Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz didn’t wait for the ink to dry on the deal signed by the Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami and his Syrian counterpart Ali Ay’youb “to rebuild the Syrian Army” and warned that his country will attack Iranian forces inside Syria. Moreover, the US vowed to stay in Syria until Iran leaves. Both the US and Israel are aware that Iran will stay in Syria as long as the Syrian government considers its presence crucial to its national security. But the Levant is not the only theatre observing a bras-de-fer between Iran and the US: negotiations over a government in Iraq are heating up, and Iran will not come out a loser to the benefit of the US. Its domestic allies are too strong and therefore some cooperation is needed to form a government. Nevertheless, Sayyed Ali Khamenei remains adamant: no deal with the current US establishment. So, what can we expect in the days to come?
US provocations of Russia and Syria never cease: John Bolton and the US Secretary of State spokesperson said the US will “act very strongly” if Syria uses chemical arms while retaking Idlib. But why would the Syrian Army leadership use chemical bombs in their last battle in the occupied north-east province?
Decision makers in Syria said “To date, Turkey has failed to control or merge Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (aka Nusra) with its other proxies operating in Idlib and surrounding. Russia gave Ankara enough time and a further extension in response to a Turkish request to postpone the attack on Idlib. The only thing Turkey has accomplished is a collaboration with Russia to create a positive environment for reconciliation and for those willing to return to the Syrian controlled areas to leave the city. Nevertheless, jihadists are arresting hundreds of men and threatening that their families should not leave the city. These civilians are used as human shields for Western media to scream louder for international intervention to prevent the liberation of Idlib; it is the jihadists who benefit from this Islamic Emirate safe haven”.
“Today Ankara intelligence officers met with their Russian counterparts to indicate all Turkish positions and those of their allies in the city, and the positions of all jihadists who refuse to lay down their arms. Turkey agreed for Russia and the Syrian Army to uproot al-Nusra, Hurras el-Deen and Liwa’ al-Tawheed and all other jihadists considered out of control by Ankara. The decision for a final assault is to be taken on the 7thof September during the next Summit between presidents Putin, Erdogan and Rouhani in Tehran”, said sources.
“On more than one occasion, Washington said its forces had destroyed all of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. Now Damascus is accused of planning a chemical attack against a city that enjoys an open border with Turkey. Moreover, the US presidential envoy Brett McGurk has described Idlib as the largest AQ safe haven since the events of 9/11. The Syrian Army is gathering all its forces to attack jihadists in rural Latakia and Idlib provinces so that the Syrian government can regain control of all its territory except for that territory occupied by the US. If Idlib is liberated, the US will be the only occupation force with no legal excuse to stay in the country and therefore will be strongly attacked by the international community and at the UN”, continue the sources.
If Damascus was still in possession of chemical weapons, it would be highly counterproductive – with little military effect – for its President to use them against any part of the city of Idlib when the greater part of the army is already in the north, supported by Russian forces (naval bombing, long-range cruise missiles and Air Force), pinpointing specific targets with the complicity of Ankara intelligence.
Over the course of the Syrian war, US drones killed several top al-Qaeda operatives in Idlib (Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, Muhsin al-Fadli and more); the US has identified the city as the centre of operations of the dangerous Khorasan group. Why then would the US support the defence of Idlib and its jihadists?
The sources said: “The US doesn’t give a damn about Idlib and its inhabitants. The countries responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq (to quote one historical example) from 1991 to 2017 don’t develop a sudden crisis of conscience and humanitarian awakening. There is no need to go into the details of the catastrophic horror of Yemen where the US and its allies are responsible for targeting millions of civilians, crimes condemned by the United Nations. We believe the main US goals are:
- Russia has supplied additional anti-missile batteries to the Syrian army to reduce the number of US and Israeli missiles launched against its troops and infrastructure. A US military attack on these defences carries the message: Russia cannot prevent the US from hitting Moscow’s strategic ally (and future allies). US strikes are meant to show the limits of Putin’s power of deterrence; Putin will not start a Third World war for Syria.
- The US would like to reduce the Syrian Army’s capabilities and destroy more Syrian infrastructure so that the cost of rebuilding will be much higher for Syria and its allies.
- Impose on Russia and Iran to negotiate in Geneva (not Astana) over dominance in Syria and other countries (Iraq at top of the list).
The US is sending continuous indirect and direct messages to Damascus, via Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Australia, Italy and other countries. Its aim is above all to isolate Syria from its true allies over the last 7 years of war, i.e. Iran, Hezbollah and Russia. It also wants to see Iran alone, surrounded by enemies and begging for a submissive relationship with Washington. Nevertheless, it has no clear policy in the Middle East but reactive behaviour, defending its hegemony and its unilateral dominance of the Middle East”.
The “regime change” in Syria failed because of the intervention of Iran (and its allies) first and Russia second. The main US objective of distancing Syria from Iran and Hezbollah blew back on the US and its allies. Seven years of war with its devastating consequences for the Levant created a robust bound between Syria on the one hand and Iran and Hezbollah on the other. Also, Hezbollah has created Syrian groups sharing its goal of fighting Israel; the organisation has been asked by President Assad to keep its advisors and intelligence officers in contact with these local groups. The Syrian government understands the need for alternative local forces to stop takfiris and to stand down future Israeli aggression.
Damascus has signed a defence deal with Tehran whereby Iran engages itself to reconstruct the Syrian Army and to offer the latest military technology to Assad.
Moreover, US dominance over Iraq has failed and today, Iran and the US are arm-wrestling face to face over the new Prime Minister and his future policy.
It seems the US’s main concern is not Israel and the occupied Golan Heights. During a meeting of ambassadors and permanent representatives of Russia (July 2018), Vladimir Putin said: “The US establishment is ready to sacrifice the interests of their allies in Europe and the Middle East, in particular, those of the State of Israel. Among other things, we (during the Putin-Trump summit in Helsinki) discussed security at the Golan Heights during the operation in Syria. Apparently, no one is interested in it. They are ready to sacrifice even their own security”.
The US seems unaware of its needs in this part of the Middle East. Its policy shook up Russia and brought the bear out of its long hibernation. Putin’s Russia is stretching its arms beyond the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Afghanistan, reaching as far as Turkey, Europe and many other parts of the world. Russia has become a US economic nightmare via its robust alliance with China, Iran and Turkey. Trump’s embargos are serving to push the entire world to look for an alternative. Meanwhile, Iran is prepared for many years of US embargo but is certainly not ready to talk to the US administration as long as Trump is in power and until he finishes his first, and probably his second mandate.
Despite Trump’s threats, the battle for rural Idlib and Latakia is imminent. It rests on a final decision to be taken in September.