In a nutshell Syria has a fair measure of the powers in play in the Middle East and into North Africa. In addition we will also need to mention areas centered on Nigeria where Boko Haram is centrally located making war on Nigeria and all her neighboring states. Then there is Yemen and two straits, Bab el-Mandeb and finally the Strait of Hormuz which are all parts of the Iranian designs which start with the Shiite Crescent from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and control of the two most important waterway choke points in the Middle East affecting everything from the eastern tip of Asia to the Western tip of Europe including the British Isles. But it all starts with Syria and the last block to the Shiite Crescent.
Iran sits conveniently at the eastern edge just beyond the Arab Muslim Empire and as such is mostly a different peoples east of the Zagros Mountains which have served as a defensive barrier thousands of years. This was the secret of the Persians and why despite falling to Islam they remained separate and distinct. Still, if Iran was ever to claim the right as the head of a Caliphate they were going to need to establish two things, a connection unobstructed to the Mediterranean Sea and thus full access to North Africa and South Europe and a mass alteration of Islam making Shia Islam dominant over Sunni Islam. The first is a major step towards the second. The hope was once Iran had access to the Mediterranean cutting across the Middle East gaining direct or implied control over much of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon they would appear, as Islam claims to be the superior, the strong horse and thus could influence many that Sunni Islam was weak and Shia Islam was dominant and thus start the conversion of Sunni Muslims to Shia Islam and thus become the dominant force reestablishing both the historic Persian Empire and taking over the new Caliphate and the lead position over nearly two-billion Muslims.
Iran had taken control of Lebanon when they took sponsorship of Hezballah which initially was a universally recognized terror group which was fighting the Christian militias and had also fought against the IDF using terrorist strikes in an attempt to wear Israel down and force their capitulation and return to south of the recognized international border known as the Blue Line. Eventually a left leaning government bent to the protests and declared an end to what they called a tragic period in Israeli history completely forgetting the reasons, the valid reason that brought Israel into southern Lebanon. Israel replied to the hue and cry of the Christians of southern Lebanon as Syrian troops invaded Lebanon aiding Hezballah who were facing being slaughtered and Israel responded to an intense threat of a human disaster in the making as had already been committed to the initial Christian communities near the Syrian border. Israel, Ariel Sharon in particular, was blamed for a revenge strike on Sabra and Shatila massacring the Muslims which were carried out by the Christian militias and not the IDF. Still the world could not blame the Christian militias as they were irregular fighters and as such were not sufficiently organized with a command structure and as such their silence made finding those responsible became impossible so the work picked the next best thing, Israel. Europe had what seems like a default setting that if it happens in the Middle East, then when in doubt, blame Israel.
Once Israel retreated from southern Lebanon the Lebanese military was supposed to move in with United Nations oversight. Neither occurred and in many instances the United Nations aided Hezballah in their efforts to set up a series of tunnels as well as arms caches and command and control bunkers. This eventually led to another Israeli incursion into Lebanon after Hezballah kidnapped, and subsequently murdered three Israeli soldiers and killed five other soldiers at the point of the ambush inside Israel when they caught a patrol vehicle off guard and unsuspecting any incursion across the border from Lebanon. Iran uses Hezballah as their threat against Israel and has armed them to a point which is truly frightening as Iran has stocked Hezballah with at least one-hundred plus long range missiles and uncountable limited range rockets which have as much as a fifty kilometer range. Amongst the longer range missiles are stores of Zilzal-2 and Fateh-110 provided by Iran bringing them into Damascus and shipping them over land often on their own mobile vehicles. This is the threat Iran would threaten to unleash on Israel had Israel actually struck at Iranian nuclear sites and likely will be the first strike against Israel whenever Iran decides that they will attack the Jewish homeland. The total is well over two-hundred-thousand rockets and missiles from ten to twenty kilometer Grads, Fajr series, Shahab series and Ghadr missiles. Then there are the mid-range Scud series of ballistic rockets and then the more advanced guided missiles which the most advanced has two stages and Iran can strike Israel from Iran with these longer range Missiles so Lebanon can not only strike Israel but also northern Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as all of Turkey and anywhere within Syria or Jordan and much of Iraq. With these longest range missiles stationed in Iran and Lebanon the range brings them to command coverage over the entire Middle East and beyond, a definite threat to the heart of Sunni Islam, exactly what Iran envisioned as their way to claim command over all of Israel. Their problem, Syria collapsed and nobody can claim complete control over Syria as well as over Iraq, the two breaking Iran’s Shiite Crescent in two.
Iran is not the only outside power with an interest in Syria. The most straight forward national interest belongs to the Russians who have one main port at Latakia and potential other locations along the Mediterranean shoreline which provides them a warm water port with easy access to the Atlantic Ocean. The Russian plan is likely to reposition a fair share of their Black Sea naval forces to the Syrian ports thus placing them beyond the Bosphorus which could easily be closed any time that Turkey might decide they are upset with the Russians. The teetering of the relationship between Turkey and Russia became very evident a few months ago when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet claiming it had flown into Turkish air space, something very likely as Russia has been bombing locations in support of Bashir al-Assad who has lost control over much of the nation he once ruled unchallenged. Now there are a number of militias and terror groups each commanding their own parts with Assad, the Kurds and Islamic State have the largest locations under their control. Other areas are controlled by the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot, Free Syrian Army, Jaish al-Izzah, Levant Front, Alotfecat Brigades, and offshoots divided into Syrian Opposition-al-Qaeda network, Federation of Northern Syria, Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State. Each of these groups have so many offshoots that it becomes cumbersome to even begin to list them but for those who desire a detailed list one can be found here With al-Assad opposing these groups are the remains of the Syrian Army, Russian Naval and air support, Hezballah and some Druze militias are fighting in support of Bashir al-Assad whose control is limited to the westernmost areas of Syria including Damascus and the port cities which the Russians are defending with occasional air attacks flown against the terror forces but usually avoiding the Kurds and Islamic State and striking the weaker forces which al-Assad might be better poised to defeat.
The Kurdish Militias are holding the northernmost areas largely against the Islamic State. Turkey has provided bombing targets used for the United States air strikes as President Obama micromanaging their actions by putting their orders for strikes to Turkish intelligence. This has resulted in many of these strikes instead of targeting the Islamic State side of the conflict line are instead striking the Kurdish side making the situation more favorable for the Islamic State. The saving grace was that the Russians protested the NATO air strikes as interfering with Russian air strikes and set where the United States and Turkish fighter jets are restricted to a corridor which has actually favored the Kurdish forces. This became serious after Turkey shot down the Russian Fighter Jet. What is not discussed publically is the agreement between Russia and another air force in the area allowing for Israel to conduct tactical strikes in response to any attacks against Israeli forces on the Golan Heights. This was negotiated between President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Moscow early in the Russian intervention. This has proven necessary a number of times as the different forces have intentionally fired on IDF troops damaging vehicles and causing some injuries which required at times a more serious response than a couple of artillery or tank shells as a position required removal. These strikes barely make comment even within Israel but there have been some reports in a few of the smaller nationalist and Zionist sources online and in print.
Likely the most notable forces have been those of the Islamic State due to their early success largely in Iraq. They took control of the Sunni northern and central areas bordering southern Syria as the mostly Shiite Iraqi army forces simply fled or attempted to melt into the public. Their difficulty was that many of the Sunni civilians who these troops had tormented got their revenge turning over those Shiite soldiers who were guilty of such inter faction fighting. The Islamic State after their fast conquest of largely open areas and a few key cities in Iraq have now settled into defensive posture as they were close to overextension which had allowed for some key cities and towns being reclaimed. The Islamic State holds large open areas in Syria which are mostly desert and open scrublands which were sparsely populated. Their supposed massive victories were somewhat overblown in the hyperventilating Western media as they were hungry for a big story so every gain of the Islamic State, even those which were made in areas where they were unopposed were claimed to be grand expansion of their military control. The main story they should have never strayed from was the Islamic State’s brutality. This alone is the reason that the Islamic State deserves being liquidated by whatever means are necessary and this fight should be carried out largely by indigenous troops. Any support by Western forces should be limited to providing air support and precision strikes on such targets as command and control facilities and fixed positions as well as taking out the Western armor and other Western equipment. Other than such air support and potential cruise missile or drone strikes the Western ground forces should not be placed in harm’s way as such assistance is more often not appreciated and often used as reasons for protests and resentment. They should not risk being dragged into what may prove to be a prolonged number of operations in order to clear out pockets of resistance. As far as Syria, that too should not require any Western ground forces and be left to indigenous forces with support from Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and potential financing from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States.
The other front that needs addressing also has an Iranian contingent in Yemen. Iran is also attempting to gain the ability to completely disrupt all maritime trade by holding military threat over two of the most sensitive straights in all of the Middle East, Bab el-Mandeb and finally the Strait of Hormuz. The Bab el-Mandeb cuts off Israeli maritime access from the Red Sea on the way to the Indian Ocean and on to the rest of Asia and the Pacific as well as blocking any use of the Suez Canal by cutting off its southern access. The Strait of Hormuz has a large portion of the world’s crude oil shipping. Iran already holds threat over the Strait of Hormuz as one side of the entire Persian Gulf borders Iran (a huge ‘no duh’). This threat Iran has had and used since the Islamic takeover in 1979 requiring the United States to intervene as well as to bring in minesweepers to clear mines which Iran had strewn as part of their cutting off of the Strait of Hormuz. The Bab el-Mandeb sits off the southwestern most border of Yemen which borders the southernmost Red Sea. This is the other choke point other than the Suez Canal itself. The Suez Canal is safely within the borders of Egypt between the Sinai Peninsula and main body of Egypt which has only faced a force other than Egyptian when Israel held the Sinai briefly in 1956 and for a number of years after the Six Day War in 1967 until Egypt and Israel made peace in 1979. Israel never threatened to close the Suez Canal though it may have been risky using the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as initially Egyptian troops were pouring across into the Sinai and within a few days after Israel mobilized and struck back were crossing the Suez Canal and for a while held both shores but withdrew back across the Canal into the Sinai after the world demanded Israel cease winning the war and immediately stop advancing on Alexandria and Cairo. Funny, there was no call for Egypt to stop their advance across the Sinai intending to strike into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I guess Egypt advancing and defeating Israeli defenders is completely different than Israel advancing and defeating Egyptian forces. Should Iranian Houthi rebels take control over sufficient areas of Yemen and a peace leave the areas in the southeastern end of Yemen then Iran would have access to blocking the Bab el-Mandeb and blocking the Suez Canal which would end all oil and maritime trade with Europe forcing those hardy enough to try having to circle the south end of the African Continent. That used to be a difficult and dangerous route before the canal and the main reason the Suez Canal was built. Iran desires to hold a stranglehold over maritime trade and oil trade thus being able to threaten the world and especially threaten Europe. That is why Egypt is assisting in Yemen and the West had best have an interest in what happens in Yemen, even if not as much in Syria.
Beyond the Cusp