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Start by providing meaningful assistance to the rebels that would allow them to turn the tide of war
The Persians are coming again.
The Spartans, supported by a small force of Greeks from other city-states, met the Persians at Thermopylae. For seven days they held, blocking the advance of the Persian army, buying time and inspiring the rest of Greece to rise to the occasion. Leonides, his men and many of their Greek allies paid with their lives when they were finally overrun. Nevertheless they were successful in their mission. At the battle of Plataea the following year, an army composed of men from a host of Greek city states confronted the Persian army near Athens, crushed it and ended once and for all the threat of Persian invasion.
It has been 2500 years. The Persians, who we now call the Iranians, are coming again. Leonides is nowhere in sight nor is the spirit of defiance he represented. Our President is not confronting the threat nor threatening to do so. He is focused on a policy of appeasement and negotiation and the entire Middle East is paying the price.
The Syrian Civil War drags on. It is not, however, as many in this administration wish to characterize it, a stalemate. Assad is winning. The rebels are losing ground. Assad is winning, because the West has chosen not to provide any kind of meaningful assistance to the rebels. He is also winning, because he is not alone. He is receiving massive support from Iran and from Iran's surrogate, Hezbollah.
Iran has supported Assad since the beginning of the insurrection, but at least as early as 2013 the nature of that support changed dramatically. Faced with the prospect that Assad might lose and a regime hostile to Iran and Hezbollah might take his place, the Iranians moved decisively. Since then they have sent in not only thousands of Iranian Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) operatives to gather intelligence, direct operations and train Assad's force, they have also pushed in thousands of Hezbollah fighters to engage in direct combat operations.
Armed with Iranian weapons and supported by the IRGC Hezbollah fighters, the shock troops of this new 'Persian' offensive, have turned the tide of the war. In May 2014 Hezbollah fighters spearheaded the assault on the border town of Qusayr and drove out the rebel forces defending it. In February 2014 Hezbollah took the lead again in the assault on the city of Yabroud. The city was taken, and the rebels driven out with heavy losses. Hezbollah fighters are now deployed widely throughout Syria including in Damascus itself.
The implications of Assad's impending victory in Syria are dramatic and unsettling. It will mean not only that Assad has survived a threat to his rule and that the people of Syria will be condemned to continued life under a brutal, oppressive regime. It will mean the ascendency of Iran in the Middle East and particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean. Every neighboring country will pay the price.
Lebanon remains a fractured nation, rendered incapable of fully healing its wounds and building a truly functioning government by virtue of Hezbollah's role in its government and its maintenance of what amounts to an independent military apparatus. When Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah allies finish the job of crushing the Syrian rebels and turn their attention to Lebanon the precarious balance that exists now will be destroyed. Lebanon will no longer be a nation state with a terrorist group embedded in it. It will become a nation wholly owned and operated by a Hezbollah and beholden to Iran.
The shock waves from an Iranian victory in Syria will not stop in Lebanon, however. Further south on the coast of the Mediterranean in the Gaza Strip another terrorist group, Hamas, already holds sway. Supported, armed and trained by the Iranians, Hamas is openly committed to the destruction of the state of Israel and war on the West. When Assad triumphs in Syria and Lebanon is lost to Tehran, Gaza will be just another piece in a virtually unbroken Iranian dominion that will extend from the Turkish border in the north to the Sinai in the south. The only break in this line of control will be the short stretch of coastline under Israeli control.
To the east the shock waves from Assad's victory will carry into Iraq. Already teetering on the verge of becoming an Iranian client state, and faced with an expanding Sunni rebellion, Baghdad will not long resist Iranian pressure. Sandwiched between Iran and an Iranian satellite in Syria, Baghdad will swing decisively into the orbit of the Iranian Islamic Republic. IRGC forces, fresh from triumph in Damascus will soon be found directing operations in Anbar Province against Sunni rebels.
Faced with this impending catastrophe our government is doing nothing of consequence. It plays at arming the rebels with no discernible impact while remaining transfixed by the fantasy that the Iranians are serious about negotiating away their nuclear program and engaging in substantive dialogue. Meanwhile it effectively ignores Iran's efforts to extend its influence and to achieve regional hegemony.
Everything in the Middle East is complicated. There are no simple, painless solutions to any of its problems. Nor would the direct introduction of American combat forces into the region be a productive course of action. That does not mean, however, that we are powerless or there is nothing to be done.
Start by providing meaningful assistance to the rebels that would allow them to turn the tide of war. Dispense with the fantasy that this can be done antiseptically by simply training personnel and handing them weapons. Training an insurgency, directing it and controlling what happens when it transitions to governing from fighting means wading in and getting your hands dirty. It means managing the political dimensions as well as the tactical. This is a job for the CIA not for diplomats from State or uniformed military personnel.
Interdict the lines of supply that are feeding Syrian forces. Impose a no fly zone over Syria and prevent flights coming in from any destination. That will have the added impact of stopping the slaughter of Syrian civilians by the Syrian air force. Put US ships off the Syrian coast and blockade its ports of anything other than humanitarian aid.
Terminate all negotiations with the Iranians regarding their nuclear program. Reinstate fully all sanctions against them and look for every other opportunity to increase the pain. Let the domestic pressure on Tehran build. Where we have telegraphed weakness, let the Iranians see nothing but unyielding will.
Those steps alone, and there may be other such prudent measures that should be taken, would likely turn the tide of the war. They would signal our resolve. They would embolden the opposition. They would tell the Iranians that they are going no further. They would likely cost only a handful of American lives.
If they were taken.
Recently, the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrullah, called upon the United States to admit that Assad had won the war in Syria and accept Hezbollah's terms for a settlement of the crisis. 'If the United States wants to be part of the solution to the war, it will first have to stop supporting the rebels and agree to engage in dialogue with Mr Assad', Nasrullah said.
I know how Leonides would have responded to such comments. The man who famously responded 'molon lave' (come and get them) to a Persian demand that he and his men lay down their arms and 'we fight better in the shade' to the Persian boast that the arrows from their archers were so numerous that they would blot out the sun, would not be cowed by the taunts of a terrorist.
Unfortunately, Leonides is not here. The Persians are coming again. We are doing nothing to stop them, and, wherever, Leonides is, he is weeping.
Charles Faddis, Senior Intelligence Editor, Former Cia Operative, Host Of Uscs: Charles S. Faddis, President of Orion Strategic Services, LLC is a former CIA operations officer with twenty years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia and Europe. He has worked against the most dangerous terrorist organizations on the planet and has extensive firsthand experience with their methodology and tactics. His last assignment prior to retirement in May of 2008 was as head of the CIA's terrorist Weapons of Mass Destruction unit. He... (more...)