Wednesday, 17 August 2016

New alliances in the Middle East at Washington's expense

China Sides With Russia Syrian War, Will Provide "Aid And Military Training" To Assad

Rear Admiral Guan Youfei

16 August, 2016

Ever since the return of the Syrian war in 2015, which has seen both US alliance forces and as - of last - September, Russian forces too, jousting for political influence in the region under the guise of fighting ISIS while in reality either seeking to oust or preserve the Assad regime, one major playerwas missing: China.

That is about to change as the last major superpower enters the world's most volatile - and dangerous - region.

Beijing and Damascus have agreed that the Chinese military will have closer ties with Syria, and provide humanitarian aid to the civil war torn nation, a high-ranking People's Liberation Army officer said, adding that the training of Syrian personnel by Chinese instructors has also been discussed, according to Xinhua.

As has been historically the case, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia, while relying on the region for oil supplies. But lately, for unknown reasons, China has been trying to get more involved, including sending envoys to help push for a diplomatic resolution to the violence there and hosting Syrian government and opposition figures according to Reuters.

The Director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China's Central Military Commission, Guan Youfei, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij, Xinhua dded.

Guan said China had consistently played a positive role in pushing for a political resolution in Syria.

"China and Syria's militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China's military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria's military," the news agency paraphrased Guan as saying.

Guan and al-Freij discussed the enhancement of training and "reached a consensus" on the Chinese military providing humanitarian aid to Syria, Xinhua reported, without providing further details.

As to who China will side with, it should come as little surprise that the answer is "not the US." 

Last year, there were media reports that China had sent dozens of
military advisers to Syria to help the country fight terrorists, however these were never confirmed.

This time, however, we have confirmation. Guan met a Russian general in Damascus, Xinhua reported without giving details.

While China has shown no interest in getting involved militarily in Syria, China's special envoy for the crisis there in April praised Russia's military role in the war as the Kremlin staged a bombing campaign there in September 2015 to March 2016. Russia still has some of its forces in the country to provide humanitarian and military assistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Which means that as of this moment, every major  world superpower is officially involved in the Syrian war, which has on various occasions been aptly called a powderkeg for what may be the next global military conflict - to be sure, all required players are now officially involved.

For The First Time, Russian Strategic Bombers Strike ISIS From Iran's Hamadan Air Base

16 August, 2016

While Obama is campaigning on behalf of Hillary Clinton, Vladimir Putin is making friends.

Russian strategic bombers with full payloads delivered their first airstrikes on terrorist targets in Syria operating from an Iranian airbase, the Russian Defence Ministry said, after Moscow deployed Russian aircraft to an Iranian air force base to widen its campaign in Syria. The ministry said the strikes, by Tupolev-22M3 long-range bombers and Sukhoi-34 fighter bombers, were launched from Iran's Hamadan air base. 

Russia's state-backed Rossiya 24 channel earlier on Tuesday broadcast uncaptioned images of at least three bombers and a Russian military transport plane apparently inside Iran, but said it was unclear how many Russian bombers had arrived there.

This was the first time that Russia has struck targets inside Syria from Iran since it launched a bombing campaign to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in September last year.

Moscow and Tehran signed a military agreement allowing Russian aircraft to station at Hamadan Airport in western Iran, and according to Iran's Natioanl Security Council the cooperation between the two countries in Syria is “strategic." 

Tehran has agreed to share its military facilities and capacities with Moscow, confirming dedication to strategic cooperation in fighting against terrorism in Syria, Iran’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani told Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) in an interview on Tuesday.

Russian media said the Tupolev-22M3 bombers, which had already conducted many strikes on militants in Syria from their home bases in southern Russia, were too large to be accommodated at Russia's air base inside Syria.

According to RT, the main benefit for the Russian Air Force is a drastic reduction in flying time to terrorist targets in Syria. Russian long-range bombers delivered airstrikes in Syria from a base in Mozdok, Russia, and had to cover a distance of about 2,000km to get to Syrian airspace. Now that distance is reduced to some 700km, so time-sensitive airstrikes can be delivered immediately and more cheaply.

The Al-Masdar website was the first to publish photos of at least three Tu-22M3 bombers and Il-76 military transport jets in Iran.

As Reuters notes, the move shows Russia is expanding its role and presence in the Middle East and comes amid Russian media reports Moscow has asked Iran and Iraq for permission to fire cruise missiles at Syrian targets across their territory from the Caspian Sea. The ministry said Tuesday's strikes had targeted Islamic State and militants previously known as the Nusra Front in the Aleppo, Idlib and Deir al Zour provinces.

The bombers had been protected by fighters based at Russia's Hmeymim air base in Syria's Latakia Province, it said. 

Meanwhile, military cooperation between Iran and Russia is developing rapidly. In January this year, Moscow and Tehran signed military cooperation deal that implies wider collaboration in personnel training and counter-terrorism activities. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu and his Iranian counterpart Brigadier General Hossein Dehghan signed the document during a visit by Russia’s top brass to the Iranian capital.

The Kremlin won't stop there: on Monday, Interfax reported that Moscow has once again requested Iran and Iraq to allow cruise missiles to fly through their respective airspace to deliver strikes on terrorist targets in Syria. Also on Monday, Russia launched tactical naval drills in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas. The warships taking part in the exercise are to engage in live artillery and missile fire “under simulated battlefield conditions.” The Mediterranean force includes two fast attack guided missile craft, both armed with Kalibr-NK cruise missile complexes equipped with eight missiles each.

Simultaneously, a group of four attack guided missile craft (each armed with 8 Kalibr-NK cruise missiles) has been deployed in the southwestern part of the Caspian Sea, also to perform live artillery and missile strikes. On October 7, 2015, four Russian Navy warships in the Caspian Sea fired a total of 26 missiles at positions in Syria held by IS, Shoigu announced. The missiles traveled some 1,500km, changing route several times, and eliminating 11 targets.

So as the US is boosting its campaign in Libya "to fight ISIS", Russia is likewise expanding its geopolitical presence, and in the process making a deeper strategic relationship with Iran, which contrary to the Obama administration's repeated overtures, appears to be gravitating progressively closer to America's cold war nemesis.

Russia just deployed heavy bombers to Iran
Alexander Mercouris

16 August, 2016

TU-22M3 and SU-34 strike targets in Syria from Hamadan air base in Iran.
Whilst the true state of relations between Turkey and Russia remains murky, the alignment of Russia with the other great Central Asian power – Iran – is intensifying.

News came today that heavy TU-22M3 Russian bombers together with SU-34s are operating against Jihadi targets in Syria from a base in Hamadan in Iran.

This is primarily a political not a military act. TU-22M3s have the range to strike anywhere in Syria from their bases in southern Russia and have repeatedly shown their capacity to do so. There is no operational reason for them to fly to Syria from Hamadan. That Russia has chosen to fly its TU-22M3s out of Hamadan is therefore a political statement by Russia that Russia and Iran are military allies in the joint fight against Islamist terrorism in Syria.

The presence of Russian bombers in Hamadan in Iran signals something else. This is a powerful statement of support by Russia for Iran and for the Iranian government. Just as the presence of the now permanent Russian air base at Khmeimim renders all but impossible or at least extremely difficult US and Israeli strikes on Syria, so the presence of Russian bombers in Iran is a powerful warning against any US or Israeli plans for strikes on Iran such as might once again be considered by an incoming US administration following the US Presidential election. This is potentially important since both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, whatever differences they might have on Russia, both have history as hardliners against Iran.

The deployment of Russian bombers to Iran is going hand in hand with a purposeful convergence of Russian political and economic ties. It comes shortly after Putin’s meeting in Baku with Iran’s President Rouhani and Azerbaijan’s President Aliyev, and it comes following Russia’s diplomatic support to Iran in the nuclear negotiations with the US, and news of a growing strengthening of economic ties between Russia and Iran.

Iran is on line to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation next year, has just received a substantial Russian credit, and is broaching negotiations to set up a free trade zone with the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union, which is to include Azerbaijan.

It is also surely not a coincidence that Russian Defence Minister Shoigu has just completed a somewhat mysterious visit to Azerbaijan. What the precise point of that visit was is unclear (it is unlikely to have had anything to do with the Nagorno Karabakh dispute), but it seems likely that it was in some way connected to the recent Russian military deployment to Iran.

Looking further ahead, should the Russian deployment to Iran become permanent, as the Russian deployment to Syria has now done, then it will potentially have as big a military and political strategic impact in the Gulf area as the Russian base in Syria potentially has for the eastern Mediterranean.

Whilst we are still a long way off from Russian aircraft patrols over the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz from Iranian bases, that has suddenly become at least an imaginable possibility. Whether that happens or is even on the cards is another matter.

Some words of caution are in order. Unlike Syria Iran most definitely is not dependent on Russia for its survival. On the contrary it is a great civilisation and a Great Power with a long history – far older than Russia’s – and a very active policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Relations between Iran and Russia have not always been easy and Iran is known to take a dim view of some of Russia’s diplomatic moves with regard to Syria. There are also people in Iran – and even more in the Iranian diaspora – who would prefer Iran to realign with the US.

It cannot therefore be said with certainty that this burgeoning relationship between Iran and Russia will in the end bear fruit, or that it will continue beyond the so far purely tactical alliance the two countries have forged to fight militant Jihadism in Syria. However for the moment the convergence between the two parties is becoming stronger and with the deployment – however temporary – of Russian bombers to Hamadan its profile has just taken a dramatic increase.

Yeah, right

Turkey Could Provide Incirlik Airbase for Russian Anti-Terror Campaign – Senator

Turkey could provide its Incirlik airbase for the Russian Aerospace Forces jets in the anti-terrorist campaign in Syria, member of Russia’s upper house of parliament Igor Morozov said Tuesday.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) – He clarified that the decision could be taken based on similar agreements made with Syria on the use of the Hmeymim facility and the latest use of the Hamadan airfield in western Iran to carry out airstrikes against terrorist groups in Syria.

"Turkey can provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria]. This can become a logical continuation of Turkish President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s step toward Russia," Morozov told RIA Novosti.

Senator Viktor Ozerov, member of Russia's Federation Council Defense and Security Committee, did not rule out that Ankara could offer the use of its air base after Erdogan’s reconciliatory visit to St. Petersburg last week, where he affirmed support for Russia’s anti-terrorist mission in Syria.

"It is not guaranteed that Russia needs Incrilik, but such a decision can be regarded as Turkey's real readiness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and not just pay lip service," Ozerov stressed.

Incirlik has been in use by the US Air Force in its coalition’s efforts againstDaesh terrorist group since the summer of 2015.

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