Did the Russians just ‘invade’ Syria?

“No,” Assad-loyalists would rush to say when asked if the current Russian military build-up in Syria can be considered an “invasion” or indeed, a new foreign “occupation,” of Arab lands.

To them, Assad is a “legitimate” leader and as such, he has the right to request outside intervention on behalf of the people who “elected” him (of course, there is no use arguing with such devotees about the validity of these so-called elections, which at best can be described as an colossal exercise in vanity).

Among the latest advocators of Russia's military presence in Syria was none other than the “Master of Resistance” himself: Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah.

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Nasrallah is an Iranian-backed, pro-Assad Lebanese militia leader who - for decades - used anti-hegemonic rhetoric to legitimize himself and portray moderate Arab states as “traitors” and agents of the “West” (whom he describes as being against Islam).

Not only did Nasrallah welcome Russia’s intervention, but he sought to portray it positively by saying that it will help rid the world of the evils of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), after the U.S.-led coalition failed to do so.

Of course, given that his statements came as part of an interview which he gave to the Hezbollah-owned al-Manar TV channel, Nasrallah’s views were not really challenged.

One valid question would have been what the Hezbollah leader (supposedly an arch-enemy of Israel) thinks of a recent statement by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said “Russia will coordinate Syria military actions with Israel”

Faisal J. Abbas

For instance, one valid question would have been what the Hezbollah leader (supposedly an arch-enemy of Israel) thinks of a recent statement by PM Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said “Russia will coordinate Syria military actions with Israel.” (Last night, Israel also bombed a number of Assad military positions in the Golan Heights).

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 21, 2015. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, September 21, 2015. (Reuters)

Another unasked question to Nasrallah would have been whether he believes the Russians would leave Syria after defeating ISIS? And if not, would Hezbollah declare war against Moscow and seek to “liberate Syria” from the Russian invasion?

Why would Russia leave?

However, regardless of how Russian intervention is perceived by Moscow’s allies and foes (by default, one party’s “occupying force” would be another party’s “liberators”); there is no dispute that there will be very little that can be done to challenge whatever Russia decides to do next in the Middle East. (Essential reading: Putin has checkmated Obama in Syria – by veteran Washington-based analyst Hisham Melhem)

To put these recent developments into context, we should remember that none of this would have been possible had the U.S. and the international community intervened directly when the crisis first erupted in Syria in 2011.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tested his American counterpart one more time in Crimea, but the U.S. Commander-in-Chief blinked yet again and Crimea has since been absorbed by Russia

Faisal J. Abbas

Then, President Barack Obama’s infamous “Red Line fiasco” of 2013 gave a clear indicator (to the Syrian regime, but importantly to the Russians) that the White House isn’t prepared to commit militarily to end what has now evolved to become the biggest human catastrophe of modern times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin tested his American counterpart one more time in Crimea, but the U.S. Commander-in-Chief blinked yet again and Crimea has since been absorbed by Russia – despite Ukraine’s desperate pleas to the U.S. and its other Western allies.

As such, one should simply accept the new reality in Syria, however, this leaves a number of questions unanswered: Will Russia decide to hold on to Assad in the end? Or will Assad be sacrificed in favor of a fairer resolution to this conflict which has left more than 300,000 killed and millions of refugees displaced? Will Moscow necessarily tow the Iranian line? Is there really a Russian-Chinese-Iranian-Syrian regime axis being formed? (Recent unconfirmed reports suggest a Chinese aircraft carrier and military advisors were on the way to assist Assad in the battle against ISIS).

One thing is for sure: Russia (which is unlikely to let go of its only military base on warm waters in the Syrian port of Tartous) is most probably here to stay, and with a diminishing American presence, we should now expect – and accept – that Moscow (for better or for worse) will have a much bigger say in regional affairs.

____________
Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya English, he is a renowned blogger and an award-winning journalist. Faisal covered the Middle East extensively working for Future Television of Lebanon and both Al-Hayat and Asharq Al-Awsat pan-Arab dailies. He blogs for The Huffington Post since 2008, and is a recipient of many media awards and a member of the British Society of Authors, National Union of Journalists, the John Adams Society as well as an associate member of the Cambridge Union Society. He can be reached on @FaisalJAbbas on Twitter.
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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