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25
Oct
2015

Russia Begins to Bleed in Syria


It was only a matter of time before the Russian soldiers recently sent to assist the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad began to be injured by rebel fire.  Although Russia is busy conducting extensive air strikes on rebel strongholds in Syria, and at this stage is not involved in a ground war, soldiers stationed in Latakia still suffered losses in the battle for the city.

Reuters reported on October 20, 2015, the deaths of three Russian soldiers in Latakia, as a result of a rebel force shelling attack.  Previously, on October 13, 2015, rebels shelled the Russian embassy in Damascus.

Elite Russian soldiers

Elite Russian soldiers are now in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, according to Al-Rai (Kuwait) The graffiti reads “Syria Assad”

It is still unclear what Russia’s military plan in Syria is – and if President Putin, despite his denials, intends to continue deploying more soldiers in the campaign in order to decisively back Basher Assad.

The Syrian jihadi opposition and “moderate” opposition both assure Russia that they should expect to sink in the Syrian quagmire, as Russia experienced in its previous entanglement with Afghanistan. The global “Muslim Brotherhood” movement declared a jihad against the Russian soldiers in Syria. It appears like Putin’s army adventure is going to be long and steeped in blood.

The London-based newspaper “Rai Al-Youm” reported on October 19, 2015 that Russia is preparing a military offensive against all Syrian opposition groups at the end of this month. U.S. intelligence sources told the newspaper that Russia is sending forces, and military equipment has been unloaded at the port of Tartus. The coming Russian assault is expected to be integrated with the Syrian army, Hizbullah, and Iran’s “Revolutionary Guards.”

Reports from various Syrian sources indicate that despite massive aerial bombardment by Russian planes on rebel strongholds, rebel forces are fighting stubbornly and still managing to inflict heavy losses in recent days on Hizbullah and Iranian forces.

Syrian opposition groups have recently been supplied with anti-tank weapons which help inflict heavy losses to Hizbullah and Iranian forces. These opposition groups are supported with funds and weapons provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

According to a report on October 21, 2015 in the Saudi newspaper “Al-Hayat,” the “Free Syrian Army,” thought to be a more moderate organization and bombed by Russian planes, also received anti-tank missiles.

Were these weapons sent from the United States to the “Free Syrian Army” in order to deal with the Russian army?

It is important to recall that the Pentagon’s $500 million program to train and arm a moderate Syrian opposition – failed.  In Syria, people do not rule out the possibility that the Americans have begun to equip the moderate rebels with anti-tank weapons to thwart the military plans of the Russian president.

According to Arab media reports, Russia warned the Saudis several weeks ago not to supply anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebel forces, which could jeopardize Russian pilots.

The political efforts to find a solution to the situation in Syria have stalled. The Saudi defense minister, Muhammad bin Salman, recently visited Moscow but failed to persuade the Russian leadership to abandon Bashar al-Assad. There appears to be an understanding between Russia and the West about a six month transition period in Syria, during which President Bashar al-Assad will remain in his position until elections.  However, on this front there has been no progress, and Syrian opposition strongly oppose this “compromise,” while the “dialogue” is conducted by intensive gunfire on the battleground.

President Bashar Assad is holding onto his position thanks to the Russian military intervention that provides him some breathing room, even though Assad controls only about 20 percent of the original Syrian territory, in what is called the “coastal state.”

The Russian army is doing everything to ensure the absolute control of this area, even though it is routinely attacked by insurgents.

President Putin laid bare for the world President Obama’s failed policies in Syria.  Putin surprised Obama militarily in Syria, but it is not enough to save Bashar al-Assad. In order to survive, the Syrian president needs a decisive military victory on the ground.

Such a victory cannot be achieved by continued air raids. Just as the West’s coalition failed to defeat ISIS with its air strikes, a victory may only be achieved by military forces on the ground.

If President Putin intends to continue this military involvement in the future by integrating Russian ground troops against the rebels, he should take into account that the price will be high and Russian blood will be spilled.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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