Forces: November 7, 2004

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Syria recently dismissed its air force commander, Maj. Gen. Kamal Makhafut, in response to the growing decline in combat capability of the Syrian air force. On paper, the Syrians have about 600 combat aircraft and helicopters. But since the end of the Cold War in 1991, and with it the disappearance of military aid from Russia (spare parts, technical assistance and money), about half of Syrias warplanes have become inoperable. Moreover, there has been no money to buy modern aircraft. The only modern warplanes it has are 20 MiG-29s and 14 Su-27s. But these are not the latest models, and the Syrians are considered completely outclassed by Israel. 

Syria has a ramshackle economy, and depends on its small, and declining, oil production to keep it afloat. Syria ships only about half a million barrels a day ($7 billion a year, or about 35 percent of GDP.) Syria is, like Iraq was, run by the Baath Party (a separate branch from the one recently defeated in Iraq). That means an inefficient, socialist economy that is in decline and run by a hereditary dictatorship (the Assad family.) Most of the government budget depends on oil revenues, and over two thirds of exports are oil. With 15 million people (60 percent the size of Iraq), Syria produces less than a tenth as much oil as Iraq. Fortunately for Syria, they have not been involved in three major wars (like Iraq has) in the past 25 years. The defense budget is less than a billion dollars a year, and thats not enough to keep the armed forces up to date. Most of the equipment is 1970s vintage stuff. 

Syria still gets some aid from Iran, because both nations saw Iraq as an enemy. But this aid is now declining, with Saddam Hussein, and his branch of the Baath Party, out of power. Some revenue is also derived from the drug trade that operates in Lebanon. But Syria, which has helped keep the peace in fractious Lebanon for the past fifteen years, is under pressure from the Lebanese, and the UN, to get its 30,000 troops out of Lebanon. Some cash is coming in from Iraqi Baathists who fled Iraq in 2003, but that also brings pressure from the United States to stop supporting terrorism. Syria has long been a safe haven for terrorists, especially Palestinians and Iran backed Shia groups. This is also becoming increasingly dangerous, with Israel threatening invasion, or at least air attacks, if Syria does not stop supporting anti-Israel terrorists. 

With its military falling apart and all its traditional sources of foreign aid drying up, the Syrian dictatorship is sliding closer to revolution, and disaster. The public dismissal of the inept air force commander is only one aspect of this looming catastrophe.

 


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