United States and Russian Involvement in Syria

July 23, 2013 10:17 am 2 comments

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The Syrian civil war has escalated in the last few months as Russia and the United States take sides. Moscow remains committed to provide the Syrian government with S-300 air defense systems against the Syrian rebels. Moscow has condemned the United States for openly siding with the rebels. Several weeks ago, President Obama announced that the United States would provide small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebel forces, while Britain’s Prime Minister announced over the weekend that the U.K. will stay out of the Syrian conflict.

British Prime Minister David Cameron stated on the BBC news that Great Britain will not send military aid to the Syrian rebels because of the increasing presence of Muslim extremists among the rebel groups. Ahmad Assi Jarba, the newly elected leader of the Syrian National Coalition, has set his priority to securing arms for the rebel forces fighting against Assad’s regime troops in a civil war that started in March 2011. During the G-8 summit in June, President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in private to discuss a resolution to end the Syrian civil war. British Prime Minister Cameron, who chaired the G8 summit, conceded that the two leaders could not agree on how to resolve the war. Putin condemned the West’s support of the anti-Assad rebels while the West condemned Russia for providing the Assad forces with sophisticated missile systems.

Not since the Cold War has the United States and Russia taken sides over a country in the Middle East. The former Soviet Union was a major power broker and mentor to Afghanistan’s government from 1979 to 1989. They were influential in arming the Afghan military against the Mujahedeen. The United States under the Reagan administration was providing financial aid and arms support to the Mujahedeen multi-national forces through the CIA. The United States spent billions of dollars in arms to the Mujahedeen, making this one of the CIA’s longest and most expensive covert operations in the Middle East. Fast forward 23 years later, and Russian President Vladimir Putin (a former KGB officer during the Afghan war), now warns that the Syrian civil war would escalate into an Afghan-type war if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is removed unconstitutionally.

The White House Administration for the last two years had tried to remain neutral with Syria to avoid involvement with another Middle East war. The administration has tried to use diplomatic means to avoid getting drawn deeper into the civil war in Syria. However, after heavy pressure from advisors, President Obama announced in June 2013 that the United States will send small arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebel forces. The decision was made because the Syrian government had crossed the “red line” on using chemical weapons against their people. The intelligence community has estimated that between 100–150 people have died from detected chemical attacks conducted by Assad’s regime. While the lethality of these alleged chemical attacks are a small portion of the overall reported deaths in Syria, which now stands at over 100,000, the U.N. has been pushing for an unfettered investigation inside Syrian military bases. The CIA has begun shipping arms to Syrian rebels to Jordan from a network of secret warehouses around the Middle East. U.S. and Saudi officials estimate that it will take another four to five months before there are enough re-armed and trained rebel fighters to make a meaningful difference against Assad’s forces and their Hezbollah allies.

Early in the Syrian civil war, the Syrian government began testing chemical weapons near the city of Aleppo. That same year the Syrian military moved their chemical weapons from Damascus to the port city of Tartus, following the advice from Russian military advisors. Between March and June of 2013 there have been several unconfirmed reports that the Syrian government has been using chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels. The U.N. has stated there are reasonable grounds that chemical weapons were used on at least four attacks against the rebel forces, but more evidence is required to determine the type of chemical used and who was responsible.

According to British news on July 5, 2013, an Israeli Dolphin-class diesel submarine conducted a covert missile attack, destroying a Syrian missile depot in the port city of Latakia. The Yakhont P-800 anti-ship cruise missile is an export weapon from Russia with a flight speed of Mach 2.5 and an effective range between 74–180 miles. The missiles can be launched from land, sea, air, and submarines. The distance between Latakia, Syria and Haifa, Israel is 193 miles. Russia delivered fifty P-800 missiles to the Syrian government from a contract agreement signed in 2007. Cable News Network (CNN) reported that the attack was initiated from the Israeli Air Force (IAF), but later evidence pointed to the Israeli Navy, according to a British news source. CNN received the report from three unnamed U.S officials claiming that the IAF conducted the strike to destroy 50 Russian Yakhont P-800 anti-ship missiles delivered to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Israel’s Defense Minister stands by that Israel will not be involved in the Syrian civil war, but has established red lines that will not be crossed. Earlier in February, Syrian President Assad had requested support from Iran to launch a strike against Israel, but Iran declined stating that “You [Syria] need to take care of your own business.”

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2 Comments

  • Vickie Simpson

    It seems ridiculous for Russia to continue to support Assad given the evidence of the use of chemical weapons. What we really need to understand is Russia’s lack of a southern seaport. The Russian support for Assad is linked to their need for a Russian military sea base in Syria. Without Syria, Russia has no friends or allies in the entire middle east. They need this base in the Mediterranean for their national security! This is why they block ALL United Nations sanctions.

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