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Allies and Enemies: Why The Syrian Coalition is Winning

How Tehran, Ankara and Riyadh influenced the battlefield

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Perhaps the best way to explain why regional powers opposed to Damascus fared so poorly in their Syrian campaign is to examine both how Russia and Iran operated as well as assess the global capabilities and main weaknesses of Syria’s regional adversaries.

The Saudis are known to have the fourth-largest military budget in the world. To understand why Riyadh was unable to further escalate the war in Syria, we have to underline and explain why not having a real army ended up being a major problem.

Riyadh relies entirely on mercenaries (witness the death toll suffered by companies like Acadami/Blackwater in Yemen) and soldiers from foreign countries that receive enormous amounts of money from the Saudis to be cannon fodder. The consequences of this military doctrine is visible in Yemen: the poorest country in the region has for more than a year been able to inflict very heavy losses on the richest country in the Gulf.

In Syria, Riyadh has been unable over the last few years to do more than supply weapons to jihadi fighters. Clearly this was the only approach Riyadh was able to apply against Damascus, namely paying Salafits money to spread Wahhabism and create (anti-) Islamic caliphates. When the Saudis started to threaten a major intervention to remove Assad, trying to project their military force, in light of the above no one took them seriously.

Turkey, on the other hand, while having one of the most efficient armies in the region, showed that it was unable to compete with a peer competitor like Russia. This did not stop Ankara from assisting Islamic State (IS) to rise to be one of the biggest threats in the region. But in the end, Russia’s intervention as a major player helped arrest further escalation. That Turkey was unable to stretch its border several miles into Syrian territory in order to create a buffer zone to allow it to continue to support IS/Al Nusra forces, demonstrates that it was unable to fulfil its primary objective.

Turkey could not respond to Russia’s top-notch weaponry vis-a-vis electronic warfare (EW) and air superiority (Su-35 and S-400). These two conditions translated into a battlefield environment very difficult for Turkey to operate in.

The results became immediately apparent. Terrorists began pouring into Turkey fleeing Syria; tankers transporting illegal oil-smuggling became targets; and the flow of weapons into the north of Syria became much more difficult. In short, Turkey’s  proxy in Syria suffered a major blow.

Tehran assisted Damascus more in terms of men than in technology and materiel. While Iran is aware that it has a well-equipped and well-trained army, it is also aware that sanctions have served to highlight its need for state-of-the-art systems able to make a difference with peer competitors in the region. Nevertheless, Iranian advisors, special forces, as well as Hezbollah fighters, have made a huge contribution to Assad’s forces.

The Syrian Arab Army started to win thanks to the combined factors of its highly motivated soldiers defending the homeland, Russian air strikes and weaponry, Iranian advisors and fighters, Hezbollah’s heroic contribution, and all the volunteer forces recruited from many countries. These forces were all equipped, trained and advised in the best way to fulfill their mission. Coordination between all allies served as a key factor in retaking Syria from terrorist forces.

One of the great lessons the Syrian war will provide for the history books is that the lethal combination of Russian-Iranian diplomacy and military power (combat effectiveness, joint training, technology transfer and weapons sales) proved to be decisive. What the war has also served to show is that merely spending on weapons in the absence of a real army, and going against a world power like Russia, has meant the complete failure of the project to overthrow Assad and bring about the disintegration of the Syrian state..

The debacle of the regional allies of the US and Europe, together with their proxy terrorists in Syria, is something the west has never really experienced over the last few decades, namely a true defeat in the military and diplomatic sphere.

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