The Syrian war is about to finally enter its terminal stage. This is not something to be celebrated as there is only one winner and a ton of losers. Without any doubt the largest losers are the Syrian people who now have no country. Syria will be a nation in ruin for as far as the mind can see. Once the Assad government final is completely destroyed and the Alawites have paid the price for the Assad families’ decades of ruthless leadership where millions died just because the Assad family feared they might turn against their governing, then the Syrian fighting will simply be every factions, tribe and even clan contesting land until eternity. The war will rage on ravaging what is already a nation in ruin even further down the scale of civil rule. It is highly likely that Syria will never emerge from the ashes and the Syrian people will inherit a nation at war with itself with no relief from the horrors similarly to what is still ravaging Libya long after their dictator paid the price for his savagery. Bashir al-Assad will probably be more fortunate as he will probably take refuge in Iran, Russia or somewhere in Europe where he and his family will live quietly and under an assumed identity spending what is likely to be billions of Euros they have stashed in numbered Swiss accounts. Some might see this as their having come out as winning but they will also be living that life or relative luxury constantly looking over their shoulder checking for an inevitable assassination of Bashir al-Assad if not a slaughter of his entire family some night when something went bump in the night and their house was transformed into their tomb.
There will be numerous leaders of different factions of the groups fighting against Assad who will claim to have won and may even spend a few hours in celebration of the final end of Assad family rule before the next stage of the fighting begins to determine who will be the final winner. Unfortunately for the people of the Arab and soon greater Muslim worlds, when the entirety becomes a contest to determine who gets to form the next Caliphate then everyone loses as the fighting envelops a larger and larger area with numerous factions fighting against each other and eventually factions melding to be stronger and fighting to be the final victor as there can be only one Caliph and soon there may be countless contesters for that throne. This fighting promises to eventually cut the Muslim world into large factions with regular breaking down between allies just making the fighting even more destructive. The initial fighting will continue across Syria, Libya and Iraq for the foreseeable future with a few contesters being the forces to watch. The most obvious element is ISIS which claims to have their tentacles reaching across the different areas where fighting is active, even in Yemen. The news has reported of ISIS factions beheading some twenty Egyptian Coptic Christians which garnered them some attention from Egypt which carried out a series of airstrikes. This provides the simple truth of what it will take for ISIS to actually be capable of successfully claiming the leadership and establishing the next Caliphate, air-power. So far ISIS has not given even a tentative sign that they have any air capabilities. There was mention after ISIS captured an airbase in Syria of their intending to train pilots for the establishing of an ISIS air force. They managed to get a few jets into the sky which were immediately shot down by actual fighters from the Syrian Air Force. The next step was the destruction of every aircraft on the ground by two or three days of airstrikes rendering the airfield useless and destroying every aircraft they could target. So much for an ISIS air force.
ISIS will be a terrorist organization, though a powerful one for now, until they somehow manage to garner air-power in the form of aircraft and fully trained pilots to fly them. There will be only one way for this to occur, and that would be for a number of flight squadrons to take to the air and land on an airstrip already within ISIS controlled area bringing as much weaponry for their aircraft as they are able to carry. If such defections are well planned before their execution these pilots and some ground crews for servicing their aircraft, as such will be vital, will also have some cargo aircraft loaded with munitions, spare parts and everything necessary to sustain an active air force no matter how small. Obviously this would require either an entire nation’s air crews or a number of squadrons following suit in rapid succession thus forming not only the beginning core of an air force but instead a complete and functioning air force capable of defending their airfields as well as providing ground support and other missions. Anything less and ISIS will remain a terrorist group even if a powerful terrorist entity, but not yet the nation or even contender for the title of Caliphate. So, who are the real qualifiers for the title of leaders of the Caliphate?
Unfortunately ISIS is still the number one contender as they have the appearance as the strong horse with the plans and the fire to get the Caliphate started and lead the fighting forces to eventual victory and the unification of the entirety of the Ummah (Arabic: أمة). As pointed out, if ISIS is to eventually prove the leadership of the new Caliphate they will require a real air force which has thus far eluded them. That leads us to the more obvious candidates but first let’s list some of the non-state actors who will eventually play a role in the determining the next Caliphate. The first one to come to mind is the father of so many of the Arab and Islamist terrorist and non-state actors across the expanse of the Muslim world, the Muslim Brotherhood. Another entity with the structures in place for making a claim is al-Qaeda. A third would have to be the Taliban though their reach is limited; they do have well trained fighters who are highly motivated. Despite the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban and al-Qaeda having extensive ties and supporters, they have the same problems as does ISIS, no air power. For this reason, none of these groups have much of a chance of defeating an actual state whose military is well formed and capable of fighting a modern war against what would have to be viewed as a terrorist entity in the eyes of the national leadership and armed forces. The main duty beyond holding the line against the terror entity would be keeping control through the ranks, especially the air force, to prevent defections to the other side, something which occurred with some of the Sunni military and security forces in Iraq and Syria. There were even a few pilots who defected over to ISIS but not in sufficient numbers to even form a single squadron of fighter air corps.
There are currently four nations which might be considered capable of eventually forming the next Caliphate if such is what is fated. These are in no particular order, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt. A fifth possible nation would have to be Pakistan if for no other reason than their being a nuclear armed nation. The nations who currently are allied in the fight against the Iranian proxy Houthis fighting for control of Yemen and most importantly, the Bab-el-Mandeb narrows at the southern end of the Red Sea and controlling access from the Red Sea into the Gulf of Aden and onto the Arabian Sea and beyond, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. This is a perfect alliance as Saudi Arabia has the oil wealth while Egypt has a strong, well-armed and well-trained military which has proven their unity and discipline over the trying period of two changes in governance over the past three years which the military retained its ranks and officer corps and structure throughout. The greatest threat to the Saudi-Egyptian alliance is obviously Iran which could become favored to gain the upper hand in this contest once they attain their own production of nuclear weapons, a structure that is greatly formed already and presumably not producing such weapons due to their negotiating with the P5+1 and possibly fearing actions by the United States should they actually proceed and build a nuclear weapons stockpile. This likely means that Iran is doing exactly that, as they have no respect, let alone fear, of any threat the United States might currently make. Once it becomes obvious that Iran has produced nuclear weapons, it is expected and been confirmed unofficially that Saudi Arabia will be exercising their agreement to purchase, most likely at wholesale, a dozen, or a few dozen, nuclear devices and the delivery system to go with them in the case they are warheads rather than bombs. This would allow for the Saudis to develop, which means build the facilities, their own nuclear program. The Saudi Arabian scientists and necessary technicians are already trained and ready to take up the challenge of producing nuclear weapons as they have received such plans from Pakistan in exchange for their subsidizing the Pakistani drive to produce their own nuclear weapons in response to India having done so. The Saudi access to nuclear weapons production will serve to perpetuate into perpetuity the alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
With the establishment of an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Egypt one side and Iran and whatever remnants of Iraq, Syria and probably Lebanon as ISIS and the other rebel groups who will have brought down Bashir al-Assad will still have numerous scores to settle with Hezballah which any international borders will not be capable of standing in the way preventing this vengeance from being extracted. The above alliance leaves such powers as Turkey and Pakistan on the outside in the cold, so to speak. Pakistan is most likely to remain on the outside simply observing as a mostly disinterested spectator who if forced to choose would most likely ally with the Saudis and company as they have had a mutually advantageous relationship over the decades, despite Pakistan receiving much of their oil from Iran, it is likely that the Saudis could take care of any need in that area. That leaves Turkey to figure on which direction they are most likely to take. The direction Turkey would take depends on who is in power. Currently their leader for as long as most can remember has been Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Should Erdogan remain in power, which way he would choose would be in question. President Erdogan has over the years shown to side with the Iranians, Saudis and even Egypt alternately. Currently there is a significant rift between Turkey and Egypt over the ouster of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood governance and replacing it with the chosen General of the Army President Sisi. The Turkish government, which is to say Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has held fast demanding that President Sisi step down as President and place Morsi back on his Presidential pedestal along with the entirety of the Muslim Brotherhood government the last elections replaced. As doing so would most definitely lead to the loss of the lives of most of the upper echelons of the Egyptian military, this scenario is highly unlikely. If sentences are to be carried out swiftly there may no longer be a former President Morsi to return to the position as he and hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been sentenced to death recently by the Egyptian courts. Meanwhile, Erdogan has alternately shown affinity for Iran though currently has remained surprisingly neutral and silent reserving his vitriol for Israel, always the default position one can take to insulate themselves from outside harms. Determining which direction Turkey might take under Erdogan is a guessing game and probably will remain that way until one side or the other proves the victor and then Erdogan would ingratiate himself to the victor. If he were to choose, he appears to favor Iran possibly due to their presence in Syria and thus along his southern border. Without Erdogan Turkey would naturally side with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as they would no longer be seen as supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The question as to which side would prove victorious between a Saudi Arabian led coalition or Iran is a tougher call. It might all depend on which side was willing to use their ultimate weapon with sufficient deployment so as to end the ability of the other side to resist. Where I have some doubts that the Saudis would be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East, I have no doubts that such would be the primary first strike or response to hostilities in order to simply end any contest and declare their victory. Should such an event ever be presented to the world, their answer should be carefully decided and decisively delivered. Should Iran use nuclear weapons against her adversaries on the Middle East and willingly bring such devastation to fellow Muslims, even if they were predominantly Sunni and not Shiite, then the rest of the world had best believe they would receive nothing less. Should Iran launch such a barrage, it would be surprising if they did not at the same time launch attacks by multiple means on Europe and the United States as well as any other nation they might perceive to be capable of mounting a credible resistance to their eventual world-wide victory. But even Iran does not appear to be quite that ruthless or willing to wreak such devastation on such a scale.
Should they prove to be that hardhearted and coldblooded as to end civilization as we know it, then it would prove a suspicion I had way back when a cursory review of the predictions of Nostradamus was in vogue and fascinated one youth after viewing a special on television where they gave lengthy coverage to his future vision of the world falling to a man from the Middle East wearing a blue turban. Despite every publication and prediction claiming that this meant Iraq I held stubbornly to my feelings that it signified Iran, and I do mean stubbornly. Often I was dismissed as a lost cause incapable of listening to reason but I had my faith that Persia would rise again and not Babylonia. Historically the Babylonians surrendered to the Persians almost joyously as their ruler had lost his mind after burning three Israelites (Jews) for not bowing before him and they somehow proved to be fireproof, well, at least for that moment as they cried out to G0d and were saved from a fiery death. This proved a bit much for the mind of King Nebuchadnezzar II who lost his mind unable to believe or understand that such a miracle was possible and that he was not the most powerful even in his own kingdom, his capital city even.
As is often the case, the eventual end to this will entail a fair degree of insanity, a touch of the impossible, room for a number of miracles, even more so should Israel somehow become involved. Perhaps this might be the place to end with a final word on the probable path Hezballah may be about to tread. Once the remaining forces, the few, the perplexed, the Syrian remnants; then Hezballah will find themselves pretty much alone as the IRGC forces will stake out a radius around Damascus and wherever else they determine is vital to Iran such as the port where the Russian fleet is docked, Latakia, and perhaps a few places in Lebanon as well. Should Iranian plans not include providing safety for the last remnants of the Syrian military, they certainly will not be protecting Hezballah. The Iranians may well understand that should they not side with the remnants of the defenders of Assad that their retaining the choice areas they believe essential to their requirements will be more readily accepted and produce minimal resistance. That leaves Hezballah pretty much out in the cold and in need of some reinforcement to their devotion to Allah and commitment to the perpetual cause, the eradication of the Zionist entity, Israel. The end result will be the same and Hezballah should prove to be better served for survival by fighting Israel than fighting ISIS. It needs to be remembered that Hezballah, just like ISIS, has no air force. This deficiency will prove fatal for them in either battle, against Israel it is obvious, they will have little recourse against Israeli air power, and against ISIS it places them on an even playing field with ISIS currently being the more motivated and Hezballah having superior training and better knowledge of the terrain as well as having heavily fortified bunker and tunnel system in southern Lebanon, their home turf. Either path will probably be the final battles Hezballah will ever engage in. Even should they start a war with Israel, that does not necessarily rule out a final settling of grievances with ISIS, it would just mean that final reckoning coming after Israel had smashed their bunkers and tunnels and decimated their rocket and other heavy weaponry. Anyway one slices it, there is a better than average probability that we will have seen the last of Hezballah by Summer’s end. That may be the cherry atop the ice cream Sunday and a gift to the civilized world out of the ashes of Syria.
Beyond the Cusp