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This is the first of our monthly Q&A videos, which we announced in the “Join the SouthFront Army” video released on February 22nd. The questions were collected via a special post on the SouthFront Patreon account.
The first question comes from Jean-luc Martel: He asks – can you do a full-length video on the Syrian Air Defenses and how they have performed so far?
Answer: Earlier, we released analyses on the Syrian Arab Air Force and Russian air defense capabilities in Syria. Our military analysis team is going to produce an in-depth look at the Syrian air defense network within the next 1-2 months. We think that this topic will become more useful when S-300 air defense systems are officially declared combat ready.
If you want to provide your own fact-based input on this situation, you can submit it via firstname.lastname@example.org. It will be considered for publishing on southfront.org or could be incorporated into the upcoming analysis.
Next question from ABfield: Will Syria or Russia protest to the UN security council the presence of US forces which are stationed in Syria, at its border with Iraqi & Jordan in Al-Tanf, blocking the Damascus-Baghdad highway?
Answer: The Syrian government as well as Russian diplomats have repeatedly voiced their concern over the illegal US military presence in the al-Tanf area at the highest level. However, the diplomatic statements are not enough to change the situation on the ground, especially after it has become obvious that the Trump troops withdrawal is just a move to re-shape the US military presence to conform to conditions established in Syria after the formal defeat of ISIS. Washington is holding on to all of its infrastructure, including the al-Tanf base, and a limited contingent of troops to project its power. Taking into account that the US military has never been transparent regarding the amount of troops deployed in Syria, Washington has a free hand to increase and decrease the number of its contingent when as needed. In fact, the US openly declares that the goals of the US presence in Syria is to limit Assad and Russian influence to prevent the Damascus government from retaking northeastern Syria and to provide assistance to Israel. All these tasks require “boots on the ground” and continued aerial operations.
On the other hand, the Iranian-Russian-Syrian alliance will continue to employ various measures to facilitate the US withdrawal. A recently launched humanitarian operation to evacuate people from the al-Rubkan camp, located in the al-Tanf zone, is a part of these efforts. Previously, in some cases the US-led coalition claimed that it has to be there to defend the refugees.
Next question by Kaveh20: Will there be a change of strategy in Iranian foreign policy regarding western states and the military, especially after Zarif’s resignation? [COMMENT: The question was asked when Zarif submitted his resignation letter]
Answer: According to our experts, Mohammad Javad Zarif is probably the only member of the top Iranian leadership, who is in one way or another, linked with the US establishment. He’s a persona grata in circles linked with the Euro-Atlantic elites. Zarif has been the Iranian foreign minister since 2013 and in the period from 2013 to 2015 he was Chief Nuclear Negotiator of Iran.
The reason is that despite being born in Iran, at age 17 he left for the US where he attended a private preparatory college in California and then went on to study at San Francisco State University. He continued his studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. During this period, his views were obviously influenced by Western culture and since then he has been accepted by the US establishment. These factors were for sure taken into account by the Iranian leadership when Zarif was appointed the country’s foreign minister. This move was a signal that Iran was ready for talks and even prepared to partially reshape its foreign policy to settle the conflict with the US-Israeli bloc. However, in reality the US-Iranian and Israeli-Iranian relations demonstrated that both Tel Aviv and Washington chose a confrontational line and ignored opportunities for de-escalation. Israel and the US employed a wide range of aggressive actions against Iranian interests in the region: from strikes on pro-Iranian forces to economic sanctions and attempts to destabilize the situation inside Iran. In turn, Iran has also employed a harsh rhetoric and even accused the West and Israel of supporting the terrorists, who had conducted a major terrorist attack during a military parade in September 2018.
The decision of Zarif to resign is a result of the aforementioned developments. Whether it was his inability to create and secure a network of negotiations, which would allow Iran to achieve détente with the US-Israeli-led bloc and to de-escalate the situation in the region in general, or the lack of interest from Israel and the US in such a détente, the result was that the goal was not achieved.
Nonetheless, the fact that President Hassan Rouhani has rejected the resignation of his Foreign Minister demonstrates that at least a part of the top Iranian leadership still hopes to find a kind of understanding with the US.
Regarding Iranian foreign policy, Teheran will continue to react to the threats and challenges, which it faces. It is unlikely to instigate an escalation of the conflict with the US or Israel on its own. However, it will react to aggressive actions against its interests. A hot regional war between Iran and the US-Israeli bloc will only be possible if Washington or Tel Aviv cross a red line taking openly aggressive actions inside Iran or near its border, such as the destruction of an Iranian oil tanker or an attempted assassination of somebody from the Iranian top political leadership for example.
And the last question by Kaveh20: Can you please discuss the new tensions between India and Pakistan. What’s the influence of Saudi-Arabia/Israel as western proxies, Iran, Russia and China?
Answer: On February 28, we released a video covering the escalation of the Indian-Pakistani conflict and provided our assessment. Additionally, it should be noted that the Jammu and Kashmir conflict is primarily a local issue between India and Pakistan and almost no foreign powers are interested in its escalation. What should be noted is that the Islamic fundamentalism and radical armed groups supporting this ideology are seen as a security threat by most world and regional powers.
Both Pakistan and India have deep ties with the United States. However, the recent escalation showed that at least the Western mainstream media provides a coverage, which shows the Indian stance in a more favorable light. It’s interesting to note that recently India became one of the main importers of Venezuelan oil after the recently established US oil embargo against the Maduro government. In this situation, Washington may have been seeking to exploit the conflict in order to motivate New Delhi to join its anti-Venezuelan efforts. Another possible US interest would be to undermine the trilateral cooperation between China, India and Russia. Israel, which sells weapons to India, is acting in the framework of the US course.
Saudi Arabia is an apparent Pakistani ally. One of the key fields of the cooperation between the sides is the Saudi investment in the Pakistani nuclear program.
China keeps a neutral stance towards the conflict. Beijing sees Pakistan as an important market for its goods and weapons and a factor limiting the growth of Indian influence in the region. On the other hand, China is not interested in any kind of large-scale regional conflict or in a deterioration of relations with New Delhi.
Russia is probably in the most complicated position. It has working relations with both India and Pakistan. Both states are important markets for Russian defense contractors. While Moscow has no direct interest in the Kashmir conflict, it is also concerned by the expansion of radical Islamist armed groups in the region as many other states. Taking into account that any kind of destabilization will contribute to the further expansion of radicals, Russia is not interested in an escalation scenario.
These are all the questions, which we received in February. On Patreon you will find a post where you can ask your questions for the March Q&A video.
Regarding the February results and plans for March, we want to make a few points:
- First of all, thank you to all of you who supported SouthFront in February. With this support, we were finally able to collect the minimum monthly budget needed to maintain the current level of content production. Therefore, SouthFront is planning to release several more exclusive analytical videos and text analyses in March.
- Our team is currently finalizing the video about a new Russian hypersonic missile – Zircon.
- There was also a vote on topics for future video analyses. As a result the next analytical video, to be produced by SouthFront will be: “The Expanding Global Footprint of U.S. Special Operations”. A vote on topics for upcoming video analyses can also be found on our Patreon page.
We want once again to say a big thank you to all our readers and subscribers, who support SouthFront. We are able to continue to do what we do only thanks to your help.