Russia and Iran Stoke the Flames of War

Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor.


An S-300 missileIn an interview on Hezbollah’s Al Manar, Syria’s strongman Bashar Assad hinted on Wednesday that Syria – or what’s left of it – had taken possession of its first delivery of Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The S-300 is a game changing weapon that enables Syria to target Israeli and regional commercial airliners. There is also the very real risk that Syria will transfer the missiles to Hezbollah (as it has already done with other sophisticated military hardware) or that the missiles will fall into the hands of extremist Sunni militias battling the beleaguered Alawite regime and their Shiite allies.

Clearly, the missiles in question are useless in the context of the Syrian civil war. The rebels have no aircraft and even if they did and assuming they could find someone to fly them, Assad’s current anti-aircraft capabilities can quite easily dispatch the threat as evidenced by last year’s downing of a Turkish F-4 Phantom. The delivery of the S-300 is meant to convey Russia’s determination not to allow Assad’s regime to fall and it is Assad’s way of telling Israel and NATO that he still has powerful allies and will not hesitate to use all weapons at his disposal to protect his hegemony.

The S-300 is an extremely sophisticated weapons platform requiring many components to be operational. Even if Assad’s boasts prove accurate, it is unlikely that all of the components necessary for the S-300’s functionality have been delivered and in any event, crews have to be trained. This provides Israel (and NATO should it choose to remove its head from the sand) with time to formulate strategies to deal with the provocative escalation.

Israel, while determined to stay out of Syria’s civil war, has made clear that it will do all that is necessary to protect its citizens from external threats be they from Syria, Iran or Hezbollah. In January, Israeli warplanes struck a Syrian chemical and biological weapons research facility as well as a Syrian military convoy transporting sophisticated SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah. The Syrians didn’t get the message the first time requiring the Israelis to launch two additional military operations in May which resulted in the destruction of long-range, Iranian made surface-to surface Fateh-110 missiles that were slated to be delivered to Hezbollah.

The delivery of the S-300 changes the strategic balance and threatens to further inflame the region. As Assad becomes more desperate and his hold on power becomes more tenuous, he will resort to deadlier use of force. When the fighting broke out some two years ago, Assad, cognizant of the West’s inaction vis-à-vis Iran’s brutal suppression of popular dissent in 2009, borrowed chapter and verse from the Islamic Republic’s tactics and unleashed his goons on the local population. When this tactic backfired, he upped the ante and adopted the techniques of his serial killer father employing heavy weaponry including tanks, artillery and aircraft to subdue his foes.

But these measures failed to produce the desired results and Assad began utilizing chemical weapons. Fearing a U.S. or possibly NATO response, Assad initially employed his unconventional arsenal sparingly and haltingly, testing the waters. Once Assad realized that Obama’s red line was nothing more than empty rhetoric, chemical weapons became an integral part of his offensive strategy.

Assad, by word and deed, has demonstrated a propensity to escalate violence in direct correlation to the threat assessment to his hold on power. We’ve already witnessed Assad transition from unleashing Basij type paramilitaries on defenseless civilians to use of chemical weapons. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Assad would resort to the “Samson Option” should he feel sufficiently threatened. More chilling is the prospect of chemical and biological agents and their delivery mechanisms falling into the hands of Hezbollah or Al-Qaida.

While Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah continue to buttress Assad, the free world led by the United States seems incapable of formulating a coherent policy. The reluctance to take action given our ill fated experience with Iraq and Afghanistan is quite understandable. But those conflicts involved nation building which inexorably led to deeper involvement and casualties. Our interests in Syria are quite different. There are no good guys and bad guys in Syria’s quagmire, only bad guys and worse guys. Our goals should therefore be limited to the destruction of Syria’s biological and chemical capabilities as well as its long-range, surface-to-surface missiles thus ensuring that most of the violence is contained within Syria.

There have also been calls to arm the rebels. Naturally, such a move must proceed with caution as many of the rebel groups have been radicalized and despise the West as much, if not more than Assad. If moderate rebel groups – to the extent that moderation can be found in the Arab world – can be identified, then arming them would be in our interest and would pose no risk to the lives of our service members.

There are no easy solutions and quick fixes to the crisis in Syria. It seems to be going from bad to worse and in the absence of any meaningful Western action, Assad and his Shiite allies are becoming increasingly more aggressive, menacing and expansionist. It is time for the United States to assume its leadership position in the world and in conjunction with our allies adopt a multilateral approach to effectively deal with the Syria-Hezbollah-Iran axis. Failure to take decisive action now could lead to devastating consequences later.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

  • no1

    Possibly the stupidest thing Russia has done since the invasion of Afghanistan. Maybe they need another Chechen insurgency to remind them that Muslims really aren't their friends.

    • Smote

      Naaah! The Russians want the money.

      Even the Russians know they have no friends in Islam. Take a look at an Orthodox cross. See where the crescent is…

    • EarlyBird

      "Possibly the stupidest thing Russia has done since the invasion of Afghanistan. Maybe they need another Chechen insurgency to remind them that Muslims really aren't their friends."

      I agree. What's Russian for "blowback"?

  • American Patriot

    With the Russians, it's all about the ruble. Who ever pays, receives. Same with the Chinese. These countries have no moral compass. So long as the Syrians continue to receive Iranian oil money, the weapons will flow.

  • http://www.adinakutnicki.com AdinaK

    War is being stoked to an exponential degree, and my northern front is a tinderbox, due to Russia and Iran's designs. However, it didn't have to be this way, and herein lies much of the onus – http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/05/30/war-drums-bla

    The overhead "booms in the night" are getting closer and closer.

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/

  • Rostislav

    As for "moral compass", I'd say that countries with leaders like Obama, Cameron or Hollande are as compassless morally, as China or Russia. I do not know about the power base of the Western leaders, but in Russia it is the world oil prices. And nothing boosts these prices like a good local war in the oil-rich regions. So the strategy of Putin is quite logical. Unfortunately I can't say the same about the Western strategy – after "Arab spring", "Kinetic action" and Benghazi I wonder if such strategy exists at all. Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

  • Deerknocker

    I see no reason to intervene in Syria. Frankly, I hope Assad and the rebels continue killing each other for the next several decades. Neither side of that fracas is, or will be, our friend. But when it comes to Russian supplied anti-aircraft missiles that can leak out into the terrorist community we have a vital interest at stake. We should promise Putin that when those missiles enter Syrian waters, and wherever they go after, they will be deemed legitimate targets. And do it! Don't just Obama-talk it to death.

  • Matt

    If the Syrians don't deserve freedom, then why anywhere else. Send unarmed protesters into the street day by day to be shot. Then not arming them. So they got some arms, with limited resources some got tactics and strategies they have taken Assad to the edge, forced Iran and Hizbullah to ge involved and are oppossing two superpowers at the UN the PRC and Russia. Active Russian support with limit support and no support from the West. I think the FSA are and have been pretty darn impressive.

  • Matt

    I should add perception are everything as McChrystal mentioned in Afghanistan and I did. Recent the President mentioned perceptions in Syria. The basic play is this the Arabs thought it was a good idea to arm the civilians that he was killing. We gave them some tactics and strategy. They have no help other than that and it was limited. But the West who have done nothing diplomacy that will fail so words and theats. Have not really been involved. So if the FSA lose (that is not clear an outcome, you can win battles and lose the war) the perception is you all lost to Putin. When really go to my above comment. All that power to overcome that. Bob Carr says Assad should stay and what involvement does Australia have. Putin does not care and he knows the west is weak and that is his strategy. They can't take the death toll the massacre an Putin will get his way. The reality is my above post the perception is in this post. Now it would take a lot of propaganda to make the reality not the perception fact in peoples minds.

  • elf

    Today the Free world is better represented by Putin than by Obama and his al-qaeda allies in Syria who massacre civilians and all Christians they can find. Assad is not perfect, but his citizens lived well before the US government decide to topple him with a *spontaneous* unrest to replace him with some islamist dictatorship like in Egypt, Lybia, Iraq, Tunisia. The Free world lost all confidence in the US government since the treason of the our natural allies, the Serbs, that allowed for a break in the Orthodox frontier of Europe, from Greece to Russia. Now Bosnia, Albania are islamist dictatorships, sponsored by Saudi Arabia. To US citizens, you are so dumb that you voted for a man who lied to you on his birth certificate and who is not even an US citizens. He is doing what he can to destroy your country from within, placing muslims and muslim brotherhood members in key positions, his own brother works with a terrorist, using vetoes and presidential bills to go over the senate and congress, taking away your civil rights, in particular free speech and right to bear arms with the complicity of the UN, but you still voted him for a second mandate….now his impeachment is overdue, SO WAKE UP AND MOVE YOUR ASS!

  • Smote

    "From Persia: very near a million" – Michel de Notredame.

    100 hands?

  • edgineer

    And only morons still believe the cold war is over.

  • Ellman48

    “Failure to take decisive action now could lead to devastating consequences later.” On the bright side, it would certainly distract from Obama’s many scandals of the moment. Obama may be concerned with his ‘legacy’ but he should be concerned with his ‘infamy’. Never have so many Americans been dead wrong about the man they voted for! The period between 2008 and now will be a never-ending study in mass psychosis once the consequences of this regime and its actions have been fully delivered.

    • onecornpone

      Good call…I’m expecting a half-century denial phase.

      I’m thinking most of us will be worm castings by the time the blame is properly laid.

  • FB363

    “Failure to take decisive action now…. ”

    Nah, folks in the US are tired of fighting Israel’s wars.

  • Mike Nelson

    Do not intervene in the Syria Civil war, When your enemies are killing each other.
    The Russians are protecting their multibillion rubble investment in their only true warm water port in Syria. All the warring sides in the Syrian civil war HATE one another due to religious and tribal conflicts that have been around since the founding of Islam and we the US can do nothing to change this. The US needs to locate through National Technical means the caches of Bio and Nerve agent weapons and if they are used any more destroy them with airstrikes with B2′s and submarine launched cruise missiles. Commit no land forces to the conflict.