The U.S. offensive against ISIS in Syria will very soon revert to its original mission: regime change in Damascus, the strategic objective that unites America’s Euro-Arab-Turkish-Israeli coalition. Although U.S. military planners insist it will take eight months to a year to fully assemble and train a “moderate” Syrian rebel spearhead to confront government forces, political and military realities dictate that the Americans must move much more quickly to upset the balance of forces on the ground. Otherwise, the whole structure of western dominance in the region could unravel – catastrophically.
The contradiction at the heart of the western crisis in Syria, is the refusal of tens of thousands of jihadists to act as mere foot soldiers for the West and Arab monarchs. The jihadist genie is out of the bottle, and its conjurers and paymasters cannot put it back. The problem is not just Isis. The Islamic State has swelled through absorption of other Islamic fighters pursuing a similar theo-political logic, one that seeks its own version of “liberation” from western shackles and, increasingly, the overthrow of royal regimes allied with the United States. ISIS has become engorged with defectors from other Islamist organizations more dependent on and obedient to proxy war planners in Riyadh, Doha, Ankara and Washington. Therefore, ISIS must be punished, to reduce its appeal to the jihadist rank and file, who make up the bulk of effective fighters arrayed against the Syrian state. For the same reasons, those jihadists not yet in ISIS’s orbit, who are the West’s only actually existing resources on ground, must be provided a redemptive victory, and quickly, before the whole edifice of proxy war disintegrates.
“The jihadist genie is out of the bottle, and its conjurers and paymasters cannot put it back.”
That’s why President Obama’s response has been to double-down on the military intervention begun more than three years ago, through direct U.S. firepower. Although U.S. bombing has concentrated in the north and west of Syria, where ISIS dominates, the strategic “rebel” breakthrough is being prepared in the vulnerable southern underbelly of the country, in the corridor along the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Syrian capital of Damascus is just 40 miles away, guarded by two divisions that the Assad government would be hard pressed to reinforce.
The Israeli downing of a Syrian fighter on the Syrian side of the “border,” this week, was no doubt designed to prevent Assad’s air force from disrupting jihadist troop concentrations in the corridor, poised to make a thrust towards Damascus from the south. The Israelis provided the rebels with every accommodation, including medical care for their wounded, when the Islamists routed Syrian soldiers and captured or drove off United Nations peacekeepers, earlier this month The rebels now claim to have seized “80 percent of Quneitra province,” which runs to the outskirts of Damascus.
With the UN peacekeepers no longer watching, and Israel guarding the skies over the three-mile-wide, 40 mile-long corridor, the al-Qaida affiliated and Qatar-funded al-Nusra Front, the Saudi Arabia-financed Islamic Front and the U.S.-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front are to storm the capital, confident that the U.S. will find a pretext to act as close air support, as it did for the jihadists in Libya. The jihadists will not just sit there for six or eight months, while Washington trains 5,000 “moderates” with money not yet authorized by Congress. Indeed, if the Americans do not use their airpower to quickly clear the way for the “friendly” jihadists’ entrance to Damascus, the fighters will rapidly turn unfriendly and align even more openly with ISIS, with whom most rebels concluded a non-belligerency agreement, this month.
“The U.S. will find a pretext to act as close air support, as it did for the jihadists in Libya.”
The U.S. claims it struck at least one al-Nusrah unit in the north of the country on Tuesday, but we live in a Misinformation Nation, and no corporate reporter is going to get within snatching distance of “rebels” to verify who is actually being hit. Washington is betting that, if it inflicts enough damage on ISIS, fighters will defect back to the more malleable jihadists, who will be handed victories over the Syrian government by U.S. airpower, reversing the momentum of battle and, maybe, causing the collapse of the regime – thus salvaging imperial policy in the Middle East.
Washington certainly does have plans to train thousands of Arab troops that it will pass off as Syrian “moderates” in the next eight to twelve months. But first, the U.S. knows that it must give the jihadists still under its control a reason not to join their soul mates in ISIS. American air power is inflicting punishment on the wayward Islamic State, and will soon deliver rewards to those who remain loyal to their handlers in the coalition-of-the-willing.
Craps is a quick game, and Obama has rolled the dice.