For American soldiers on the frontlines in northeastern Syria, it suddenly was a new kind of war. 21st century electronic warfare is something American troops have waged, in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but the enemies there had little to say about it.
In Syria, there are Russian forces in the field and they come backed by a powerful array of electronic jammers American soldiers and Marines have never faced before. The Russians are using Syria as a testing ground for any number of weapons systems, and the electronic warfare division has lots of new toys to try out.
The bad news is while the Russian electronic disruptions can be overcome, they are still a frightening lot to handle for fighters under fire in an undependable environment.
The good news is, Americans are collecting data on every electro-digital tactic or technology the Russians are throwing at us.
The other bad news is, the Russians are also pinging everything we do in response to their electro-shots.
But here’s the worst news from the still ongoing war in Northeastern Syria: an old kind of war, a kind not seen in more than 70 years, is lurking as American and Russian forces, human and electronic, tangle. What might be the consequences of a war in which great powers themselves, not just proxies, fight it out?
Most of the proxies in Syria have been ground to bits, but the Islamist and anti-government fighters who have survived are now in a city and province called Idlib in Northwestern Syria.
Idlib is considered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be occupied territory, and he’s itching to take it back. But the occupier is Turkey and Turkey operates under the protection of Assad’s #1 ally Russia. Russian President Putin seems to have told Turkish President Erdogan he’ll hold back any Government strike to take back its territory, if the Turks do what they said they’d do – deal with all those Islamist guerillas who now control much of Idlib province.
Recent reports say hundreds of people are fleeing Idlib every day, fearing an escalation of violence from the government, the rebels, the Russians or the Turks.
And speaking of possible escalations…Israel wants all Iranian forces out of Syria. Russia told Israel, we’ll keep the Iranians at least 100 kilometers, 60 miles from your border. Israel responded, no thanks, we want you to push Iran all the way out. Which Russia’s Ambassador told Israeli Channel 10 his country “cannot” do.
Asked about the possibility of more Israeli airstrikes against the Iranians in Syria, Amb. Viktorov denounced the idea, but added: “We cannot dictate to Israel how to proceed … It is not up to Russia to give Israel freedom to do anything, or to prohibit Israel to do anything.”
So should Israel and the US read this as a Russian green light, yellow light or red light on further Israeli air attacks on Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria?
Andrew Parasiliti is director of the Center for Global Risk and Security at the RAND Corporation. Prior to joining RAND, he was editor of Al-Monitor.com, which received the International Press Institute’s 2014 Free Media Pioneer Award; executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-U.S. and corresponding director, IISS-Middle East; principal, Government Affairs-International, at the BGR Group; foreign policy advisor to U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel; director of the Middle East Initiative at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and director of programs at the Middle East Institute. Parasiliti is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Virginia Club of New York.