Monthly Archives: February 2017

Geneva talks doomed: Turkey’s changing position in Syria is pushing Russia into more aggression

 

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The US- Russia relationship over Syria will be blown apart and pushed into opposition

Erdogan is hiding behind Saudi Arabia and mimics the US hostility towards Iran

The Sukhoi return is expected more aggressive than ever

Key words: Syria, Russia, Geneva, USA, Turkey, ISIS, AQ.

By Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai 

After the collapse of 9 months of peace negotiations, Geneva hosts today a meeting about  Syria amid differences between the main regional influential players and an unclear US stance, which will inevitably be reflected in the results of the talks. The main player, Turkey, with troops on the ground in northern Syria, is constantly changing position and plans, creating not only confusion but renewing hostility in the country: a warning of the pessimistic outcome to come.

The US stand:

President Donald Trump’s foreign policy is still unclear, and towards Syria in particular. The US administration has expressed its will to fight terrorism, but mentions only the “Islamic State” (ISIS) group in Syria, and disregarding al-Qaida who are represented by “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (ex-Nusra). Moreover, Trump is expressing his wish to form “safe zones” in the north, asking the Gulf countries to pay for these “zones”. He is also sending military equipment and special forces support for training and guidance to the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). His aim is to push the Kurds, working alongside and leading the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), towards the ISIS Syrian capital in north-east Syria: Raqqah. Nevertheless, the US plan is unclear and doomed for several reasons:

  1. Declaring “war on terrorism” can’t be limited to ISIS. Al-Qaida is well-established and announced its presence in all the Syrian fronts with two-thirds of the forces on each front. The group is against democracy or any election run by the UN or any other establishment. It is also against any peace talks and has already attacked and split the Syrian rebels, leaving these no choice but to join its ranks or join Ahrar al-Sham, the second biggest rebel groups in Syria.
  2. The US can’t combine a support for the YPG and the Turkish forces and an interest in Syria at the same time, specially in relation to the forthcoming attack against Raqqah. Turkey considers the YPG to be a Syrian affiliation of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). This  organisation (not the YPG) is considered terrorist by Turkey as well. The PKK is waging a ruthless military campaign against Ankara, claiming the right to a Kurdish autonomous state within Turkey.
  3. The US plan to “liberate” Raqqah with 10.000 or 20.000 Kurds and Arabs is not a feasible plan. In Mosul, Iraq is pushing forces between 50.000 to 60.000 strong, supported by Iraqi and coalition helicopters and jets to retake Mosul. The battle for Mosul is far from being a piece of cake, any more than Raqqah, even if that Syrian ISIS city is much smaller than the Iraqi one and holds less than half a million civilians.
  4. The US is promoting “safe zones” for immigrants to stay in Syria and refrain from travelling to Europe or the US. Actually, there is no need for a safe zone or zones because the number of displaced Syrians is no longer increasing and quite static at the moment, following the battle of Aleppo. Any safe zone is considered to be part of an American plot to occupy the north-east of Syria and to establish military bases in the country. Such a step will be faced with a harsh response from Damascus and its allies who would be more than happy to revive the 1983 Beirut barracks and attack the American forces, similar to the 2003-2011 Iraq occupation.

Turkey:

Several months ago, the key for the success of any political talks in Syria was the Turkish involvement, due to Ankara’s influence over rebels and jihadists. This is what pushed Iran and Russia to restore their relationship with Ankara and bring it into the Asatan (Kazakhstan) negotiation. Nevertheless, Turkey was unable to bring to the table one of the biggest rebel groups in northern Syria, Ahrar al-Sham.

Following the coup of al-Qaida against groups who participated in the Astana talks, the rebels are more divided than ever, afraid of any move that could increase their partition and make them easy to overwhelm by the Syrian Army and its allies. Nevertheless, Turkey continues its attack on al-Bab (the ISIS stronghold), unable to get a quick victory. But Turkey is changing position and turning its political guns against yesterday’s allies. Ankara understands today that Trump is aggressive toward Iran and gave his blessing to Saudi Arabia. Therefore Erdogan is taking a new position: hiding behind Saudi Arabia, mimicking the US hostility towards Iran and, in consequences, declaring himself  once more against the Syrian President Bashar Assad.

  1. Turkey has harshly attacked Iran, considering it to be the source of terrorism in the region. This shows a real u-turn in Turkish policy that will definitely be reflected in the situation on the ground in Syria. In fact, Damascus and Iran, along with their allies, are pushing forces to counter al-Bab and prevent any expansion of territory of the Turkish forces toward Raqqah.
  2. Turkey is applauding the US plan of “safe zone(s)” only to offer its forces inside the US Trojan horse. This upsets Russia and Damascus, confirming that Turkey, no longer a partner, is disrespectful of the previous commitment to keep Syrian away from partition. Establishing safe zone(s) can only lead to dividing Syria and disrupting the Russian plan to establish itself in a stable united country. Such a move will have serious practical repercussions on the advance of the Turkish forces and their allies in Syria.
  3. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that his forces “will liberate the Syrian town of Manbij”, already liberated from ISIS by the US-backed SDF and YPG Kurdish forces last year. Erdogan’s verbal intention is considered “a pipe dream” by the Syrian government and Russia. Russia considers the Syrian Kurds as potential allies and Damascus is certain that, once the war is over, it will be possible to reach a win-win deal with the Syrian Kurds, keeping the country safe from partition. Damascus will, not only oppose Turkey in this manoeuvre, but is ready to fight back any force advancing towards its army in the north of Syria, particularly the Turkish forces and their proxies at this moment since, as we have seen, Turkey is shifting its policy, veering towards the unknown.
  4. Turkey offered to the US to go to Raqqah: such a plan is far from being possible. The distance between al-Bab and Raqqah is over 200km, and the territory is controlled by the Syrian Army, ISIS and the Kurds (who are considered by Ankara to be terrorists). The performance of the Turkish forces and their proxies in al-Bab is far from being encouraging. Therefore, the Turkish offer to go to Raqqah is unrealistic and unrealisable.

Syria:

The Syrian Army and its allies considered the Astana talks premature but went along with Russia, believing it was possible to reach a global cease-fire and split al-Qaida from other rebels who will join the peace talks. Turkey was unable to bring Ahrar al-Sham around the negotiation table and al-Qaida turned the table on everybody, forcing a return to the combat.

The Syrian Army is moving today on several fronts:

. from al-Bab toward deir-Hafer, to create a demarcation line with Turkey and its proxies and cutting the road toward Raqqah, preventing Turkey and its proxies from occupying further land in northern Syria;

. Palmyra (Tadmur) to regain control of the ancient city and push toward Deir-ezzour and Raqqah from the east. Again, the aim is to prevent any force from reducing the geographic seize of Syria as its is known today;

. Gathering forces on the rural Aleppo fronts to enlarge the control of its forces toward tel el-Eiss and Fua/Kefraya and move toward Idlib, the al-Qaida stronghold.

All this indicates that Russia will find itself engaged in a broad combat before forcing the rebels to sit at the negotiation table and shift Turkey out of its unrealistic “multi-front dream”. Turkey is showing that it is not an adequate partner for Russia and Damascus. It is unstable in its strategy in Syria and its shifting alliance making it untrustworthy. Therefore, a more aggressive Syrian Army will be seen in the coming months on several fronts with the return of the Sukhoi more active than ever. Russia is waiting to see how Trump’s policy materialises in Syria. The Kremlin is refraining from being the initiator of further hostilities so as to avoid a rapid US blow back.

The US policy in Syria seems frantic and far-fetched without efficient powerful allies on the ground, and is unable to retake cities from ISIS with its Kurdish proxies alone. And the “honeymoon” between Washington and Riyadh will certainly have a substantial negative effect on the war in Syria. This will increase the closeness between  Russia and Iran, but the tension between US and Russia is also expected to increase: one side (the US) wants the partition and the other (Russia) wants a unified Syria without al-Qaida and ISIS, and without Turkey occupying the north of Syria and a Saudi Arabia return to the Bilad al-Sham. At this stage one can only speculate on what this clash of incompatible objectives will produce on the ground in Syria.

 

 

 

Hezbollah and Syria will find themselves partnered in any future war against Israel

 

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A war between Israel and Hezbollah will be the most devastating ever for both sides, and what about Russia?

Key words: Israel, Hezbollah, Hizballah, Syria, Iran, Lebanon.

Publish here:    via

Damascus, by Elijah J. Magnier – @EjmAlrai

“Hezbollah and Syria will find themselves partnered in any future war aiming to hit the Iranian proxy in its bases in Lebanon and Syria because they share the same destiny”.

This is what a decision-maker in the Syrian Capital told Al Rai when asked about the reason behind Hezbollah’s escalation threat against Israel issued by Secretary General Sayed Hasan Nasrallah. Nasrallah warned that the Dimona nuclear reactor and ammonia containers in Haifa will be targeted by the hundreds of long range missiles provided by Iran, if Israel decides to go to war against his group.

Hezbollah maintains a solid military presence in Syria with all its various branches and institutions related to the presence of tens of thousands of its militants since 2013. The mountains dividing Lebanon and Syria provide excellent shelter for hosting and protecting the highly destructive Fateh-110 4th generation and other similar solid fuel missiles, which are capable of carrying between 250 to 500 kg of explosive and cover the entire geography of Israel. For years, Hezbollah has been involved in constructing underground shelters for its missiles launchers in Syria, an essential stage that Hezbollah and the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed upon in the case of a future war.

Israel maintains over 200 atomic bombs at the Negev Nuclear Research Centre referred to as the Dimona reactor. This nuclear reactor was built in the 50s with the French assistance, following the Protocol of Sèvres agreement. Israel has never acknowledged its possession of nuclear arms. It was only in 1986 when Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, fled to the United Kingdom, that top-secret evidence about the Israeli’s nuclear facility and capability was revealed.

Iran, Syria and Hezbollah believe the US President Donald Trump is aiming to cripple Iran in the Middle East and is escalating its (for now) verbal attack with the full support of the Middle Eastern countries. This verbal attack may well be translated into serious attacks against Iran proxies in the Middle East but not necessarily a direct attack on Iran. The possibility of a military campaign against Iran is ruled out by Iran’s retaliatory capability, with effects that could seriously damage several countries of the Middle East. It would be more appropriate to attack Hezbollah – it is believed – which represents the main and strongest Iranian arm in the Middle East.

Hezbollah is on the “terror list” of the US, some European countries, but it is feared above all, by Middle Eastern countries, including the Arab League who have it on their own list. Therefore, any attack against Hezbollah would be viewed positively by the main countries of the region (i.e. Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Bahrein) and could also be supported financially. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his speech last September to the United Nations General Assembly: “Many other states in the region recognize that Israel is not their enemy. They recognize that Israel is their ally. Our common enemies are Iran and ISIS (the “Islamic State” terrorist group)”.

“So countries in the Middle East are ready to finance a war against Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization and a spoiler of their plans in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. And Hezbollah’s forces prevented the fall of Damascus in 2013 when al-Qaida and rebels were in the heart of the capital. Hezbollah was and still is the spearhead of forces in Quseyr, Qalamoun, Zabadani, Homs, Aleppo, Lattakia, Daraa- all over the Syrian geography, in fact. The war against ISIS and al-Qaida is far from over. It would be a blow to Syria itself if Hezbollah were attacked and pulled away from the Syrian war. Therefore, there is no doubt that Syria will be part of any war between Israel and Hezbollah,” said the source.

Israel bombed Syria more than 15 times during recent years. It is Syria’s right to retaliate, regardless of the consequences. Targeting Hezbollah means targeting the stability of Syria and the possibility of ending the war in that country”.

Syria and Hezbollah believe that a war with Israel would force Russia to intervene not in favour of one side against the other but to stop the war. A war in Syria would destabilise the Russian plan in Bilad al-Sham, aiming to end the war and establish Russia in the Middle East for at least the next 50 years.

“Hezbollah is not willing to start a war. Nasrallah’s words on “red lines” and his will to target Haifa and Dimona aim at creating a strategic balance: the destruction on both sides would be devastating, therefore it is better to avoid starting a war. It doesn’t mean he wants war. Both sides are aware of the impossibly high loss of life and damage to infrastructure. His words therefore serve as a reminder of the destructive scenario which will ensue if Israel, supported by direct US military assistance and the blessing and finance of Middle Eastern countries, decides to go to war”, said the source.

The Hezbollah threat was indeed on the schedule discussed between Netanyahu and Trump at the White House. Nasrallah believes Trump wants to be part of the history and is focusing on Iran. Hezbollah, representing of Iran’s arm in the Middle East, has lost over 1,600 men and 8,000 wounded in Syria and could be under strain. Therefore, there will be a time (if the US were to be a direct participant in this war) maybe around this coming summer, when the best opportunity presents itself.

This is the scenario that Hezbollah believes feasible, but it can’t be adamant about it happening. The military apparatus in Hezbollah offer Israeli banks of objectives that are constantly updated, and recalled back to Lebanon some of the most experience special forces units, the “Ridwan forces”, freed from several parts of Syria due to reconciliation between the government and rebels around Damascus and in other parts of the country.

The long war in Syria and the presence of a non-hostile (to Hezbollah) new Lebanese President, Michel Aoun have spared Lebanon a much more aggressive Hezbollah approach toward the many hostile groups in Lebanon. This organisation is much stronger than the Lebanese Army or any other non-state group in the Middle East. It is better armed, superior in men and infrastructure, and managed to control a surface larger than Lebanon during its war in Syria. Hezbollah is exerting a very high level of self-control so far, and is navigating in the middle of a boiling Middle East with overwhelming sectarianism. The umbilical cord linked directly to Iran imposes on Hezbollah a state-like behaviour rather than a group or organisational impulsive attitude, domestically. The 7 Mai 2008, when Hezbollah took control of the Lebanese Capital in few hours with minimum casualties was the only moment when Hezbollah showed some of its real strength and demonstrated highly sophisticated planning in the way Beirut was occupied. If  wounded by any war – which is impossible to eliminate because it is embedded in the Shia population and certainly not detached from it – will Hezbollah be able to continue exerting such a control? That is the question!