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Syrian airstrikes: same missiles, different targets

By Peter Coates - posted Thursday, 25 September 2014

Tuesday September 23, 2014 was a busy day in a new phase of the War on Terror. As US missiles flew, jets launched and drones buzzed we slept soundly. There’s nothing like reports of airstrikes in the morning. Airstrikes have their own deadly theatre.

As with all wars in the Middle East countries have conflicting interests - though rarely has there been so much consensus against the rise of a new actor, the Islamic State (IS). IS threatens Sunni Monarchies and republics, Sunni al Qaeda, Shiites, Kurds, other minorities and Israelis.

Cruise missile targeting of Syria was expected, but didn’t happen, in August last year. But the targets are different. In the changeable world of geopolitics where morality is relative Tuesday’s targets were not the Syrian government even though it may have murdered 200,000. The Syrian government, after all, is not a threat to Israel, the US or the rest of the West including Australia. It is IS that is the main threat – so it is feeling the full force of Western anger and explosive technology. These maps give an idea of the US airbases, ships and targets in Syria.


Airstrikes generate their own theatre both for mainstream and amateur media as well as government departments. While the results are assumed to be deadly airstrike instruments detach the viewer. The last minute of this youtube is amateur footage of the bombing of Raqqa, believed to be IS’s main headquarters area. The US Defence Department took its own footage of cruise missiles being launched from the USS Arleigh Burke, a destroyer in the Red Sea. Meanwhile most of the strike aircraft came from the USS George H. W. Bush in the Persian Gulf. That carrier has the same functions as the USS Enterprise made available by the US Navy for Top Gun.

IS headquarters, its leadership and vehicle parks were not the only targets. The BBC reports “The US says some of its air strikes in Syria aimed to disrupt an imminent attack on the West by al-Qaeda veterans from the so-called Khorasan group.”

President Obama’s decision to bomb IS within Syria is against his relatively pacifist nature, but it makes strategic sense as it removes one porous border that IS can operate across. The strategy also hits IS at its more established Syrian area. In some parts of Syria IS has the upper hand in a conventional military sense – with tanks – not just as an insurgency. Now IS may only be able to hide in Turkey, Lebanon or forcibly melt itself into Sunni populations - victims of IS “protection.”

As well as a sound military move Obama, in striking IS in Iraq and Syria, has pulled off a diplomatic coup that is widely supported. Support comes from the Sunni states of Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. There is tacit approval from Shiite Iran and the Shiites and Kurds in Iraq. Having made some largely symbolic diplomatic protests even Russia and China, who have their own domestic terrorism problems, appear to have accepted America’s initiative.

Obama reported the air strikes matter-of-factly without the sound bite cowboy tone of his predecessor George Bush.As the US airstrikes are against enemies of the Syrian regime Syria appears to have acquiesced. What is admitted is that the US warned the Syrian regime several hours before the airstrikes.

Australia’s new air presence (8 Super Hornets, a Wedgetail AWACS and a refueler aircraft) in the region appears an elective alliance gesture rather than a necessity by comparison. This is given the ample air assets provided by France as well as from the US Navy, Air Force and Marines (even from the US Army and CIA when drones are added). Australia’s SAS might be a more necessary contribution whether as trainers or even “advisers” who lead.


Israelappears to support the airstrikes as it always feels more secure when its US ally returns to fight in the Middle East. Israel has an ambivalent attitude to President Assad’s Syrian regime. Relations are hostile enough that Israel shot down a Syrian jetfighter in the last few days. However Israel treats the Syrian government as the devil it knows. Israel realises that if Syria were to be dominated by an anarchy of Sunni jihadis, then IS might become dominant and find some common cause with Sunni Palestinians. Israel would consider that a huge, unpredictable terrorist threat.Israel appears heartened by a wedge between its Shiite enemies - with Iran supporting the airstrikes while the Shiite militia Hezbollah opposes the strikes.

This new phase in the War on Terror is a serious business, but the high-tech theatre of airstrikes also boosts US prestige and Western morale. There may be no end to this new phase for years.

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About the Author

Peter Coates has been writing articles on military, security and international relations issues since 2006. In 2014 he completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations, with a high distinction average. His website is Submarine Matters.

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