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‘Jockeying for advantage’ in Syria

Jul 05,2017 - Last updated at Jul 05,2017

Since the end game for the pseudo-caliphate established in Mosul and Raqqa is near, parties to Syria’s proxy wars are jockeying for advantage for the coming phase of the battle over the country.

Syria’s most powerful protector, Russia, is operating on three levels. Its warplanes are providing cover for Syrian army and allied forces as they fight Daesh, Al Qaeda and its affiliates, and the host of insurgent groups seeking to oust the government.

The Russians have warned that US-led coalition aircraft could be targeted if they carry out attacks on government troops and planes west of the Euphrates River.

Russia has seized the diplomatic initiative. Moscow is behind the talks between the government and insurgent factions meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, and is strongly supportive of the role of UN mediator Staffan de Mistura, who is trying to forge a peace deal between the government and political opposition.

So far this year, the two tracks — Astana and Geneva — have made some progress. Violence has been reduced, there are ceasefires in “de-escalation zones” and those involved in the talks are dealing with substantive issues.

Russia is also preparing for the long term by strengthening its presence in two bases established in Latakia province, on the Mediterranean coast, and plans to withdraw its forces from battle zones once there is a political settlement.

Moscow intends to defend its traditional interests in Syria.

The government’s other main ally, Iran, continues to deploy militiamen and troops to reinforce the undermanned and overstretched Syrian army that is fighting on multiple fronts.

It is likely that the Iranian boots on the ground will withdraw once Syria stabilises. Staying on would be unpopular with most Syrians.

Lebanon’s Hizbollah has adopted key roles in the conflict.

Hizbollah’s main aims are to secure the government and stabilise Syria.

Hizbollah is well aware that if Syria collapses like Libya after the Western intervention in the civil war there, Lebanon’s very existence would be jeopardised.

The ultimate objective of all these actors is the survival of the Syrian state and restoration of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

France’s new, thinking, President Emmanuel Macron has joined this camp, arguing that the priority is fighting “terrorist” groups and the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad is not a precondition for a settlement.

Macron has dropped the line adopted by his predecessor, Francois Hollande, who was a determined opponent of Assad, whatever the cost to Syria.

During his presidential campaign and after his inauguration, Donald Trump had expressed backing for Russian police in Syria and argued that Assad could be an ally in the fight against Daesh and other takfiris.

This was, almost certainly, the only intelligent line Trump took on any foreign policy issue. However, as pressure mounted on him and his administration over Russian hacking of US electoral rolls and Democratic Party e-mails during the election period, Trump has been forced to reverse his stand.

Consequently, the US has no strategy for dealing with the Syrian conflict. 

Instead, Trump is coasting along with his generals who believe, wrongly, that Iran could exercise control over Syria once the war against Daesh ends.

Some mythmakers are even saying that Iran seeks to construct a highway from its territory across Iraq and through Syria to Lebanon, with the object of supplying arms to Hizbollah.

It is much easier, cheaper and safer to fly arms directly to Lebanon. Such a highway would offer Israel the opportunity to pick off lorries carrying arms like birds on a wire.

A Vietnam war draft-dodger, Trump’s sole military experience was at a military academy when he was a teenager.

Therefore, he is unprepared to assume the job of US commander-in-chief, which goes along with the presidency.

Consequently, he has handed over his command responsibilities to Defence Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a hardliner on Iran and, therefore, a hardliner on Syria.

Trump has also given free rein to field officers operating on the ground in Syria. 

As a result, US forces attacked Damascus-allied militias in southeastern Syria, deployed troops and lorry-mounted missile launchers at Al Tanf base, near the Jordanian border, placing Damascus within range of these weapons, and shot down two Iranian drones.

The recent downing of a Syrian bomber by a US fighter jet near Raqqa prompted Russia’s warning.

Clashes between Russian and US planes could precipitate World War III.

Although Washington has said, repeatedly, that its sole objective in Syria is to defeat Daesh, the occupation of Raqqa and northwest Syria by US-supported Democratic Forces and of the Tanf base could be used to create US zones of control.

This strategy would challenge Russia’s and Iran’s presence in Syria.

The US backing for the establishment by Syrian Kurds of a broad autonomous area in northern and northwestern Syria could prompt Turkey to take military action against this region as the Syrian Kurds have close ties with Turkish Kurds who have been at war with Ankara for more than 30 years.

Meanwhile, rival insurgent factions have been fighting it out east of Damascus and, off-and-on, in Idlib province dominated by Al Qaeda’s Jabhat Fatah Al Sham (former Al Nusra) now in a coalition calling itself Ha’yat Tahrir Al Sham.

They are also preparing on the micro level for the day after Daesh.

Pro-government militias have also been staking out turf in liberated areas, Aleppo being the most serious case where a government crackdown has reduced looting, protection rackets and other criminal activities of armed gangs that had joined the fight against Daesh and other insurgent elements but, released from warfare, turned to criminality.

 

Suppressing them and restoring law and order is a major test for the government.

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Comments

Is this dude serious? There is no Syria bra. It's remaining inhabitants are going to die off from embargos and life restrictions by America. What's left will be turned into a gigantic vacation holiday resort for Westerners and Semites to forge new allyships and bonds.

Turkey should cut all water to Syria. Next Turkey should offer a base to China. The real reason that PKK fights Turkish people is not just for their own state(which they will never get) but by getting land with the help of Syrian Kurds to control the Firat River and The Tigris River. The Middle East is going to suffer with severe weather changes with global warming .

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