Syraq SITREP 28: Attacks on Russia's Kheimmim Air Base, Iran Likely to Increase Support for Houthis as Payback for CIA Sponsored Unrest

From my Swiss White Russian Floridian friend The Saker, regarding how the December 31st attack happened:

various Russian sources are saying that the defense of the Russia Aerospace Forces base in Khmeimim was protected by three distinct zones: an immediate close one ranging to up to about 1km, a medium one ranging from about 1km through 5km and an external one ranging to about 5km through 40km. The interior one was protected by Russian forces. The 2nd, middle one, was protected by Syrians while the large one was protected by Russian air defenses. The first zone would be the one of small fire.

The second one is the tricky one: in includes urban areas and was under Syrian control. That is were the incoming mortar fire came from. There is now a lot of criticism coming about letting the Syrians be in charge of zone 2, but I personally doubt that the Russian would have the manpower to cover it. Not only is the airbase itself very large, but if we project the perimeter of the base to a distance of 1km-5km that would be a huge area to secure. Zone 3 is securely covered by Russian air defenses. So the real solution is to get the Syrians to introduce a much stricter control regime in Zone 2. That will no doubt be done. Oh, and whether this is a coincidence or not, but Bashar al-Assad did reshuffle his cabinet and replaced the Defense Minister.

The Russian Air Force responded Saturday by stepping up its bombing of jihadist positions in towns along the Turkish border in far northern Latakia's Jubal al Turkmen, an area which had been pounded after the downing of a SU24 by the Turkish Air Force in November 2015. The Russians are also fully supporting the Syrian Arab Army (SAA)'s advances into the jihadi held Idlib province. But the assaults on the Russian base, coming weeks after President Putin's visit announcing a victorious partial withdrawal of his country's forces, are a reminder that the conflict is not over and the regional players supporting the rebels 'moderate' and Al-Qaeda linked have not been defanged. Reading between the lines of experienced Mideast correspondent Elijah J. Magnier's year end article about Russian support for SAA operations taking back territory close to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, it is not hard to guess which intelligence service or its Saudi ally may have supplied the jihadis with fresh satellite photos of Russian aircraft and ammo dump positions at the base:

The Russian-Iranian-Syrian strike comes at a time when Israel is providing artillery and intelligence support for al-Qaeda and its allies in Beit Jinn. By recovering the area and the highlands around it, Russia is administering the first direct slap to US’s main ally (Israel) in the Middle East. Israel has long feared Iran and Hezbollah’s presence at its borders and did everything to stop the Syrian Army from reaching the Shebaa farms occupied by Israel, as is the case today following the liberation of Beit Jinn. However, there are still areas under indirect Israeli influence in occupied southern Syria (under al-Qaeda and its allies’ control), such as Quneitra area and the surrounding villages (Tarangah, Jab’bat al-Khashab, and Ain al-Baydah).

The attacks coinciding with the clearly outside supported unrest inside Russia's ally Iran and threats from White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster about Moscow 'paying a price' for supporting Tehran's defiance of the U.S. are likely to draw the Eurasian powers closer together. If Moscow greenlights a response by the Iranians, it is likely to involve Hezbollah or more likely its Iraqi allied Shi'a militia Kata'ib Hezbollah firing mortars that land perilously close to American personnel deployed in lightly defended and vulnerable outposts inside Kurdish areas of Syria. The same Iranian-backed Iraqi group has already threatened to attack American troops if they remain in Iraq as occupiers with Daesh/ISIS defeated. We are already seeing via Southfront and Al-Masdar News more brazen Houthi missile launches at Saudi air bases. Mirror imaging or exceeding the jihadi mortar and small drone antics via Houthi suicide squads infiltrating bases like King Khalid Military City (KKMC) that host American or British personnel supporting the Kingdom's democidal war on Yemen could be the next card in the Cold War 2/Mideast proxy war.

Although the protests in Iran continue and have involved violent provocations against police stations and lots of clearly sponsored fake news (including use of footage from protests in Argentina and Bhahrain), there are genuine economic grievances behind them. Raised expectations after EU (but mostly not US) sanctions were lifted as part of the nuclear deal between Tehran and the Western powers with Russian and Chinese support have also played a part, along with the country's youth bulge. While 'Death to Russia' has been a rumor promoted by the usual suspects like ex-State Department hardcore Russophobe Paul Goble rather than an actual slogan of the Iranian youths, the discontent with the mullahs is real enough, as are the 2,000 Iranian and resident Afghan Shia combat deaths since Tehran intervened in Syria alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.

In the short term, the logic of tit for tat means the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will seek to raise the costs to the Saudis for openly supporting the unrest and threatening terror attacks inside Iran's borders. That means more missile strikes by the Houthis against Saudi military bases and the outskirts of cities, including making Riyadh residents aware that they aren't safe from the war their royals wage hundreds of miles away. Saudi security forces along the porous rugged border with Yemen will continue to be blown up in IED attacks like these:

In the longer term, even as the protests by a few thousands appear to be petering out for lack of middle class enthusiasm and popular or elite support, Tehran needs to deliver economic growth to the Iranian people or else face a much more serious uprising within a decade. While educated Iranians are well aware that Washington neocons do not have their country's best interests at heart but rather those of regional antagonists Israel and Saudi Arabia, they also know that corruption is a serious problem. Without the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and massive Eurasian investment, it is difficult to see Iran enduring the inevitable shakeout that could very well destroy the shaky Saudi regime by the early 2020s.

After all, the same justified grievances many Iranians have about their government's foreign and domestic policies -- young men coming back in coffins, hardline clerics edicts -- are even greater for the average Saudi subject, who knows princes live in un-Islamic luxury abroad when their Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman isn't arresting and torturing them to give up their cash. The Saudis thus far successful cover up of their 2-3,000 combat deaths suffered since they invaded Yemen in 2015 will likely be broken, as the Kingdom's wall of strict censorship becomes more leaky and Houthi-inflicted casualties mount.

Like so many other initiatives the Empire of Chaos has launched from Ukraine to Syria to Yemen, the blowback against the tottering Kingdom is likely to be severe in 2018. Russia's role will not be so much to directly target the Saudis as to allow its Shi'a regional allies to increase the military, diplomatic and Yemen humanitarian outcry pressure on them, and by extension, their American and Israeli partners.

UPDATE January 7, 2018 10:00 a.m. EST a quote from retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Mideast analyst Col. (USAR) Patrick Lang: 

On January 13, President Trump has to act on the nuclear deal with Iran: he can waive the sanctions for 90 days; he can repeat his action of October 13, 2017 and refuse to certify that Iran is in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA—aka the P5+1 agreement); he can pull the United States out of the agreement. Intelligence analysts at a high level have said that the recent protests in Iran haven’t determined the President’s thinking about what he will do. Trump has made no secret of his opinion about the agreement—he hates it. He’s called it the worst deal ever negotiated, but can he afford to pull the US out of it? Abrogating the Iran nuclear agreement at this moment would not increase the chances of pursuing a non-military solution to the North Korean nuclear threat, and his most qualified advisers appear to lean in that direction. And regardless of what Trump decides on Iran, the other P5+1 signatories— Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany—will stick to JCPOA. The European countries long ago exempted themselves from secondary sanctions, and Russia and China won’t be affected by Trump’s sanctions except to become even closer partners in what they perceive as an alliance against “hegemonism.”

The now-waning Iran protests have put the “amen chorus” of Iran-bashers into full swing. Trump’s sometimes phone pal John Bolton screams about regime change “now”. The neo-conservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) crows that the theocratic state is crackng up in Iran because some protesters chanted “Death to Khamenei” and “Death to Rouhani”. (FDD houses some of the same players who told us that the Iraqi people would greet the invading American army with “flowers and sweets” and that the Shi’ia would be America’s salvation in Iraq.)