Toying with a World War (II)

BERLIN/DAMASCUS | | syrien

BERLIN/DAMASCUS (Own report) -While jihadi militias pursue their military offensive launched on the weekend in Aleppo, the German government is increasing its pressure on Russia. "As the most important supporter of the regime" in Damascus, Moscow must provide "a sound agreement for Aleppo," demanded German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But it was in fact the militia that broke the ceasefire initiated by Russia late last week and it was they who were also preventing the evacuation of the civilian population by firing at the escape corridors, as a British journalist reported from Aleppo. Similar practices are being used by the militia in the Iraqi town of Mosul, however these are being described for what they are, i.e. the IS is using civilians as "human shields." The German government is intensifying its pressure on Russia, at a moment when Moscow is reinforcing its military strength in the Eastern Mediterranean with the deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group near the Syrian coast, aimed at achieving an equal footing with the western powers. A German Bundeswehr frigate is accompanying the French aircraft carrier "Charles de Gaulle" in the same region, where the Russian aircraft carrier "Admiral Kuznetsov" is going. Particularly the German Green Party leadership is raising demands for declaring a no-fly zone over Syria - preparing another escalation, risking a direct war with Russia.

The Jihadi Offensive

Over the past few days, militia in Aleppo, including numerous jihadis, used Moscow's ceasefire to systematically prepare and publicly announce their current offensive. Already on Friday, a commander of the al-Qaeda Syrian surrogate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [1] announced, "We are waiting for the signal of the start of a decisive battle which will surprise the regime and its militias."[2] The US-American expert on Syria, Charles Lister, reported, plans for this offensive were developed by an alliance of militias without Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, but with the participation of the powerful jihadi militia Ahrar al-Sham. However, al-Qaeda surrogate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham has promised to participate in the current offensive. According to Lister, who has exclusive contacts to the militias, the initial attacks were already launched on Saturday. Retaking the strategically important Castello Road is the first objective. "Countries from the region" are providing "substantial support," Lister reports. In substance this would mean Turkey and/or Saudi Arabia.

Preventing Escape

Previous to their offensive, the militias sabotaged both the escape of civilians and the capitulation of individual insurgents. At the beginning of the ceasefire, the Syrian government - in cooperation with Russia - set up six escape corridors for civilians and two for insurgents, who were prepared to capitulate. The United Nations confirmed that it had received the necessary security guarantees. The Free Syrian Army as well as the Syrian opposition in exile protested this, claiming that getting "people to leave Aleppo" would only play "into the hands of the regime."[3] Already on Thursday evening, a British journalist observed that militias had systematically fired at an escape corridor. Civilians had to retreat to East Aleppo that is under the control of the militias. Escape from the combat zone was impossible and he himself only barely survived.[4] The jihadi oriented militias' practice of preventing escape used in East Aleppo, resemble those observed by experts in Mosul. Civilians seeking to flee from there are in an extremely dangerous situation, an employee of the aid organization "Save the Children" is quoted as saying, "there are (IS, editor's note), snipers, there are land mines."[5] In the West, IS' preventing escape from Mosul is widely considered as using civilians as "human shields" - a war crime.

Pressure on Russia

Berlin is reacting to the conflict's new escalation by applying public pressure on Russia. "Moscow, as the most important supporter of the regime" in Damascus, "must continue to use its influence, so that a sound agreement for Aleppo and ultimately a ceasefire for all of Syria will become possible," declared Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, last Saturday.[6] Whereas, the expansion of sanctions against Russia is not ruled out, the German government is still seeking close cooperation with Turkey and Saudi Arabia, both suspected of furnishing support to the militias in Aleppo. Both countries figured among Germany's top 10 customers of arms exports also in the first semester of 2016.[7]

End of NATO's Lone Presence

The German government is increasing pressure on Moscow at a time, when Russia is reinforcing its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. Since 2013, - following nearly two decades of absence - Russian naval vessels are again regularly cruising in the Mediterranean. Last year, they held their first joint maneuver with the Chinese Navy. Previously - in February 2015 - Moscow had reached an accord with Cyprus for Russian naval vessels to use Cypriot ports. Ten Russian ships are currently underway in the vicinity of Syria's coast. They have fired cruise missiles in the course of the Syrian conflict - also to demonstrate their capabilities. Just a few days ago, the Russian aircraft carrier, "Admiral Kuznetsov" set sail from the Arctic Sea headed for the Eastern Mediterranean, where it is also expected to take up position off the Syrian coast. It can carry more than 50 aircraft, has heavy weapons systems and is being escorted by seven naval vessels. The aircraft carrier planes and on-board weapons may also "be used for strikes against terrorists," according to the Russian media. But it is simply a question of supplementing Russia's current naval presence in the Middle East with an additional air component.[8] The aircraft carrier group will be deployed soon after the Russian S-300 air defense missiles are in place in Syria. They are regarded as state-of-the-art missiles. Even in the USA, opinions range from reservations to skepticism about whether the US Air Force can vanquish these weapons without major difficulties.

Danger of Conflict

With its military measures in the Eastern Mediterranean, Russia is gradually reaching equilibrium with the western powers, to whose regional military presence, Germany is contributing to a growing extent. For the past ten years, the German Navy has been involved in UN operations off the coast of Lebanon. It has a regular presence in the Eastern Mediterranean in the framework of maneuvers and transit. Recently it dispatched the frigate "Augsburg" to participate in the escort protection of the French aircraft carrier, "Charles de Gaulle." The jetfighters taking off from the "Charles de Gaulle," are flying sorties against the "Islamic State," while Russian bombers from the "Admiral Kuznetsov" are taking off into the war against other jihadi militia in Syria. The number of Russian and NATO jets using Syrian airspace to attack their respective targets is increasing. In addition the Bundestag will soon take the decision to deploy German military personnel in NATO's AWACS machines, which will have the Syrian airspace under surveillance. This new flight density enhances - similar to the Baltic region - the danger of an escalation, not only due to an accidental collision, but also through the risk of a direct armed confrontation between NATO countries and Russia, should western powers expand their aggressions, declare a no-fly zone over Syria, or even launch a direct attack on the armed forces of that country.

Ready to Escalate

None of these can be ruled out. Leading politicians of Germany's Green Party have now surged ahead with the demand of declaring a no-fly zone. After the Chair of the Greens parliamentary group, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, made a plea for a no-fly zone, the Party's Chair, Cem Özdemir, has now seconded with a call for at least "a comprehensive international threat to declare a no-fly zone." In response to whether "the Europeans should take over, should the Americans remain passive," Özdemir replied that he agrees with France's Foreign Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, "that doing nothing can be just as bad as making a wrong intervention."[9] Both in Berlin and Washington - with an eye on the upcoming presidential elections - demands to intensify the military course in the Syrian conflict are growing louder.

[1] Until recently, the Syrian al-Qaeda surrogate had operated under the name Jabhat al-Nusra. It has since officially dissociated itself from al-Qaeda and adopted the name Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Experts unanimously see this as a tactically motivated step and view its alleged dissociation from al-Qaeda as a fake.
[2] Syria: Aleppo attack 'pause' ridiculed by rebels. www.aljazeera.com 21.10.2016.
[3] Hilfsaktion für Aleppo verschoben. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 22.10.2016.
[4] Der Bericht kann hier eingesehen werden: www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3pHFBZmVEI .
[5] Paul McLeary, Dan de Luce: Civilians in Mosul Face "Impossible Choice". foreignpolicy.com 20.10.2016.
[6] Steinmeier mahnt Russland zu Einfluss auf Assad. www.welt.de 23.10.2016.
[7] See Ein Spitzenkäufer deutschen Kriegsgeräts.
[8] Russian warships pass through English channel. www.bbc.co.uk 21.10.2016.
[9] Annett Meiritz, Roland Nelles: "Assad und Putin bomben Syrien zurück in die Steinzeit". www.spiegel.de 15.10.2016.