From my Swiss White Russian Floridian friend The Saker, regarding how the December 31st attack happened:
The Russian Air Force responded Saturday by stepping up its bombing of jihadist positions in towns along the Turkish border in far northern Latakia's Jubal al Turkmen, an area which had been pounded after the downing of a SU24 by the Turkish Air Force in November 2015. The Russians are also fully supporting the Syrian Arab Army (SAA)'s advances into the jihadi held Idlib province. But the assaults on the Russian base, coming weeks after President Putin's visit announcing a victorious partial withdrawal of his country's forces, are a reminder that the conflict is not over and the regional players supporting the rebels 'moderate' and Al-Qaeda linked have not been defanged. Reading between the lines of experienced Mideast correspondent Elijah J. Magnier's year end article about Russian support for SAA operations taking back territory close to the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, it is not hard to guess which intelligence service or its Saudi ally may have supplied the jihadis with fresh satellite photos of Russian aircraft and ammo dump positions at the base:
The attacks coinciding with the clearly outside supported unrest inside Russia's ally Iran and threats from White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster about Moscow 'paying a price' for supporting Tehran's defiance of the U.S. are likely to draw the Eurasian powers closer together. If Moscow greenlights a response by the Iranians, it is likely to involve Hezbollah or more likely its Iraqi allied Shi'a militia Kata'ib Hezbollah firing mortars that land perilously close to American personnel deployed in lightly defended and vulnerable outposts inside Kurdish areas of Syria. The same Iranian-backed Iraqi group has already threatened to attack American troops if they remain in Iraq as occupiers with Daesh/ISIS defeated. We are already seeing via Southfront and Al-Masdar News more brazen Houthi missile launches at Saudi air bases. Mirror imaging or exceeding the jihadi mortar and small drone antics via Houthi suicide squads infiltrating bases like King Khalid Military City (KKMC) that host American or British personnel supporting the Kingdom's democidal war on Yemen could be the next card in the Cold War 2/Mideast proxy war.
Although the protests in Iran continue and have involved violent provocations against police stations and lots of clearly sponsored fake news (including use of footage from protests in Argentina and Bhahrain), there are genuine economic grievances behind them. Raised expectations after EU (but mostly not US) sanctions were lifted as part of the nuclear deal between Tehran and the Western powers with Russian and Chinese support have also played a part, along with the country's youth bulge. While 'Death to Russia' has been a rumor promoted by the usual suspects like ex-State Department hardcore Russophobe Paul Goble rather than an actual slogan of the Iranian youths, the discontent with the mullahs is real enough, as are the 2,000 Iranian and resident Afghan Shia combat deaths since Tehran intervened in Syria alongside its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah.
In the short term, the logic of tit for tat means the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will seek to raise the costs to the Saudis for openly supporting the unrest and threatening terror attacks inside Iran's borders. That means more missile strikes by the Houthis against Saudi military bases and the outskirts of cities, including making Riyadh residents aware that they aren't safe from the war their royals wage hundreds of miles away. Saudi security forces along the porous rugged border with Yemen will continue to be blown up in IED attacks like these:
In the longer term, even as the protests by a few thousands appear to be petering out for lack of middle class enthusiasm and popular or elite support, Tehran needs to deliver economic growth to the Iranian people or else face a much more serious uprising within a decade. While educated Iranians are well aware that Washington neocons do not have their country's best interests at heart but rather those of regional antagonists Israel and Saudi Arabia, they also know that corruption is a serious problem. Without the One Belt One Road (OBOR) and massive Eurasian investment, it is difficult to see Iran enduring the inevitable shakeout that could very well destroy the shaky Saudi regime by the early 2020s.
After all, the same justified grievances many Iranians have about their government's foreign and domestic policies -- young men coming back in coffins, hardline clerics edicts -- are even greater for the average Saudi subject, who knows princes live in un-Islamic luxury abroad when their Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman isn't arresting and torturing them to give up their cash. The Saudis thus far successful cover up of their 2-3,000 combat deaths suffered since they invaded Yemen in 2015 will likely be broken, as the Kingdom's wall of strict censorship becomes more leaky and Houthi-inflicted casualties mount.
Like so many other initiatives the Empire of Chaos has launched from Ukraine to Syria to Yemen, the blowback against the tottering Kingdom is likely to be severe in 2018. Russia's role will not be so much to directly target the Saudis as to allow its Shi'a regional allies to increase the military, diplomatic and Yemen humanitarian outcry pressure on them, and by extension, their American and Israeli partners.
UPDATE January 7, 2018 10:00 a.m. EST a quote from retired Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Mideast analyst Col. (USAR) Patrick Lang: