The Syrian Chess Board: Behind the Game Played by Russia, Israel, the U.S. and Other Powers

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s300 russia iranBy Karl Vick

The umbrella group representing Syria‘s rebellion on the world stage announced on Thursday that they would not attend peace talks proposed to take place in Geneva during June, a flat rejection that might appear to sideline the role of diplomacy in the civil war. But diplomacy is running full bore in the Syrian conflict, and even as horrors multiply on the battlefield, a good portion of the war is also being carried out in words. The best evidence might be the statements that overshadowed the rebels’ declaration in the same news cycle: President Bashar Assad hinted in a television interview that Russia has already delivered some components of an anti-aircraft battery known as S-300.

Assad’s remarks amounted to what was originally dubbed “CNN diplomacy,” the use of satellite television to deliver a message. The term is no longer in use, in part because it has become the norm and in part because there are so many alternatives to CNN. In this case, the medium was a significant part of the message: The embattled Syrian President spoke with Al Manar, the satellite channel run by Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militia Syria supports alongside the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose Press TV propaganda arm elucidated some of the finer points of the sit-down. Military commanders like to quote Carl von Clausewitz’s dictum that war is the extension of politics by other means. But you never hear diplomats reference Mary Poppins on the relevant criteria for the perfect nanny: “Play games. All sorts.” Consider some of the diplomatic games engendered by the Syrian conflict:

assad-almanarSabre rattling. The S-300 is an impressive threat to enemy warplanes. When Russia made a deal to sell the system to Iran, the Pentagon was so unsettled by its implications for U.S. airpower that Washington pressured Moscow for years to renege on the deal, which it finally did in 2010, under cover of international sanctions aimed at Tehran’s nuclear program. Russia’s promise to deliver the same system to Syria means almost nothing in terms of the conduct of the civil war itself: The rebels have no planes.

But Israel does, and if the S-300s are delivered, “We will know what to do,” Israeli defense minister Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon said this week. The implication was clear, given Israel’s recent track record: Three times in the last four months, Israeli F-16s have struck inside Syria, taking out precisely the kind of advanced weapons systems that the S-300 is counted among. These attacks were meant to be discreet, and aimed only at preventing the transfer of those weapons to Hezbollah, a formidable proxy military force Iran helped form to battle Israel. Publicly and reportedly through back channels as well, the Israelis emphasize that their quarrel is not with Assad, whose demise many inside Israel see as a positive development (because it would also greatly degrade Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, both of which sent fighters to help Assad). A second school of thought in Israel values Assad as “the devil we know,” a largely predictable and risk-averse enemy who now could be supplanted by a coterie of jihadist rebels, some of whom are formally allied with al-Qaeda.

“Israel did not intend to interfere, and these alleged strikes had very little to do with the rebellion that’s taking place in Syria,” says Yiftah Shappir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank heavily staffed by retirees from Israel’s security services. “Israel is not intervening in favor or one side or the other.”

That’s the strong official line. After Ya’alon’s veiled threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered government officials to keep mum about Syria. By then, the commander of his air force had already warned in an open forum that, should Assad fall, Israel is poised to mount massive operations aimed at immediately destroying the chemical, biological and advanced weapons systems held by Syria’s military. The alternative – the weapons disappearing into the stateless world of al-Qaeda and other terror configurations – more than justifies the risk Israel would undertake in involving itself in the fighting, said Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel. “We may find ourselves having to take action, on a very broad scale, within a very short period of time,” Eshel said.

Facebook Diplomacy. Netanyahu made the same point on the premier social media site in March, by way of justifying his government’s decision to patch up relations with Turkey: “It’s important that Turkey and Israel, which both share a border with Syria, are able to communicate with each other and this is also relevant to other regional challenges….Syria is crumbling, and its massive stockpiles of advanced weapons are starting to fall into the hands of various elements. What we fear most is that terrorist groups will get their hands on chemical weapons.”

Preventive diplomacy. The most concrete evidence that Israel wants to stay out of Syria’s civil war is its repeated glossing of incidents on that shared border, which still exists as a military front from wars decades past. One day late last month, an Israeli foot patrol from the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion entered no-man’s land between the two fronts, was spotted by Syrian regulars, and found themselves pinned down as the Syrians walked mortar fire toward them. Then, before other Israeli forces could rescue them, Syrian soldiers were spotted heading their way on foot, a sight that prompted Israeli commanders to launch fire that destroyed the Syrian position. Like an earlier episode when an Israeli Defense Force jeep took fire from the Syrian side, Israeli officials blandly suggested the problem may have been “stray fire.”

Gunboat diplomacy. A dozen Russian warships moved into Syrian waters near the base at Tartous, where Syria and Russia operate a joint naval base, Russia’s only warm-water facility. In a throwback to the Cold War, the deployment signaled solidarity with Assad and an implicit warning to those powers – the U.S., the EU, Turkey and other Sunni states aligned with the rebels, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Qatar – that Moscow will defend its stake it has maintained over generations in Syria, its one Middle East interest.

The vessels would not be expected to figure in the fighting – though they presumably carry intelligence-gathering capabilities. Their presence is chiefly symbolic. And actually, so is the flap over the S-300, according to Shapir, the Israeli defense analyst. The system, while formidable, is so complex that it could not be assembled inside of six months. Then there’s the challenge of training Syrians to use it.

(MORE: The Shadow War Behind Syria’s Rebellion: Foreign Backers Jockey for Influence in Turkey)

As an alternative, Russia could send its own operators, an option that Israel would find far less threatening. “By the way,” Shapir says, “it would be seen by the Russians as a counterbalance to six [NATO] Patriot batteries now in Turkey, on the Syrian border. Operated by the Americans, Germans and Dutch. And of course if Russia sends in Russian units with Russian soldiers, Israel would not attack.”

In any event, the latest word out of Russia is that the S-300s will not be delivered to Syria for another year, at least. So what was all the fuss about? “The announcement about the transfer, I think, is a Russian game, “ Shapir says. “It’s a Russian game meant to make clear to the whole world that they have a strong interest in Syria, and they should not be ignored.”

Originally published in Time World on May 31, 2013

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40 responses to “The Syrian Chess Board: Behind the Game Played by Russia, Israel, the U.S. and Other Powers”

  1. Charles_Knause Avatar
    Charles_Knause

    Yes, I tend to agree with the thinking of the author in regard to Russian motives. If there is an past conflict that can be used as a historical analogue for a better and clearer understanding of the present conflict now raging in Syria it is the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. This was a conflict that in many ways matched what is now happening in Syria in terms of the overall savagery of both sides as manifested in the take no prisoners attitude which inevitable leads to the kind of mass slaughter that we are now seeing in Syria.

    What enabled Franco and the fascists to prevail in Spain was the direct support that they got from Hitler and the other fascist elements in Europe at the time. Hitler’s notorious Condor Division intervened directly into the conflict in the same manner that the US & NATO are planning to do at present.

    It would have been easy for Stalin to have given the beseiged loyalist government the material support that it needed to survive and eventually defeat Franco and the fascist forces in Spain seeking the overthrow of the loyalist government. However, Stalin as the great master of perfidity that he was chose to do nothing other than offer the same kind of verbal support that Putin is now on offer to Assad. Since desperate men do desperate things it is only natural that Bashir can be easily sadduced by such sweet talk and lulabies!

    The outcome in Syria, I suspect will be pretty much the same as in Spain in the 1930s. Once again the Russians will prove to the world that they are worthless allies. History does indeed repeat itself and if it has anything at all to teach us it is that fact that history as we know it is nothing more than the “history of crime.”

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar
      5thDrawer

      “….. nothing more than the “history of crime” …. against humanity, you should add.
      From that Spanish War came two books written by a participant who witnessed the savagery first hand … ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ … two books that became required reading in western schools for many years. I’m not sure if they are now – but they should still be, for all people who wish to try to understand how they can be manipulated and screwed by despots everywhere – even by those ‘in business’ – and how the best of intentions are often led astray.
      Which is also why it’s not wise to allow someone else to interpret those ‘books’ of the One-God theories …. or to allow them to say you should not read all … and all you can.

      1. Charles_Knause Avatar
        Charles_Knause

        There is an American writer from CA who has written a couple of very good books on the Arab/Islamic world as well as the Spanish Civil War. His name is Stephen Schwartz. Have you ever heard of him? His book on the Spanish Civil War is entitled; SPANISH MARXISM VS. SOVIET COMMUNISM: A HISTORY OF THE POUM.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar
          5thDrawer

          Had not … but will put it on my list for when i go looking … thanks.

      2. AfRyT Avatar

        Is true people can be manipulated and screwed by despots everywhere, look how George Bush and Toni Blair Manipulated the good will of Americans and took the country to invade Iraq under false pretences, Torturing and killing millions of Iraqi innocent who never did anything wrong to the Americans who in turn are screwed by the American Jews, Oh yes there are some despots around :-))))

    2. AfRyT Avatar

      Oh yes the history of crime, Like the USA financing terrorists in the opposition against Syria’s government, This was initiated immediately after Lebanon and Syria stablished good relationships under mutual respect of autonomy, It is clear that at this moment rises the “Syrian Opposition” who are no more than Terrorist working for the USA and as such they are also Catholic haters, Just a few days ago those jihadist beheaded a Syrian Catholic Priest and news like this are not in the main stream Media because it will make look bad the USA, Oh yes… the history of crime…

      1. AntiFSA Avatar
        AntiFSA

        There are many atrocities my friend that are committed by the terrorist that never reach the main stream media. However there are many fabricated stories about the Syrian government that are quick to reach the media. I seen the beheading of that poor soul (RIP) by those jihadist animals. The very pigs that the US are financing. This site in particular is known to air many stories that are fabricated. The sad thing is that many people on this blog accept and swallow the shit that is feed to them.

        1. Hannibal Avatar
          Hannibal

          I think Assad should leave and appoint the army to be in charge as a transitional move before all those bearded goats end up in there and ruin everything.

          1. AntiFSA Avatar
            AntiFSA

            Had the majority of the people been against him, then yes he should. However you and I including most on this blog know very well that most of the people fully support him. And not to mention that they always have.

          2. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            Well then, those of us who think they should have simply nuked the whole place were right. :-))
            (‘us’ being simply a term of reference to the mysterious ‘they’, of course.) 😉

          3. Hannibal Avatar
            Hannibal

            He is a criminal and you know it 😛

          4. AntiFSA Avatar
            AntiFSA

            Hannibal, in that case every leader of every country should step down. Especially the US, UK and France. In actual fact the 3 mentioned have caused more atrocities in the past and present than any other country in the world. I have and Idea. Lets have a world revolution then create a dictatorship that will rule the world. Out of respect lets make 5th the ruler. I mean he is older and wiser. Only issue we will have is 5th being selfish when it comes to all the scotch around the world. lol :)))
            Now you can be second in charge on the condition I be appointed as the one who gets to wipe out all Islamic extremist. :)))

      2. Leborigine Avatar
        Leborigine

        I do not support anyone in syria and agree with most of your article, but when did Lebanon and syria establish good relationships under mutual respect?? Was it the time when assad laughed off at the Republic Of Lebanon statement or when he demarcated the borders between us, or maybe it was when he ordered the assassinations of 12-14 Lebanese politicians in the past few years.
        syria never had mutual respect with Lebanon and unfortunately we have people who believe so due to the lack of national pride.

        1. Hannibal Avatar
          Hannibal

          But Leb we Lebanese will never have respect for the Syrians… and rightly so. We believe we are more refined, smarter, wittier, not counting the Homsi jokes 😉
          Syria has been nothing but trouble for Lebanon… While their land is usurped by Israel, they as did the Palestinians before them, lost their GPS and went North West to Jounieh and Ashrafieh instead of South to Israel.
          Moooooooooooooo (Syrian accent)

          1. Leborigine Avatar
            Leborigine

            Lol, I totally agree, I just toned it down as to not to upset the guys on the other side of the fence.
            Unfortunately, It will always be trouble for us. Its like a parasite!

  2. Charles_Knause Avatar
    Charles_Knause

    Yes, I tend to agree with the thinking of the author in regard to Russian motives. If there is an past conflict that can be used as a historical analogue for a better and clearer understanding of the present conflict now raging in Syria it is the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. This was a conflict that in many ways matched what is now happening in Syria in terms of the overall savagery of both sides as manifested in the take no prisoners attitude which inevitable leads to the kind of mass slaughter that we are now seeing in Syria.

    What enabled Franco and the fascists to prevail in Spain was the direct support that they got from Hitler and the other fascist elements in Europe at the time. Hitler’s notorious Condor Division intervened directly into the conflict in the same manner that the US & NATO are planning to do at present.

    It would have been easy for Stalin to have given the beseiged loyalist government the material support that it needed to survive and eventually defeat Franco and the fascist forces in Spain seeking the overthrow of the loyalist government. However, Stalin as the great master of perfidity that he was chose to do nothing other than offer the same kind of verbal support that Putin is now on offer to Assad. Since desperate men do desperate things it is only natural that Bashir can be easily sadduced by such sweet talk and lulabies!

    The outcome in Syria, I suspect will be pretty much the same as in Spain in the 1930s. Once again the Russians will prove to the world that they are worthless allies. History does indeed repeat itself and if it has anything at all to teach us it is that fact that history as we know it is nothing more than the “history of crime.”

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar
      5thDrawer

      “….. nothing more than the “history of crime” …. against humanity, you should add.
      From that Spanish War came two books written by a participant who witnessed the savagery first hand … ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘1984’ … two books that became required reading in western schools for many years. I’m not sure if they are now – but they should still be, for all people who wish to try to understand how they can be manipulated and screwed by despots everywhere – even by those ‘in business’ – and how the best of intentions are often led astray.
      Which is also why it’s not wise to allow someone else to interpret those ‘books’ of the One-God theories …. or to allow them to say you should not read all … and all you can.

      1. Charles_Knause Avatar
        Charles_Knause

        There is an American writer from CA who has written a couple of very good books on the Arab/Islamic world as well as the Spanish Civil War. His name is Stephen Schwartz. Have you ever heard of him? His book on the Spanish Civil War is entitled; SPANISH MARXISM VS. SOVIET COMMUNISM: A HISTORY OF THE POUM.

        1. 5thDrawer Avatar
          5thDrawer

          Had not … but will put it on my list for when i go looking … thanks.

      2. AfRyT Avatar

        Is true people can be manipulated and screwed by despots everywhere, look how George Bush and Toni Blair Manipulated the good will of Americans and took the country to invade Iraq under false pretences, Torturing and killing millions of Iraqi innocent who never did anything wrong to the Americans who in turn are screwed by the American Jews, Oh yes there are some despots around :-))))

    2. AfRyT Avatar

      Oh yes the history of crime, Like the USA financing terrorists in the opposition against Syria’s government, This was initiated immediately after Lebanon and Syria stablished good relationships under mutual respect of autonomy, It is clear that at this moment rises the “Syrian Opposition” who are no more than Terrorist working for the USA and as such they are also Catholic haters, Just a few days ago those jihadist beheaded a Syrian Catholic Priest and news like this are not in the main stream Media because it will make look bad the USA, Oh yes… the history of crime…

      1. AntiFSA Avatar
        AntiFSA

        There are many atrocities my friend that are committed by the terrorist that never reach the main stream media. However there are many fabricated stories about the Syrian government that are quick to reach the media. I seen the beheading of that poor soul (RIP) by those jihadist animals. The very pigs that the US are financing. This site in particular, is known to air many stories that are fabricated. The sad thing is that many people on this blog accept and swallow the shit that is feed to them.

        1. Hannibal Avatar
          Hannibal

          I think Assad should leave and appoint the army to be in charge as a transitional move before all those bearded goats end up in there and ruin everything.

          1. AntiFSA Avatar
            AntiFSA

            Had the majority of the people been against him, then yes he should. However you and I including most on this blog know very well that most of the people fully support him. And not to mention that they always have.

          2. 5thDrawer Avatar
            5thDrawer

            Well then, those of us who think they should have simply nuked the whole place were right. :-)) (‘us’ being simply a term of reference, of course.)

          3. Hannibal Avatar
            Hannibal

            He is a criminal and you know it 😛

          4. AntiFSA Avatar
            AntiFSA

            Hannibal, in that case every leader of every country should step down. Especially the US, UK and France. In actual fact the 3 mentioned have caused more atrocities in the past and present than any other country in the world. I have and Idea. Lets have a world revolution then create a dictatorship that will rule the world. Out of respect lets make 5th the ruler. I mean he is older and wiser. Only issue we will have is 5th being selfish when it comes to all the scotch around the world. lol :)))
            Now you can be second in charge on the condition I be appointed as the one who gets to wipe out all Islamic extremist. :)))

      2. Leborigine Avatar
        Leborigine

        I do not support anyone in syria and agree with most of your article, but when did Lebanon and syria establish good relationships under mutual respect?? Was it the time when assad laughed off at the Republic Of Lebanon statement or when he demarcated the borders between us, or maybe it was when he ordered the assassinations of 12-14 Lebanese politicians in the past few years.
        syria never had mutual respect with Lebanon and unfortunately we have people who believe so due to the lack of national pride.

        1. Hannibal Avatar
          Hannibal

          But Leb we Lebanese will never have respect for the Syrians… and rightly so. We believe we are more refined, smarter, wittier, not counting the Homsi jokes 😉
          Syria has been nothing but trouble for Lebanon… While their land is usurped by Israel, they as did the Palestinians before them, lost their GPS and went North West to Jounieh and Ashrafieh instead of South to Israel.
          Moooooooooooooo (Syrian accent)

          1. Leborigine Avatar
            Leborigine

            Lol, I totally agree, I just toned it down as to not to upset the guys on the other side of the fence.
            Unfortunately, It will always be trouble for us. Its like a parasite!

  3. dieprofundis Avatar
    dieprofundis

    If theirs is a desire for Syrian stability and peace then I salute the Russian iniative and their willingness to stand up to the Western wall of terror orchestrated by the USA and her puppets/proxies.
    I am sorry that it will take a year or more for the arrival of the S-300 to protect the Syrian people.

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar
      5thDrawer

      Ah yes, the GREAT Western Wall … wish it had been up a long time ago around those terror states you love to have. I’m sure the Russian people were happier with the Berlin – although maybe the German people trapped inside it were not – and they miss it now.

    2. Patience2 Avatar
      Patience2

      You speak trash like a master.

      1. AntiFSA Avatar
        AntiFSA

        Wow Patience, you got a arrow up from the Admin. Looks like your not the only one who is brain dead.

    3. AntiFSA Avatar
      AntiFSA

      The S-300 arrived long ago. This I know for a fact. (please don’t ask me how I know) Not to mention highly advanced helicopters, fighter jets and many other exciting toys. Think about it, If the US and its puppets didn’t know this, don’t you think they would have attacked by now. The US and its highly trained intelligent offices know everything. If they knew that Assad used WMD, surely they would know what weapons he has. rite. The war ended before it started. And Assad and the people have more than prevailed.

  4. dieprofundis Avatar
    dieprofundis

    If theirs is a desire for Syrian stability and peace then I salute the Russian iniative and their willingness to stand up to the Western wall of terror orchestrated by the USA and her puppets/proxies.
    I am sorry that it will take a year or more for the arrival of the S-300 to protect the Syrian people.

    1. 5thDrawer Avatar
      5thDrawer

      Ah yes, the GREAT Western Wall … wish it had been up a long time ago around those terror states you love to have.

    2. Patience2 Avatar
      Patience2

      You speak trash like a master.

      1. AntiFSA Avatar
        AntiFSA

        Wow Patience, you got a arrow up from the Admin. Looks like your not the only one who is brain dead.

    3. AntiFSA Avatar
      AntiFSA

      The S-300 arrived long ago. This I know for a fact. (please don’t ask me how I know) Not to mention highly advanced helicopters, fighter jets and many other exciting toys. Think about it, If the US and its puppets didn’t know this, don’t you think they would have attacked by now. The US and its highly trained intelligent offices know everything. If they knew that Assad used WMD, surely they would know what weapons he has. rite. The war ended before it started. And Assad and the people have more than prevailed.

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