Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Russia begins bombing missions against ISIS in Syria from an airbase in Iran.

A Russian Tu-22M3 dropping bombs over Syria. Russian Defense Photo via Reuters.

 Video of the Tu-22M3 dropping the bombs.

Russia has begun staging long range bombing flights targeting ISIS in Syria out of an airbase in Iran. Reuters. Russian Tu-22M3 "Backfire" strategic bombers and SU-34 "Fullback" strike fighters are now flying combat missions out of Hamadan Airbase. It is the first time that Russia has used a third country to launch strikes into Syria. It is also the first time that Iran has ever allowed foreign military units to operate in their territory since the 1979 revolution. Both Iran and Russia support the government of Bashar al-Assad. Both ISIS and the recently re-named al-Nusra Front were targeted in the bombings. Most of the bombings were in the Aleppo area, where a major battle between the regime and rebels is occurring. Russia has also received permission from Iran and Iraq to fire cruise missiles through their territory again. 

My Comment:
Very interesting development. I'll talk about the impact this will have on the Syrian war first, then the political implications. It's clear to me that Russia is pulling out all the stops when it comes to the battle of Aleppo. They desperately want the Syrian regime to win that battle so they are using every weapon in their arsenal to try and assist them. 

This is not the first time that Russia has deployed strategic bombers to Syria. They have used Backfires before, mostly targeting the rebels. Basing the bombers in Iran will cut the flight time and allow the bombers to carry more bombs which means they can fly more sorties and do more damage to the enemy. It won't be a huge improvement but every little bit helps. 

But we have to remember, air combat doesn't win wars. Destroying rear areas and supply depots is all well and good but it takes boots on the ground to win battles. Right now, strategic bombers like the TU-22M3 aren't going the do much to win the battle. Close air support, which would be provided by attack helicopters and the Russian A-10 equivalent the SU-25 "Frogfoot" are much more valuable. They have an immediate impact on the battlefield and are a huge boon to morale for troops on the ground. Strategic bombers will destroy infrastructure and supplies but close air support wins battles. 

The political implications of this development are much more important then the minor strategic advantages the Russians will gain from this move. It appears that the dynamics in the middle east have been changed forever. Iran, long an international pariah, has never worked with another government like this militarily. Yes, they have committed forces in both Iran and Iraq, but they have never let another country use their military base like this. Iran has found their first real ally in Russia.

It seems a new alliance is forming in the Middle East. Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all falling into Russia's sphere of influence. Even Turkey, who used to hate Russia so much that they shot down one of their planes, seems to be warming to the Russian government after the failed coup (which is being blamed on the United States). All these countries share a common enemy in ISIS and other Sunni Muslim terror groups and all of them have very good reasons to work together. 

This new alliance seems to counter the strength of the old order in the Middle East. In the past the United States dominated the region, along with their allies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel. This domination seems to be over and it's to the point where I wonder if the rest of our allies will abandon us to join with the Russians. I can't see the Saudis or Jordan doing so, but like I said, Turkey seems to be falling into the Russian influence and I could see the Israelis coming on board if it wasn't for Iran. But as US power dims, who knows what is possible? 

Of course, this is bad news for the United States. Not only are we losing our prestige and dominance in the region, we are also being massively embarrassed. We conquered Iraq only to see if slip away from our influence. Our plans in Syria have been stymied by piss poor execution and unreliable rebel allies while the Russians have been very effective at propping up their allies. Russia is doing work in Syria while we seem to be flailing around with no real plan and no real chance of accomplishing our goals... whatever they may be. 

I would prefer something else. Instead of fighting against the Russians, we could work with them. We have no reason to oppose the Syrian government anymore. They may be bad but the people they are fighting, ISIS and al-Nusra are much worse. As Trump likes to say, wouldn't it be great if we got along with Russia? Or, even better, if we were in a military alliance with them? Our current allies in the region haven't been much of a help fighting ISIS, it might put the fear of God into them if we branched out. 

If we don't ally with the Russians, we can expect the Middle East to be yet another front in Cold War 2.0, along with Eastern Europe. Our allies and theirs will face off and we could even see more pointless proxy wars that gets hundreds of thousands killed for little reason. It could even spiral into a very hot war. And a hot war with Russia is unthinkable...  

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