The coalition stricking Syria is about stopping IS from gaining more territories than the ones it has already invaded. The Islamic State (IS) has gained a lot of territories, and in an unprecedented move, the Arab Gulf States’ role in the region has, as a consequence, taken a new turn.
The GuIf States active military actions are surprising because IS is a threat that will remain over the next couple of years, and it has time to undertake retaliatory actions against those neighbooring countries. By doing so, it is the overall political stability of the region that becomes at stakes.
Although IS was the key target, the coalition also hit the al-Qaeda-linked group Jabhat al-Nusra, IS’ largest Islamist rival, and the so-called Khorasan group, a network of seasoned al-Qaeda veterans which US officials believe is plotting imminent attacks on the West.
Strategic differences between the strikes over Lybia, and the one on Syria.
Both strikes in Syria and Lyba are strategically similar to one another in many ways.
However, one of the major distinctions between the operations in Libya and the current operation over Syria is the fact that these assaults have been conducted over a very long range.
In Libya, planes were basically able to launch from Malta and Italy, for example, fairly close to Libyan airspace and Libyan targets while in Syria there were a lot of the planes involved in these airstrikes that took off from countries around the Persian Gulf. In this last instanc,e aerial refueling was key to the success of those operations.
Noteworthy, Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from guided missile destroyers located in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Strikes in Syria are to intensify
Although it is not clear what exact role the GCC countries had, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Bahrain were offically named as part of the US led coalition.
Noteworthy, besides Assad regime consideration of the campaign on Syria as an act of aggression, (that was also true for Russian and Iran) and apart from the shooting down of a Syrian vessel over Israel by Patriot missiles on September 23rd, nothing noticeable was done by Damascus, Tehran or Moscow to prevent the coalition from stricking IS in Syria.
In fact one could consider that the actions of the coalition against IS are satisfactory ones for Moscow, Tehran and Damascus, because the coalition is taking care of dealing with Islamists that have become out of their control and could give rise to dangerous groups of Sunni militant extremits.
The French and the British governments who are leading the coalition against IS with the US will certainly not remain limited to the Iraqi landscape and will strike Syria with the US, if only because both theaters of operations between Syria and Iraq are extremely closed and linked to one another.
The role of Turkey remains unclear
Turkey’s case is a particular one. Over the past months, we have noticed a desire from Turkey to revisit its profile on the Diplomatic front in an effort to be recognized as the central power for the region, especially after it had been denied access to the EU.
The Turkish recent statements against Israel during its actions against the Hamas organisation highlighted that new Foreign Policy positioning through very tough statements.
As a consequence it is unlikely that Turkey will actively take part in the strikes of the coalition, and will certainly not go beyond a logistical support for the allies and/or cross border operations into Syria.
However, that positioning could change and increase after Turkey analyzes the levels of retaliations of IS against the gulf states. In effect, because of the proximity of its borders with IS (through its southern territory close to Syria and Iraq), Turkey is as for the Gulf States, highly exposed to retaliations. In addition IS is quite present in Turkey and that group turned out to be quite loud during the unrests that took place in Turkey in reaction to the Israeli action against Hamas. Finally, in case of Turkey’s active involvement, there is a fear that IS could destibilize the economic and political climate in Turkey right before the June 2015 upcoming general election.
A new regional external Policy for the Gulf States
Only a little time after the UAE and Egypt launched airstrikes against the Islamist groups in Lybia, the Gulf cooperation Council (GCC) joined the Western-led coalition as Saudi Arabia and UAE took an active and direct responsability in the strikes against IS in Syria side by side with the US and its allies.
Iran should be concerned with that unprecedented GCC move that is opening a new era for the GCC external policy that could, once the IS threat is taken care of, decide to deal directly with the one that they see in the current Assad’s regime for the future stability and new design of the region.
By joining its forces with the ones of the western powers, the GCC has become a legitimate target for the fanatics of IS who have the backing of Saudi Arabia that are believed to have received extensive funding from private Saudi donors (as well as other GCC nationals).
How far can the coalition go in its war agasint IS?
Puting an end to IS expansion is the key priority for the coalition. That is the reason why, its operations will grow in volume over the next few weeks. However, IS will certainly not go beyond southern Iraq, in the semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region and in areas controlled by the Syrian regime in the west and the south of the country. The coalition should also prioritize the targeting of the oil infrastructure under IS’s control, that are a key source of revenue for the IS.
Regarding a very likely ground operation, it is known that air strikes have limited effects, an cannot for instance deal with the growing unrests in the urban centres. The strenghts of IS are made up of strong military capabilities, Sunni grievances against the Syrian regime and the Shi’a led government in Baghdad, as well as the relative weakness of the Syrian and Iraqi armed forces.
Because IS is highly entranched in both rural and urban areas in Syria from the city of Raqqa – the epicentre of its territorial network, it does not seem possible for the coalition to prevent a global ground operation after the air strikes compaigns are finished.