’ laws, and quite possibly against international law. So, obviously, let’s stay on the right side of Iraqi and Syrian law — and on the right side of international law too! — and use the full force of the law against these illegal actors. Let’s make them feel like criminals, because, well, they are criminals.

The rest of the solution will come via aggressive and innovative diplomacy, by increasing the level and quality of intelligence sharing with Iraq, Syria, and neighbouring countries, as well as promoting the same between Middle East nations.

Soft Power will be the solution to the rising and long-term ISIS problem. Coalition airpower is merely buying us time, so that soft power efforts have time to ramp-up and begin showing some success.

If we can’t do it soon and do it well, all we are doing is wasting our bombs and creating more enemies for ourselves.

Dwight Eisenhower quote

President Dwight D. Eisenhower – “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, from those who are cold and are not clothed.”