Baladi News – (Turki Mustafa)
This paper discusses the foreign military bases in Syria in the framework of international conflict between the United States and its allies on the one hand, and Russia, Iran, and their allies on the other, on the sidelines of the five-year war in Syria. As an introduction into the discussion, we are going to review the most important military basis and their locations and purposes as well as the various international positions, dealing in more details with Assad‘s regime attitude towards the foreign interventions in Syria and its pivotal role in implicating the country in a never ending conflict.
The Syrian Revolution changed a lot of axiomatic historic international principles at ethical, political and geographical levels over the five year conflict. The conflict pushed Syria to the forefront of international events as a field for international and regional competition that penetrated into the Syrian territory to end the Syrian Revolution by supporting and supplying Assad’s regime with weapons as well as relieving it from international accountability. Consequently, Russia and Iran declared direct intervention in Syria through the construction of military bases in the areas controlled by Assad sectarian regime. The United States followed forth by building military bases in the areas held by the separatist Kurdistan workers' Party (PKK) in the north-eastern. Britain also constructed a military base in Syria near the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian triangle, which made Syria the center of change of the map of the region and perhaps the world.
The main foreign military bases in Syria are:
I – Russian Military Bases in Assad’s Sectarian Areas
Russia was granted the first military bases in the areas of Assad’s regime influence Tartus, Lattakia, and Hama. The strategic tasks of these bases are blackmailing the United States politically, maintaining the nearly collapsed Assad’s regime, destroying the towns and cities of Syria, and watching the movements, types, capabilities and effectiveness of the warplanes as well as the non-conventional weapons deployed by Russia in Syria, and particularly the ballistic and long-range missiles, as a new message of threat from Russia to the NATO, taking advantage of the stumbling Obama administration. The most important Russian military bases in Syria include:
- Hmeimim Air Base in Lattakia
Hmeimim Airport is located in an Alawite-majority area in lattakia countryside, about 15 kilometers from Qardaha. The total area of the airport is nearly 1.6 million square meters, 82 thousand square meters of which are squares, and the length of its airstrip is approximately 2800 meters. The airport was expanded length and widthwise to allow the largest Russian aircraft, Antonov, which carries tanks and guns, as well as the Sukhoi Su-35, one of the most important Russian aircrafts, to land. In addition, buildings for officers, engineers, and technicians were established. The airport was supplemented with a technically sophisticated radar with modern devices that keep it operating all the time. Surface-to-Air missiles were added to defend the airbase and the surrounding areas, and ready-built residences and air traffic control station were shipped to the airbase managed by a Russian General, which turned the airport into a center for launching warplanes that kill Syrian people.
- Russian Naval Base in Tartus
This base is located near Tartus, the city controlled by Assad’s sectarian regime and is equipped with barracks, warehouses, floating storage depots, and a maintenance ship.
Moscow uses this base as a strategically-important point of supply and technical assistance, and it is considered Western observers as a fundamental base for espionage in the Middle East. It is also the only Russian point in the Mediterranean, allowing Russia to reach strategic corridors and vital Straits, such as the Bosphorus Strait and the Suez Canal, and monitor the movements of NATO forces.
- The Russian Military Base in Hama
Russia became aware of the importance of the location of the city in the middle of Syria and in the vicinity of Assad’s controlled areas in the country sides of Hama and Homs. Therefore, it took the former Equestrian Club in al-Saboniyya neighborhood in Hama city center as a base. The area previously included a State Security department, where the Russian flag was raised over the buildings to form what has been called as the Russian lodging center.
Russia asked the Iranian troops stationed in the brigade 47, south from Hama, to evacuate in order to turn the brigade into a large camp for the Russian troops near the city of Hama. Later, Russia built a military base close to the Veterinary Institute in Khattab village in Hama northern country
II – American Military Basis in Kurdish Influence Areas
The United States chose the Kurds as partners to fight ISIS in Syria, providing them with military and logistic support and air cover in their battles. The United States expressly built two military basis in the Kurdish areas, namely:
- Rmeilan Military Base
Located in the far north-eastern Syria near the Iraqi borders, this military base was created in October 2015. Washington transferred a battalion of its special forces to this base to provide logistic support for military operations in that area, ant it also used it for landing helicopters and cargo planes carrying equipment and ammunitions for the Kurds.
- US Military Base in Ayn al-Arab
This second US military base was established south from the Syrian city of Ayn al-Arab over an area of 35 hectares. Choosing this location for the base confirms the amount of trust Washington has in the Kurdish militias, which is also reflected by the amount of training and weapons provided for these militias.
The Kurdish militias exploited the deterioration of the situation in Syria and the emergence of ISIS to invoke help from the west in the "war against terrorism". What also increased their influence is the failure of the international coalition against ISIS, which necessitates using ground forces against the organization, and that explains the US support for Kurds in the form of air cover in northern Syria.
There are concerns of turning these bases into permanent ones to achieve the US goals of either competing or allying with the Russians on the one hand and to serve the Kurdish separatist scheme on the other hand, and also to send a message to Turkey that Washington owns an alternative for Incirlik airbase. The second airbase is currently a landing place for C17 and C130 logistic planes.
These bases are expected to pave the way for US military presence at the strategic level, as they would serve as airstrips for F16 and F10 war planes currently landing in the Turkish Incirlik base.
III- British Military Base in the Syrian Desert
Britain established this military base in Syria at the intersection of the Syrian, Iraqi, and Jordanian borders to serve the functions of training and arming subordinate forces, which tasks are limited to fighting ISIS in the south-eastern Syria.
The British military base is located in the vicinity of al-Tanf Crossing Border with Jordan and Iraq in the heart of Al-Hammad desert southeast from Homs province, about 240 km from the city of Palmyra, and not far from the borders with Jordan.
Al-Tanf had been the final crossing border with Iraq controlled by Assad’s regime before ISIS captured it on 22 May 2015. On the 5th of March 2016, the crossing border was captured by forces coming from Jordan, where they had been trained at the hands of Britain.
The functions of this base are training and arming the factions of the New Syrian Army and providing logistical and military support to its fighters in order to enable them to fight ISIS and end its presence in the Syrian Desert.
It also aims to cooperate with a nearby military base of US Special Forces between al-Raqqa and the Iraqi borders and coordinate in monitoring the movements of ISIS in the bordering area linking between Syria, Iraq, and Jordan. In addition, the British soldiers at the base achieve combat roles in some cases.
This military base, which represents a new type of occupation, is not less dangerous than the Russian, American, and Iranian presence in Syria.
Russian air fighters targeted al-Tanf crossing border and village in June 2016, i.e. after the establishment of the base. That time, Britain and its allies merely condemned targeting what they called as “opponents”, knowing that the same area included British troops.
IV- Iranian Military Bases in Syria
Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Iran has fought alongside, directed, and funded Assad's forces against the Syrian people through the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG), the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, and Iraqi and Afghani militias that were moved to Syria at the expense of Iran. Iran is officially responsible for financing dozens of thousands of foreign Iraqi, Lebanese, and Afghani mercenaries brought to fight in Syria. Without the Iranian direct intervention, Assad’s regime would have fallen in the second year of the revolution. Iran turned into the dominant power in the territories controlled by Assad’s regime, which became virtually ruled by Qassem Soleimani. Iranian fighters and mercenaries also became the party bearing the whole burden of the war, whereas Assad's army turned into a local spy against the Syrian people. Iran divided Syria into five military zones; a central area and other binary ones, each of which follows a different command center.
The main Iranian military bases in Syria include:
-The Iranian Military Base in Damascus International Airport
Called the “Glass House”, this base is the main headquarter of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, to which even Assad's forces are denied access. By controlling the international airport, Iran became in control of the supplies coming from Iran. The goals of the base is to facilitate the occupation of the capital, Damascus, and its environs, as well as the demographic change by displacing Sunni populations and replacing them with Shiites of various nationalities, and to send Shiite fighters to different Syrian areas.
- The Iranian Military Base in Azzan Mountain near Aleppo
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard established the nucleus of this base of the mercenaries of Shiite militias on the eastern slope of Azzan Mountain about 12 km to the south of Aleppo city. Iran developed this base in the beginning of 2015 to be the largest Iranian military base in northern Syria. The base includes fighters from the Lebanese Hezbollah, the Iraqi Harakat al-Nujaba, the Afghani Liwa Fatemiyoun, and the Palestinian Liwa al-Quds militias, which are all under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders.
Aiming at controlling the city of Aleppo, the forces of this base could extend to the north and south of the city, imposing a full siege on it after the Russian air campaign that adopted the scorched land policy.
And aimed to take over the city of Aleppo, it managed after Russian air intervention of the military stretching south and north of Aleppo, and she put the full siege on the city of Aleppo after Russian air campaign, which adopted a scorched earth policy.
There are also several Iranian military sub-bases in Syrian provinces, such as Homs, Hama, Alawite areas, and Qalamoun.
- Assad’s Regime Role in the Establishment of Foreign Military Bases in Syria
Since the second year of the Syrian revolution, Assad’s regime has relied entirely on Iranian support. After the Russian intervention, the regime started was split into two parts, one depending on Iran and the other on Russia. Also, the dismemberment trend of the sectarian and familial side of Assad’s regime that has seized the power is embodied by the foreign bases on Syrian territory, which was welcomed by the regime to participate in killing Syrian people. Such a trend can also be noted by the fact that the regime only shows opposition to the American and British bases under the guidance of Iranian Russian. What happened during the events in the city of Hasaka after expelling the regime by PKK forces, and the acceptance of the Russian mediation to keep Assad’s regime symbolically in the province in return for the displacement of Arab populations from Hasaka and its surroundings indicate Assad’s maximum ambitions to win the Useful Syria. Therefore, Assad’s regime worked through its ongoing wars to fortify such ambitions by devastating and scorching areas to weaken the sources of the risks of the rebels. Iran did not contribute to strengthening Assad’s army, but established sectarian militias consisting of fighters from Assad’s sect, which generated a lot of Iran affiliated militias in the Syrian coast and rendered Assad’s army less powerful than Iranian militias. Consequently, after Assad lost his popularity, he and his forces entered into a partnership with occupiers, which turned his presence into an internal occupation.
-Military Bases and International Competition
The developments of the Syrian events turned the actors intervening in the Syrian affairs, namely Russia, the United States, Iran, Israel, and Turkey, into conflicting parties awaiting the appropriate circumstances to share quotas that meet their interests. Since none of them will be able to capture Syria alone, the parties are working to share influence. Iran, which is interested in keeping Assad as an agent, worked since the beginning to libel the Syria revolution internationally through charges of terrorism to justify sectarian killing, implicit Syria in a civil war, and seek political settlements with the West and Israel.
Before announcing its direct military intervention and building its bases in Syria, Russia offered the United States concessions in Syria in exchange for sharing in Ukraine, lifting sanctions off Russia, and reaching understandings about disputed military matters with Europe. However, Russia did not win this deal and began building its bases in Syria by killing Syrians destroying their cities and towns. Russia tried to bargain by manipulating the ceasefires and the terms of negotiations. With Obama’s presidential term approaching its end, Moscow stepped up its escalation to the maximum through the deployment of strategic missiles in its military bases in Syria, and intensified its bombardments to proactively change the realities of the Syrian case at the military and political levels before the new president reaches the White House.
The Russian and Iranian clinging to Assad merely aims at legalizing their roles occupation of Syria, and their military escalations in Aleppo are attributed to the fact that the coming US administration would hasten to seek political compromises.
On the other hand, the United States ignored the Syrian file and became preoccupied with the war against ISIS. So, it built its military bases in the north-east of Syria to provide military and logistical support for its forces operating there, and to send a message to the Turks that it found an alternative to Incirlik base, without paying attention to the massacres of the Syrian people.
The attitude of the United Nations, and its Secretary General, is subject to the Russian-US understanding that deactivated the general and ethical principles of the international organization and forced the international envoy, de Mistura, to seek to please Iran and Assad’s regime at the expense of the Syrian revolution.
Finally, Israel guaranteed its share without being involved in military action, as it achieved its utmost ambition, i.e. obtaining the recognition of the conflicting states in Syria that the Syrian Golan is no longer an occupied land.
Consequently, the Syrian revolution changed from demands for freedom into a battle for independence.