It was wonderful to get back to the Middle East, meeting old friends and making some new ones. As for the local food, keep it coming. Then there was the desert, I can’t explain why but I have always felt at home there.
This trip was not just about pleasure though, my focus was very much on getting up to date with what is happening in the region, particularly with regard to Syria but also the Middle East in general.
This article is based on discussions with trusted sources and as 2015 unfolds you will be able to see for yourself how things work out.
Southern Front, a coalition of moderate and secular Muslim rebel fighting brigades finished 2014 in a positive frame of mind. The combined forces number over 30,000 fighting men. Over the last year, the amount of support they are getting from the Americans and British has risen dramatically, in terms of weapons, training and finance. They now control large areas in southern Syria but are also very active in areas north east of Damascus, in particular the strategically important mountain area of Palmyra. There they face both the Syrian army and Islamic State. Before going into battle against Syrian army troops, radio contact is always first made to see if they wish to defect. Quite often they do, particularly if they are Sunni Muslims. The Syrian government is also using a lot of fighters from Hezbollah as well as directly from the Iranian military. One of the things highlighted to me is the importance of sticking to international law when it comes to treatment of prisoners. Southern Front are working hard to become a professional army, rather than simply a rag tag group of rebels with no central command. Politically they are also working to legitimize themselves, so far they have made a lot of progress in this direction.
The general feeling is that Syrian President, Bashar al Assad, will lose his hold on power, nobody can say exactly when this will happen but the feeling now is that it is inevitable. The plunging price of oil is severely curtailing the ability of both Iran and Russia to continue their support of Bashar al Assad who absolutely needs them to maintain his grip on power. When he goes, the top tier of the Syrian regime will also go with him. They will be replaced by existing senior figures from the Syrian army, Generals etc and most definitely Alawhite, the same tribe as Bashar al Assad. Damascus and the west of the country up to the Latakia region will be governed by the existing government framework except for a replacement of the top tier of government. South of Damascus will become a new region, governed separately to Damascus and will have a Sunni Muslim majority. Syria will effectively be turned into a Federation. After four years of war there is bad feeling on both sides of the Sunni/Alawhite divide, governing both sides from a single government in Damascus would be impossible, too much blood has been spilt. The simple solution is to create a Syrian Federation. In the north and east of the country where Islamic State hold sway, it could become a common unifying objective for the Alawhite and Sunni to start working together to push together against Islamic State. If not to eradicate the extremists but certainly to contain them. Once Bashar al Assad is gone you will begin to see steps in this direction.
There is a deadline for Iran to agree to stop its nuclear development program, if that deadline is reached without agreement then Islamic State will be permitted to enter Baghdad in Iraq to attack the Shia Muslim population which Iran is committed to protecting even at great expense. Iran and Syria both permitted Islamic State to grow and develop but they are no longer in a position to control it now that it has enough of its own resources and agenda. If Iran does not make a deal about its nuclear program it will be forced into direct conflict with the beast it helped create. So many parallels with how the USA helped set up Al Qaeda to fight the Russians in Afghanistan only to have it turn against its one time backer. Islamic State have enough funding in place to cover the next two years without stress, if Iran is forced to confront them then it will prove to be very expensive as it is reliant on oil exports but the price of oil is so low now it doesn’t even cover the cost of production. How long can Iran continue to support Bashar al Assad at current oil prices, let alone take on the expense of opening a second front against IS? Iran therefore has to make a tough decision, stop its nuclear development program or get sucked into a military campaign it can ill afford. All the indications are that the price of oil still has further to fall. Oil really is being used as a weapon and very effectively too. This also applies to Russia, it too is being made to pay heavily for its continued support of the Syrian regime.
The falling price of oil also has an impact as it has to reduce the price at which it sells oil, thereby reducing its income. Saying this however, all the indications are that IS is flush with enough cash to run operations for the next two years. IS has also been selling ancient Syrian artifacts on the black market. The words do not exist to describe how I feel about those who do business with IS, buying up Syria’s national treasures which will never again see the light of day. Something really needs to be done about this black market and those who do business with IS. Much has been made of young Europeans who have gone to join Islamic State, it appears that instead of using them as fighters IS are more interested in their propaganda value. Add to this the fact that they tend to have a better education than local Syrian or Iraqi members, many are being used for non military duties such as administration and book keeping, not what many who thought they would be fighting expected.
There is not a single person in the Middle East who believes or even considers that Israel had any involvement in the development of IS. I have lots of people who read my work and try to tell me about the connection between Israel and Islamic State. There isn’t any, get over it. Israel is and has been guilty of many things, but this ain’t one of them.
IS was allowed to grow and develop by Bashar al Assad along with support from Iran. They are more interested in power and money than religion. They are willing to do business with just about anybody who will pay. So if you have a factory you want protecting from damage while you wait out the war in Dubai you can organize, through middle-men, the transfer of funds. IS also has a nice little line in selling ancient artifacts from the areas it controls, ironic considering that according to their strict view of Islam any statue or image with a human face should be destroyed. Forget that, they are all about the money. IS are about as Muslim as the bottom of my shoe. Instead, it is a mafia with a lot of weapons and a love of power. Its arrogance will lead to its eventual downfall.
Oil (personal opinion)
There is no doubt in my mind that the USA and Saudi Arabia are collaborating to force down the price of oil as a way of putting huge economic stress on Russia and Iran. Russia is being made to pay for its action in Crimea and along with Iran both of them are being made to pay for their support of Bashar al Assad. If the price of oil stays low until late in the year then it will be much harder for them to continue supporting Assad. This is oil being used as a weapon. There is however always room for the unexpected to happen, Saudi Arabia is maintaining its oil output at a high level, if there were to be a cyber attack on the control systems of its oil production facilities it would certainly force the Kingdom to reduce or even stop output and increase prices as a result. As always, expect the unexpected.
There you have it, a general outline of the Middle East for 2015. For sure it is not possible to say how much will be this year, apart from Iran which has a specific deadline, but there will certainly be movement in those directions written about, there is an awful lot happening behind closed doors.
This is my first article of 2015 and I hope you found it interesting. I will be happy to see your comments. Thanks for dropping by 🙂