The Syrian chessboard and masochistic interventionism

(To Denise Serangelo)

Very little was enough for Europe (and the world) to suddenly remember that in Syria the Islamic State has been galloping without brakes for years.
Less than a week ago on the main world newspapers, the reawakening of Russia was proclaimed for the Syrian front.
After deciding - calmly - with whom to line up and who to bomb (as if we were at the bar with friends) now finally in half Europe the fighters are chasing on the slopes and the winds of war are whistling in the Syrian skies.
The thaw has officially begun, we give breath to the cannons.

It was only a matter of time for something to move between Syria, Libya and Iraq, but the hope was that we would move first on the political branch and then on the military branch.
Interventionism is absolutely necessary, but as we will never tire of saying, it must be careful and planned so that an exercise of pure and simple masochism is not transformed.
Seen in this light, Syria was the last bastion we had to touch.
Politically it is a quagmire from which Europe will not come out easily, the forces on the ground are many and all with specific interests in the Syrian territory.
Militarily - in addition to risking a fall in style - the decision to intervene without the support of a broader future-oriented project will not be paid on the ground.
Practical demonstration is that we are bombing but we do not yet know what we are hitting, which reminds us of the sad story of Saudi Arabia and Yemen that began in late March.
If there were no Islamic State in Syria that is not the neighbor we wanted, no one would be rushing to refuel the bombers.
For four years in Syria, people have died of hunger and civil war, one of the most abominable theaters to remember since the end of the Second World War, yet we were all comfortably seated to discuss something completely different.
Now the rush to do something is likely to cause Syria to fall into an even worse abyss.

To better understand the possible geopolitical and military developments of the story it is important to first understand which pieces move on the Syrian chessboard and why.

The first inextricable point is certainly the complex figure of Bashar al-Assad.
We could discuss it for days but Assad is still the President of Syria and is one of the most important pawns in the field, the real fulcrum around which the fight against terrorism revolves.
Its role is decisive for any intervention, from military to political. His "Syria" is now only a prick of torn and hungry earth, it is only up to Assad to figure out how to save what can be saved.
In recent days he has declared that he has officially needed help against the Islamic State (early!) And wants to give up the less important positions in the country in favor of a fortification of strategic points. Assad therefore intends to create a well-fortified and armed backbone from which to start offensives against the IS but it is not clear what it will do against the rebels.
While Russia and Iran are quick to move a rusty military apparatus, Damascus also loses the last bastion of neutrality: the Druses.
Druze is a Middle Eastern ethnic and religious minority originating from the Levant who speaks Arabic.

In all, there are just over one and a half million people living in a territory that goes beyond the borders of the countries that gravitate around the Golan Heights. Their belief mixes elements of Judaism, Islam, Christianity and a bit of Hinduism, but the dogmas of their faith are reserved for initiates alone. Only adepts can study it, and religious gather on Thursdays and Sundays in places without images.

Because of these characteristics, they are considered heretics by radical Islamists, especially those of the Salafist branch, which constitutes the ideology behind Al Nusra and IS.
It is useless to underline how this people is therefore the object of tight annihilation.
But why are the Druses important in this civil struggle?
First of all, the behavior of Assad is emblematic, who first declares that he wants to save Syria from the IS and from the civil war and in less than twenty-four hours he manages to antagonize the only neutral faction.
On the night between 5 and 6 September two car bombs blew up in the city of Sweida killing as many Druze religious leaders and about thirty people.
Thus in the war in Syria the Druze guerrilla debuts.
Sheikh Wahid Balous, a highly respected religious exponent who died in this attack, opposed the Damascus regime but was also an opponent of jihadist groups.
The reaction of the local population was to take up arms and hunt down Assad's security men. The ethnic group, which has always been considered close to Damascus, believes that the latter has decided to eliminate Balous, triggering the revolt of the local inhabitants.
Assad therefore loses precious allies and given the winds of war, no skilled strategist would have put himself against yet another party.
The troops of Damascus - despite the newly acquired enemies - have found favor with two excellent intermediaries.

The governments of Madrid and Vienna break the taboo and argue that it is time to start a serious negotiation with Assad not only against the Islamic State but also to stop the systematic annihilation of the country.
The most intransigent would not even want to hear sketching such an absurd hypothesis, but life (even the international one) is not made of principles alone, pragmatism could really save us from a Syria in the hands of the Caliphate.
Absolutely out of the chorus is France, which again - and quite unilaterally - opts for "we bomb and then we see" that in Libya has already done its damage. What or who is bombing is not known, also because the Eliseo's military sources speak of reconnaissance flights to understand the sensitive positions of the IS and later demolish them.

If Austria and Spain have decided to speak outside the box, Russia; Iran and Hezbollah are ready to stay with Assad in an undying and not entirely disinterested way.

Vladimir Putin, in a rediscovered international protagonist, aims everything at the Syrian chessboard and in the Middle East in general.
The intent seems to be to mediate between Damascus and the Western governments to which Putin would have predicted the smell of elections, let's say democratic, within the Syrian borders.
It is recent news that Assad would be willing to call parliamentary elections and compose a coalition with a "reasonable" opposition, for the sharing of power.
If it really happened, Putin would inevitably be the fulcrum of this political game, needless to say that if Russia puts its flag on such a succulent proposal, something is already boiling in the pot.
Not happy, Putin, also calls on the United States and Saudi Arabia in an anti-IS coalition that he has been supporting for some time.
This fantastic coalition, however, does not yet have an attack plan and not even one for the future of Syria, defeated the Islamic State, in fact, what will become of Assad?

In addition to a material political interest, Russia is also physically engaged within the Syrian borders with means and soldiers, the units and the weight that these have in the conflict we are not given to know.
Given the convergence of Assad's troops towards more important positions, Putin seems to be strongly tempted to focus his entire arsenal on the town of Latakia.
 The city is located just 85km from the port of Tartous, the only landing place for the Russian fleet in the Mediterranean. Granted for management in Moscow in 1971, the port can accommodate up to four medium-sized ships.
The control of Latakia airport, which according to rumors is already in the hands of Russian troops, has alarmed the United States, which in response has made a formal request to Greece to deny Russia the use of its airspace for flights to Syria.

For several hours the situation has become even more complicated due to the denial of Bulgaria to fly over its airspace to bring supplies to Syria with the Russian Antonovs while Hungary has accepted the overflight and is waiting to hear cargoes at any moment pass over his skies.
Bulgaria, which has no interests in Syria, has recently been the object of massive American-led NATO exercises that allow us to foresee an approach to the sphere of decision-making influence with stars and stripes.
Those who were once "buffer States" between the West and the Soviet bloc today play an important game on the international scene because the Russian Federation must guarantee its role in the Middle East necessarily with the national governments of the East.

In the geopolitics of the Middle East Syria is a key country, but it is also in the international arena, a false step and the West loses the entire region.
When at stake there are enormous interests like in this case, it would be unthinkable not to know how America intends to behave.
The dissent towards the stars and stripes policy has cost the Assad regime the inclusion on the Black list as "Rogue State" immediately after the attacks of the twin towers.
The elements supporting this decision are different: first of all the political, economic and military support for the Lebanese Hezbollah party and the protection of Hamas. The ever increasing hostility towards Israel, the State with which it has never signed any peace agreement from the 1948.
Last, but not least, the ideological closeness to Iran, which in turn has large interests in the country.
In addition to sending some help to the rebels and some drones at random, America has not pushed so much into the Syrian question but has influenced the decisions of other countries.
Obama preferred (with a twist never seen before) to refer his responsibilities to Europe and - mysteriously - to the emerging countries, claiming that the power shift had now passed into the hands of other countries.
A rather elegant way to release the responsibility for military intervention to third countries.
Realities like China and Japan do not even dream of setting foot on the Middle Eastern chessboard, and less so ever will the emerging countries that already have enough problems of their own. The only involvement seems to be related to arms trafficking but nothing more.
In this way, Obama has prevented the real crux of the problem from coming to a head: Russia's iron opposition to the intervention in Syria.
Putin, mindful of how things had gone in Egypt and Libya, vetoed any resolution involving armed intervention, claiming that if Assad were to fall, he would fall at the hands of his people.
Whether it was a winning move or not this is not given to us to know, but America, with the excuse of the shift of international power has washed its hands and conscience.

Iran instead has very clear ideas on what it wants in Syria: to be there at all costs.
Syria has always held a central position in Iranian regional strategy, proving to be of vital importance to Tehran's strategic interests.
Damascus is the main bulwark against Israel which also passes through Hezbollah, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
It is estimated that in recent years the Islamic Republic has invested 25 billion dollars in financial support to the Baathist establishment in Syria.
Sources very close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said: "If we lose Syria we will not be able to keep Tehran." This suggests the full interest of Iran to keep its ally as stable as possible.

The man awarded this appalling national interest is General Qasem Suleimani, commander of the Al Quds Unit of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.
The subject in question is the spearhead of the Iranian army, decorated and acclaimed as a celebrity represents all the anxieties that his country has towards Syria.
Suleimani's strategy is divided into two points: the first consists in the formation and financing of a militia of 150 thousand units, called Jaysh al Sha'bi, with the task of supporting in the future the activities of the Syrian regular Army.
The second point concerns training, military and intelligence support is provided both to the Jaysh al Sha'bi and the Syrian Army by the Pasdaran ground forces (Irgc), by the Al Qods Unit, by the intelligence services, Hezbollah and paramilitary Shiite formations from various countries.

The other force in the field is Hezbollah, whose strategic interests coincide with those of Iran. 
The leader of the Party of God, Hassan Nasrallah, in 2013 emphasized in Tehran that the movement's involvement in the Syrian war is to be interpreted as a struggle for the Shia's regional survival against the growing Sunni extremism.
Hezbollah counts on the territory a force of 2 thousand Lebanese Shiites recruited from the border villages, its presence in the town of Latakia has lost thickness after three years of continuous fighting.
The primary task of the Iranians and Hezbollah is therefore to reconvert the Syrian government forces from a Soviet school modus operandi, static and accustomed to operating in open spaces, to a more agile system and better able to face the insurrection through training in techniques of guerrilla warfare and urban warfare.

Thanks to this intensive training and the conventional forces, Assad will continue to protect that snake that from the southern suburbs of Damascus climbs up to the north of Latakia along the Lebanese border.

The relationship between Israel and Syria certainly does not enjoy excellent health.
The 21 August 2015 Syria fired four rockets at Israel from the Quneitra area, on the Golan Heights, and did not happen since the 1973 war. Israel responded within a few hours with an artillery bombardment against fourteen locations on Syrian territory, between ten and fifteen kilometers across the border, in a strip of land that is controlled by the Damascus army. It is the most intense bombardment against Syria for four decades, considering that in the past few years there have been mortar rounds from the Syrian side and that Israel has begun to hit across the border since February 2013, to block transfers of sophisticated weapons to the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
The Israeli command claims that it was not the Syrian army that fired the four rockets, but the Palestinian force section of the Iranian Quds.
The strength at Quds is the Iranian department that deals with special operations abroad and acts thanks to the support and presence of local militias. In this case, according to the Israeli army, they were four men of Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group from Gaza that has its headquarters in Damascus. Moreover there is no Islamist group in the region that in recent years has not been based in Syria, such as Hamas and Hezbollah (and even the PKK, which is not Islamist). 
Also because of its ideological closeness to Iran, Israel certainly cannot afford a pro-Soviet resolution and hopes to push American policy to intervene in advance.

As can be seen, there was no good reason to start bombing an already torn and disputed Syria.
Europe, at least this time, could limit itself to encouraging agreements with Assad and the countries that support it, inviting it to find a solution that is also appropriate for the future.
Europe's lack of farsightedness in Middle East issues is quite well known, remembering Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Syria there are interests at stake that go beyond regional balance, even threatening global security.
Beyond the eternal controversies between the Soviet and the American blocs, going beyond the desire for survival of terrorist cells and republics of dubious taste, we arrive at the hard core of the thorny Syrian question: the IS.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), later renamed only the Islamic State, is a strange creature that is assembled a bit like a terrorist organization, a bit like a guerrilla unit, a structured army and finally a few parastatal institutions .
The roots go back to 25 years ago, directly from the hands of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who in the 2003 founded Al Qaeda in Iraq which in turn will pass into the 2011 under the leadership of Al Baghdadi.
It is in the 2011 that the name of Islamic State of Iraq rebounds for the first few times.
Al Baghdadi is Iraqi and, unlike Al Zaeqawi, uses his network of tribal relations to expand the anti-Shiite alliance.
As it happens, in neighboring Syria, the Shiite president of Bashar al-Assad oppresses the Sunni majority but does not control the territories bordering Iraq. The ISI penetrates into Syria, in May the 2013 occupies the city of Raqqa, and is renamed "ISIS", the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The ISI has swelled in Syria with the arrival of jihadists from the Islamic world and from Europe and counts 50 thousand fighters. With a blitz, in June 2014 Al Shishani (lieutenant of Al Baghdadi) moves a motorized column from Syria to Iraq and occupies Mosul which counts 2 million inhabitants.
Al Baghdadi then founded the Islamic State on almost half Syria and half Iraq. He appointed himself Caliph, spiritual and political leader of all Islamic peoples, and governed 10 millions of subjects.

 The impudent ideology of the IS is based on the purity of Islam in the Salafist version: those who do not adapt should be eliminated.
The target ends up Shiites, Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, lay people.
A literal reading of the Koran is the cement of this pseudo state, which leads it to justify killing, enslavement, rape. The ferocity of the executions serves to intimidate the enemies, to galvanize the extremists, from warning to the timid. 
The Islamic State does not recognize the international community so it does not need to build a state to legitimize itself in the international community.

This hybrid realm that we thought was founded on an old stereotype like Al Qaeda was able to overcome the adversities of the past to rise from its ashes.
The IS rises from the ashes of Al Qaeda, transformed by its own mistakes into a highly functional instrument of terror.
Syria for the Islamic State represents a source of recruitment and financial support, it would be unthinkable that you give up without fighting risking everything.

In the hands of these "2.0 terrorists" there are weapons of any kind and for every occasion from the explosive to the plastic to the latest generation of weapons.
Unconfirmed sources claim that some fringes of the organization are in possession of radioactive material or chemical weapons to be used against the West in the event of a terrestrial invasion.
What we should be most afraid of, in view of an unlikely invasion, would be access to sources that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, capable of conveying useful notions to manage a guerrilla war at high levels.
It seems an easy matter to contain and instead with the open source of the internet and an internet connection anyone can talk with anyone, with a webcam teaches how to build a bomb even if you live on the other side of the world.
The range of small and medium caliber weapons is a phenomenon that does not even count anymore.
Ammunition comes from all over the world, but above all from China, the United States, Russia and Serbia.
The latest dispatch released by Conflict Armament Research analyzes weapons and ammunition stolen from the IS during the battle of Kobane between September 2014 and January 2015.
Particularly noteworthy are the Chinese CQ rifles from 5.56mm that resemble tremendously the CQ rifles that Sudan provided to the rebels of southern Sudan in the 2013.
Belgian-made rifles were found in areas bordering Lebanon and it is plausible to hypothesize their arrival from the country of the cedars, not to mention both Russian and American assault rifles from AKM to M16.
M79 anti-tank rockets and the Chinese machine guns M80.
It is estimated that the ammunition - from personal weapons to anti-aircraft - has been produced in 21 countries in a time frame that starts from 1945 to 2014, in Syria we could come across war surpluses of the Second World War as in laser-guided weapons of last generation .

For the reasons given above and for and for the complexity of the power games that Syria has awakened, it would be good for Europe to stop the turbines of its bombers and for once not do the morally more elegant but pragmatically more decisive thing: to support Assad.
No analyst, Assad considers a ruler in the literal sense of the term, a ruler would not use bombs against his people, even if the latter wished to see him at the gallows.
However it is necessary to think that between the two evils it is necessary to choose the lesser one and sometimes to compromise with it to avoid the catastrophe.

In all this complex and articulated scenario we have not talked about Italy that still sleeps deep as the world around her turns dizzily and relentlessly.
Needless to say, the government has not yet taken a position on the eventual intervention in Syria, we like to have all the doors open a little and in doubt we limit ourselves to nod but to do nothing.

After 300mila deaths and almost 12 millions of refugees, after almost five years of fighting without results I would start thinking of making peace with the rest of the world and deciding which side you want to stay.
The fight against terrorism is one and only one, the one that defeats it once and for all, the fight against terrorism is not the one that destroys a beast and feeds another latent one.
The fight against terrorism always starts first from the head and from politics, not from the belly and from fear.
We have already seen what happens using only a few planes and some bombs, so many deaths, many tears and a Caliphate that we didn't want.
The checkmate is around the corner now the next move is up to us.

(photo: IRNA)