The media has buzzed with commentary, prediction and theory about the Syrian turmoil for weeks. This week had a game changing even though. The downing of the Turkish Air Force RF-4E reconnaissance aircraft has escalated tensions above the civil war being fought within Syria. That being said, the middle east issue has world-wide implications if it’s handled incorrectly. Let’s start with some background to help the discussion in this post.
Let’s start with the last issue first. The attack on the Turkish plane is a major escalation. Turkey is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “NATO”, and so is the United States. This poses a conundrum for the US as the government is reluctant to get involved in a civil war, but it has NATO obligations. Turkey invoked Article 4 of the NATO agreement which just triggered a meeting of NATO members to discuss it. Turkey would have been within their rights to invoke Article 5 of the treaty also, which would have likely resulted in NATO going to war with Syria.
Statistical Comparisons and Analysis
Saying the topography of Syria makes the use Syrian tank formations effective would be an understatement. The Syrians are well versed in armored warfare and have 5000+ tanks of the T-72M, T-72D and T-64M variety. They used them in a limited role in Operation Desert Storm but were very effective. The Turkish military did not take part in the operation but have extensive recent combat experience with the Kurdish insurgency (PKK). So we can glean from these two facts that the respective militaries are capable.
If the two countries in question were just compared on a military power angle, the non-military people would think it’s a “no brainer”. The Turkish military, according to globalfirepower.com, ranked 6th in the world linked here. On the same site, the Syrian military ranked 35th in the world linked here. Now if this was the only facts to consider, then we would know what the outcome will be and that would end this story. That is far from the end of the story as I will show you.
An ability that was discussed on in the media in recent days, but not fully vetted, is the immense advanced chemical weapons stockpile that the Syrians have at their disposal. The Syrian government have chemicals from mustard gas, the killer of WW I, to Sarin nerve agent. Accurate information on Turkey’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological (NBC) defenses are secrets, but the Syrian possible use of the chemical weapons will degrade any country attacking them. Said attacker will be in defensive posture, possibly including chemical mask, which will make fighting extremely difficult. Another effect of having the chemicals will force the attackers to prepare extensively for decontamination and treating chemical casualties.
The elephants in the room
The most noticeable elephant is Iran. It is known that Iran has close relations with the Syrian government. It’s alleged that there is fifteen thousand Revolutionary Guard fighting along with the Syrian government forces. Rumors also abound that Members of Hezbollah and Hamas are in country. Until independently verified or discounted, these people still need taken into account for any combat plans.
Now for the gigantic elephant, Russia
If anyone thinks that Russia is going to just give up their only port in the Mediterranean Sea of Tartus, you are sadly mistaken. Let me explain why I say that. First, contrary to popular belief, the Russian government is not scared of anyone at the moment. The recent re-election of President Putin has brought back to the Russian leadership a hardliner that most try to discount. Second, the recent negotiation of the New START Treaty did nothing to discuss the tactical nuclear weapons. The Russians have thousands of these weapons of three to ten kilotons yield made to attack military operational units on the battlefield. I remember when stationed in Baumholder, Germany training to go to the Fulda Gap, for our famous fighting retreat scenario. We knew that the Russians were going to use chemicals and tactical nuclear weapons on us. Our chances of survival was very low. Now fast forward to today. Nothing really is different. The Russian military is very formidable. They are the ones that will decide the outcome in Syria. Not the Syrians, Iranians, Turks, or NATO. It will be the Russians that will decide the outcome of the current middle east war.
- Turkey warns Syria: ‘No more Mr. Nice Guy’ – Kansas City Star (kansascity.com)
- Turkish Fighter Aircraft: Making some sense – Pravda (english.pravda.ru)
- Nato to meet over Turkish plane ‘being shot down’ over Syria (telegraph.co.uk)
- Turkey threatens Syria with retaliation over jet (kansascity.com)
- Furious Turkey mobilizes tanks, troops to Syrian border (timesofisrael.com)