Key words: US, Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, ISIS, AQ.
By Elijah J. Magnier @ejmalrai –
The US is preparing for the post “Islamic State” (ISIS) era, where the Levant and Mesopotamia have changed to the point they no longer look like they were prior to 2011. Today the war between proxies is coming to an end and the countries involved, superpowers and regional powers, are fighting using their own soldiers and equipment. The US has lost important points: its main fear of the Iranian influence and danger of Tehran’s proxies threatening its allies in the region (the Arabs and Israel) is more powerful than ever and more justified than ever. Things have gone beyond the point of no return. After more than six years of war the result is as follows:
1. The war imposed on Syria has provoked the unprecedented presence of Russian forces in the heart of the Middle East (Levant and Mesopotamia): an area that was the US exclusive playground for decades. Washington was planning to change the regime in Syria but found itself sharing or even, in places, losing completely its influence to the benefit of Moscow.
2. Analysts, mainstream media and researchers describe the Syrian Army as “exhausted” and “reduced to a very small number” following six years of war. These also claimed that the Syrian Army had no urban warfare experience or the capability to take control of a city or to hold on to an area under attack. The lack of ground knowledge and insightful understanding of these media is producing an analysis which is not only misleading but erroneous. There is in fact a “new Syrian Army” today, with a new generation of soldiers who joined the Army during the war and were raised in the battlefield and in the heart of the storm of war- not in military barracks, as was the case in the first years of the war. These have experienced all kinds of conventional and guerrilla warfare, and faced the most violent and difficult battles the Syrian terrain has known. During the first few years of war, Al-Qaeda and ISIS were easily capturing and beheading dozens or even hundreds of Syrian soldiers, on video. Moreover, many soldiers and officers were defecting to the enemy ranks to avoid execution. Hezbollah used to start any battle with a large force to give an incentive to the Army to follow. There was no trust in leaving soldiers in a conquered position because, at the first exchange of fire, these would flee and desert their positions. Today, the “new Syrian Army” stands and fights, takes initiatives, and attacks rather than defends its position all the time. In many battles, the new Syrian Army refused to pull out even when outnumbered by attacking forces, and it has learned to fight like its enemies. The high morale of the new Army pushed Hezbollah into sending only a few officers into every battalion, rather than large forces of its own.
3. In past decades, Syria was never ready to fight Israel but was following diplomatic channels to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights occupied territories as the only weapon to the Syrian regime. Following over 6 years of war, the gloves have been taken off: the central government in Damascus has learned the art of war and adapted to devastating destruction to attain a strategic cause, pushing the politicians into a more belligerent frame of mind, ready to fight for the land, including the Golan. Actually Damascus gave the green light to form popular national units (mirroring Lebanon Hezbollah) as a future “resistance force” against Israel or indeed against any other force (Turkey and the US) occupying the land, once the Wahhabi Takfiri is no longer a danger.
4. The war in Syria generated an Iranian presence in the Levant differently and more intensively than in 1982 when thousands of troops came from Tehran to the Zabadani border region to support and establish training camps for the Lebanese Hezbollah with the approval of Hafez al-Assad’s government. Today, the Iranians have played an essential role in recovering territories for the benefit of the Damascus government, and they have spent billions of dollars in Syria. This investment not only supported the army, paid salaries to troops, bought oil, established factories to manufacture weapons, and provided logistical support to the army and allied force, it also built medicine factories and fulfilled other social and industrial needs to support the Syrian economy- to a point where Iran has a presence throughout the Syrian territory. All that because of the war: the United States allowed its CIA and the states of the region (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey) to fund extremists and offer different kinds of military and non-military support to overthrow the regime. The aim was to plunge the country into chaos, create a failed state, and try to fuel sectarian war, paving the way for the extremist organisations that destabilised the Levant and eventually the entire Middle East.
5. The United States is trying to prepare for the post-ISIS era, especially in relation to Lebanon: the UNSC resolution 1701 was put on the table again with proposed amendments from Washington to expand the mission of the UN forces to include the control of all border crossings with Israel to the south and between Lebanon and Syria to the north. This proposal failed in 2006 after the war with Israel because Hezbollah rejected it categorically to keep the military supply route between Tehran and Hezbollah flowing and interrupted.
How can it be, then, in 2017, that Hezbollah is: much stronger today than in 2006; has enough experience to confront Israel and any American project in the region; has won over al-Qaeda and ended its military presence (apart from sleeper cellsa security nature in any country in the Middle East or other Western countries) in Lebanon-it participated in the Iraqi and Yemen war and became a regional player.
Washington is the victim of its own illusions when it tries to put pressure on Hezbollah- which gave nothing when it was weaker than today and will certainly give away nothing while it is victorious. The US has tried to launch a media campaign supportive of the Lebanese army (LAF) and has provided dozens of military advisers at the military barracks in Riaq base to guide and support the forthcoming battles with ISIS- battles whose timing was imposed by “Hezbollah” when attacking al-Qaeda Arsal first. Hezbollah ended the battle of Arsal, expelled all al-Qaeda militants and took up position in the hills overlooking ISIS positions, ready to leave these strategic strongholds to the Lebanese army if willing to protect it.
Hezbollah’s victory in the battle of Arsal confused not only Lebanese society for the huge support it received among the majority of the Lebanese, but also the US, whose embassy intelligence officers in Beirut communicate with their Lebanese politicians and friends hostile to Hezbollah in order to discredit the organisation so that these could offer another anti-Hezbollah narrative (confirmed in a communication that was intercepted) . The United States is trying to show the Lebanese army as sufficiently powerful to liberate the territory on its own without any help from Hezbollah, and therefore there would be no need in the future for Hezbollah to remain armed: it therefore should be disarmed.
What Washington apparently does not know is that Hezbollah is excelling, both in military and in the media games-it has more supporters in Lebanon than ever- and that the head of state,President Michel Aoun, will never allow the unity between “the army – the people – the resistance” , approved by the council of ministers as a base to national understanding and a legitimacy to Hezbollah as armed resistance, to be disturbed.
6- The Takfiri“project” to divide the region failed, and it has become a burden on everyone. ISIS and al-Qaeda will be defeated in both Iraq and Syria, and their remnants will no doubt metamorphose into cells without any strategic project, limited to “hit and run and hide” tactics. This has prompted Washington and the countries of the region to stop taking advantage of these organisations (ISIS and al Qaeda in Idlib) and let go of the “regime change” project threatened by the ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell during his visit to Damascus in 2003.This same objective was later adopted by President Barack Obama but again, he failed to achieve it. This shows that the countries of the region lost the war and lost the energy projects (Qatari gas to Europe through Syria) that motivated many countries to get involved in the war in Syria. It also confirms that the Middle East will not now witness countries capable of fuelling any future war- they did not succeed in splitting Syria and they failed to divide Iraq. However they unfortunately did not fail to destroy the infrastructure of two countries, they permitted the killing of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, and they failed to prevent the displacement of millions-all this without achieving a single strategic goal.
7. It is likely that the countries of the region will be mobilised and will pay money to fight Hezbollah and support Israel’s strike against it. But Tel Aviv is most unlikely to be involved in such an ill-conceived adventure because it is not confronting the Hezbollah of the year 2000 that forced Israel to pull out of Lebanon, or even a Hezbollah of the year 2006 that managed to prevent it from achieving its objectives. It is indeed confronting a Hezbollah of 2017 or 2018, which has built considerable experience and trained thousands of the special forces who took part in the most difficult battles in Syria and Iraq.
Yes, Israel and Hezbollah can inflict serious damage on each other in any future war, and this is what both parties are aware of. The question is: how much is the destruction of a city or cities and the killing and wounding of a large number of Israelis worth in the eyes of the government in Tel Aviv? Is there a price equal to that? Hezbollah has not hesitated to show many of its military capabilities deliberately, with the aim of sending messages understood by Israel (most recently a volcano rocket developed to carry 1000 kg of explosives used during the battle against Al Qaeda in Arsal). Moreover, it revealed to Israeli drones new precision long range missiles and silos underground and in the mountains on the Syrian border, and left the Israeli imagination to think about the advanced armed drones, and the anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
As for Syria, Hezbollah has relaxed on the border fronts between Lebanon and Syria, and it has ended the battle of al-Badia (recovering the entire Suweida province from the Free Syrian Army and al-Qaeda) to remain operational in the Damascus rural area, Raqqa, Al-Sokhna, Deir Al-Zour and the borders with Iraq. Its command has reduced the number of permanent forces in Syria to less than 5,000 today. This gives Hezbollah the freedom to respond to any Israeli strike on its convoys in the future, because it is no longer in an uncomfortable position. It operates within a strong and renewed Syrian army with the presence of Russian jets fully coordinated with ground forces, while Moscow’s diplomacy is successfully working to close down several fronts north and south in order to impose a cease-fire or impose de-escalation zones in Syria.
Iran is not looking for a war against Israel (despite its opposition to the Russian-American-Israeli agreement in southern Syria) or a war against the United States. Most of what Tehran and its allies are looking for is to be considered as partners in the region and not as tools or as people who have to take the blows to defend themselves. If these signs of consideration are not forthcoming, then, the “axis of resistance” will be strengthened today more than ever. Neither America nor the countries of the region will be able to achieve in terms of peace what they have already failed to achieve in six years of war and by exploiting terrorist organisations.
Washington has lost its unilateral dominance of the region and, because of its policy and its intention to change regimes, has brought a very strong and determined Russia to the Middle East to stay, without being able to turn the clock back. It is indeed a “new Middle East”, not as it was once conceived by Condoleezza Rice, but as constructed and fought over by the new “Russian-Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian-Hezbollah” crescent.