June 1, 2013

That old colonial impulse keeps coming back. This past week, Britain and France pushed the rest of the European Union to lift the arms embargo in Syria – which in plain English means outright military intervention in that nation’s civil war.

Let’s recall that Britain once ruled a quarter of the earth’s surface and most of its oceans. France ruled much of West Africa, the Sahara and, after Word War I, what are today Syria and Lebanon. Britain ruled much of the rest of the Mideast.

Well, they’re back! France and Britain took the lead in attacking Libya and overthrowing its long-time leader and former ally, Muammar Ghadaffi. They now dominate Libya’s oil – a major source of energy for Europe. France just sent troops to protect its mining interests in former colonies, Mali and Niger.

Britain, which has invaded Afghanistan four times, is maintaining its troops there even though the war to dominate Afghanistan looks lost. Now, Britain has its sights set on reasserting its influence in Mesopotamia. France, Syria’s former colonial ruler, is championing plans to overthrow Syria’s government and reassert its domination of Lebanon, which it created during the colonial era.

Adding spice to this dangerous stew, Israel threatened this week to attack Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles if delivered to Syria. It remains unclear if these very effective missiles have yet arrived in Syria. Moscow promised S-300’s years ago to both Damascus and Tehran, but delayed deliveries under US pressure. Last week, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad apparently said that the first deliveries of the potent defensive weapons had arrived.

Israel’s three previous air attacks on Syria and threats to destroy S-300 missiles if emplaced there have sharply raised tensions with Moscow. The Russians, whose influence in Syria is being sharply challenged by the West, are low on patience at a time when even Israel is challenging Moscow.

Moscow’s efforts to organize a peace conference over Syria are being thwarted by the EU’s call to lift the so-called Syrian arms embargo and provide more military aid to anti-regime rebels. The entry of some Hezbollah fighters into battles along the Syrian-Lebanese border, and Shia-Sunni fighting inside Lebanon, underline the threat of the civil war becoming regionalized.

Will Russia sit back with its arms folded and watch rebels backed by the Western powers and conservative Arab states overthrow the Assad government? Russia has a small naval depot at Tartus, Syria, but it is hardly of major strategic importance. Of more concern to Moscow is that its influence in the Levant and Caucasus, which is being relentlessly chipped away by the US and its allies.

If Israel continues and intensifies its air strikes and goes after the S-300’s when they are operational (which could take up to one year), Russia may be forced to intervene militarily just as it did in Egypt in 1970 during the “War of Attrition” on the Suez Canal. Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries and fighter squadrons battled Israel air power to a stalemate over the Canal and western Sinai.

Syria’s civil war is clearly threatening to turn into a regional conflagration that involves both the subplot a Sunni-Shia conflict and blatant outside military intervention reminiscent of the 1930’s Spanish civil war. There is also a deeper theme: a major effort to crush Syria, Iran’s sole Arab ally. Right after US forces entered Baghdad in 2003, Israel’s then prime minister Ariel Sharon urged Washington, “the road to Tehran lies through Baghdad.” This time around, the route to Tehran runs via Damascus.

The western powers were lulled into over-confidence by their easy victory against feeble Libya. An armed rabble from Benghazi, NATO air power and special forces made quick work of Ghadaffi’s toy army. But Syria, as we see, will not be push-over and may result in a ghastly Lebanese-style civil war that could last for a decade.

Worse, it could draw Russia, which has been quietly fuming over US-led efforts to push NATO right up to its borders in the Baltic, Eastern Europe and Caucasus, to send its military forces into action. The one thing the nuclear-armed United States and Russia must avoid at all costs is a head-on confrontation over Syria.

A political settlement remains the way out of this mess.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013

This post is in: Great Britain, Iran, Mideast, Russia, Syria


  1. George Rizk says:

    There has been many writings by the neocons saying that borders of the Middle East needs to be redrawn?

    Obviously, the neocons have a deviant plan that is unfolding in front of our eyes, and yet, we are too confused to connect the dots. But, to the curios reader, I would like to mention that Ethiopia has announced recently a major Dam project that will choke Egypt’s agriculture, and put it in play as much as Syria, and now Turkey.

    The one who has the privilege to draw the borders will benefit of the spoils.

  2. Mike Smith says:

    Hmmmm Chemical weapons used in Syria
    Why am I thinking it is more likely that Israel, or the US, or France were the ones to use them ?
    Sad when they have that much credibility isn’t it ?

  3. solum temptare possumus says:

    I fear for the common people in the Levant.
    The Shia and the Sunni will not settle this “Blood feud” as honorable as clans settled things in 7th Century Arabia. Often a war would be settled by a champion from each clan, fighting to the death. The winning clan would receive a negotiated prize; so many camels and goats, silk and spices. But the Sunni think on the Shia as wayward cousins who use self flagellation in a type of dance, both forbidden.
    In wars of history two common strategies: the horn’s of the water buffalo to flank both sides and encircle the enemy, attacking from all directions; or the blitzkrieg of the unicorn horn, to pierce and thrust through the center, dividing the the enemy in two and encircling from behind.
    This attempt by the West and by proxy the wealth of the Sunni Arab nations is a center thrust to divide the line of Shia influence, isolating Hezbollah in Lebanon and western Syria, from their powerful benefactor Iran.
    The unknown is Syria’s and Iran’s benefactor, Russia. Putin put the US in its place in the Caucasus in 2008 in the South Ossetian conflict, letting the West know that if you back our previous Soviet province of Georgia and try to control areas on the southern flank of mother Russia; there will be “Hell to Pay”.
    The Syrian conflict is tenfold in escalation of tension. Now you have religious passions; centuries old hatreds, added to the cauldron.
    And the USA and Russia, both hated “Infidels”, trying to broker Peace?
    “Double,double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
    (Macbeth Act IV scene v)
    ad iudicium

  4. Like the old saying goes…The more things change,the more they stay the same.I’m inclined to think that this powderkeg is more dangerous,at present,than the disputed Kashmir region between India and Pakistan.

    I have given my opinion here before that the present mess in Syria is a direct result of western meddling again and smuggling in these “rebels” into Syria under the false pretense of installing democracy in Syria.Over the past few weeks,there have been reports of the use of chemical weapons….but….it cannot be confirmed by which side they were used…Assad or the “rebels”.Any military intervention by anyone cannot be initiated otherwise a regional war is very highly likely….that is my opinion.I wish the heck that Israel would keep their nose out of this conflict….unless that is their intention,to escalate this entire mess and destroy Syria,Iran’s closest ally.This would make Iran that much more vulnerable because Israel has made it clear of it’s intentions to attack Iran over it’s alleged nuclear program to produce the bomb.

    If there’s anytime that President Obama needs to keep Israel in line,it is now and resist the powerful Jewish lobby that dictates American foreign policy in the Mideast.If both Britain and the US continue this dangerous path of redominating that part of the world,then rest assured there will be more attacks on soldiers…and civilians in those respective countries.President Obama,show a little leadership and stop this madness from becoming a blood bath where innocent people just want to live a peaceful life without their political leaders constantly stirring the pot.When I refer to innocent civilians,I include every country.A life is a life….whether it is a Christian…a muslim or a Jew.

  5. Mike Smith says:

    Treats others the way you want to be treated
    Pretty simple idea really…
    But if everyone mirrored the policies of the Western powers back onto them what would we see ?
    Discounted sales of AK47s and RPG7s to Irish / Scottish / Islamic groups in the UK ?
    Russian NGOs forming to support left and right fringe groups in France ?
    Bulk Semtex deals to any number of groups in the US ?
    and the list goes on.
    I think Russia should opens arms sales / transfers with Iran… as well as lifting all trade sanctions and restrictions. China would likely follow with the amount of annoyance they are facing with the Americans as well lately.
    The message of tit for tat will throw the works completely out of kilter and may provide the means for the more moderate types to apply some sort of restraint from within the Western governments… excluding the US which doesn’t seem to enjoy a voice of reason anymore.
    That would leave Obama with the choice of shutting up or being the guy who led the end of the UN.

  6. Montgomery’s rules of war
    1. Don’t march on Moscow.
    2. Don’t go fighting with your land army on the mainland of Asia.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.