Daraa (Syria) by Elijah J. Magnier: @ejmalrai
The battle for southern Syria is one of the most complicated battles undertaken by the Syrian army and its allies during the seven years of war imposed on the Levant. The beginning of the battle and the decision of Damascus to initiate it, disregarding Israel’s opposition, was largely and exclusively covered in previous articles. This battle is not expected to end soon and for this reason, it was decided by the parties concerned to divide it into two steps, and to postpone the complicated second part bordering Israel pending more “storming talks” between the two superpowers, according to well-informed sources in Daraa.
The first step of the southern battle was agreed between Russia and the US and it generated no opposition from Washington. It is related to Suweida’ province and east and north-east rural Daraa with the aim of reopening the borders with Jordan.
The second step is still on hold. It relates to a part partially bordering Jordan, and the other part in the Quneitra province bordering the Israeli occupied Golan Heights. However, one thing to keep in mind (adding further complication to the matter): at no time and under no circumstances has Russia agreed to avoid hitting ISIS and al-Qaeda or any other jihadist groups. These have never been part of any deal over the Syrian geography, even in northern Idlib where al-Qaeda and the jihadists were left to the care of Turkey to be dismantled or else they will face attacked, after the southern operation, by Russia.
Moscow has vowed to destroy and eliminate terrorist groups for its own national security reasons, since many Russian national jihadists are present in Syria. The fear of jihadists’ spread or the return of these back to their country of origin was one of the main reasons Russia decided to intervene in the Levant in September 2015.
Both Damascus and Moscow will have no restrictions, with or without the consent of the US and Israel, on eliminating ISIS and al-Qaeda in Qunietra. Of course, there are Saudi Arabian and US proxies’ militants spread among jihadists in the same military operational area where the battle is taking place. It will be possible to avoid hitting these only if they detached themselves from those labelled terrorist groups even by U theS State Department.
Commanders on the ground in Daraa said “the US and Russia agreed over the presence of Russian military police on the borders with Jordan and in the southern area (the first part) after its liberation. The end of the battle and the victory of the Syrian Army – of which there is no doubt since jihadists and rebels are panicking, abandoning the villages following mere resistance – will allow the commercial land route between Lebanon-Syria-Jordan to regain intensity, safely, to transport goods to the rest of the Gulf. It is a substantial source of income to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan through the Masna’ borders (between Lebanon and Syria) and Naseeb crossing (between Syria and Jordan)”.
This first part where the battle is taking place in recent days in southern Syria represents no immediate danger to nearby Israel, which is trying everything to prevent the Syrian Army from regaining control of what is Syrian territory and coming closer to the Golan Heights occupied territory.
Even though this section where the war is going on today is actually irrelevant to Israel, the situation represents a real hit to the moral of the jihadists, including the group that was known by the name of al Nusra – ex ISIS and later metamorphosed into AQ franchise in Syria until 2017 – and their allies who were financed, trained and armed for years by the CIA and the British Special Forces in Jordan. These are today fully aware that the US won’t bat an eyelid to get rid of them and drop them when their function is no longer serving the Israeli-US cause. Indeed, over 50 local groups (including those directly financed by Saudi Arabia) have lost any hope of creating change in the leadership in Damascus or in the raising of a strong central government and the rebuilding of the Syrian army.
However, the second part – concerning ISIS militants (an estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 terrorists of Jaish Khaled Bin al-waleed), al Nusra (rebranded the name under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham) and their local allies – is much more delicate because it borders the occupied Golan Heights and triggers Israel’s alarm bells.
Towards the end of last year, both Presidents (Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump) agreed on a de-escalation zone in south Syria to respond to Israel’s interests. It was then, in turn, in the interests of Russia and Damascus to calm down most fronts and reduce the pressure on the Syrian army while it was engaged on multiple fronts against ISIS, al-Qaeda, pro-Saudi, pro-Turkish and pro-American proxies all at the same time.
Today, the patron of Moscow convinced the occupier of the White House to swallow a “sleeping pill” and to divide the operational stage in the south of Syria into two parts, disregarding Israel’s disapproval and imposing its own tempo. The second part is expected to be negotiated during the Putin-Trump meeting due around mid-July, just after the NATO summit in Brussels, as long as jihadists refrain from attacking the Syrian army.
There is no doubt that Israel has a policy and that the US implements it most of the time even when there is no US national interest, in Quneitra, for example. The Israeli-US policy aims to prevent the central government in Damascus from regaining control of the Syrian territory occupied by the terrorists and their allies. Israel did indeed state and confirm on multiple occasions that it prefers the presence of ISIS and al-Qaeda on its borders, offering support to these even if they are, at the same time, on the US terrorist list.
As far as Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah are concerned, even they are present in the Daraa battle, they have no need to remain physically present in Quneitra (after defeating the jihadists) nor on the limits of the occupied Golan Heights on the Syrian side. They are already present at Beit Jin on the Lebanese side and have direct control over the nearby occupied Lebanese Shebaa farm. Nevertheless, the presence of Takferee Wahhabi jihadists on the Israeli-Syrian borders represents – in Tel Aviv’s view – a security factor to the Israeli Army. And Israel would rather not see the Syrian state recovering and eliminating all terrorists and jihadists.
“Israel is playing with fire”, said the source in Daraa, unconcerned about the danger of involving the US in direct clashes. “Israel bombed on Monday night the vicinity of Damascus airport just to say to the Syrian central government it was still a player and could still shuffle the cards in Syria hitting any location without any warning (and any strategic purpose), and therefore its interests should be taken into consideration”.
Israel is provoking Iran and its allies not only in Syria: it is doing the same with the Iraqi security forces so that these respond by opening fire against US soldiers stationed in Syria and Iraq. Last week, unknown jets – claimed by sources in command to be Israeli not US – bombed the Iraqi security command and control position on the Iraqi-Syrian borders, destroying several buildings and killing 22 soldiers and commanders.
In fact, Hashd al-Sha’bi, the Popular Mobilisation Units, who joined the Iraqi Ministries of Interior and Defence in 2017, accused the US jets of the bombing (the US is in control of the sky over the entire area between Syria and Iraq) and swore revenge. The command and control base monitors the movement of ISIS militants daily to prevent these from crossing into Iraq. In response to the Israeli attack, Baghdad ordered more forces to the borders, fearing an attempt by the US and Israel to open a breach for ISIS to sneak into Mesopotamia. Actually, thousands of ISIS militants enjoy the protection of the US forces in the north-east Syria, in the province of al-Hasaka and Deir-ezzour, where also French and British special forces are deployed.
It is not a question of “conspiracy theory” here: the US is protecting ISIS in the north-east and Israel protects ISIS and other jihadists in the south. Both countries are preventing the eradication of terrorist jihadists and are stopping the Syrian army from liberating its own territory. In the meantime, Russia is walking in the middle of a minefield, as if the “war on terror” was the concern of Moscow, Tehran, Damascus and its allies only, and meant nothing to Israel and the US.
The US doesn’t want to leave the occupied al-Tanf crossing with Iraq as requested by Damascus. Washington is happy to see ISIS attacking the Syrian Army and its allies on the only available crossing between Syria and Iraq on al-Qaem. The US and Israel would rather see Syria on its knees, not recovering economically, and see ISIS carrying out insurgency in Iraq which inevitably would destabilise Mesopotamia.
This situation is bringing back the period of insurgency and resistance against the US occupation forces as in 2003 where Iran is today more confident to push its allies to attack US forces in Iraq, particularly since the Iraqi political situation is unstable following the parliamentary elections.
It seems once more that the US is not learning from past experience. Washington is taking off the gloves, and when American politicians use and arm terrorists for their own benefit and that of their allies in the Middle East (particularly Israel), morals and ethics go out of the window, and there are no limits. The US forces and their security can be in serious jeopardy in Syria and Iraq.
Proof read by: Maurice Brasher
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