Putin has applied the Chechnya wrecking ball to Syria and what does the rest of the world do, just stand by ‘wringing its hands’ (not China and Iran – China, finding a kindred spirit, cooperates and, of course Iran, for whose sake a good deal of this is being accomplished, just waters its mouth).
The Russians have re-entered the Middle East big-time - after most of that part of the world thought they were long gone. And they were too since the break-up of the former Soviet Union and a succession of American Presidents who, at the time, spent a lot of time ‘boxing them in'', marginalizing them, and finally bidding them good-bye.
But Putin has seen his big opportunity under a NATO that can hardly deal with Afghanistan and is ‘drawing down’ as fast as its tiny legs can withdraw. No wonder Putin didn’t very much like the way his hand-chosen successor, Medvedev, was running things and moved him along as fast as his own two could carry him. Medvedev, by comparison seemed relatively moderate if not ‘civilized’.
Not so Putin. Putin is an old-style Soviet dictator/leader. In fact, he obviously has visions of becoming ‘a second Stalin’ and of restoring ‘Soviet’ (''Russian'', in the language of today) Power as quickly as his can carry him. But actually Putin gives promise of being around for a not insubstantial amount of time – perhaps 12 more years under the “new” Soviet-style ''Constitution''.
We will all be lucky to be still alive by them. But he has even more chance of achieving this even than Stalin himself – because unlike Stalin (who, pretense or otherwise, was ‘a Georgian’ and was seen as such, like it or not), Putin really is a “Russian”. This, in fact, is a fairly big advantage and he will not probably go the way Stalin is thought to have finally gone – a plot hatched by his underlings. It is rumored that Putin’s father was even one of Stalin’s chefs at the time so, if so, Putin even through family history knows something of what he is about. No, Putin being relatively young and showing himself off as, at least ostensibly, a ‘physical fitness buff’ (he even had ‘Arnold’ come to visit him), can’t wait to do the Sochi Olympics. No, he will not go the way of Stalin and we are likely to have him around for some time to come.
But what gives him this new entrée into the Middle East and this chance to watch, nay contribute as “the Chechnya wrecking ball” does its work in Syria? Why, perceived American weakness, that’s what. He knows the American Administration, which just at this moment is “repositioning its forces to the Far East" and “downsizing” its military capacities, despite all its condemnations and pronouncements, is not going to do anything either to stop or challenge him while he even baldly announces Russian nuclear subs will re-enter the Eastern Mediterranean (to take advantage of their long yearned-for ‘warm water port’ on the Syrian coastline), not to mention their both announced and unannounced, claimed and denied sale to and introduction of S-300 batteries into Syria and its defense capacity.
And again, who has made all this possible, surrendering and reneging on presumable Persian Gulf commitments, if not to Israel well then to the Sunni Arab States along its Southwestern shores and even further inland? Why the United States of course. Certainly, it should come as no surprise that just at this crucial ‘turning point’ regarding Middle East Power, the United States is withdrawing everywhere, “repositioning Eastwards” – “far Eastwards”, and introducing two Vietnam Era “Peace advocates” into the upper echelons of its Administration, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, at the two key positions of Foreign Affairs and Defense – both of whom are more attuned to the post-Vietnam Era mindset than anything else and applying this mindset to the present Middle Eastern situation - not to mention the World at large.
Obama is no fool, nor is Putin. He knows precisely what he is doing just as Putin does. But Obama, unlike Kerry or Hagel, has never fought in a war or even served in the military (for that matter, neither really has Putin). He obviously prefers sitting behind a desk or uttering high-sounding, tele-prompted phrases but, somewhat like Bin Laden (his “Dr. No”), he seems to enjoy computer-assisted indirect ‘drone warfare’ (both must have watched James Bond movies when they were young) and Putin knows, whatever the threats or negative pronouncements it mouths, the Washington Administration is going to do nothing overt to either counter him, hold him back, challenge him, or confront him.
On the other hand, Putin learned his lessons in Chechnya and we all saw what devastation he made of that land before finally inserting his own puppet-style "Soviet” regime (we have ouselves even in Boston just felt some of the after-shocks of that repression). If one follows the chronology, one can see that it was still under Medvedev that in Putin’s eyes, the West ‘tricked’ the Russians into not objecting at the U.N., while France and the U.K. (with American “leading-from-behind” support) removed Gaddafi’s air cover in Libya – Gaddafi even by this time having turned into a pro-Western despot, if one can use such terms, and voluntarily surrendered his weapons of mass destruction – and everyone saw the brutal, gut-wrenching disembowelment that marked the finale of that endeavor even in this ostensibly pro-Western or apparently ''Western’-leaning regime.
Putin was not going to allow anything of the same to happen in Syria where, not only did he have his only and long-sought ‘warm-water’ Russian naval base but he saw his chance for the re-establishment of Russian Power across the whole Middle East; and now that the comparatively-docile Medvedev had been removed, he was once more holding the reins of Power and had his chance. He knew what to do. He was not going to lose it. The opposite, he was going to exploit it. It was of no account to him how many innocent people or cities and towns were destroyed or partially destroyed in the process. No U.N. Resolution was going to ‘sneak through’ under his watch. Russia and China vetoed it this time. There would be no U.S./Nato/French/U.K.- sponsored removal of Bashar al-Assad’s missiles or air cover. On the contrary, these were going to be used in the extreme to ''prop up'' an already-failing regime.
Putin had taken his measure of this man in the White House. He knew with whom he was dealing – only words, and remote-controlled video games. No troops – not even any ships. Besides, the new Secretaries-of-State and Defense were Viet Nam Era personalities and now busily still ‘withdrawing’ from that "War" and "downsizing" both the American military Establishment and its defense capacity while Russia was enlarging its. What an opportunity. Heaven-sent.
Nothing that Bashar al-Assad has done in Syria could have been done without Russian (and a little indirect Chinese) support – to say nothing of the Iranians who, as virtual kin to the quasi-Shi’ite “Alawwi”s (note the name, in Arabic based on multiple “Ali”s – the “First Imam” of all Shi’ites) and of course now inveterate anti-Israel fanatics, also seized on their opportunity to create their ‘super-highway’ across the Arab Northern Middle East through Iraq, Syrian and Lebanon to the Russian hook-up on the Mediterranean Coast. And who was going to stop them? No one – only possibly Israel if of such a mind. But in an Obama Universe, she would not dare however much the Persian Gulf and Jordan Arab States might have secretly wished for or even possibly advocated it.
No, Bashar al-Assad was virtually finished in Syria. Now he has won and is being supplied the latest Russian MIG-29’s and possible the S-300’s, for which has has no need except against Israel. I have seen Syria. Some of its cities were among the most charming and beautiful in the Middle East. Now perhaps some quarter of that country lays in ruins and parts, if not wholes, of its most beautiful cities like World War II battlegrounds. Nothing like this has ever even been seen in any Israeli-Arab confrontations. Whoever heard of using artillery on your own people? Whoever heard of bombarding your own cities - if the Israelis had done this in Judea or Samaria they would have brought down the condemnation of the whole world or been brought before the International Court of Justice - but, even worse, using missiles on your own people and even possibly poison gas?
Perhaps some 70,000 civilians, woman and children, have been killed by their own regime in Syria. Some would estimate even more – 100,000. This number far exceeds the total casualty figures that ever occurred in the whole history of the supposedly pivotal and all-important Israel-Palestine conflict. And from whom did Assad learn these tactics and on whose support did he rely - nay, not only rely, but give him the capacity and experitse to do this? Why Putin’s. Without Putin’s support – nay encouragement (he learned his tactics as I said in Chechnya. He was not going to see a repeat of that) – none of this would or could ever have happened. Of course, there are al-Qaeda elements among the rebels in Syria – who else is left to fight? All the honest or moral-minded resisters would have been long ago decimated, their families ruined or fled as refugees, their homes destroyed – so who is there left with the sort of life-or-death commitment and the support of the Gulf Arab States like the Saudis except people like al-Qaeda?
But that is not the point. Assad was originally beaten and ‘on the ropes’ as it were. When Putin came back into power in Russia, everything changed with a vengeance and the Americans, who could "support" the removal of Gaddafi’s air superiority in Libya, suddenly could not do so in Syria. Assad, by all accounts as I just said, now has the ‘upper-hand’ or is on the verge of total victory. As I said too, I know. I have seen Aleppo – once one of the most beautiful cities in the Middle East, now virtually destroyed and its population almost completely decimated or refugees fled to the hinterlands or across the border into Turkey. Who knows how many families have been so disastrously and desparately ruined? Does Putin care and where is the outcry that one hears at the building of one simple apartment block in Israeli so-called "Occupied Territories"?
Who would have countenanced this, except Putin who learned his methods in Chechnya (if, as a former KGB apparatchik, he even needed such lessons) - though the Chinese too concurred - and, in so doing, he has sent out a message to the rest of the world and anyone who would be of a mind to so resist anywhere within his reach or that he could have a hand or say in. The whole swath of the Northern Arab Middle East from the Mediterranean coastline to Iran as far as the borders of Afghanistan, the Southern underbelly of Russia and its former satellite appendages now gradually once again falling into line, is his or under his control or suzerainty. The Russians are back in the Middle East with greater and greater force and the Americans are moving further afield.
This is what is going to happen to any revolutionary minority that thinks it is going to raise its hand while he is in power. He has already virtually crushed all resistance of this sort on the streets of Russian towns and cities (though so far without the need of overt bombardment-style violence – he has used other methods, sometimes the judiciary - though he would use it if he had to). So he has sent a message at home as well as abroad. Not even something like what is happening at the moment in Turkey would be countenanced. This is what is going to happen everywhere and no one will dare raise a hand against him - not under the present American Administration. There will be no “Arab Spring”s in the areas within his reach or under his control.
Message sent. Message received. Even if it takes reducing whole swaths of a given country to rubble. There was no other way a minority, repressive, Alawwite coterie could have survived and now seemingly ‘triumphed’ in Syria. This is the pitilessness and harshness of the Putin-style and Putin-backed reaction; and Israel, unfortunately will have to take note and do what it conceives it must do or what is in its best interest to do under such circumstances. It is on its own and even dealing with the Russian S-300''s will be its own concern or ''affair''.
Formerly it alone might have imposed a Syrian “no-fly” zone. Now it is beyond its power to do so. The S-300’s may or may not be coming. Some say they are already there. Some say they are not. Certainly the new MIG’s will be or are on their way to a country incapable of paying for them, except by the virtual “gift” to the Russians of a permanent Naval Base on its Eastern Mediterranean Shores which they never had and will never give up (like the Americans at Guantanamo) - at least not voluntarily and no new regime will throw or be allowed to throw them out.
But what is Kerry’s response and, by implication, "Chuck" Hagel’s, except a few wimpish warnings? Kerry is still insisting that Israel is going to have to sign a "Peace" with the Palestinians. This is all - much to Putin’s amusement - he appears to really have on his agenda. And, as part of this “Peace”, it is rumored that Israel will have to surrender "the Northern part of the Dead Sea", including the area around “Kibbutz Kalia” and the Kibbutz itself. Its residents will have to move. “Kibbutz Kalia”? Why that kibbutz? Who has ever heard of “Kibbutz Kalia”?
We have! We who have conducted surveys around “the Northern Shores of the Dead Sea” or dug at Qumran. "Qumran"? But what does this have to do with Qumran? Why “Kibbutz Kalia” is just a “nom a clef” for Qumran – for the whole area around it where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found; and this is where we, who have done these “surveys” or participated in these "excavations" or radar ground scans, have usually stayed.
So why do the rumors specifically refer to the withdrawal from one seemingly harmless and relatively innocuous, pleasant little kibbutz which is not even near the Jordan River border area and in the neighborhood of any ‘Arab’ habitation for perhaps some 15-20 kilometers (north, that is, to Jericho), except occasionally a few beduin who originally found the fabled “Dead Sea Scrolls” (and, of course, an army of tourists) - and such a demand, if true, never previously specifically heard of as persistently and as prominently before? Because, by this they mean “Qumran” and they know the excitement, concern, and consternation that such a demand would kick up both in Israel and abroad, particularly in the United States, if they actually referred to "Qumran" or the area around the caves in which "the Dead Sea Scrolls" were found.
Instead the rumored language refers to “the Northern Dead Sea Shores”. Why have we never heard this demand before. Is this all the U. S. Government is concerned about in the present perilous times - not almost 100,000 Syrian dead and over a million refugees, nor the bombardment and ruination of whole populated cities by their own Government with Soviet-supplied armaments, the likes of which not perhaps seen since World War II? No, only seemingly one innocent little kibbutz and its inhabitants; and yes, of course I forgot, perhaps the building of an apartment block or the issuing of a license to build one in an area which is considered "Occupied”, to say nothing of a demand to label and a ban on products (agricultural mostly – like honey, flowers, or the like - not armaments) from Jewish or Israeli locales in such so-called “Territories” by the European Union.
I shall have more to say about this rumored demand to “withdraw from the Northern Dead Sea Coast” and, particularly, this innocuous little kibbutz "Kalia”, by which is meant “Qumran” and which has never harmed a single soul, and never will, while a huge scandal is stirred up over Iskander Kando’s descendant’s intent to sell a few Dead Sea Scroll scraps and make himself a millionaire, in my next blog.