Syria air strikes raises more questions

As expected western air strikes on Syria took place at the weekend. The allies of course declared the strikes a resounding success.

The markets seems to have concluded that the limited strikes means the threat of escalation is low.

But some discrepancies raise more questions on the direction the clash between the rival powers goes.

Results as expected

The course of events followed remarkably closely to those I set out in my previous post. I said it was unlikely the strikes would cause any substantial damage to Assad’s forces:

“But how far will they go? Will they be a token hit on a few airbases? Or will they attempt strikes that materially damage Syrian forces? I think the latter is unlikely.”

Without doubt all the alliance leaders have domestic problems, but there are also overarching strategic interests.

Air strikes a warning on US interests

I also wrote that one of the aims of prospective air strikes by the western alliance was to:

“..probably serve as a warning to the Syrians and Russians to stay away from US controlled territory”

Two indications that the assessment was correct are:

  • An Iranian news agency, Fars, reports that another US base is being constructed in the oil rich east Euphrates
  • Nikki Haley, US envoy to UN, statement that, ‘US troops would not leave’ until US aims achieved

Puzzling discrepancies

There are however some puzzling discrepancies over the air strikes. The Russians gave very detailed breakdowns of the missiles fired, targets, how many shot down and the targets hit.

This has been disputed by the allies who insist no missiles were intercepted. Trump declared the operation as a “perfectly executed strike”. However, the Syrians have reportedly had successes intercepting other previous attacks, including shooting down an Israeli jet. It’s also reported they prevented another attack today. So put simply, the western allies and the Russians can’t both be right.

Theresa May in parliament yesterday kept to a careful formula that the strikes were to “ degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capabilities”. She repeated that to every challenge to the wisdom and point of launching strikes.

That seems to me to lend some credibility to Russia’s account. I expected far greater action than hitting some empty buildings. There was ample opportunity (and a ‘legitimacy’) for the alliance to attack a wider range of targets.

I’m coming to the conclusion that the weekend’s action may in fact have been a failure.

…unstable written all over it

What the consequences will be are not clear yet. Will the western allies be cautious and accept facts on the ground? Or will this, particularly in view of the Russians considering supplying more advance defences, up the ante?

The US are occupying an oil rich region of Syria with no intention of leaving. To complicate matters further, they’re also relying on Kurdish forces for boots on the ground.

Turkey sees the Kurdish role as a threat to its territorial integrity and the Syrians need that region back to finance reconstruction.

That’s a situation that has unstable written all over it…

Gary Hollands

Geopolitical analyst Tyga FX

17 April 2018