A Short History and The Consequences
The Shiites and Sunnis in the Middle East have been fighting on and off for a millennium. Current events are new only the in dimension of the fallout impacting the rest of the world. Shiite Imans are considered descendants of Muhammad and view the Sunnis an inferior sect. That’s the crux of the ongoing warring between them. Today’s Syria is a case study of atavistic mistrust, grievances, and antagonism between the various Muslim sects and tribes .
Below is a capsule overview of the complex struggle between Assad’s ruling Alawite Shiites and Syria’s Sunni majority who revolted over two years ago against the regime. Understanding this background explains a lot of the subsequent outcomes and how it affects us on a global level.
Assad is a puppet of Iran whose Mullahs want to establish a Shiite Crescent in the Middle East under fundamental Sharia law and Shia traditions. They seek to ultimately gain control of the Middle East. Iranians claim Persian ancestry distinguishing them from the fourteen Arabic nations in the region. To accomplish its goal, Iran exports terrorism through its Revolutionary Guards and its proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine creating havoc and turmoil in the region. This is a big simplification, but that’s it in a nutshell.
I pull from this conflict in my novel Existential Threats. Tyler DuBain, an ex- SEAL who is now a CIA operative in its Special Activities Division (SAD), is giving a briefing on the Syria situation to Biff Roberts’ counterterrorism (CT) staff, explaining the background and how things are playing out based on his recent first-hand observations in Syria.
Biff Roberts is the CIA’s incoming Director of Counterterrorism, and a legendary operative officer tasked with managing the worsening situation in Syria and it’s decision making time and the decisions will not be easy…
Here is an excerpt of Tyler DuBain’s briefing from Existential Threats:
“The admiral concisely outlined the global hot spots requiring our intelligence estimates, terming them ‘existential threats,’” Tyler
said. “Very appropriate terminology to describe the challenges we’re up against. But some threats are more intimidating than others,
some more imminent, some more urgent. I’ll stratify them in order of concern.”
“Currently, Syria is the sum of all our fears,” he continued, immediately capturing their full attention. “Why is that?”
“WMDs,” Biff stated the obvious. “That’s the game changer.”
Tyler nodded. “You got it. French intelligence confirmed last night that the Syrian military killed over eighty Sunni insurgents near Aleppo, up in northern Syria, using lethal sarin nerve gas. They fired the shells from a mobile artillery battery into the insurgents’ dug-in position. I received this alarming information just before our meeting started.”
Some in the select CIA group shuddered at the unthinkable escalation in that already gruesome conflict. Grim news had just become grimmer.
“Confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt?” Biff asked.
“Well documented evidence, nothing equivocal about it,” Tyler replied. “French intelligence reports countless others have respiratory symptoms and may die despite treatment. Brits, Israelis, and our other reliable Middle East assets have also confirmed our greatest fear—Assad’s use of biochemical warfare with nerve gas agents outlawed by the Geneva conventions and UN Resolution 687.”
“I don’t think Assad is into conventions and resolutions,” Biff responded. “He’s desperate. He’s not one toke over the line like some alleged Khadafy was in Libya, though. Assad knows exactly what he’s doing. The Nazis developed sarin but never used it against Allied forces. Assad has no such reservations.”
Biff could see the clear disgust in the group at Assad’s horrific actions. “But our job is not to debate the moral or humanitarian issues,” Biff added. “That’s State Department business. Our task is to determine what precisely is at stake in this Syrian conflict, our vital national interests. Agreed, the use of sarin gas is deplorable, but the existential threat to us is this WMD falling into the hands of terrorists—a realistic scenario if Assad falls. Do we still need to ask ourselves why the U.S. needs a dog in this fight?”
“That’s the essence of our considerations, Biff.” Tyler moved to the smart board beside the table and brought up a graphic showing the Syrian players. “Here’s the complicated Syrian background in a nutshell. Basically, it’s a sectarian civil war configured like a kaleidoscope of power groups. The Syrian hostilities are playing out between insurgent Sunni rebel forces and Assad’s military. The Free Syrian Army, FSA, is made up of about twenty-five thousand military defectors and volunteers. They’re conducting guerrilla warfare against Assad’s Alawite Shiites, who represent the powerful ruling minority. In Syria, Assad controls the military, thus rules the country with an iron fist. But this civil war is not a straightforward proposition as it might first appear.”
“How’s that?” Butler asked.
“The situation is complicated by outside influences trying to control the outcome. Syria is Iran’s major ally in the Middle East, and Iran is meddling to preserve that relationship. Both Syria and Iran are sponsored with significant Russian military aid, adding to the situation’s complexity. In Syria’s case, Russia is providing sophisticated air defense systems consisting of modern surface to air missiles, S-300s. Needless to say, this makes any aerial interdiction risky.” Tyler paused for effect. Everyone appeared cognizant of the implications of Russia’s bold move.
“The tipping point is approaching in the two-year-old conflict,” Tyler continued. “Syria maintains uncontested air superiority against an inadequate rebel defense and is bombing the hell out of them. Over one hundred thousand, mostly civilians, have died. No guess at the number of refugees fleeing the country. It appears Assad’s forces will eventually prevail by conducting a savage war without concern for collateral damage.”
“Dismal outlook,” Butler commented. “It may be too little, too late for us to become involved. What do you think?”
“The circumstances for rebel success are diminishing,” Tyler agreed. “The situation is deteriorating. Iran has dispatched two thousand Revolutionary Guard into the fray led by General Hassan Shateri, aka Husam Khoshnevis, who also has long-term ties to Hezbollah. Does that name ring a bell?”
“Longtime covert Quds operative,” Butler noted immediately. “No question, Hezbollah is a proxy for Iran. If they prevail, Iran will be emboldened. Shateri is coordinating Iran’s interest.”
“Right on, Shateri’s been the major player in the Revolutionary Guard’s relationship with Hezbollah for well over a decade,” Tyler said. “The IRGC
general was an undercover Quds agent for years in Beirut, a master spy, posing as an Iranian reconstruction project’s civilian engineer in Lebanon. His cover was a clever deception while conspiring with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s ‘numero uno’ to undermine Lebanon’s secular government. Now Shateri’s out of the shadows, interfering in Syria.”
“How’s his role actually playing out in Syria?” Biff asked.
“Shateri enlisted Hezbollah’s involvement with three thousand strong, experienced militiamen to join the Syrian fight commanded by Naim Qassem, the terrorist organization’s number two man to Nasrallah. These fighters come uncontested across the border from their safe haven in Lebanon. Let’s face it. The Syrian conflict has essentially become a proxy for Iran, like Adam said. Testing our response.”
“You jogged my memory, Tyler,” Biff interjected. “Shateri participated in Syria’s nuclear facility construction at Al Kibar using North Korean technology. I recall the Israeli Air Force destroyed the plutonium reactor in 2007.”
“You’re right, Biff, same guy. Israeli F-15s jammed their radar and bombed the hell out of the site, terminating Syria’s program.”
“It was a classic IDF-Mossad joint operation, a surgical strike,” Biff said. “Sayeret special forces highlighted the reactor with laser designators to enhance the F-15s targeting with their Maverick missiles. Prior to the attack, they had hacked the computer of the head of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission confirming their suspicions of plutonium production at the facility. Another example of why not to mess with the Israelis.”
“A case study in covert ops,” Tyler responded. “Shateri‘s definitely a high value target we can’t pass up should an opportunity arise. We need to put his elimination date on our calendar.”
“No question about that, Tyler,” Biff agreed. “His shelf life is about to expire. At some point somebody has to take him out. I’m certain Mossad already has him in their sights and is tracking his activity. I’ll check with our Kidon colleagues. But we’re digressing. Let’s stay focused on our immediate problem, Syria’s WMDs and the insurgents’ status. Tell us about the rebel opposition’s makeup.”
“The rebel side involves more breeds than a yard dog,” Tyler said, eliciting laughs all around, including a guffaw from the somber admiral. Delaney was worried about the tricky situation and the CIA’s time constraints to come up with intelligence estimates and recommendations, but even he appreciated Tyler’s colorful descriptions.
“You’ve got Kurds,” Tyler continued, “Turkmen, Palestinians, and Druze joining the local FSA rebellion under the command of Generals Salim Idris, known as the diplomat, and Mustafa al-Sheikh, the soldier. Mustafa has a rep for huge cojones, a fearless dude. Colonel Riadal al-Asaad is their top battalion commander, good reputation, also kicks ass big time. Probably we can rely on him if a deal goes down for us to supply armaments. That’s a tenuous proposition. He’s a legitimate field commander by all indications, judging from our Turkish ally’s assessment of his battlefield performance.”
“Good to know,” Biff commented, enjoying Tyler’s straight to the point briefing, devoid of BS.
Tyler pressed on, not missing a beat. “Due to multiple factions, dealing with disparate fighting units all with different agendas, there is disarray in the FSA ranks, actually a hodgepodge of special interest groups. General Idris states the FSA has no political aspirations. His goal is solely to overthrow Assad and his government. I actually believe him.”
“He’s trustworthy?’’ Biff asked.
“Yes, Idris appears a sincere, dedicated rebel leader, a good man. But organizing the FSA front is like herding rabbits. Complicating the picture, radical Islamist Sunni fighters from Qatar and Saudi Arabia have joined the battle against Shiites. Also involved are Syrian led Jabhat al-Nustra Sunnis from Iraq who have strong Al Qaeda links. Throw in another more radical Islamist AQ offshoot from Iraq, ISIS, and you’ve got a growing outside rebel influence consisting of splintered Islamist factions. This is particularly worrisome.”
“ISIS?” Butler asked.
“Islamic State of Iraq, or al-Sham,” answered Biff.
“It gets worse,” Tyler went on. “Some other outside Middle Eastern fighters also are hardcore AQ and Muslim Brotherhood players, namely Ansar al-Islam and Jund Allah. They maintain brigades that captured one of Assad’s air defense bases last month near Hajar al-Aswap, south of Damascus. Recently, Yemen AQAP fighters are showing up, further complicating matters.”
“Must be confusing to identify the good guys among that ragtag crowd,” Butler commented. “What a mishmash.”
“You bet, it’s a mishmash,” Tyler answered. “They don’t wear white or black hats. It’s very difficult to identify and sort out the various groups in the war zones. It’s like a massive flash mob with no organization. You’d need a fucking program with large numbers on the backs of the various fighting units to ID the players!”
Everyone enjoyed a hearty laugh at that observation.
“These FSA dudes dress in street clothes,” Tyler added. “They blend in with the populace. It’s like they’re having tea in a curbside café one minute, then popping the bad guys the next with AK-47s or RPGs. In other words, who in the hell can you trust? And, of course, these factions have conflicting agendas. Let me tell ya, this conflict is a rat fuck, a complicated, mixed bag full of potential pitfalls.”
“So it appears,” the admiral commented. “Syria is a haphazard killing field. War doesn’t determine who is right; it determines who is left. What do you advise we do? How big a role should we play?”
“My recommendation is that our primary objective should be containing or destroying Syria’s WMDs,” Tyler responded. “Get in and out quickly. Not a slam dunk proposition by any means, but a hell of a lot better than getting deeply involved in another ground war over there.”
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© 2016 R. Lawson, Existential Threats