The massive deployment of Russian air defense batteries in Syria has deflected NATO interventionism from a proposed no-fly-zone to a ground incursion from Assad’s southern flank, precisely as predicted by the Essential Intelligence Network in early May. WorldTribune’s Brian M Downing analyzes the prospects and outcome of this strategic maneuver in the near and intermediate term. His conclusions with regards to a southern front in that war also vindicate another Essential Intelligence prediction from Mid May.
Brian M Downing
The Obama administration is reluctantly upping its involvement in the Syrian civil war.
Though the White House offers few details, reports indicate that American personnel will arm and train teams of rebel fighters on Jordanian territory, then send them across the border to fight the Assad government.
U.S. Marines monitor Eager Lion 2013 maneuvers in Quweira, 300 kilometers south of Amman, on June 19. /AP/Maya Alleruzzo
This is unlikely to bring a rapid turn of events in the war. The Syrian Army is on the move and rebel forces are in disarray. The new U.S. directives will nonetheless present problems for Assad, though they may also pose problems for the U.S. – eminently foreseeable ones.
Units deploying from Jordan into Syria will, it is hoped, constitute a second front of sorts, which will take pressure off beleaguered Free Syrian Army and al Nusra Front forces in the north and east. They will likely try to solidify rebel control over the city of Daraa and the surrounding province, which was an early site of protest and armed rebellion, and which is presently embattled.
This southern front will further stretch the Syrian army by diverting units to reinforce Damascus – only sixty-five miles from Daraa. It may also divert Hizbullah forces now staging around Aleppo in the north, though it is unlikely they will deploy far from Lebanon where Sunni militias are skirmishing with Hizbullah and a return to civil war may be at hand.
A southern front in what is now a sectarian conflict will draw more local support than rebels elsewhere enjoy. The northern area along the Mediterranean coast is where the Alawi and Shias are concentrated; the south along the Jordanian border is far more Sunni. (Rebel concentration in the Shia littoral may one day be judged to have been a serious blunder.)
Furthermore, a southern front can be supplied from Israel, which is eager to oust Assad and see Syria weak, fragmented, and unable to pose a threat.
The U.S. also hopes that trained and well-equipped forces in the south will attract new recruits and other rebel forces. This will prevent them from going to the superior forces of the al Nusra Front, which is a Salafi militant group with ties to Al Qaida in Iraq. However, al Nusra has heretofore shown a remarkable ability to funnel in money and weapons from Salafi benefactors in the region, especially Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
The U.S. effort runs the risk of “Americanizing” the war, at least in the minds of the Assad government and its supporters in Iran, China, and Russia. This may bring new resolve to the Syrian army as the war becomes increasingly a conflict with Israel’s longstanding ally.
Russia has already expressed displeasure at U.S. actions in Syria, most recently by using its influence in Kyrgyzstan to end U.S. access to an airfield there used to supply Afghanistan. The move signals the possibility of also choking off the U.S.’s northern supply route into Afghanistan which runs through Russia and Uzbekistan, another former Soviet Republic where Russian influence is strong.
Syria may opt to retaliate against training bases in Jordan, forcing King Abdullah to reconsider things. Thoughtful Russian or Chinese statesman will delight in comparing to the U.S.’s 1970 incursion into Cambodia to destroy Viet Cong base camps. Such retaliation could inflict casualties on U.S. personnel. Indeed, it might be designed to do just that, forcing President Obama and the American public to reconsider things.
This may lead to further escalation – the “slippery slope” into another Middle Eastern morass. The Obama administration’s foreign policy team is not without champions of intervention in the name of democracy, who have more in common with the Neoconservatives than either Susan Rice or William Kristol would care to admit.
However, the team also has less adventurous figures, who served in Vietnam and who are not unmindful of the lead-up to that war. Most importantly, the president is determined to avoid deeper involvement in a conflict which offers few if any benefits to U.S. national security and which would greatly distract from pressing domestic concerns.