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Everyone wrote off the Syrian army. Take another look now


While the world still rages on at Russia’s presumption in the Middle East – to intervene in Syria instead of letting the Americans decide which dictators should survive or die – we’ve all been forgetting the one institution in that Arab land which continues to function and protect the state which Moscow has decided to preserve: the Syrian army. While Russia has been propagandising its missiles, the Syrian military, undermanned and undergunned a few months ago, has suddenly moved on to the offensive. Earlier this year, we may remember, this same army was being written off, the Bashar al-Assad government said to be reaching its final days.

We employed our own army of clichés to make the case for regime change. The Syrian army was losing ground – at Jisr al-Shugour and at Palmyra – and so we predicted that the whole Assad state had reached a “tipping point”.

Then along came Vladimir Putin with his air and missile fleets and suddenly the whole place is transformed. While we huffed and puffed that the Russians were bombing the “moderate” rebels – moderates who had earlier ceased to exist according to America’s top generals – we’ve been paying no attention to the military offensive which the Syrians themselves are now staging against the Nusra Front fighters around Aleppo and in the valley of the Orontes.

Syrian commanders are now setting the coordinates for almost every Russian air strike. They were originally giving between 200 and 400 coordinates a night. Now the figure sometimes reaches 800. Not that the Russians are going after every map reference, of course. The Syrians have found that the Russians do not want to fire at targets in built-up areas; they intend to leave burning hospitals and dead wedding parties to the Americans in Afghanistan. This policy could always change, of course. No air force bombs countries without killing civilians. Nor without crossing other people’s frontiers.

But the Russians are now telling the Turks – and by logical extension, this information must go to the Americans – their flight coordinates. Even more remarkable, they have set up a hotline communications system between their base on the Syrian Mediterranean coast and the Israeli ministry of defence in Tel Aviv. More incredible still is that the Israelis – who have a habit of targeting Syrian and Iranian personnel near the Golan Heights – have suddenly disappeared from the skies. In other words, the Russians are involved in a big operation, not a one-month wonder that is going on in Syria. And it is likely to continue for quite a time.

The Syrians were originally anxious to move back into Palmyra, captured by Isis last May, but the


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