A few hours ago I wrote an article for The Duran which, drawing on reporting by The New York Times, pointed out that the actual effect of the US missile strike on Syria has been to reduce US air operations in Syria as a result of the Russian decision to suspend the hotline between the US and Russian militaries in Syria.
I also pointed out that the reason for this is the presence of powerful Russian air defence missiles in Syria, and the uncertainty the US now has about Russian intentions following the suspension by the Russians of the hotline.
The Pentagon has now confirmed that US air operations in Syria have indeed been sharply cut back. This is what Colonel John Dorrian, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, told the Pentagon press corps on Wednesday 12th April 2017
We have made adjustments to our operations to account for the potential tensions that resulted from the strikes that were conducted because of the Syrian regime’s chemical attack. But make no mistake, we do plan on continuing our operations and we do continue to look for ways to accelerate them. It’s just appropriate to make sure that you’re taking appropriate measures to account for that. We don’t want to be reckless and we don’t want to have some type of incident that would cause a miscalculation, or some type of unintended incident. The intent is to get back as quickly as possible to our normal operations and as fast a pace as we can manage.
This comes alongside Pentagon confirmation that over the past week the US led anti-ISIS coalition has carried out only 123 air strikes around Raqqa, ISIS’s “capital” in eastern Syria, as opposed to the more than 7,800 strikes which were conducted over the course of March.
One of US Secretary of State Tillerson’s primary objectives in Moscow was to get the hotline reopened. That this is so was confirmed by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov during his joint news conference with Tillerson following Tillerson’s meeting with Russian President Putin. Lavrov confirmed that Tillerson sought Putin’s agreement to re-instate the hotline. Contrary to some media reports, it is clear from Lavrov’s comments that the hotline remains suspended, and that Putin imposed conditions on its reinstatement
We also very thoroughly discussed the situation with regard to our air forces with the U.S.-led coalition and the Russian forces, and we talked about the de-confliction memorandum during the operations in Syria. You know that this was halted, but President Putin confirmed our determination to put it on track again, confirming that the main aim, of course, is between these forces of the coalition and the Russian forces is to combat Jabhat al-Nusrah and other terrorist organizations and ISIL, of course.
(bold italics added)
In other words Putin told Tillerson that Russia would reinstate the hotline only after it received categorical assurances from the US that US forces would henceforth concentrate their fire on the Jihadi terrorists – Jabhat Al-Nusra (ie. Al-Qaeda) and ISIS – and not on the Syrian military. Until that happens the hotline remains closed and US air operations in Syria remain hobbled. What this means in turn is that it is the Russians who have leverage over the US, and not the other way round, a fact which partly explains why all the talk of US ultimatums to Russia has amounted to precisely nothing.
The sharp reduction in US air operations in Syria as a result of the Russian decision to suspend the hotline is a matter of indisputable fact confirmed by the public record, including the Pentagon’s own statements and the reporting of The New York Times. It has also been confirmed by the Belgian authorities, who have suspended operations by the Belgian air force supporting the US in Syria entirely.
It is a deeply regrettable fact that this is not being widely reported – a fact which is fostering an incomplete and distorted view of the crisis – but to pretend that it has not happened or that it is not happening is delusional and an exercise in denial.
Whether the US anticipated the Russians would respond in this way before it launched its missile strike is another matter, but it is the situation it is having to deal with now.
Meanwhile, that it is the Russians who hold the advantage is confirmed by the fact that though the US has been forced to scale down sharply its air operations in Syria since the missile strike, air operations by the Russian and Syrian air forces in Syria continue unabated.
Before leaving this subject I will touch briefly on claims that the reason most of the 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles the US launched against Sharyat air base missed their target was because the Russians jammed their guidance systems.
This suggestion was discussed at length by The Saker in this article, in which he says the following
Explanation B: The Russians could not legally shoot down the US missiles. Furthermore, it is incorrect to assume that these cruise missiles flew a direct course from the Mediterranean to their target (thereby almost overflying the Russian radar positions). Tomahawk were specifically built to be able to fly tangential courses around some radar types and they also have a very low RCS (radar visibility), especially in the frontal sector. Some of these missiles were probably flying low enough not to be seen by Russian radars, unless the Russians had an AWACS in the air (I don’t know if they did). However, since the Russians were warned about the attack they had plenty of time to prepare their electronic warfare stations to “fry” and otherwise disable at least part of the cruise missiles. I do believe that this is the correct explanation. I do not know whether the Russian were technically unable to destroy and confuse the 23 missiles which reached the base or whether a political decision was taken to let less than half of the cruise missiles through in order to disguise the Russian role in the destruction of 36 missiles. What I am sure of is that 36 advanced cruise missile do not “just disappear”. There are two reasons why the Russians would have decided to use their EW systems and not their missiles: first, it provides them “plausible deninability” (at least for the general public, there is no doubt that US signal intelligence units did detect the Russian electronic interference (unless it happened at very low power and very high frequency and far away inland), and because by using EW systems it allowed them to keep their air defense missiles for the protection of their own forces. Can the Russian really do this?
Take a look at this image, taken from a Russian website, which appears to have been made by the company Kret which produces some of the key Russian electronic warfare systems. Do you notice that on the left hand side, right under the AWACs aircraft you can clearly see a Tomahawk type missile turning around and eventually exploding at sea?
How this is done is open to conjecture. All that we are told is that the missile is given a “false target” but for our purposes this really does not matter. What matters is that the Russians have basically leaked the information that they are capable of turning cruise missiles around. There are other possibilities such as an directed energy beams which basically fries or, at least, confuses the terrain following and or inertial navigation systems. Some have suggested a “kill switch” which would shut down the entire missile. Maybe. Again, this really doesn’t matter for our purposes. What matters is that the Russian have the means to spoof, redirect or destroy US cruise missiles. It sure appears to be that for the first time these systems were used in anger.
This may indeed be what happened, and I would not personally be at all surprised if it was. It is for example well-established that the Russians have deployed the Krasukha-4 jamming system to Syria, and it may be that the failure of so many of the Tomahawk cruise missiles was the work of this system.
However there is no official confirmation of any of this from the Russians, and in the absence of such confirmation this story is not a fact but is rather extremely well-informed speculation, which as is clear from his article is all the Saker claims it is.
In the meantime, until some confirmation for this theory comes from the Russians, I cannot accept this story as confirmed, and I cannot treat reports drawing on anonymous Syrian sources supposedly confirming it as authoritative and necessarily true.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.