A Brief Postscript on the Syrian Strikes


Western air and missile strikes against chemical weapon production and storage facilities in Syria have ended. The strikes were successful in both military and political terms. Bomb damage assessments indicate that every site targeted was effectively destroyed. The Trump  administration, through its actions and the end result, has reestablished and reinforced the credibility of red line threats. The predictions, and warnings that Western military action in Syria would bring about a Third World War have been fully discredited. Despite all that Russia has invested in Syria, and the staunch support it has given to Bashar al-Assad, Moscow is not prepared to start a major war simply to save Syria.

Friday night’s military action has also helped bring about the emergence of an official US strategy vis-à-vis Syria. Destroying ISIS, long the primary objective of US efforts in Syria, is now mated with the preventing Assad from using chemical weapons again. President Trump’s stated goal to remove US troops as quickly as possible can still be achieved. ISIS is on its last legs, and before long a US ground presence will not be essential.  If Assad opts to use chemical weapons in the fighting again, any US and Western response will come exclusively from air and naval assets.

Russia’s next move remains a mystery. Vladimir Putin does not like to lose, so it is highly probable he will craft a response aimed at reminding the United States, Britain, and France that Russia remains a force to be dealt with. Since the situation in Syria remains sensitive and fluid, Russia’s countermove will not happen there. It could come in Ukraine, or Eastern Europe, and take the form of diplomatic pressure, heightened military maneuvers and activity, or shadow operations such as cyber strikes against the civilian infrastructures in the Baltic States. Cyber strikes would be the perfect tool to be used if Moscow wants to highlight the vulnerability of Western interests in the region. After all, the US-led strikes against Syria served to highlight just how vulnerable the Russian position in Syria is.

Then there are the numerous other proxy wars going on in Syria that will be affected by the West’s actions. It will be interesting to see how Iran, Israel, and Turkey react, and how Friday’s strikes will affect their respective plans for Syria.


7-9 April, 2017 Weekend Update: Syria and the Palm Sunday Terror Attacks


7-9 April, 2016 has been an active weekend in a number of ways and on a host of fronts around the world. Venezuela is heating up as protesters and security forces clashed on Saturday amid large protests against the government of President Maduro. In the Middle East, last week’s use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government led to US military action on the morning of 7 April. The TLAM strike against the airbase which housed the aircraft responsible for delivering the chemical agents has given the Syrian conflict new significance and set it in a direction few predicted. Meanwhile, in Egypt and northern Europe terrorism has reared its ugly head. ISIS bombings against Coptic Christian churches in Egypt have shattered the peace and sanctity of Palm Sunday leaving over 40 dead. The final possible flashpoint is in northeast Asia where the USS Carl Vinson and her battlegroup have been ordered back to the Sea of Japan to operate in close proximity to North Korea in the coming days.

This update will focus on Syria and the terror attacks in Egypt. Tomorrow the weekend’s developments in northwest Asia, and the protests in Venezuela will be looked at.



All eyes are on Damascus and Moscow as the world waits anxiously to see what transpires next after the US cruise missile strike on Friday morning. Russia’s response was predictably negative. In a series of statements from a diverse crowd of government officials in Moscow and beyond Russia denounced the US actions, announced it plans to upgrade Syria’s air defenses, and warned that it will respond with force if the US uses its military option against Syria once more. Beyond dialogue, released statements, and a minimal move on the military chess board concerning the movement of a Russian destroyer into the Eastern Med, Moscow’s reaction has been muted.

There was likely a great deal of surprise in Moscow about the fashion in which President Trump and the United States responded to the chemical attack last week. Now, in the midst of a growing crisis Putin finds himself having to adjust his strategy in Syria. The stakes have grown larger over the past week. The US has acted against Bashir al-Assad, the world is condemning his use of chemical weapons on civilians, and talk about Syria’s future minus Assad is increasing.

Putin and Russia do not need a way out of this situation. What is desperately needed is a fresh take on a political solution.  Syria’s government can remain in power and an ally of Russia without Assad at the helm. He is becoming more toxic by the day. Russia could do much to help itself by searching for an alternative to Assad in Damascus. As time moves on, the chances of an anti-Assad coalition forming will increase.

For the United States, the way forward has to be decided upon and shaped. In many respects the new US policy on Syria is going to be the foundation for President Trump’s foreign policy and, if the situation allows, the formation of a Trump doctrine. The greatest unknown is whether Assad will defy Trump and use chemical weapons again. If the possibility becomes reality it will ratchet up the level of tension greatly. The US could be forced to response, despite the warnings from Moscow that it will not allow further military action to go unpunished.


Palm Sunday Attacks

Palm Sunday is one of the most significant days on the Christian calendar, when the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is celebrated This morning in Egypt, two suicide bombings in Coptic Christian churches killed 44 people and wounded 126. This was the single deadliest day for Christians in decades. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks and there is a strong possibility that more suicide bombings will be coming in the near future as Holy Week is now upon us.

The attacks come at a delicate time for Egyptian President Fattah el-Sisi and threatens to undermine his promise of increased security. Egypt is wrestling with a deteriorating economy and political malaise. Increased acts of sectarian violence by Islamic militants will only serve to make his political position less tenable. The timing of the attacks should be considered too. Yes, it is a Christian holiday, but el-Sisi has recently returned from a trip to Washington DC and the prospect of a renewed US-Egyptian relationship could have been a motivating factor for ISIS in launching these attacks. The message, as well as the action, then have to be analyzed in the proper context.



Monday 3 October, 2016 Update: Checkmate In Syria


Have Vladimir Putin and Sergei Lavrov manipulated Barack Obama and John Kerry effectively and deliberately in all mattered related to Syria? Yes. Has one year of Russian military involvement on the side of the Syrian government all but assured that Bashir al-Assad’s regime will emerge victorious from the Syrian conflict? Probably, yes. Is the United States currently in a position to influence events in Syria or help shape what the nation will look like post-war? Absolutely not.

Today, the US formally suspended diplomatic contact and talks with Russia on the Syrian conflict. This move effectively kills the chances of future joint US-Russian efforts to stop the civil war from worsening. The talks were suspended because of Russia’s involvement in the fighting around Aleppo, as well as its failure to abide by the terms of the ceasefire.

The game is over. The United States has finally woken up and accepted the reality of the situation in Syria. From the moment the first Russian troops set foot on Syrian soil it was obvious that Putin’s intention was not to help usher in a new era of stability and democracy to Syria. Russia’s actions were taken to ensure survival of Bashir al-Assad’s regime and minimize Western influence and actions in the Syrian conflict.

US-Russian relations have been deteriorating for some time now and not only because of what has been happening in Syria. We will discuss this further and look at the potential consequences later on in the week. Today’s announcement by the US and the Russian’s response will have ramifications around the world. Like it or not, the stage is being set for a very frosty winter in US-Russian relations.




Wednesday 2 March, 2016 Update: New Sanctions On North Korea, Syrian Ceasefire Holding…For Now


The UN Security Council has adopted a stringent set of new sanctions against North Korea, after a month of raucous behavior by Pyongyang which included the supposed test of a thermonuclear device and a thinly disguised test test of a banned long range missile. The sanctions are far more expansive compared to previous sets, which included a widely accepted link to proliferation activities. The new sanctions have removed this precondition, in essence taking away any presumption of innocence.

The sanctions include inspection of all goods going into and out of North Korea by air, land and sea, places strict restrictions on the North’s supplies of aviation fuel for its air force, and bans the sale of all conventional arms and military hardware to Pyongyang. There are a host of other equally strict sanctions included in the resolution, leaving no doubt that this is a punishment.

China has done a 180 with regards to its dealings with North Korea. The reluctance by Beijing in the past to apply pressure to Kim Jong Un is gone. The possible deployment of US THAAD missile batteries to South Korea possibly played a role in this reversal. Whether or not China remains committed to the sanctions remains to be seen.

How Pyongyang responds to the resolutions and sanctions remains to be seen. Either way, expect to see North Korea lash out in some way in the near future.


The ceasefire that has been in place between the Syrian government and opposition groups since Saturday appears to be holding, despite claims from senior opposition officials that government forces were endangering the deal through attacks against their groups. All parties involved in the ceasefire, from the US and Russia to the UN agree that there have been some incidents and steps are being taken to deal with them. However, the incidents are nothing that appear to have the strength to endanger the ceasefire.

That could change soon, however. Syrian President Bashir al-Assad has said that he is making every effort to keep the peace despite opposition groups violating it ‘within the first hour.’ The government’s restraint will not last forever, he stated in an interview published on 1 March by SANA. With so many opposition groups involved in the conflict, a consistent worry is that a single violation…real or alleged…..by one opposition faction could provide Assad and his allies cause to declare the ceasefire broken and resume offensive operations against all groups.


Saturday 6 February, 2016 Update: Aleppo


*Short update, more coming tomorrow*

The suspension of the latest round of Syrian peace talks this past week was hardly a surprise. Going into the talks, expectations were not high. The Syrian government has not appeared to be sincere in its efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict. Quite the contrary, in fact. As the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva got underway last week, the Syrian pro-government forces, with Russian support, began an offensive against opposition forces in Aleppo province. As of Saturday afternoon, the city of Aleppo is on the verge of falling under siege by government control. Syrian and Russian airstrikes have also been hitting opposition forces fiercely. Civilian casualties are reported to be high and the fighting has triggered a new wave of refugees moving towards the Turkish border. The Turks have, for all intents and purposes, closed the border to refugees for the time being. Turkey fears that upwards of 70,000 refugees are moving north towards the border. The UN puts the estimated number at 15,000.

As for the peace talks in Geneva, a three-week suspension has been declared by the UN. During that time, the Syrian government is going to increase its efforts to either bring about a military solution to the conflict, or set the stage so that when talks resume, the government will be negotiating from a position of strength. The loss of Aleppo would be disastrous for all anti-government forces and could conceivably force them to sue for peace.

It is clear that al-Assad and his pro-government forces are winning the war at the moment. And as Aleppo goes, so could the fate of the opposition too.