Hezbollah is not willing to engage in further battles if these aim only to improve the position of the Syrian government at the negotiation table in Geneva
. Hezbollah pulled out from all of rural Aleppo, Sahl al-Ghab and has returned to Damascus, Homs, Hama and Daraa
. The United States and Russia have agreed to engage in the peace process and full scale cease-fire in Syria. Damascus and Tehran have accepted to walk along with the US-Russia agreement.
. Hezbollah unwilling to sink in the Syrian mud, has redeployed its forces
. Iran agreed with Hezbollah’s decision of redeployment and has drawn in other forces to fill the void
. Hezbollah will remain in Syria only to defend strategic cities and won’t get involved in side battles
By Elijah J. Magnier: (On Twitter: @EjmAlrai)
After five years of war, Syria is on the path of a long durable cease-fire that doesn’t involve al-Qaeda in Syria (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the “Islamic State” ISIS. The Russian-US cease-fire has forced the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as well as Iran, to follow.
Hezbollah has begun its re-deployment in Syria, withdrawing a large number of its elite troops from rural Aleppo, and indeed from all areas no longer considered strategic or necessary to fight over. Terrain was re-conquered in Homs, Hama, Quseyr, Talkalakh, Qalamoun, Zabadani, Aleppo and around Damascus.
Hezbollah’s move is a historical step in the chronology of the war in Syria. The intervention of its militants in Syria created turmoil around the Middle East, and it was accused of being behind the prevention of the fall of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2013, when rebel forces were, at that time, in the heart of Damascus.
According to a high level commanding officer in Syria, Hezbollah has decided to re-deploy, to regroup its forces and to return to the main cities of Homs, Hama, Damascus, Daraa and also to the Syrian-Lebanese border.
“Hezbollah didn’t come to Syria to be part of a peace plan, it came to stop the Takfiri (al-Qaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Muhajereen wal Ansar, and ISIS). If peace negotiations carry on and are approved by Damascus, Tehran and Moscow, we have no job to do here: we won’t take part in any future battle that has its objective the improvement of the conditions at the negotiating table in Geneva. Hezbollah won’t pull out of Syria but will reduce the engagement and size of its forces. If Moscow and Washington are willing to fight ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah has no more work to do in Syria and will be observing, waiting to see if the situation unfolds as planned and agreed between Moscow and Washington”.
Hezbollah pulled out two weeks before the battle of Khan Tuman, last month, when Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) managed to re-take 3 kilometres south of Aleppo. None of Hezbollah fighters has died since the middle of last month (April) in Syria, following the US – Russian cease-fire and the cessation of most military activity by Russia over Syria. The agreement, largely respected, consists in ceasing all acts of hostility. The south of Syria, around Damascus, is respecting the cease-fire: northern Syria is the exception. The circle will be tighten around Jabhat al-Nusra and its close allies around Aleppo and Idlib if they do not start to show willingness to detach themselves.
According to the US – Russia deal, the Americans promised to turn the tide against Jabhat al-Nusra, in agreement with those Middle Eastern countries who feeding their proxies into Syria with money and weapons. These countries agreed to advise their Syrian proxies to keep their distance from Jabhat al-Nusra and to steer popular opinion against the Mujahedeen. What happen between Nusra and the Division 13, over two months ago, was no coincidence.
On the other hand, the Americans demand that Russia force Assad to respect the cease-fire and that he limits his air bombardment to defensive reactions only. Assad forces will only bomb rebel forces if these are planning an attack and violating the cease-fire with their allies of Jabhat al-Nusra.
But the issue is much more complicated than that. Jabhat al-Nusra has been able to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the Syrian society. Nusra, in fact, does not claim victory on the battlefield: this allows other groups to collect the Al-Nusra’s glory. Al-Nusra did not receive money from any Middle Eastern government directly, thus making it impossible for the surrounding states to impose their will on the Mujahedeen. Nusra collects money from donations, from other al-Qaeda affiliated groups, from ransoms, from administration of the area under its control, and from the spoil of war. This makes its decisions more independent than those of other rebel group.
Nevertheless, the U.S. is counting on its Middle Eastern allies to impose their will over the proxies they do finance, like Jaish al-Islam, whose fighters are engaged in a bloody war against Faylaq al-rahman and Jaish al-Fistat (of which al-Nusra is part off), in Ghouta, around Damascus. Over 500 militants have been killed there during the infighting to-date. What is interesting is that Ahrar al-Sham refused to take part in the infighting in Ghouta and did not fight alongside Nusra, against Saudi financed Jaish al-Islam.
Jordan on the other hand has succeeded in putting pressure on all southern groups maintaining an reasonable cease-fire in the south of Syria. This has meant the real possibility of achieving a lasting cease-fire. It is for this reason that both, the United States (willing to achieve a major step in Syria before President Obama’s end of mandate) and Russia are serious in implementing a general cease-fire in Syria.
According to informed sources in Syria, Iran agreed on a Hezbollah withdrawal from Sahl al-Ghab and around Aleppo when Russia announced a unilateral cease-fire. Russia is keeping forces on the ground with some of its Air Force, ready to re-launch hostilities if ever the deal with the United States falls through. The carrier Admiral Kornitsov returns to the Middle East during the months of July and August, and has requested Iran to keep its ground forces in place to verify America’s seriousness and commitment in Syria.
It is clear that both Russia and Hezbollah would like to avoid sinking in the Syrian mud. Nevertheless, all forces are aware that, as long as Nusra and ISIS have not been defeated, there is still “a long war to go” in Syria.