The beginning of the attacks of the Russian Aerospace Forces on the positions of militants in Syria has intensified both those who actually oppose them, and those who pretend to participate in this fight, and those who support and direct them, pretending to fight with them. That is, Iran, official Baghdad and Damascus, Shiite militias of Lebanon and Iraq, as well as Druze, Christians and Kurds in the first case, the USA in the second, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey in the third. Each of them has its reasons. Arabian monarchies are waging war on several fronts, Turkey has parliamentary elections on its nose, and the States must demonstrate results in the fight against terrorists, at least in order not to face the whole world in an even more stupid position than it is now.
Arm your IG more expensive
Consider the situation in the region, relying on the materials of the experts of the IBS Yu. Shcheglovin and P. Ryabov. It should be noted that according to American sources, visits to Sochi by the heir to the Saudi Crown Prince M. bin Salman and the UAE Crown Prince M. bin Nahayan and their negotiations with President Putin ended with a statement of serious disagreements on the Syrian conflict. The Arabian monarchies have confirmed that they will not stand aside from the destruction of allies among opposition groups and will begin to strengthen their material and technical supply, including MANPADS to combat Russian aviation. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are not ready to organize intra-Syrian negotiations while retaining Bashar al-Assad in power and supporting him by Russia. This also included the alliance between Iran and Russia, considered by the KSA and the UAE as a threat to their national security, taking into account the weak military potential of the Saudi and Emirate troops.
We can assume that Egypt in this situation will try to stay away. The recent visit to Cairo of the Syrian secret services coordinator Ali Mamluk and his talks with his counterparts in the leadership of the Egyptian special services revealed a coincidence of their positions “on the need to fight Islamist groups in Syria,” which was officially fixed in the statement of the Foreign Ministry of Egypt. The Egyptian leadership distanced itself from any intervention in the internal Syrian conflict on the side of one or another external player, good, the KSA is the main sponsor of the economic and military projects of Egypt, and Russia, in the presence of an American embargo on military aid, Cairo is the main arms supplier.
Riyadh is aware that both the United States and Russia consider it to be a destructive force that must be ignored when solving regional problems. This was manifested in the situation with the Iranian nuclear program, with Syria and even in Yemen, the US did not provide any significant support to the Arab coalition. There is a question of reality for KSA and the UAE increasing their influence in Syria. For this, there is an experience they have tested in Afghanistan of supplying militants of MANPADS and other weapons. Washington today imposed a strict ban on the export of MANPADS to Islamists, including the "moderate" in Syria. The latter actively trade received weapons and move from one group to another. The US took into account the Afghan experience when, after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, they faced a threat to their own aviation. The sums spent by the Americans to buy Stinger MANPADS in Afghanistan, and then the Strelles in Libya, are still unknown.
The emergence of a large number of MANPADS from opponents of Assad is unlikely, based on the fact that not only the Russian Aerospace Forces operate in Syria, but also coalition aircraft led by the United States. However, modern anti-tank complexes in Syria will go in large numbers. At present, in Riyadh, it has been decided to send Jabhat en-Nusra 500 anti-tank systems. CSA should also become more active in Russia in the form of attempts to finance resonant terrorist attacks and stimulate an outbreak of jihadism in the North Caucasus, especially in Dagestan. The indicator is the 52 fatwa of religious scholars and imams of KSA, which calls on able-bodied men to "join the militants opposing the Russian troops in Syria." A campaign of recruiting volunteers and supplying weapons to the pro-Saud groups Jabhat al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham has been launched, keeping the idlib bridgehead, which, with their ousting into Turkey, is a top priority for the Syrian army.
As for the States, the transfer of 12 by the American transport aviation 50 in September to tons of small arms and ammunition from the “moderate opposition” opens up a new phase of their operations in Syria. A large-scale attack on the “capital” of the IG is approaching - the city of Rakka. His fall will mark the beginning of the end of the IG financing and the organization of a buffer zone under the control of the Kurds, impeding the supply of the Islamists through Turkey. Jordan in this process can play only a minor role. The main struggle of pro-Saudi militants with troops in Syria is in Idlib, in the north, and it is expensive and difficult to ship weapons across the country. In addition, Amman is not eager to turn his territory into a channel for transporting Salafi militants, straining relations with Moscow.
We need a victory, even a little
Anticipating a strike on Rakka, a plan was put forward to create a coalition called the Euphrates Volcano, which would include Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Turkomans, and some groups of the Syrian Free Army. The latter is depicted by the little-known "moderate" Islamist groups - Hazm, the Front of Syrian Revolutionaries and Jaish al-Tuuvar. This is intended to give the coalition the character of a mass movement uniting wide sections of Assad's opponents - from ethnic groups to secular and moderately Islamic groups. In fact, these are the remnants of the program for the preparation of the “new Syrian opposition”, wiped out by “Jabhat al-Nusra”. The real bet is on Syrian Kurds, and as a result, Ankara and Washington will operate in Syria in many ways separately.
Andrei Sedykh collage
Bridgehead for the attack on Raqqa - north and east of the Euphrates. The transfer of weapons and coordination of cooperation with coalition aviation will go through the base "Incirlik" with headquarters in Qatar. The weapon is going through Iraqi Kurdistan, whose president M. Barzani agreed to this during the negotiations last month with the Pentagon delegation in Erbil, while simultaneously refusing to take part in the attack on Mosul. Coordinates all this the CIA. In the maximum program format, in addition to Raqqah, it is planned to take Deir ez-Zor, advancing on it from the side of Hasek on the Khabur River, although it is unlikely that the coalition put together by the Americans can simultaneously conduct two offensive operations. The capture of Deir ez-Zor will cut off the Islamists from the bases in the northeast of Aleppo, violate their centralized command and supplies from Turkey. Kurds will not go to the Arab regions of the country.
As for Saudi Arabia’s financing of subversive operations in Syria and beyond, it is limited by oil prices. Saudi budget is tense. Social programs, the war in Yemen, the dumping prices of oil exported by KSA to Asia, under unfavorable conditions, will seriously undermine the country's gold and currency reserves. At the same time, the United States, unlike Afghanistan 80-x, will not help Riyadh. Their strategy in the region relies less and less on Saudi Arabia at the expense of other partners. This is also manifested in the American strategy in Iraq, where the US is preparing an offensive by the Iraqi army on Ramadi.
Mosul in terms of propaganda and strategic effect was much more preferable for the Pentagon. However, the Russian military operation in Syria demanded an urgent reaction from the United States. For two offensive forces of the Iraqi army was not enough. Especially after the leadership of the Kurds of Iraq, under the pretext of “unavailability”, the Peshmerga refused to attack Mosul from the north at least until the end of the year. In fact, Erbil did not want to get involved in battles in unfamiliar and unnecessary for the construction of an independent Kurdistan, maintaining strength before the inevitable clash with the Arabs for oil-bearing Kirkuk.
In addition, in the Kurdish autonomy there is an acute internal political struggle. Faced with serious problems in September over the prolongation of his powers as its leader, Barzani played a combination designed to remove from the government the figures in the Gorran opposition party associated with Iran. He is trying to create a coalition with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Islamic Union of Kurdistan. This may cause a backlash and an increase in Iranian influence in the Kurdish autonomy, but Barzani does not have room for maneuver, because he doesn’t have time to attack the IS. After the Pentagon’s mission had spent several weeks persuading him, it was decided to reorient himself to Ramadi. Especially since the assault on Mosul is fraught with serious casualties among the civilian population as a result of the use of aviation by the international coalition.
Washington is particularly important propaganda aspect. The United States needs a victorious, albeit a small operation to offset the clear loss to Russia and Iran in Syria. The Iraqi army stands 14 kilometers from Ramadi, which allows it to be fired from artillery. The capture of the city is intended to create a breakthrough in the sentiments of the Sunni tribes of the province of Anbar, by launching the process of incorporating the tribal militias into the security forces of Iraq. However, at one time the United States, promising recognition to the Sunnis of Anbar as part of the Iraqi armed forces, failed to carry out this decision through the government of N. al-Maliki.
The choice of Ramadi as an object of attack was due to the fact that the Iraqi army and Shiite militia in recent months did not advance northward through the province of Salah ed-Din to Mosul, as originally envisaged, and did not create a bridgehead near the IG. Note that in this offensive, the Shiites will either not take part, or will be limited to small forces. Americans will lose the remnants of the loyalty of the Sunni tribes if the population faces atrocities from the Shiites. The sheikhs of the Sunni Anbara tribes are categorically opposed to the participation of Shiites in battles in the territory of their province, although they themselves are not in a hurry to join the ranks of government forces. The Iraqi army could face serious problems in Ramadi, even with the support of American aircraft, as was the case in Tikrit.
New Middle Eastern Reality
From a military point of view, the occupation of the administrative center of the province of Anbar is of little importance. Iraqi Shiites and Iran are now too busy with Syria to actively express themselves in Anbar. Contacts with Washington Tehran are “frozen”, and relations with Iraqi Prime Minister H. al-Abadi have cooled because of his conflict with his predecessor N. al-Maliki, supported by Iran. The latter is hiding in southern Iraq, while in the meantime an indictment is being prepared in Baghdad about an attempt to organize a coup d'état. As a result, it is possible to expect soon that Riyadh’s contacts with the Sunni tribal elite will intensify, which, in the face of falling oil revenues, is a challenge for the Iraqi government, which is experiencing a financial shortage, and for Iran.
The picture of Saudi activity in the confrontation with Iran is complemented by the situation in Yemen. Detachments opposing President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi, who is under a KSA, launched a missile attack on an air base in Saudi Arabia. As reported by the Yemeni agency SABA, controlled by the Ansar Alla movement, that is, the Khousits, the units supporting them “fired a ballistic missile at the Saudi army airbase located in Khamis Mushyat in the southern province of Asir”. There was no response from the Saudi authorities to the statement of the Housits of the bombardment of the airbase.
It should be noted that this is already the second attack on the KSA air base from the beginning of the Arabian Coalition intervention. The first was held in the summer. The damage to the base was then great. According to experts, part of the fleet was destroyed and, more importantly, several high-ranking Saudi soldiers. Western intelligence agencies believed that the shelling was planned and carried out by Iranian advisers, who not only pointed the rocket, but also synchronized its launch with the arrival of the above-mentioned military officials at the base, which indicates that the Housits had a good intelligence network and most likely radio intelligence.
Riyadh, in turn, tried to close the information about the shelling. Housity used the missile of the old modification, and its exact hit into the target, despite the modern American air defense systems, caused a scandal and claims to American suppliers. At present, the radar component of the air defense command and control system is being finalized. As evidenced by the new shelling, the problems in technical equipment have not yet been resolved. It should be noted: the signal sent to Riyadh and other members of the Arab coalition by this shelling demonstrates that despite assurances from the Saudi command about the destruction of the arsenals of Zeidites and their rocket launchers, they are intact, efficient and quite effective.
After shelling the Tochka-U rocket a month ago at the Air Force base in Marib, where the Arabian Coalition military and aircraft technicians were concentrated, such signals are very sensitive in the capitals of monarchies. The calm on the fronts in Yemen does not mean that the battles do not go there. They just do not have such a large-scale character, as in the acute phase of the battle for Aden. Local-level battles are fought in all provinces of the country, although operational design is rarely visible behind them. The exception is the establishment by the coalition forces of control over the port of Moss on the Red Sea coast. But there was no continuation of the operation, although it did open up the possibility of an attack on Hodeidah, a seaport through which the Housits could receive weapons and material and technical assistance from Iran. However, according to experts, in the warehouses of the Khousits and supporters of the ex-President of Yemen, A. A. Salekh, there is enough weapon for a long war without replenishing stocks.
The situation in another key city of Yemen, Taiz, is also not in favor of the supporters of A. B. Hadi. The troops of the former Republican Guard and Kuat Hassa, loyal to Saleh, are stationed in the old imam stronghold on the dominant hills in the northern part of Taiz, sweeping the entire city from cannons. Bombardment to suppress their firing positions of the coalition aircraft does not undertake and loads with weapons for the local militia does not reset. The defenders of the city split: the Islamists attacked all the others.
Riyadh is currently trying to prepare an attack on Sana'a. Moreover, if Saudi Arabia fails to buy the loyalty of the Zaidit tribes of Sana'a province, the capital of Yemen will not be taken. Riyadh operates in this direction through the brothers Akhmarov and stepbrother Saleh Ali Mohsen. However, there is every reason to suspect them of duplicity. At one time, the relationship between KSA and Akhmarov deteriorated - during the overthrow of Saleh, when they switched to financing Qatar. In response, Riyadh provoked the Housits to destroy the infrastructure of the Islah party, which the brothers headed, which led to the emigration of Hamid al-Ahmar to Turkey. Today, he is again in demand in Riyadh and has made contact with him, but most likely he will try to restore the combat potential of his party at a Saudi expense, while trying to stay out of combat as long as possible.
Thus, even a superficial analysis of the operational situation shows that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are bogged down in Yemen and are suffering significant losses, although Iran’s participation in supporting the resistance of the intervention of the Arabian monarchies and their protege, President Hadi, is minimal. Moreover, the situation is fraught with the transfer of hostilities to Saudi territory, which, given the presence in KSA of a significant Shiite population, is deadly dangerous for the kingdom. The loyalty to the Salafi regime of the Eastern Shiites, the Ismailis of Najran, and the Zaydites of Asher, not to mention the Shiite population of Bahrain occupied by KSA, is zero. This is well known to Iran, which in a critical situation can inspire unrest in key provinces of the kingdom. This will call into question its very existence and will almost certainly rule out Riyadh’s attempts to act against Moscow both in Syria and on Russian territory.
In addition to Yemen, Iraq and Syria, Doha and Riyadh are active in Libya and Egypt (KSA supports Cairo, and Qatar - militants in Sinai who are fighting against the Egyptian army); they compete in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Central Asia, Africa, and a number of Asian countries outside Near and Middle East, as well as leading a continuous struggle for the political establishment of Europe and the United States. It seems that the peak of influence on world politics of the Arabian monarchies and Turkey, supporting them in some situations and competing in others, is over. The symbolic evidence of this was that Moscow in 2015 for the first time overtook Riyadh as a supplier of oil to the Chinese market. It should be noted that long-term trends in the development of Russian-Chinese relations with a clear weakening of the US positions in the Middle East reinforce Washington’s confrontation with Moscow and Beijing. This contrasts with the revealingly benevolent foreign policy of Moscow in relation to Western players, Turkey, the Arabian monarchies and the activation of its videoconferencing system in Syria, which created a new reality in the region.