The Syrian Powder Keg – II

Things just got a little more interesting in Syria this week on several fronts:  1.) Word came out from a 200 page confidential UN report that North Korea has been providing the Syrians with materials needed for chemical and ballistic weapons production over the last five years, 2.) Iran has reportedly built a new airbase on the outskirts of Damascus, complete with two new hangars, roughly 60′ x 90′, plenty large enough for housing missiles capable of hitting Israel; and, 3.) Russia, according to General Joseph Votel, is playing “both arsonist and fireman.”

As for North Korea’s involvement in Syria:  According to the UN report, a Chinese trading company, Cheng Tong Trading Company, helped facilitate the shipments – at least 40 of them, the most recent of which came just last year.  In addition, North Korean missile technicians have reportedly been spotted at various known chemical weapons and missile facilities in Syria.  It is looking more and more like retired Admiral James Stavridis might very well be right when he claims that a naval blockade is the best option in dealing with North Korea.

Iran’s new site in Syria expands on another dimension in Syria.  Israel has repeatedly indicated that they will not allow Iran to gain anymore of a foothold in the country than they already have – this new base clearly represents an expansion of the Iranian foothold.  Iran, for its part, tends to view the Mediterranean Sea as the western periphery of its empire.  Three weeks ago, Israel launched one of their largest raids in recent history, taking out much of Syria’s air defense network and hitting four different Iranian bases at the same time.  Personally, it would not surprise me to see an Israeli airstrike on this base in the very near future, as well.

Then, there is Russia.  General Votel testified before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday and eloquently stated that Russia is playing “the role of both arsonist and fireman – fueling tensions and then trying to resolve them in their favor.”  According to Votel, the Russians are using the Syrian conflict to test new weapons and tactics. Indeed, over the past several years, the Russians have introduced several new weapons systems including long range cruise missile strikes, the first ever deployment of their only aircraft carrier and, most recently, the deployment of their 5th Generation SU-57 stealth fighters.  In addition, while stoking the fires of Syria, they are attempting to settle the disputes in their favor.  Part of this comes from their increased sale of military hardware such as the recent sale of their most advanced Air Defense system, the S-400, to Turkey, a NATO ally and where the US has its main airbase in the region–Incirlik.  Obviously, Putin is hoping that with the increased influence in the region, he can somehow use that influence to broker a peace agreement–all at the expense of the United States.

So, Russia now has their own advanced S-400 Air Defense Network established at Latakia and they have several of their advanced SU-57 fighters, also at Latakia.  Iran has established a brand new air base outside of Damascus, and Assad has once again used chemical weapons in an attack.  US Special Forces remain in the region, evidence most notably from their response to the February 7th attack by Russian mercenaries.  And, Israel has vowed to keep Iran from expanding their role in Syria.  What could possibly go wrong here?

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