Syria

This article was written by Uri Dekel, and Originally published by the INSS. Article is available here.

The campaign underway by the Assad regime for the control of southern Syria, with eyes toward the Golan Heights, is yet another stage by the regime for control of the remaining rebel strongholds in Syria. Israel’s acquiescence regarding the deployment of Assad’s forces in the south, including in the Syrian Golan Heights, indicates that Israel is prepared to accept the return of Assad’s control along the border, though his forces are supported by Shiite militias and his army directed by Iranian commanders. Israel is relying on Russia to remove the Iranian forces and the Shiite militias from the border area, in exchange for Israel’s not attacking regime forces. Israel has the positive experience of the quiet and stable border with Syria that existed prior to the civil war, when Assad controlled the Golan Heights and constituted a responsible address for what occurred on the other side of the border. On this basis, Israel should launch a dialogue with the Assad regime, apparently via Russia at this stage, in order to establish stability and calm in the Golan Heights, establish the rules of the game, and discuss the limitations (in terms of geography and weapons) on the presence of Iran and its proxies. At the same time, Israel must continue to prevent the construction of an Iranian military infrastructure in Syria and retain its ability to harm the Assad regime if it deviates from the understandings and rules of the game that are established.

Credit : http://vestnikkavkaza.net/news/Syria-can-be-reconciled-in-parts.html

Over the past two weeks, with the assistance of Russia and other allies, the Assad regime has conducted a military campaign aimed at seizing control of the Daraa district in southern Syria, with its eyes toward the Syrian Golan Heights (the Quneitra district). Its modus operandi is similar to what it has employed in other parts of Syria: heavy artillery fire on rebel strongholds, airstrikes that include Russian fighter aircraft, and a Russian invitation to engage in negotiations leading to the rebels’ handing over their weapons, or in other words, their unconditional surrender. As elsewhere in Syria, this military pressure has led to the collapse of rebel lines and the surrender of many localities without a fight. However, as long as the rebels refuse this offer, the attacks on their strongholds continue with mounting intensity, and Russia’s terms for a cessation of hostilities are increasingly stringent.

Southern Syria is one of the last rebel strongholds. This region has enjoyed relative stability since its inclusion in the “de-escalation zones” by means of an agreement between Russia and the United States formulated in July 2017 with Jordanian and Israeli involvement. However, there was no doubt that this de-escalation was only temporary. The campaign to seize control of Daraa is of symbolic importance for the Assad regime, as it is the region in which the uprising erupted initially in March 2011.

The motivation to violate the ceasefire and launch an offensive aimed at seizing control of the region has a number of levels. The first justification of the Assad regime for the campaign is that the area constitutes a breach through which terrorist elements associated with the Islamic State enter Syria. Indeed, the southern Golan Heights and the Yarmuk basin are still controlled by an Islamic State proxy, the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army. Second, as argued by the Syrian opposition, the goal of the campaign is to change the balance of power by improving the regime’s positions in the political contacts underway toward a settlement to stabilize Syria, and to establish the fact that Assad controls most of the country’s populated regions. The Daraa district itself is the southernmost part of the “Syrian backbone” (from Aleppo in the north, through Homs and Damascus, to Daraa in the south), which is vital to the regime. Third, once the pro-Syrian coalition completed its conquest of the area surrounding Damascus, southern Syria is a relatively comfortable area to conquer in comparison to the two other regions that remain under rebel control: Idlib in northern Syria, which is a Salafist and Islamist Sunni stronghold, and northeastern Syria, which is controlled by the Kurds via the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are supported by the United States.

In addition to being an internal Syrian struggle and a struggle for Assad’s interests, the conflict is also a power struggle among major powers. From a broader perspective, the campaign is cast as part of a “deal” that Russia is trying to promote vis-à-vis the United States and Israel, which includes the removal of Iranian forces from southern Syria in exchange for the two countries’ acceptance of Assad’s control over Syria in its entirety. In this framework, Israel’s acquiescence to the deployment of Assad’s forces in the south, including the Syrian Golan Heights, would mean de facto acceptance of Russia’s demand that Israel refrain from attacking the Assad regime, in exchange for removing Iranian forces and its proxies from regions that are in close proximity to Israel and Jordan. According to this logic, Israel must refrain from intervening when Assad’s forces bombard the rebel forces and take control of the area adjacent to its border in the Golan Heights.

At the same time, Russia is engaged in contacts with the United States in advance of the presidential summit between Trump and Putin, scheduled for July 16 in Helsinki. At work is an attempt to take advantage of President Trump’s desire to fulfill his commitment to withdraw US forces from Syria. Russia is eager for the United States to evacuate the base in al-Tanf in southeastern Syria, which is an area that is no longer central to the establishment and training of rebel groups but over time became an obstruction along the direct land route from Iran to Syria via Iraq. There is evidence that the United States is reconsidering the necessity of the base, particularly after sending the rebel forces a message that it would not intervene or provide them with support in the fighting in the south. In addition, Russia will find it convenient to make proposals to the United States regarding the removal of Iranian forces from Syria, with the Trump administration’s acceptance of Assad’s remaining in power after he reassumes control over Syria as a whole.

As a result, the fighting area in southern Syria embodies a paradox. Russia is proposing to Iran the establishment of a land bridge, which it desires, but in exchange Tehran must agree to the removal of its forces and those of its proxies – Shiite militias and Hezbollah – from southern Syria. Russian-Iranian relations are by nature characterized by a dynamic of “respect and suspicion.” Russia is trying to leverage recent developments, including Assad’s fear that Iran will draw it into a military confrontation with Israel, in order to establish a reality in which it holds the reins of power in Syria. On the other hand, Iran has no intention of giving up its influence and the consolidation of its presence in Syria, and is incorporating Revolutionary Guard commanders and fighters of the Shiite militias that are under its control into the ranks of the Syrian army, which is fighting the rebels in the south (specifically, the Tiger Forces and the National Defense Forces, or NDF).

President Trump has actually come to terms with the Russian dominance in Syria, as well as with Russian assistance that enables the Assad regime to establish control over the regions near the Jordanian and Israeli borders. He has done so in exchange for Russian guarantees that the Syrian regime will not slaughter the US-supported rebel forces, will allow them to leave the regions in southwestern Syria, and will stop forces supported by Iran from entering the region. With regard to the fighting in the region, a Pentagon spokesperson has emphasized that the United States remains focused on defeating the Islamic State, and that all the actors in the region are advised to not attack US forces and their partners in the coalition in the struggle against the Islamic State.

Consequently, opposition elements and rebel forces in Syria are facing the familiar scenario of abandonment by the countries supporting them on doomsday. This time, the countries to do so are the United States, Jordan, and Israel, which supported the rebel forces, and primarily the Free Syrian Army, and are now standing on the sidelines and allowing the pro-Assad coalition to attack them and the Syrian civilians living in the areas under their control. Nassar al-Hariri, head of the Syrian opposition’s High Negotiations Committee, has denounced what he refers to as “the American silence” in the face of the attack,” and has argued that only a “malicious deal” could explain the US failure to respond in light of the events on the ground.

According to information provided by the UN, the current fighting has resulted in the displacement of approximately 300,000 people from their homes. Most of the displaced persons are concentrated close to the border with Jordan, and thousands have settled close to the border with Israel, in the demilitarized area between the two countries that was established under the Agreement on Disengagement signed by Israel and Syria in 1974. Both Jordan and Israel are determined to prevent refugees from seeping into their territory. Israel is providing humanitarian aid to displaced persons who have settled close to its border and has announced that it will not allow the Syrian army to enter the demilitarized zone. To demonstrate its resolve, Israel has reinforced its troops in the Golan Heights.

Implications

The developments in the Daraa region underscore that the opposition is gradually losing control over its primary stronghold in southern Syria, which was the symbol of the uprising, whereas the regime is reasserting its control and influence. Once again, the rebels’ hopes for external aid to withstand the steamroller of the pro-Assad coalition have been dashed, and the rebels are faced with the reality that they are alone in the fight.

It appears that for some reason Israel and the United States are relying on Russia, with the expectation that it will remove the Iranian forces and the Shiite militias to a distance of 60-70 kilometers from the border with Israel and Jordan. Indeed, they would like Russia to eject the Iranian forces and Shite militias from Syrian territory altogether. In exchange, they are willing to come to terms with Bashar al-Assad retaining the post of President of Syria and with the continued rule of the man who is responsible for the murder of close to half a million Syrian citizens. In addition, it appears that the United States and Israel will not prevent the forces of the pro-Assad coalition from liberating the remaining territory that is still under rebel control (particularly in northern and northeastern Syria). Whereas the Trump administration seeks a settlement that will allow the quick withdrawal of US forces from Syria, Israel has chosen to accept that Assad is the winner of the civil war and hope that Russian influence in Syria will take precedence over that of Iran.

Israel has chosen to turn a blind eye to the fact that the forces belonging to the Shiite militias have been absorbed into Assad’s forces and are fighting in the Daraa area. It would thus be a mistake to assume that at the end of the fighting, the Assad regime will accede to Russia’s demand to remove the forces of Iran and its proxies. The Assad regime’s seizure of control of southern Syria and the Golan Heights will result in the perpetuation of a foreign Shiite presence in the south, whether camouflaged within the army and within Syrian militias, or as ostensibly local Shiite militias directed by Iran.

Israel is risking one of its important achievements of the years of the war in Syria thus far: the establishment of a stable and quiet border in the Golan Heights based on understandings with the local communities on the Syrian side of the border, whereby they receive humanitarian and civil aid in exchange for preventing terrorist activity from being launched from their territory against the Golan Heights. Now, Israel is ready to accept the return of control along the border region to the Assad regime, while knowing that Assad’s forces are supported by the Shiite militias and that his army is directed by Iranian commanders – all with the futile expectation that Russia will remove the Iranian forces and its proxies from Syria.

Still, Israel has the positive experience of a quiet and stable border with Syria that existed prior to the civil war, when Assad controlled the Golan Heights and constituted a responsible address for what occurred on the other side of the border. Today, Israel appears to have assessed that in the new situation, Assad will have an interest in maintaining calm along the border, as its interests are not identical with those of Iran and Hezbollah. If so, Israel should launch a dialogue with the Assad regime, apparently via Russia at this stage, in order to establish stability and calm in the Golan Heights, establish the rules of the game, and discuss the limitations (in terms of geography and weapons) on the presence of Iran and its proxies. At the same time, Israel must continue to demonstrate resolve in preventing the construction of an Iranian military infrastructure in Syria, with an emphasis on capabilities that threaten it, and retain its ability to harm the Assad regime if it deviates from the understandings and rules of the game that are established.

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About the Author : 

Udi Dekel, who joined INSS as a senior research fellow in 2012, was head of the negotiations team with the Palestinians in the Annapolis process under the Olmert government. In this framework, he coordinated the staff work and led twelve negotiating committees. In February 2013 he was appointed Managing Director of INSS.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Dekel filled many senior IDF positions in intelligence, international military cooperation, and strategic planning, His last post in the IDF was head of the Strategic Planning Division in the Planning Directorate of the General Staff, and as a reservist he is head of the Center for Strategic Planning. Previously he served as head of the foreign relations section in the General Staff and head of the Research Division in Lahak, Israel Air Force Intelligence. Brig. Gen. (res.) Dekel served as head of the Israel-UN-Lebanon committee following the Second Lebanon War and head of military committees with Egypt and Jordan. In addition, he headed a working group on strategic-operative cooperation with the United States on development of a response to the surface-to-surface missile threat and international military cooperation. He served on the 2006 commission to update Israel’s security concept and coordinated the formulation of IDF strategy.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Dekel’s areas of research include: decision making processes in Israel and the connection between policy and the military; the multidisciplinary integration in Israel of policy, diplomacy; the military; economics, society, and communications; the peace process with the Palestinians and with Syria; strategic trends in the Middle East and challenges for Israel; the influence of the new media on the Arab world and Iran; security concepts; strategic military concepts; and strategic planning processes.

Ever associated the hot Middle-East with chocolates? Why not , Bassam Ghraoui made some of the best in Syria.

 

The Futility of Foreign Airstrikes on Syria…The worst or just one among many bad options!

The U.S., U.K. and France have launched coordinated attacks on sites related to the Syrian Chemical Weapons Program in Damascus and Homs on Friday.

U. S. Defense Departement News Briefing Slide April 14, 2018.JPG

Many observers gazing upon the current bloodshed in Syria, Perhaps, just like them, you have been wondering why America, France and Britain have launched a coordinated airstrike in Syria to punish the regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people last week.

It seems to be obvious that the issue of poisoning the Russian spy Sergi Skripal has paved the way to punish Moscow diplomatically, and played a decisive role in the decision of British Prime Minister Theresa May to participate in the strike operations without getting the endorsement of the British House of Commons, unlike in 2013 when former Prime Minister David Cameron failed to obtain parliamentary approval. However, some have even floated the idea that the UK is the one who poisoned the spy and his daughter to make Russia look bad, and eventually find a reason to attack Syria.

More than a hundred missiles were launched and the airstrikes lasted no longer than seven minutes. American, French and British naval and air force units were involved. A few hours after the airstrikes; U.S. President Donald Trump twitted “Mission Accomplished” – the U.S. president’s choice of words recalled a similar claim associated with George W. Bush following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and former French President, François Hollande.

After the seizure of Timbuktu on January 29, 2013, France’s Hollande declared: “We are in the process of winning the battle.” This naivety and lack of foresight were followed by the declaration of the former Defense minister of France, Jean-Yves le Drian, thus: “The mission is fulfilled.”

This funny scenario looks too much like the 2003 mission accomplished speech by former U.S. President George W. Bush after the fall of the Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, but look at these countries now after those arrogant declarations. Currently, these countries are nothing, but fragile states and strongholds of terrorists. These French and American temperamental behaviors only functioned as a guideline for future actions for the spread of terrorism, and it will only lead to further waves of immigration to Europe, thus reminding the world of their status of dominant powers. Any expert would agree that the war in Syria, Libya, Mali and CAR is far from being won. It’s clear that the recent airstrike on Syria has its own political and economic agendas, and it might just be a tool to please public opinion at home or challenge Russia and China abroad.

Numerous current studies clearly indicate that outside military interventions tend to lengthen the expected duration of civil wars, making the hostilities more bloodier and longer, consequently, more serious regional disaster, hence if we look back at Somalia, Libya and CAR or even Iraq and Syria, foreign military interventions in these countries are nothing, but just disastrous failures.

David W. Orme-Johnson, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Maharishi University of Management, who’s against all air strikes and for world peace; argues that there are over 50 highly rigorous studies show that group practice of Maharishi’s technologies of the unified field create coherence in collective consciousness, which provides the basis for peaceful negotiations and conflict resolution.

“The only practical way to achieve this; is to create large coherence creating groups on every continent. Otherwise it is same-old going on century after century leading countries according to policies that are based on a profound ignorance of the possibilities of human life to be aligned with the total potential of natural law at the basis of every human mind.” Orme-Johnson stressed.

The leaders of all countries should be aware of this research before they eagerly pull the triggers that will lead us all into more war. We have arrived at a time in history when such stupid actions will no longer be held excusable by future generation.

In a moment of hope and frustrations in our modern world, perhaps you may wonder, whether the cold war is coming back again? The Cold War, which followed the Allied victory in World War II, saw the U.S. and its allies facing off for decades with the Soviet Union, of which Russia is the main successor state.

Jonathan Adelman argued in his research that the Cold War is gone, never to return, and a weakened Russia can hardly launch a new Cold War. Talk of a revival of the Cold War is merely rhetoric, not reality. “Putin’s Russia is not the superpower of the Cold War era. It still retains a major nuclear capability comparable to that of the United States. But its conventional capabilities are far weaker than after World War II when it played a major role in defeating Nazi Germany and occupied Eastern Europe. The Red Army performed poorly in the first Chechen War (1994-1996) and showed modest improvement in the second Chechen War (2000-2004). Its victories have come against weak forces in Georgia, Crimea and Left Bank Ukraine. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Red Army has been pushed back up many hundreds of miles from the center of Europe to defending Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Meanwhile the American military budget is over seven times greater than that of Russia.” Adelman said.

On the other hand, The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said during the second meeting of the Security Council this week on the conflict in Syria the ”Cold war is back with a vengeance”, as he issues a warning that the world is at risk of ”full-blown military escalation” over the latest suspected chemical attack in Syria.

In an exclusive interview with Dr. David R. Leffler, Executive Director at the Center for Advanced Military Science (CAMS) argued that there is no peer-reviewed research that shows that air strikes create peace. Invincible Defense Technology is backed-up by peer-reviewed research showing that it does create peace. If President Bashar al-Assad would properly apply Invincible Defense Technology (IDT) in Syria it would be the ideal solution to quickly create a lasting peace to this troubled region. The phase transition to start this process would take less than 500 experts who would practice the advanced IDT technique in group twice-a-day.

“If the leaders of the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Russia really desire to marshal their righteous power against the barbarism and brutality of war they should have the courage to order the their militaries to use IDT, if any of them quickly act, their military could make history and gain international prestige by creating lasting peace.” Dr. Leffler added.

The political landscape in Syria and the Middle East in general is very fragile and complicated, it is a mixture of thousands of years of deep ethnic and religious conflicts, Western powers must realize this and deal with the bloodshed in Syria and the tensions in the Middle East in a spirit of realism, noting that the spread of the conflict would be a “catastrophe” at a crucial stage of the global economic recovery. The recent airstrikes will only pave the way for ISIS 2.0 or other terrorist groups to come back again; we can’t face barbarism with brutality; ladies and gentlemen.

You may wonder also, is there any political solution for Syria? At the first glance, it would seem to you like there’s no political solution for Syria because Russia and Iran don’t want it. Perhaps their characters and strategies are very different from the West’s. However, and to answer that question, one would do well to look at a map of the region during the Ottoman Empire. Of course Turkey and Israel won’t be ignored on this map. What Syria needs is a real and effective political solution, not more airstrikes.

Certainly, Washington’s goal is to establish a friendly government in Syria to counter the influence of Iran and Russia, their “old enemy” in the region. However, direct military interventions at this stage can be the real and realistic option if the international community and the Arab Sunni states are serious about keeping the Syrian state from political collapse and the disintegration of the social fabric that binds the Syrian sects and ethnicities.

But we are now talking of much greater matters, America and its allies do not have clear authority to launch airstrikes or use force in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, and they may not care whether their actions are lawful under international law, Under the U.N. Charter. The recent airstrikes on Syria sounds to me like “you can kill whoever you want, but don’t use chemical weapons!” The U.S. and its allies are prohibited from using force in Syria unless authorized by the Security Council or exercising its right to individual or collective self-defense.

There are a million reasons to believe that foreign military interventions usually fail in the 21st century. Regional initiatives would actually be more effective than Russian and Western interventions because they minimize the likelihood of imposed solutions. Any foreign airstrike on Syria should be in a wider coordination with the U.N. Security Council and the Sunni Arabs in the Middle East and perhaps Turkey as well. Despite the fact that Turkish military operations against YPG which is considered as an ally by the U.S. and its allies in its fight against ISIS in Syria, makes the existing relations between the actors in the field more complicated than ever.

 

 

 

 

What’s going on in Syria? How long has the current President Bashar al-Asad been governing? Why is it credited with launching chemical weapons over the Shayrat region? How much support does Vladimir Putin give to his Syrian counterpart and what role does he play in the war? How long has the’ civil war’ been going on in the Arab country and what are its possible conclusions?

What’s going on in Syria?

Fifty-nine (59) Tomahawks missiles from the USS Porter and USS Ross naval destroyers from the Mediterranean Sea have been the response of the United States to the clear crime against humanity that occurred in the city of Homs, but less clearly the authorship or attribution (from my point of view).

The people of Syria have since 2011 immersed in what they call a” civil war”, which I call rather an intra-Islamic war. A war between the two main factions of the Islamist religion: the Sunni and Shia. The latter represented by the government, quantified in a population of 13% and the Sunnis (the majority) who represent 70% of the population adding the presence of 10% Christians.

President Bashar al-Asad is an alawist Shia faction, a people that has been repressed over time by the Sunni majority from Iraq, Lebanon, Iran to Syria. The Al-Asad family under the genesis of their father Hafez al-Asad, a soldier and politician trained in Soviet military academies over the past century, has held the country under the yoke of his rule since the 1970 under the leadership developed in the syrian armed forces.

Sarin Gas Attacks

Most Western countries like the United States attribute the Sarin gas attack a few days ago to Al-Asad’s regime and his army. I would like to point out that among all this jigsaw puzzle of interests there is the presence of the Jihadist group ISIS, better known in Spanish as the Islamic State or Daesh in arab language . The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is an armed group of radical Sunni belief specifically fundamentalist and takfirist characteristic. Sunnis and Shia have thrived since ancient times in an increasingly intense and gradual confrontation since the beginnings of Islam but the emergence of this type of extremist movement has in recent years created a joint struggle and thus seen as the vertex of support of both doctrines for their survival within their own lands.

The Role of Russia

Now let us see the role that Russia plays in all this success…..

Russia is the most important ally of the Bashar regime. The Kremlin brings its military, logistical, technical support and arms supply support to the government regime (exported as trade) in parallel with an alliance of countries of the European – North American – Arabian axis in the war against the Islamic State. Now, the most relevant question would be:

What does Russia get from this bilateral agreement beyond trade and/or export of needs for Syria?

The answer is: presence in the Mediterranean Sea with the administration and modernization of the Port of Tartus.

The port of Tartus means for Russia the most important presence in foreign waters within the Middle East since the time of the Soviet Union (USSR) in the 20 century. The relevance of the Port of Tartus means the most strategic maritime communication channel in the eastern hemisphere which helps the Russians to establish a route from Middle East to the Eurozone and North Africa with exit to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar.

If we look at it from a holistic patriotic point of view, Putin’s Russia has been in recent times reprojecting (the essence of the former USSR) a unification of its surrounding territories, two examples would quickly be the annexation of Crimea and Sebastopol to the Russian Federation accompanied in parallel by a greater geopolitical presence throughout the world.

Really, what is the long-term future of Syria?

It is 38 hours from the Syria West Coast in a southerly direction through Lebanon, Israel, Egypt to Libya.

We must support the diplomatic solutions, we like international comunnity should engage the different parts in Syria (civil sociaty , goverment and private sector) into the diplomatic negotiation process for conquer the peace that the country deserves

If occidental forces of North America, Europe and Russia continue to disrupt Syria’s internal conflicts and dialogue we’ll find a new Libya in Syria in a near future, a failed state absent of ethic and good management for legislative or executive powers, devastated since infrastructures until the soul of its citizens turning 38 hours into more than a decade of national suffering.

Moisés A. Cabrera

About the Author

Moisés A. Cabrera  is from Santiago Providence, Dominican Republic and  is an Electromechanical Engineer and a Foreign Policy Policy Blogger. He has a blog called PuntoReferendum focus on International Security and Defense.

The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes – with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. In the meantime, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late.

Current Map of Syrian Civil War

Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern Syria.

Increasing signs are pointing to the impending fall of the Islamic State in Syria, which has suffered a series of defeats in recent months. The territory in eastern Syria that will be freed of Islamic State control now constitutes a focus of the major struggle between the United States and Iran in Syria, as both are striving to seize the area.

Early June marked the onset of the final phase of the US-led coalition’s offensive to conquer the city of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State in Syria, with a combined Kurdish-Arab (though predominantly Kurdish) ground force – the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – and air support provided by the international coalition, including the  United States, other Western countries, and Arab states. At the same time, Iran and its proxies have also started intensifying efforts aimed at shaping Syria the day after the fall of the Islamic State. Forces of the pro-Assad coalition are currently trying to expand their control in the Deir ez-Zor region and improve their access to Raqqa and the surrounding area, and also seize key positions along the Syrian-Iraqi border.

 

A Collision between the Two Axes of Influence  

Iraqi Shiite Militia in Syria.

The race to shape the Syrian arena, which is currently focused on the campaign to conquer Raqqa and defeat the Islamic State, encompasses two main strategic efforts. One, led by Iran, aims at laying the foundation for a Shiite axis land bridge from Iran in the east, via Iraq, to Syria and Lebanon in the west. Its primary mode of operation is the seizure, by Iranian proxies, of major points of passage between Iraq and Syria – with Iraqi Shiite militias (al-Hashd al-Sha’abi  the People’s Mobilization Forces) on the Iraqi side of the border and forces of the pro-Assad coalition, including the remnants of the Syrian army under the authority of Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Shiite militias on the Syrian side of the border. According to Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, “a relationship has been forged between the popular forces, the forces of the Iraqi government and military, and the unified forces in Syria. In practice, this is a strategic victory for Iran’s allies and for the ring of resistance to Zionism that begins in Tehran and reaches Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.”

 

In a rival strategic effort, the US-led coalition has been operating to create a wedge running north-south to sever the Iranian land bridge and cut off Iranian influence in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and west of the Persian Gulf. This effort is aimed at creating a buffer zone-security strip controlled by US allies, extending from Turkey in the north, via eastern Syria, southward to Jordan and to Saudi Arabia. Over the past weeks, a number of attacks have been carried out by US air forces against forces of the pro-Assad coalition along the southeastern segment of the Syrian-Iraqi border, in the region of the Syrian city of al-Tanf, located near the tripartite border between Jordan-Syria-Iraq. The United States has declared this area to be a “de-confliction” zone under its influence and will therefore not allow the deployment of forces belonging to Assad or to Iranian proxies in the region. On June 18, a Syrian fighter plane was shot down in the Raqqa region of eastern Syria as part of the air cover that the United States is providing to the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting to liberate Raqqa.

 

Iranian parties have explained that the deployment of forces loyal to Iran along the Iraqi-Syrian-Jordanian border is meant to thwart the US plan to divide Syria. According to the Iranians, the United States seeks to link the northeastern part of Syria that is under Kurdish control to the southeastern section of the country, up to the Jordanian border, and has therefore increased its activities and attacks in the Tanf region. The voices from Iran indicate that their forces aim: (a) to defend Iran’s dominance in Iraq, the survival of the Assad regime, and Iranian strategic depth by means of a land corridor from Tehran to Beirut; (b) to destroy the Islamic State along the Syrian-Iraqi border; (c) to neutralize the US plan to dismantle Syria; and (d) to prevent US-supported forces from establishing control over eastern Syria. It is therefore no coincidence that Iran chose to respond to the Islamic State attack in Tehran by launching six surface-to-surface missiles from Iranian territory at an Islamic State target in the Deir ez-Zor region of eastern Syria. In doing so, it demonstrated its potential in the field of ballistic missiles and leveraged its message that it is at war with the Islamic State and is unafraid of operating in a sector in which the United States is working to establish its influence.

 

Russia’s position in this context is not entirely clear. On the one hand, both the Assad regime and sources in Moscow report that Russia is a partner in the Assad regime’s efforts in eastern Syria, aided by Iran and Hezbollah, to derail the American plan. On May 8, the Syrian newspaper al-Watan, which has close relations with the regime, reported that “massive reinforcements of Syrian and Russian military forces have arrived in the Syrian desert, in addition to the forces of friends, in preparation for an operation to take control of Deir ez-Zor and the Iraqi border.” At the same time, there have been reports of coordination efforts in Jordan between US and Russian representatives. There have also been reports that Russia is working to prevent friction between forces of the Syrian regime and its allies and US forces, and strives to reach understandings with the United States and Jordan regarding a de-confliction zone, a de-escalation zone, and mutual attacks in southern Syria. In response to the intercepting of the Syrian plane in the Deir ez-Zor region, Russia announced that “all aircraft, manned and unmanned, of the international coalition operating west of the Euphrates River, will be identified as targets by Russian air defense systems,” appearing to create a Russian-controlled no-fly zone west of the Euphrates.

As part of the struggle for control of southeastern Syria, the United States has deployed two HIMARS multiple launch rocket batteries to the American special forces base near al-Tanf. In response, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that every entry of a foreign weapon system into Syria requires authorization by the central government in Damascus, and that the deployment indicates that the United States is not focused on fighting the Islamic State as its claims to be. The United States was then charged with failing to prevent Islamic State fighters from fleeing Raqqa toward Deir ez-Zor.

The pro-Assad coalition led by Russia and Iran appears to be following the American activity in southern and eastern Syria with great concern. In addition to the establishment of a special security zone north of the Jordanian-Syrian border and attacks on forces supporting the Assad regime, this activity has included use of a training infrastructure for forces of the Syrian opposition, the deployment of US special forces reinforced by artillery support, and an air umbrella provided by the Western coalition. From an Iranian perspective, and perhaps also from a Russian point of view, this marks a new phase in the US campaign to shape Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State, which is aimed at neutralizing the Iranian presence and influence in Syria.

 

The Potential for Escalation between the US and Iran in Syria and Iraq

The Trump administration includes elements that are extremely hostile to Iran and are pushing to expand the war in Syria as an opportunity to clash with Iran on a “comfortable” playing field. These elements have apparently suggested the idea of establishing an American-dominated north-to south running strip through eastern Syria with the aim of blocking and containing Iran’s regional aspirations. At the same time, Secretary of State James Mattis and US military leaders oppose the opening of a broad front against Iran and its proxies in Syria and regard it as endangering the capacity for a focused effort to advance the primary goal: the dismantling and defeat of the Islamic State. Therefore, at least at this stage, the US military leadership is seeking to avoid friction with the Iranians and Russians.

In the meantime, Iran is resolutely striving to progress toward its goals – i.e., more than other actors in the Middle East. It is checking the limits of US intervention, without any capacity to estimate the intensity of the United States commitment in the race to achieve control over eastern Syria. As a result, there is currently a potential for US-Iranian escalation in Syria that could spread to Iraq – either intentionally or as a result of miscalculated assessments.

 

Conclusion

The current race for control of territory in Syria now appears to be a competition between Iran and the United States, which have established two respective axes –with a vertical American (north-south) effort on the one hand, and a horizontal Iranian (east-west) effort on the other hand. In practice, this is another stage in the shaping of Syria in preparation for the day after the Islamic State. Thus far, the Syrian arena could be viewed as a game board with multiple squares, with the move of pieces in each square having an impact on the state of affairs in the others. First, Russia set up its pieces on the board’s central-western sector, between Aleppo and Damascus, including the coastal region. Turkey followed suit, arranging its forces in the board’s northern sector along the Syrian-Turkish border, including an effort to safeguard its interests in the Kurdish region. The United States focused its warfare against the Islamic State primarily in northeastern Syria, and is now trying to reorganize its pieces in the southeastern square of the Syria game board.

The upcoming competition in Syria.

As a result, the country’s southwestern region, from Daraa to the Golan Heights, remains open for activity and influence by Israel and Jordan, which must begin taking action before it is too late. Contacts are apparently underway to formulate a joint Israeli-Jordanian-American strategy aimed at preventing Iranian influence and the presence of its proxies, especially Hezbollah and Shiite militias, in the southern square of the Syrian game board. Israel and Jordan must also prepare themselves for the possibility that Islamic State fighters fleeing northeastern Syria could move southward and link up with the Islamic State branch at the border in the Golan Heights. Moreover, Israel must not forget Russia’s influence in Syria and the need to reach understandings with Moscow, at least on a clandestine level, regarding every move in this direction. Syria may have understood as much, which would explain the increased intensity of the pro-Assad coalition’s attacks in the Daraa region over the past few weeks, primarily from the air. Still, Russia understands that Israel possess the capacity to cause significant damage in Syria, and therefore prefers to maintain understandings with Israel and take Israel’s concerns seriously.

This article was previously published in the excellent INSS website : http://www.inss.org.il/publication/east-west-north-south-race-syria-islamic-state/ 

The Syrian Civil War that is lasting since now 2011 , might soon come to an end. Indeed Bashar Al-Assad and its allies have made impressive gains this last months on all Syrian Battlefields. 

Current Map of Syrian Civil War

The regime has found an amazing tactic to supress Rebels pockets throughout Syria : Promising them safe passage for the fighters and their family toward the Idlib Region , which is the only remaining rebels stronghold.

In the North : 

Besides the impressive reconquest of Aleppo.,The regime managed to suppress the biggest threat to its power – The Euphrate Shield Operation- launched by Turkey. Following the capture of Al-Bab , the Turkish Government stopped its support for its Free Syrian Army Proxy. This permitted the Regime Special Forces “The Tiger Force” to open a new battlefield against ISIS and conquer vast areas in Eastern Aleppo.

The Tiger Forces managed to  conquer the ISIS stronghold of Dayr Hafir , the Jirah Airbase and hundreds of villages. Most ISIS troops having withdrawn from the Area to protect Raqqa, It is only a matter of time before the tiger force reconquer the entire region.

The regime is also benefitting from being a buffer state between Kurdish Territory and FSA territory (supported by Turkey). FSA forces are directed toward the Kurds rather than Bashar’s troops.

Therefore on the Northern Front, everything is calm. The regime and the FSA even agreed to a ceasefire after the regime gave back the Tadif City next to Al-Bab. Since then, a ceasefire has been observed and respected between the two parts.

The North which is home to the “Idlib Stronghold” the biggest rebel area, has not shown particular agressive attitude toward the regieme forces from Aleppo to Hader. Very few incident have occured and the rebels seems to be on the defensive, mainly become there are now heavy infightings between the different rebel factions (HTS, Ahar Al-Sham and the Free Syrian Army).

The Central Front : 

In April 2017, HTS, the largest rebel group (Previously known as Al-Nusra) launched a large scale offensive on Northern Hama Region.

This blitz offensive was devastating for the regime forces, with the rebels taking successively the cities of Khattab, Suran and other villages leading directly toward Hama.

Still, after a huge effort and coordination between Hezbollah and Russia. Iranians militias and Hezbollah troops stopped the rebels offensive at Qimhana (Northern Hama) and launched an impressive counter attack.

The counter attack from Governmental troops was even more devastating, they reconquered all the lost territory and pushed further. The rebels lost all their stronghold in the region (Muhradah, Halfaya and Tayyibat Al Imam) in a matter of weeks after hundreds of Russians airstrikes. The regime even pushed further and captured large areas.  The Regime was stopped by the rebels in the Lataminah Region.

Since then the rebels are largely on the defensive on the region and have shown and inability to coordonate on the long term and to hold the territory they capture. They are extremely vulnerable to regime counter attacks . Rebels weakness is that it take them too long to organize a line of defense in newly captured territories.

The other Central Front is the Rastan pocket, which has been extremely calm these recent months. Additionally The Rebels suffered heavy blow when they lost the Homs Pocket to Governmental troops.

The Central Front is where the Russian and Syrian Air Force have been the most active , with thousands of bombings every month. This explains why the rebels are constantly on the defensive.

The Damascus Front : 

This is one of the front where the regime has been the most successful. The Damascus region is the most populated area of Syria, therefore highly strategic.

The regime managed to eliminate the Zabadani, Madaya and the Wadi Pockets. Recently the powerful Qaboun pocket was also securized.

What remains is only the Eastern Ghouta pockets which is hold by Jaysh Al-Islam Rebels. The Army is currently pushing hard to divide this pocket in two by attacking on the flanks on the Bayt Naim Area.

Southern Front :

On the Southern Front the Regime has litterally demolished the Rebels and ISIS.

In the South East , they captured thousands of kilometers of desert from ISIS and FSA. Palmyra has become totally secure , and they are about to encircle two rebels pockes in the Rif Dimashk.

The regime forces are closing to controlling the entire region , they almost captured Al-tank FSA headquarters in the region. They have claimed they are now ready to launch a large scale offensive to regain the entire desert with the two strategic goals of securing the Jordanian border and reaching Deir Ez-Zor.

The Russian and Druze support have been crucial for the regime to regain these territories.

However in the Daraa’ area the regime is clearly in difficulty against FSA rebels. The regimes has lost few houses and battlefield headquarters in the recent months.

Recent reports suggests that many infiltrations of Government troops failed and that the casualties are heavy for the government in this area.

A key factor for the regime in this region would be to avoid direct confrontation with offensive Israel. Israel has not hesitated in the last months to attack Hezbollah,NDF and Government troops in the region through airstrikes and drones.

 

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will arrive to the White House tomorrow, there are two perspectives on what Turkish will discuss with Trump. On the one hand, Erdoğan uses the meeting as an opportunity to regret the Trump to arm Syrian Kurds who are fighting ISIS, Turkish aim is to prevent the establishment of a quasi-independent Kurdish realm there. On the other hand, Trump uses the meeting to change the perspective of Turkey and satisfy them with this decision even as Turkey Strongly Objects.

The US is looking forward to having a stable relationship with Turkey and eliminate the conflict of interest in Syria with Turkey. As the America claims that the Former President- Barack Obama – has favoured the idea of arming the Kurds; they realized that there is a power vacuum in Syria, however ISIS has already filled that vacuum. It should be mentioned that Kurds were and they are the only successful group in Syria that are able to fight ISIS.

Arming the Kurds was a shock move to Turkey and Turkish government is trying hard to draw a line between cooperation of the US and the Kurds. Furthermore, Turkey wants to engage and lead as regional players who are active in the changing the future of Syria and the government is trying to prevent any intentions of Kurds to have their own declared territory in the Middle East.

According to political experts, the US manoeuvre was controversial to Turkey’s political beliefs and after sixty years of cooperation and coordination between US and Turkey, there are no stable relationships between countries. Moreover, as Turkey is located close to the conflict zones in the middle east, and its political stability depends on how healthy is the region. Therefore, Turkey is trying to participate in its neighbour countries’ politics and developments, as a result there are both internal and external disputes towards Turkish politics. For example,  Erdoğan has tried to oppose various parties and activists such as Fethullah Gülen (Turkish preacher, former imam, writer, and political figure).

Capturing Raqa, Mosul and end of ISIS is the main goal of the US in Syria and Iraq. The alliance between Turkey and US wouldn’t become a barrier to geo-strategic interests. Furthermore, it seems that current focus of US Diplomacy is on the non-state actors which would lead to security and stability of the region.

Edited by Yana Mayzenger

President Donald Trump, less than 100 days in office, caught the world off guard when he ordered the military to fire 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles in a targeted military strike on a Syrian air base April 6, in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack on civilians in rebel-held Idlib province two days before. 

 As allies express cautious approval of the US airstrike in Syria, the United States says its targeted action does not signal a broader shift to military regime change.
The Syrian Battlefield

“Years of previous attempts at changing [President Bashar al-] Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically,” Trump said April 6 at a news conference in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, announcing that he had ordered what he called a targeted military strike. “As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”

Decisive Action

Administration officials said the strikes showed Trump was willing to take decisive action, but they were limited to retaliation for using chemical weapons and did not signal a broader shift in US policy toward military intervention to overthrow the Assad regime.

“This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told journalists traveling with Trump for his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping April 6. “The use of prohibited chemical weapons, which violates a number of international norms and violates existing agreements, called for this type of … kinetic military response.”

“I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today,” Tillerson said. “There’s been no change in that status. But I think it does demonstrate that President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line … in the most heinous of ways.”

Chemical Weapons

Syria’s Attack Map

The Pentagon and National Security Council said Shayrat airfield, the targeted facility, was used to store chemical weapons and is believed to be the base from which Syrian air force planes had taken off to conduct the April 4 chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people, many of them children.

“It was aimed at this particular airfield for a reason, because we could trace this murderous attack back to that facility,” national security adviser Gen. H. R. McMaster told journalists at a press conference with Tillerson in Florida April 6.

“I think what it does communicate is a big shift … in Assad’s calculus … because this is … the first time that the United States has taken direct military action against that regime or the regime of his father,” McMaster said.

“The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement to the press April 7. “The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”

Minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield

The Pentagon said it had notified Russian forces in advance of the action to minimize the risk of killing Russian or Syrian personnel. “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” Davis said.

Russia, acknowledging that the Pentagon had indeed informed it in advance of the planned military action to avoid Russian casualties, nevertheless criticized the US action on Friday as breaching Syria’s sovereignty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “considers the US strikes against Syria an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists April 7. “Washington’s move substantially impairs Russian-US relations, which are in a deplorable state as it is.”

It is not clear, however, if the griping was largely face-saving posturing. Russia said Friday that it had suspended deconfliction channels with Washington, set up to avoid air collisions over Syria, as a result of the US action, but the Pentagon said it continued to use the channel Friday. Tillerson, due to travel to Moscow April 11-12, had called his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, April 6 to discuss the situation, the State Department said.

Arsenal of ChemicalWeapons 

Tillerson said that Russia had not lived up to its 2013 agreement to ensure that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons arsenal was fully destroyed.

“The Russian government entered into agreements whereby Russia would locate these weapons, they would secure the weapons, they would destroy the weapons and that they would act as the guarantor that these weapons would no longer be present in Syria,” Tillerson said. “Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013.”

Tillerson concluded, “So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”

Iran also condemned the US cruise missile strikes against its Syrian ally, while the Syrian regime blasted the US action as “unjust and arrogant aggression.”

Such condemnation was strikingly isolated, as European nations, Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Gulf states and Canada broadly praised Trump’s action, considering it proportional and justified.

“In words and actions, President Trump sent a strong and clear response: The use of chemical weapons is unacceptable,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu April 7. “Israel fully and unequivocally supports the president’s decision and hopes the clear message will reverberate not only in Damascus but also in Tehran, Pyongyang and other places.”

“US strikes show needed resolve against barbaric chemical attacks,” European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted April 7. He said the European Union “will work with the US to end brutality in Syria.”

The US action was “limited and appropriate,” said British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. “We fully support this strike,” Fallon told the BBC April 7. “We have been in close contact with the US over the last couple of days and they believe they have exhausted all possible diplomatic and peaceful ways of dealing with the regime’s use of chemical weapons. They want to try to prevent future chemical attacks.”

The US missile strikes show that chemical weapons attacks on civilians won’t go unpunished, Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said April 7, urging that Syrian safe zones be established.

Even as the United States deliberately targeted Assad assets for the first time in the six-year conflict, Tillerson said the US military priority in Syria is still to fight the Islamic State, and he anticipates continuing to work through the Geneva process to try to reach a broader political resolution of the civil war.

“Overall, the situation in Syria is one where our approach today and our policy today is first to defeat [IS],” Tillerson said. “There is a large coalition of international players and allies who are involved in the future resolution in Syria.”

The United States is focused on planning to defeat IS and “begin to stabilize areas of Syria … through cease-fire agreements between the Syrian regime forces and opposition forces … [and] begin to restore some normalcy to them,” he said.

“In the midst of that, through the Geneva process, we will start a political process to resolve Syria’s future in terms of its governance structure,” Tillerson said. “And that ultimately, in our view, will lead to a resolution of Bashar al-Assad’s departure.”

The narrow purpose of the retaliatory strikes against Assad’s use of chemical weapons was reflected in congressional notification. Several members said they were informed by the administration of the impending action only just before or after the strikes were underway, reflecting their understanding, they said, that this was not the start of a major war without their authorization.

Congress largely applauded the strikes as a “proportional response” to the suspected chemical attack but demanded to be included going forward. The full Senate is scheduled to receive a briefing before leaving for its two-day Easter break on April 7, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

In an April 7 letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that the lower chamber immediately be called back into session to debate a war authorization.

“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote. “Congress must live up to its constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.”

Just hours earlier, Pelosi had released a statement saying the strike “appears to be a proportional response to the regime’s use of chemical weapons.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., likewise issued a statement, saying, “Making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.” He added, “It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it.”

The chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., also applauded the strikes but demanded to weigh in if a longer-term or larger operation is under consideration. “As we move forward, it will be important for the administration to engage with Congress and clearly communicate its full strategy to the American people,” Corker said in a statement.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate in the 2016 election and the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations panel on the Near East, was one of the lone voices to decry the decision to act without Congress.

“I voted for military action against Syria in 2013 when Donald Trump was advocating that America turn its back on Assad’s atrocities,” Kaine said in a statement. “Congress will work with the President, but his failure to seek Congressional approval is unlawful.”

A few others by contrast called for an immediate ramp-up.

“Building on tonight’s credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress,” Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “That means following through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria. The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people — completely out of the fight. We must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

Author

This article was written by Laura Rozen and published on Al-Monitor the 7th of April 2017. It can be accessed here :  http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/04/trump-syria-strikes-assad-shift-military-regime-change.html#ixzz4ddiz4rhg

After the Victory of Aleppo , Will Assad Push South? It is unlikely that Syrian Civil War will end in 2017. Especially since the Syrian Arab Army has retaken the key city of Aleppo after years of fighting. Bashar Al Assad Army is now in control of all major urban centers in the country and have consolidating the gains they have made thanks to Russian and Iranians support.  Russia’s claim that they would pull out of Syria because of the enormous cost of operations and the impossibility to reach a decisive victory will have to be taken into consideration in 2017. Russia will try to walk out the Syrian Civil war both with a secured regime for their ally Assad but also with a proud and victorious exit , which would be a huge media victory for the very popular Vladimir Putin. If Putin is able to walk out victoriously from Syria, he will be able to concentrate all its efforts in the Ukrainian Battlefields , where the pro-Russians rebels have been awaiting months to launch an offensive on the weak Ukrainian Governmental Forces.

But it is not the end. In 2017 the loyalists have too many battlefields to achieve a decisive victory. Besides the stronghold of Idlib they would have to fight rebels all around the country , especially in the South.

Will Putin reevalute it’s support for Assad , now that his reign has been secured?
In addition to holding their territory in the north, they must now try to clear the rebels located between Aleppo and Damascus and around Damascus itself. They will have to fight in areas held by the Islamic State such as the divided city Deir el-Zour, where they are are currently heavily besieged. Palmyra seems too difficult to retake and to hold though. Put differently, there is still a lot work left for them to do, and any number of things can shift the balance of power in the war-torn country.

The constraints on the loyalists, however, are but one factor preventing the conflict’s resolution. In 2017, the presence of foreign powers will also complicate the Syrian battlefield, much as it has in years past. The United States will adapt its strategy in Syria, favoring one that more selectively aids specific groups in the fight against the Islamic State rather than those fighting the al Assad government. Washington will, for example, continue to back Kurdish forces but will curb support for rebels in Idlib. The consequences of which will be threefold. First, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia will have to increase their support for the rebels, including the more radical ones, the United States has forsaken. Second, their support will give radical elements room to thrive, as will the reduced oversight associated with Washington’s disengagement. Third, Russia will be able to cooperate more tactically with the United States and its allies as it tries to exact concessions, including the easing of sanctions, in a broader negotiation with Washington.

Russia as the X Factor

Russian Military HQ, Moscow.
Credit : CNN

Russia’s claim that they would pull out of Syria because of the enormous cost of operations and the impossibility to reach a decisive victory will have to be taken into consideration in 2017. Russia will try to walk out the Syrian Civil war both with a secured regime for their ally Assad but also with a proud and victorious exit , which would be a huge media victory for the very popular Vladimir Putin. If Putin is able to walk out victoriously from Syria, he will be able to concentrate all its efforts in the Ukrainian Battlefields , where the pro-Russians rebels have been awaiting months to launch an offensive on the weak Ukrainian Governmental Forces.

Notably, Russia will cooperate only insofar as it helps Moscow achieves those goals, but given Moscow’s limited influence on the ground in Syria, there is only so much it can actually do. Still, that will not stop Russia from trying to replace Washington as the primary arbiter of Syrian negotiation.

While other powers are preoccupied with the fight against the Islamic State, Turkey will expand its sphere of influence in northern Syria and Iraq, driven as it is by its imperative to block Kurdish expansion. In Syria, the presence of Russian troops will probably prevent Turkey from venturing any farther south than al Bab in northern Aleppo. From al Bab, Turkey will try to drive eastward toward the town of Manbij to divide and thus weaken areas held by the Kurds. Turkey will also lobby for a bigger role in anti-Islamic State operations in Raqqa. Turkey will deploy more of its own forces in the Syrian fight, both to obstruct the expansion of Syrian Kurdish forces and degrade the Islamic State.

There are, of course, some drawbacks to Turkey’s strategy. Namely, it runs the risk of clashes with Russian and Syrian Kurdish forces. Ankara will thus have to concentrate on maintaining closer ties with Moscow to avoid complications on the battlefield, even as it manages tensions with the United States over Washington’s continued support for the Kurds.

In Iraq, too, Turkey will extend its influence in the north – notably, to where the Ottoman Empire’s border was once drawn through Sinjar, Mosul, Arbil and Kirkuk. And as it does, it will compete with Iran for influence in the power vacuum left by the Islamic State’s defeat in Mosul. Baghdad, for its part, will struggle to control Nineveh province once the Islamic State loses Mosul. Meanwhile, Turkey will bolster its proxies to position itself as the patron state of the region’s Sunnis.

Turkey’s resurgence threatens Iran’s arc of influence across northern Syria and Iraq, and Tehran has plenty of ways it can respond. The government will encourage Shiites in Baghdad to resist what they will characterize as a Turkish occupation. It will also rely on Shiite militias to block Ankara by contesting territory and exploiting divisions among Iraqi Kurds. Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who have comparatively less influence Iraq, will rely on Turkey to uphold Sunni interests.

The fall of Mosul will further divide Iraq’s Kurds. The inevitable scramble for territory and influence will pit the Turkey-backed Kurdistan Democratic Party against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which is more closely aligned with Iran. Kirkuk, a city and province awash in oil, will be particularly contentious. The KDP will try to keep what it has gained there, while Baghdad, backed by Iran, will try to take it back. This will impede sustainable cooperation in energy production and revenue-sharing operations between Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan.

 

A Syrian boy walks with his bicycle in the devastated Sukari district of Aleppo on 13 November, 2014AFP

About the author: Corentin was a student in international relations at HEIP Paris and moved to Moscow where he now follows a Master Degree at the institute of international relations (MGIMO). He is an expert of Global affairs and especially of politics in Russia.

Back to July 2012

The battle of Aleppo started in July 2012. Some observers viewed a new defeat for the Syrian government but startlingly, loyal forces didn’t fall back. With this resistance began the worst battle of the Syrian civil war. Aleppo was divided between the East and the West, between rebels and the Assad government. Rebels could not take heavy weapons, faced organized and trained army but the Assad forces were alone and almost defeated.

Furthermore, rebels planned an offensive on Damascus which meant that Syrian army could not receive any further help.

The turnover: September 2015

Aleppo-Boy-Ash-covered-child-brings-home-horror-of-Syrian-war-to-the-world
Aleppo-Boy-Ash-covered-child-brings-home-horror-of-Syrian-war-to-the-world

Nevertheless, despite this situation rebels didn’t reach the other side of the city. Mostly because of the war between rebels and islamists groups like ISIL or the Front Al-Nosra. They could not use their advantages at this moment. And the battle follows the same for 3 years before the offensive.

In September 2015, Vladimir Putin president of the Russian Federation and supporter of the Al-Assad regime, decided to strike against islamist groups and also all the rebels. With an important aerial air support, Damascus planned an offensive in order to recapture the lost territories.

In February 2016, Syrian forces and allies of Al-Assad broke the siege of Nubul and Zahara –  two key villages which controlled the road to Aleppo. At this moment, the victory was already certain. With an impressive air support and the help of Russian special forces, the second part of the battle of Aleppo began until December 13, when rebels decided to capitulate.

2017: Putin, game master

The winner of this war is obviously Vladimir Putin. The Russian president had totally free hands to act in Syria. If the gain of the city is in favor of Bachar Al-Assad, the Russian military has been in charge of the operations since the beginning.

First of all, the intervention of Russian special forces demonstrates the serious engagement of the Russian army. Of course planes need to be guided but according to some Syrian soldiers many Spetsnaz (elite Russian troops) have been committed to sniping missions.

Putin receiving al-Assad
Putin receiving al-Assad

The second point that shows the Russian predominance in this conflict is the military strategy: the complete destruction of a city that permits to stifle the rebellion. Like in Chechenya fifteen years ago, Putin applicates the principle of systematical destruction and despite destructions and human casualties. We must recognize that method works.

On the diplomatic side, since 2015, Russia has taken a vacant place left by the United States and the European countries. Three years ago, Washington had the opportunity to change the war but because Barak Obama finally decided the US would not intervene, he gave the entire control of the Syrian war up to Putin. The American elections have permitted to Putin to act freely before the investiture of the new President Trump. Day by day, the Russian military victories and the alliance with some Iranian, Lebanese and Afghan militias reinforced Putin.

Furthermore, this intervention has permitted to reinforce the position of Russia on the geostrategic scale. In fact, this is the first time since Afghanistan, in the 1970’s, at the end of the USSR era, that the Russian army intervene alone, outside its rational borders of intervention, the « near abroad ». Russia has proved his army can engage a massive firepower in order to eradicate « terrorism ».  For Moscow, the securement of Syria is of vital importance to avoid the setting-up of possible new terrorist bases which could threaten Caucasus and to protect the only bases in the Mediterranean Sea.

The fall of Western diplomacy

In 2013, the red line had been crossed by the Syrian regime according to Barack Obama but no intervention followed his warning. Despite France’s Francois Hollande appeal to western strikes to help the so-called « democratic Syrian forces », the European Union has kept an annoying silence – an evidence of this institution’s incapacity to intervene without the American leadership.

            Why do we face this situation ?

Since the apparition of the so-called Islamic State, the international coalition tried to destroy the terrorist organization. Since 2014, despite some local victories, the Islamic state has not been destroyed. But Russia has made the demonstration that it could rescue a quite-defeated regime within one year, engaging quite almost special forces and aerial forces.

Now the situation has changed. The Syrian army is motivated and shows self-confidence; Bachar Al-Assad is now, more than ever, in a favorable position.So on the military point of view, the international American-led huge coalition fails to destroy an enemy when Russian succeeded. Another matter is the problem of comprehension of Syria and the nature of its regime.

In 2011, the « Arab spring » spread across North Africa and the Middle East. But in Syria, the first demonstrators did not ask for Bachar Al-Assad to quit, but claimed for better social and economic standards. But for western diplomacy, Bachar’s time was over. – yet Mr Chevallier, French ambassador in Syria warned the ministry of Foreign Affairs that the population could support Al-Assad.

The real grave of western countries has been achieved in 2013. Barack Obama said he will intervene only if chemical weapons were used. He didn’t. And the European Union decided not to intervene either. Probably in order to avoid the Libyan situation and huge military losses.

All this points explain clearly that United States will not intervene before January 2017 – if they do. The new elected president, Mr Trump –apparently wants to calm the things down with Moscow, according to his statements.

European countries are out, too.

So, Russia is quiet for a month – at least.

War crimes

With the battle of Aleppo, some western politicians now pointed war crimes committed by Russian and Syrian forces. Here a sense of objectivity is needed to adopt a global focus on the situation:

First of all, we need to understand Syria is facing a war, that means death and casualties. In each war, civilians are the first victims. Each side knows about atrocities. Of course, the international law has been violated but who is responsible? The opposite would have probably happen if the rebels won the battle.

Concerning Russian strikes, it will be hypocritical to sentence Russia when the United States and its allies did the same thing since 1945 through different conflicts. If we take a look on the more recent war scenes in Irak or Afghanistan, we can note many violations of the international law but no one has been involved in a judicial process facing an international court.

Today western countries try to be engage in « zero casualties war » and prefer « chirurgical » airstrikes. But the reality is different, actually the coalition does not account for civilian casualties but UN and other ONG talking, several times, about collateral damages. Every war brings deaths and destructions.

The war against « terrorism » is not over and countries should be ready to face such situations.

Corentin Curtenelle

References:

http://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/turning-point-inevitable-liberation-aleppo/

http://www.rline.tv/news/2016-12-08-bashar-asad-pobeda-v-aleppo-ne-budet-oznachat-konets-borby-v-sirii/

http://polit-mir.ru/aleppo-i-kremlevskie-strategicheskie-oshibki-5931.html

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-siege-of-aleppo-is-an-emblem-of-western-failure-in-syria-a-1077140.html

http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2016/12/08/31002-20161208ARTFIG00295-caroline-galacteros-la-bataille-d-alep-ou-la-deroute-de-la-diplomatie-occidentale-en-syrie.php

http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/monde/2016/12/08/31002-20161208ARTFIG00295-caroline-galacteros-la-bataille-d-alep-ou-la-deroute-de-la-diplomatie-occidentale-en-syrie.php

http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50971