Monthly Archives: May 2017

Eliminating ISIS is top priority for Damascus and its allies: The Military operations in Iraq and Syria are being harmonised


Published here:  via 

Key words: Syria, Iraq, Russia, USA, Iran, Turkey, Hezbollah, ISIS, ISIL

By Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai

Just as military activities have quieted on most fronts between the soldiers of Damascus and the Syrian rebels supported by al-Qaeda (Hay’atTahrir al-Sham) following the Astana agreement imposed by Russia, Turkey and Iran, more than 40,000 soldiers and elite special forces of Damascus and its allies – supported by Russian Air Force and Special Forces in the ground – started a large scale military operation against “Islamic State” (ISIS), the biggest of its kind in all these years of war.

These forces attacked ISIS on 3 fronts: from Suweida south; within al Badiya (the Syrian steppe) in mid-east Syria and south of Tamdur, Palmyra, towards al-Sukhna and Qaryateyn; and south of al-Jarrah military airport to secure Khanaser road once for all. The aim was to recover the largest territory possible from ISIS and to close all roads to the US plans to divide, not only the north east of Syria, but also the Syrian steppe and to create a “buffer zone” for Israel with Jordanian consensus and participation.

Moreover, this large military operation in Syria is advancing hand in hand, in full harmony, with the ongoing one in Iraq, against ISIS, where the Iraqi security forces – the 19 brigades of the Popular Mobilisation Units – have reached the Syrian-Iraqi borders on Umm Jreis (west of Mosul) and are planning to build a long wall along the Syrian-Iraqi borders and take control of the line of the border starting from the province of Nineveh (Sinjar) to the province of Anbar and up to the crossing border point in al-Qaem/albu Kamal.

The Syrian-Iraqi plans aim to disrupt Washington’s attempt to close the borders between Iraq and Syria and establish a base for a Syrian proxy group on al-Tanaf. This is one of the reasons why the US bombed Syrian allies forces at 45 km from al-Tanaf crossing when these engaged with the US proxies and managed to take hold of a fully equipped US command and control vehicle. Syrian allied forces attacked and overwhelmed the US proxies close to al-Tanaf borders when the US jet attacked and destroyed the vehicle even whilst it was being inspected, killing 6 militants.

The US forces are aware of the impossibility of holding on to this crossing point (al-Tanaf) for very long: the Iraqi forces are quickly advancing along the borders and will encounter the Syrian forces on the other side. This is exactly what Washington hoped, in vain, to avoid.

Thus, America’s plan did not last long, especially since its Syrian allies – if they wanted to give them the control of the border between Syria and Iraq – are characterized by a sectarian bias that is not commensurate with trading between the two countries and especially the plurality of sectarianism in Mesopotamia. Therefore, any Syrian sectarian forces of the United States cannot stand for long on the border because their presence will undoubtedly cause a military confrontation between them and the Iraqi forces- sooner or later.

Russia, Syria, Iran and Iraq have agreed to coordinate their forces to ensure that there is no “return” to Iraq for ISIS and its elimination in Syria and the failure of any plan to keep the border between the Levant and Mesopotamia closed. America is well aware of the extent of ISIS weaknesses and attempts to take as much of the Syrian territory as possible to pass it on to the enemies of Damascus and impose the partition of the country and a political swap in exchange for the territory. However, Damascus’ allies are also determined to deal with the US troops in Iraq and Syria when the war ends and the threat to Syria’s stability becomes irrelevant.

The Syrian army and its allies manoeuvre today with around 40,000 men with its allied forces, with the Syrian and Russian Air Force coverage, while the United States, Britain and Jordan, manoeuvre with 4000-5000 armed men operating within the Syrian Badia (steppe) from Suwayda to the Al-Tanf crossing with Jordan and US providing air support. All in a race to conquer the largest territory possible, taking it from the weakened ISIS.

Moscow has committed itself to backing up its allies while facing the US plan in the Syrian steppe, by providing all necessary support to preserve the territory retaken from ISIS (over 12,500 square Kilometres – larger than the surface of Lebanon) during the last ten days of continuous military operations.In this steppe there are oil wells, mines and other raw materials that Moscow began to exploit to extract oil and use it in the Levant for military purposes.

It is certain that American forces will never know long-term stability in Syria. This is due to the following:

  • Turkey will not accept the growing strength of the Kurds in Syria and is prepared for subversive military action against America in the Levant which threatens the stability of Ankara, for the sake of its national security interest.
  • Iran has dealt with the US occupation of Iraq and is waiting for an opportune moment to repeat the same action in Syria, especially as it has already formed a popular Syrian resistance base similar to that of the Lebanese Hezbollah.
  • Moscow wouldn’t be against seeingthe United Statessink into the Syrian quagmire, especially as the taste of its defeat in Afghanistan (and the role of the US in it) is still a nasty taste in the mouth of the Kremlin.

The Syrian opposition and Al-Qaeda are waiting for a political solution that could end the hostilities for years,a solution to deal with the Syrian crisis or even an internal uprising against al-Qaeda and its strict Islamic rules – which will certainly not fit the lives of many Syrians living in the northern city of Idlib when the war ends. A solution to achieve with the support of Turkey and Russia.

Has Russia asked Hezbollah to leave Syria?


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Damascus, by Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai

There has been a lot of media coverage claiming that Russia has requested the Lebanese Hezbollah to leave Syrian territory, speculation initiated following Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah’s announcement of the withdrawal of his men from the Lebanese border, with the exception of the outskirts of the city of Arsal. Nasrallah asked the Lebanese army to fill the vacuum from the Lebanese side (Hezbollah won’t pull out of the Syrian side) and that prompted some media and analysts to conclude that Moscow no longer wants Hezbollah to remain in the Levant. Is this theory close to reality?

The border area between Lebanon and Syria, controlled by Hezbollah and the Syrian army, is under the gaze of Israel because it represents Hezbollah’s new base:, it hosts Hezbollah “Al Ridwan” elite forces, and its strategic missile silos are dug into the mountains and fortified in the caves all along the 130 kilometre border area. The area was a heavy burden on the Hezbollah military apparatus, forcing it to create new roads, fortify dozens of sites and find adequate shelter for its strategic missiles – the M 600 and the new version of its Iran-made “Al-Fateh” missiles – inside the mountains. Moreover, Hezbollah has operated in the area for the last 3 years throughout the summer and the winter, even on peaks of up to 2,500 meters, a significant drain on its already significant monthly budget.

More than 500 al-Qaeda and rebel fighters were deployed in this same area, apart from the presence of ISIS (The “Islamic State” group). These forced Hezbollah to deploy at least 5,000 fighters just to that area. Additionally, Hezbollah used drones, set up dozens of ambushes and positioned IEDs to hunt down its enemies and tighten the control over a significantly difficult geographical area.

After many years of war, Hezbollah managed to control a large part of the region: this means al-Qaeda, ISIS and the rebels would have been left without any military gain had these decided to stay in the area.

When most Syrian areas along the borders with Lebanon -in the Qalamoun and Zabadani mainly- agreed a settlement with the Syrian leadership in Damascus; and (following the agreement of the parties in the war in Syria on the rebel side) agreed – under the auspices of Russia, Turkey and Iran – to “stop fighting and leave the area (only those willing to leave to Idlib, while many Syrians preferred to stay in their cities) it was no longer possible for rebels and jihadists to keep up the fight.

This coincides with the request of Moscow for the Hezbollah leadership to increase the number of “Ridwan” forces and to push these men towards the Syrian semi-desert steppe: that was possible for Hezbollah, following the end of the military operation in the border area.

Hezbollah’s military activity on the eastern chain was difficult and painful. Huge budgets were invested to allow men to operate and fight in the area. Today, however, the threat has almost ended. Most of the Hezbollah forces have moved to other areas inside Syria.

The “Ridwan” Hezbollah forces, along with hundreds of Russian special forces and the Syrian army and its proxies, are now fighting to recover the oil fields (exploited by Russia in Syria) and to stop the American-British-Jordanian project to create a “buffer zone” starting from the Suweida and Daraa governed territories and extending towards the Iraqi border, Deir al-Zour from Palmyra to Sukhna.

It is clear that the US – which supports the progress of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) made up of Kurds and of Arab tribes under the Kurdish leadership in the northeast of Syria – is not yet ready to guide its proxies towards the city of Deir Al-Zour, besieged as it is by ISIS. ISIS is indeed crumbling in Iraq and Syria but not yet that weak in Deir Al-Zour province, and especially not in the Syrian Badia (steppe).

Russia, Damascus and their allies are headed towards Deir Al-Zour, regardless of the US and their proxies rebels forces’ plan to control the Syrian steppe and the city of Deir Al-Zour (which host large numbers of Syrian Army officers and soldiers, along with Hezbollah Special Forces). Moreover, Damascus has sent a clear signal to Amman, a threat that it would consider the Jordanian forces as enemies if these set foot on Syrian soil in support of the US and its Syrian proxies. This clear and direct menace stopped the American-British-Jordanian progress and has put these forces in an awkward position with the Damascus authorities.

The Hezbollah “Ridwan” Special Forces were therefore pushed into the battles of Deir Al-Zour, al-Sukhna, al-Raqqah, and Daraa in order to recover the area around these cities and locations, but above all, to spoil the US plans to occupy the North- east of Syria.

As for Russia, its forces and Generals are closely watching the Syrian battles, especially those waged by the Lebanese Hezbollah. Russian officers draw military lessons and know-how from the performance of the “Ridwan” special forces and the quality and effectiveness of the weapons and the tactics used, specially after Hezbollah’s accumulated experience in the long war with Israel and its multi-level wars in Syria where they faced forces pursuing a variety of well-developed methods and ideologies.

Russia has never had a similar battle in its history, so there is a widespread interest expressed by a heavy presence of experts on all fronts. This is not only to seek air support and to participate in the fighting, but – indeed – also to watch the fights.

Hezbollah has succeeded in changing the equation in Syria in conjunction with the Russian and Syrian air forces and has carried out several major battles., the most important of which were the battles of Aleppo, Homs, Hama, and those on the Syrian-Lebanese borders (Al-Qalamoun and Zabadani), al-Quseyr, the various Lattakia axes, around Damascus at Qaboun, Barza, WadiBarada and Madaya.

Because the end of military operations on the Syrian-Lebanese border is nigh, Hezbollah has managed to direct more than 20,000 troops to other internal but strategic fronts. The fronts around Damascus and Zabadani also allowed more than 10,000 Syrian troops to be moved to “hotter” areas.

Sources connected with decision makers in Syria confirmed that Hezbollah is building up greater forces in Syria to reach an unprecedented level, supported by huge logistic supply lines to accompany the fighting force. Significant military plans are being prepared for after the forthcoming month of Ramadan to end the presence of al-Qaeda and ISIS militants around Arsal city. These militants will be offered the chance to leave and join Idlib or fight to the end on the Syrian-Lebanese border, an area excluded from the Astana-Kazakhstan negotiations.

If Hezbollah withdraws from the Lebanese border, it will not leave the Syrian side of the borders where it has established static positions, military training cities, and sites for its weapons involved in any forthcoming war with Israel. Syria has become directly involved in this particular Hezbollah-Israel conflict. Hezbollah has also introduced the concept of “the Syrian resistance” in the ideology,: this has become a reality that Israel will find difficult to ignore in the near future when the war in Syria ends.

The “Shiite Crescent,” which extends from Tehran – Baghdad -Damascus and continues to Beirut, is not related to a certain geographical line crossing through this or that capital, as some sources imagine. It is in fact a “project” that materialised with the US invasion to Iraq in 2003 and following the ISIS occupation of Mosul in 2014. These events strengthened this virtual link without weakening it at all. This indicates that only ending the Middle East conflicts will make long-term stability possible in the area. The presence of the US occupation forces in North and northeast Syria will only create more conflict, reminding everyone of the Iraqi insurgency memory regarding Mesopotamia. The United States is clearly unwilling or unable to learn from history.

The US-Russia race in Syria: towards a military confrontation?


Military operations on the Iraqi-Syrian borders will close all roads to ISIS

Published here:  via

Key words: USA, US, Russia, Moscow, Washington, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Iraq.

By Elijah J. Magnier – @EjmAlrai

Moscow and Damascus prepare their respective forces – and those of their allies – to initiate aggressive multi-objective battles directed towards the Syrian-Iraqi borders (and towards Deir-ezzour). These take place at the same time as the Iraqi forces initiate a battle not far from the Syrian borders, in the Iraqi western desert, as Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has announced.

The new Iraqi battles – supported by the US and coalition forces – aim to secure the border triangle up to the Jordanian borders or Ratba, including the Iraqi-Syrian borders once the cities of Ana and Rawa are liberated. Other battles, without coalition support, are expected to be carried out by the Iraqi forces of “Hashd al-Sha’bi” (Popular Mobilisation Units- PMU), heading towards al-Ba’aj, and closing all routes between Iraq and Syria.

The various battles on both sides of the borders have another objective: to protect the backs of the US forces and their Syrian proxies present at al-Tanaf crossing (on the Syrian side). This also helps to meet the advance of the US Special Operation Forces and the Kurds of the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) advancing towards al-Qaem and already only dozens of kilometres from their objective.

These advances will put the “Islamic State” group (ISIS) between two fires on both sides of the Syrian and the Iraqi borders: militants will have no other alternative but to fight or die, to surrender or escape into the Anbar and Syrian deserts. Other may seek refuge with al-Qaeda group (under the name of Hay’atTahrir al-Sham) – also facing serious extermination once ISIS is wiped out from the territories it has controlled since 2014.

On the other hand, Moscow, Damascus and Tehran, including all their respective allies, have started multi-front battles in the east south, middle and north of Syria to counter the US plans. A large number of allies’ forces were pushed into the front line to prepare for the forthcoming battle against the US and their proxies on the various fronts:

-The Deir-ezzour front: Both Washington and Moscow announced their will to reach the besieged city of Deir-ezzour (each for its own purpose and with its own allied forces), to break ISIS lines surrounding the city. Nevertheless, the US’s chances are slim because the Syrian Army and its allies have defended the north-eastern city for years, preventing it from falling into the hands of ISIS or any other force advancing towards the city. Therefore it is most likely that Moscow will imposes the momentum in the area, otherwise it may not be possible to avoid a military confrontation between the two superpowers. Neither Washington nor Moscow seem ready to be dragged into a larger war over the control of one Syrian city.

-Towards al-Tanaf crossing: There are already US Special Operation Forces and their Syrian proxies present on the Syrian-Iraqi crossing point. Al-Tanaf is situated in a large open desert, used only as a border point between the two countries. Moscow is also determined to reach it and recover it, with the support of its allied ground forces, putting Washington again in an awkward situation. The US has to coordinate with Russia or it will be forced to pull out from al-Tanaf, even if its Syrian proxies decide to hold and defend their position. Al-Tanaf represents another issue from the logistics point of view: the forces who control it need regular logistics and supply lines, weapons and vital survival support. This will be a challenge for any force willing to occupy it.


-Al Badiya al-Surya (The Syrian steppe): On this front, the US-Jordanian proxies are advancing from the provinces of Daraa and Suweida southeast Syria in the Syrian semi-desert steppe. The Syrian Army started its air bombing on these forces to prevent them from advancing towards al-Tanaf or to close with the Syrian Army troops in Palmyra (Tadmur). Once more, the US and Russia (along with Damascus and Tehran) are confronting each other on Syrian soil: too many dangerously conflicting areas and interests.

Thus, under the title “defeating ISIS”, the multiple battles and the confrontation of forces present themselves fundamentally as a confrontation between the two superpowers. There are Special Operation Forces of both Russia and the US in Syria where both support their proxies, guide their military operations, call for air support, coordinate with their respective operation rooms and- ultimately-  end up facing each other.

The forthcoming battles will be taking place outside the “de-conflict zones” agreed by Moscow, Ankara and Tehran in Astana-Kazakhstan (with US representatives acting as observers). The Syrian steppes, Deir-ezzour, al-Tanaf, al-Qaem and Raqqah were all excluded from the deal. Moscow is giving its priority to the “borders battle” – responding also to the will of the allies that form the “axis of the resistance” –following the visit of the Iraqi PMU Leader, Faleh al-Fay’yad, who informed Damascus and Beirut (Hezbollah) about the Prime Minister Abadi’s plans “suggested” by the Americans.

This is why – according to sources within the Prime Minister’s office – Baghdad started the Tanaf – Qaem – Ba’aj battle, following pressure exerted by the US military command stationed in Iraq. Such a request rings bells among the leadership in Syria, confirming that Washington is preparing for the phase after the war to spread its control into various territories in Syria, including border areas, under the pretext of “defeating ISIS”. This Salafi-Jihadi group is in its final chapter and everybody in Mesopotamia and Bilad al-Sham is racing to take over its territories. ISIS, the once glorious that broke the Sykes-Picot borders and occupied vast territories in 2014 is crumbling on all fronts!

Thus, these military operations with multiple objectives will aim to draw a line between the two superpowers in Syria, hinting in effect that the war is going to end, although al-Qaeda (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) can still play a destructive role. This group has been excluded from any deal, even if the city it is mainly occupying has been included in the de-conflict areas (as requested by Turkey and agreed by Damascus, Russia and Tehran). However, al-Qaeda itself rejected the Astana deal and considered any rebel group signing the deal worthy of being killed on the spot.

It is not the first time that both Russia and the US are racing for the control of a single territory (cf. Berlin at the end of the second World War). This race today emphasises that Syria will no doubt face partition. Nevertheless, the presence of occupation forces on its land doesn’t mean these will be spared: Tehran, Damascus and Hezbollah all vow to attack these forces. Would Russia allow this to happen to the US forces or it would just sit back and watch its opponent get hit in Bilad al-Sham?

The “axis of resistance” has other projects and objectives too, starting from dealing with the Israeli forces on the occupied Golan heights to the US forces in the northeast and east of Syria, not forgetting the danger both ISIS and al-Qaeda still represent, even if they are defeated in Syria. Stability in the Middle East is still far from being achieved.

US and Russia compete in Syria on “reducing escalation” and “safe zones”

The “Shiite Crescent” will not break at Al-Tanaf and al-Bu Kamal border crossing

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Damascus By Elijah J. Magnier: 

There is no doubt that the main players (Russia and America) are competing in Syria to secure their interests and the interests of their allies in a country that was once, before 2011, called the Levant; the unity of that country is now uncertain. The partition of Syria between the two superpowers (and Turkey) seems somehow unambiguous and the sorting of the population – according to allegiance, not according to religion – casts a threatening shadow. The war in Syria is not primarily a religious sectarian war but a war for power and control.

The Syrian Sunnis represent more than 70 per cent of Syria’s population. Many support the government, live under its protection, within its controlled area, along with other religions and atheists. The majority of these fight within the Syrian Army ranks and are killed defending the unity of the country. Other Syrians abandoned the army and their country, while others decided to fight against Damascus and live in rebel and jihadist-controlled areas. These rebel and Jihadists controlled-areas host only Sunni and will not tolerate other religions, yet, with the exception of the south of Syria (Suweida’) and other smaller pockets, they had been tolerated up till today.

There are millions of refugees and internally displaced Syrians who will remain as such for many years to come. Whoever is fighting in Syria alongside with both belligerents cannot change the demographic structure of the population and the Sunnis will remain a majority, with around 13 million out of 18.5 million Syrians.

Even yesterday’s allies, such as the Syrian pro-Saudi Arabia rebels, “the Army of Islam”, Jihadists of “Faylaq al-rahman” and al-Qaeda (Hay’atTahrir al-Sham) are now fighting each other for the control of al-Ghouta, around Damascus. The continuous infighting among Sunni rebels for the control of the north of Syria and rural Damascus hasn’t stopped throughout these last years, whereas no infighting has been registered in the area under Damascus’s control since the beginning of the war.

Russia and the US are careless about Syrian infighting, they don’t take it seriously (enough): Washington is aiming for multi-faceted “buffer zones”, while Moscow wants “de-conflict areas” that allow a possible rapid and possibly permanent stability in Syria to ensure the safety of its troops, especially now that it has ensured a window to the Middle East and direct long term access to warm waters (the Mediterranean,) that also flank Turkey – a NATO country! The de-conflict areas deal discussed in Astana- Kazakhstan (several meetings were previously held in Tehran in this regard) helps Russia to initiate a new phase, following the cease-fire last year, to try and really establish it and keep the initiative under its control.


The United States “buffer zones”:

The Syrian steppe or al-Badia al-Surya, is where US forces, backed by Syrian forces’ proxies from the “Maghaweer al-Thawra” are trying to take control of various scattered areas and villages in the semi-desert south-east part of Syria. These have reached the Syrian-Iraqi border crossing of al-Tanaf and are heading towards al-Bu Qamal. While Russia clearly expressed its determination to stop the US proxies from controlling, not only al-Tanaf crossing, but also the main city of Deer-ezzour, creating a real clash of interest between Moscow and Washington in Syria.

Special Forces from Washington and London trained these Syrian groups with the help of Jordan and launched these from the borders of Daraa and Suwayda (on the Jordanian-Syrian border) with the aim of cutting the road for the “Iraqi Popular Mobilisation Units” (PMU) coming from Iraq. The west – and Saudi Arabia – fears the PMU intention to push forces into the Syrian territory in support of the besieged city of Deir-ezzour and to defeat the “Islamic State,” (ISIS) besieging the city for years. But according to decision makers in Baghdad, the decision has been made: no PMU forces are to cross Syrian borders. The PMU is made of almost 60% Shia and around 40% Sunni, Turkman and other Iraqi minorities, reflecting the exact composition of the Iraqi demography (and Parliament). Those who joined the PMU are now under the Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s direct command. Abadi has no intention of following ISIS beyond the Iraqi borders unless the group uses Syria as a platform to attack Iraq. Only if and when ISIS is defeated in Iraq, and with the consensus of Damascus, can Baghdad forces hit ISIS beyond its national borders. The 19 brigades of the PMU cannot behave as an independent body since they have been incorporated within the Iraqi security forces structure. Those groups who fight along with the PMU and are volunteers, but belong to Iraqi political groups, are not part of the PMU body and could move to Syria, depending on Damascus’s needs.

Sources in Baghdad said, “Iraqi security forces can pursue ISIS on land or air only if and when the Prime Minister gives orders to do so. If ISIS attacks Iraq from Syrian territory, Baghdad will seek Damascus’s approval to hit ISIS. This happened before and can happen in the future”.

Thus, the “Shiite Crescent” feared by Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia can be cut geographically but in fact neither morally nor effectively, because the cooperation between Baghdad – Damascus – Tehran and Beirut exists and will not be stopped by US-UK-Jordanian-Syrian proxies forces on the borders of al-Tanaf and al-Bu Kamal. However, the presence of forces hostile to Damascus on the Iraqi-Syrian border satisfies Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, the deployment of thousands of Syrian pro-US forces in the Syrian steppe – no matter how many they are and how well armed they can be – does not constitute the weight of a military effect: this semi-desert region extends to tens of thousands of square kilometres and was used by ISIS for years, even and during the 2003 US occupation of Iraq, at the time when it was called al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. We may therefore conclude that no force can keep tight control of the Syrian Desert, linked as it is with the desert of Anbar in Iraq, and the Jordanian and the Saudi deserts as well. Moreover, Russia has still a lot to say about this specific area, excluded from the de-escalation zones. Therefore, the Russian and Syrian Air Force have free hands to bomb the area and prevent US proxies from occupying it.


Al-Hasaka and Raqqah Governorates:

Al-Hasaka and Raqqah provinces cover more than 41,000 square kilometres. The US is trying to find a homogenous formula to protect its future long-standing presence in the former Levant (Syria). Therefore, the United States is sending more of its Special Forces to Syria – with the title “military advisers” – and injecting military equipment to arm, train and support the Arab tribal forces and the Kurds. These operate under the label “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF) and have the aim to recover Raqqah province from ISIS and expel the group from the city and its rural area.

However, Washington and its allied Syrian forces are trying to push ISIS inland, south of Raqqah, and more specifically towards Homs province where the Syrian army forces and its allies operate. This US tactic is expected to succeed and to bring a victory to President Donald Trump during his first year in power: Mosul and Raqqah are expected to fall before the end of Trump’s first year in office. Thus, the US president will celebrate his “victory” over ISIS in the two main cities it has occupied for years, without necessarily eliminating that organisation in either Syria and Iraq.

Washington will thus be diverting international attention from its occupation of new territory in Bilad al-Sham with the excuse of “protecting the Kurds, the Arab tribes, and defeating ISIS”. The US is planning to have static military bases in Syria and share its presence in the Levant with Russia, and, in small part, with Turkey which plays a prominent role with the Syrian opposition and Al Qaeda in the north of Syria.

Washington achieves one of its most important objectives (shared by its allies) by finding an area of ​​influence in the heart of the “axis of resistance” (Iran – Hezbollah – Syria) and in the centre of the “Shiite Crescent” (Tehran – Baghdad – Damascus – Beirut). It has created a footprint for its ally Israel inside the Syrian territory (not only on the Syrian border or in the occupied Golan Heights).

However, the battle with the axis is not yet over, it is only the beginning: the US liberated Tehran from Saddam Hussein in 2003 and now it is defeating ISIS, the Shia’s cruellest enemy. Once the war in Syria is over, this axis will have time to reorganise, reassess the situation and deal with the US forces in Syria.

At the moment, the race towards Deir-ezzour – between the US (and its proxies) and Russia (along with the Syrian Army and its allies) – may change Washington’s plans on the Syrian-Iraqi borders. The US aims to cut the borders and control Deir-ezzour, while Russia wants to spoil the US objectives by pushing ground troops from Palmyra towards the same besieged city of Deir-ezzour.

Although Moscow and Washington agreed to regain the suspended de-conflict agreement above Syria lack of trust prevails between the two superpowers. “There is almost no trust between us and Russia, but the US administration will deal with each issue separately starting from Syria. We do not know where this cooperation will lead us.” This was stated by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who made the remarks to staff at the State Department in Washington on May 3 in a wide-ranging presentation about the department’s future under President Donald Trump.




Moscow, in cooperation with Ankara, Tehran and Damascus, reached an agreement in the Kazakh capital of Astana by establishing “de-conflict areas” which include the entire city of Idlib and parts of Aleppo (south-western and north-west), the rural Lattakia, rural Homs and Daraa-Quneitra (south of Syria). This agreement – even if not strictly implemented or not long-lasting in its early stages – has laid the foundation for an important starting point, for all countries involved in the Syrian conflict.

Damascus agreed, and Russia and all the countries that have signed the agreement have engaged to the cessation of hostilities as long as the belligerent parties respect the deal. But above all, Moscow (Iran and Turkey), by imposing a “no-Fly-Zone” against the US over parts of Syria, is saying to Washington: I am in control over (most parts of) Syria.

It is normal that the hostilities do not stop for the day, the week or the first month, especially as Al-Qa’ida (under the name of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham), excluded by this agreement, controls a large part of al-Ghouta (around Damascus) and an important part of rural Homs and Idlib (northern Syria), and areas in the south of Syria. It is natural that al-Qaeda continues to try to achieve its objectives and to continue the war, because peace does not give it fertile ground to continue. It is also not possible to believe that the US will allow Russia and its allies to move in towards the province of Deir-ezzour without a reaction. Nor will it be easy for Turkey to separate the moderate opposition from the jihadists (with more infighting between rebels and jihadists expected). Moreover, the absence of a clear political solution offers few chances for an immediate “cessation of escalation”.

The participants agreed to freeze the Syrian and Russian air forces from bombing those areas (giving everyone a real break) until a comprehensive solution to the war is reached, as long as there are no serious violations of the deal. The de-escalation deal is offering the Syrian Army and its allies a perfect situation to attack both al-Qaeda and ISIS in all areas outside the agreement zones, as well as the US and Turkish proxies outside these designated areas.

It is natural that all parties are tired of this war, which each team considers to have been imposed on it, and will continue fighting as long as the goals are not fulfilled or the backers cease the finance. But a kind of partition between loyalists and opposition has been achieved. The pro-government areas are almost devoid of any opposition. The opposition and jihadists – controlled areas are devoid of any demographic or sectarian diversity, and are dominated by Sunni with multiple loyalties (pro-Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, US). The green buses – the most recent concern the cities along the Syrian-Lebanese borders, al-Wa’ar neighbourhood of Homs, Barca and more similar on-going evacuation around Damascus – have transported all those who wish to disengage from the Syrian government, causing a significant and permanent demographic change that will not recover even if the war ends in the near future.

The Russian “de-conflict areas” face the US “buffer zones” in a situation where the two nuclear superpowers do not trust each other and have opposite plans. But it is likely that Washington and Moscow will agree to divide their areas of influence without their forces colliding with each other, as they did successfully for decades in Berlin after World War II. The military operation is taking place today in several “contested areas”. Damascus, Tehran and Russia are in a race to regain as much territory as possible before any global “cessation of hostilities”.

It is unfortunately to be expected that the Levant will not return to how it was before. Indeed, conflicts are expected to persist on its soil even if the war were to cease tomorrow.


Israel believes the “Islamic State” is an easier neighbour than Hezbollah on its border: is this pragmatic approach justified?



Key words: Syria, Iran, Russia, Israel, Hezbollah, ISIS, Al-Qaeda

Published here:  via

By Elijah J. Magnier: @EjmAlrai

Former Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon says the “Islamic State” (ISIS) had fired at Israel once, but immediately apologised for the shooting.

It seems many Israelis have learned to live with ISIS as a new neighbour: “Extremists are fighting other Syrian factions while Israel is focused on the danger from Iran.”

There is no doubt that Iran is present – with its allies including the Lebanese Hezbollah – firmly on the entire Syrian territory, and bestows great importance to the southern border with Israel. Its ideological and political objectives are oriented towards supporting the Palestinian cause and most groups or organisations that want to “liberate their land or fight against the oppressor”. This section, in Iran, falls under the command of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard- Al Quds brigade(the Jerusalem Brigade) headed by General Qassem Soleimani. Under Soleimani’s jurisdiction falls the management and full support (finance, military and intelligence) of organisations in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and including Palestine.

The south of Syria attracts special attention towards its geopolitical peculiarity where Israel is eying an addition “buffer zone” to the already occupied Golan heights, supported by the new US administration. The Syrian south is an extension of southern Lebanon: from Naqoura to Marbaka, Kafarkala, Ghajar, Kafrshuba, until reaching the Shebaa Farms where the Syrian territory begins. The Israeli occupied territories give legitimacy to Syria (and specially now after the war years) and to its allies – at the request of the central government in Damascus – to prepare for elite forces that mirror the elite and well trained and experienced Radwan forces in Hezbollah (Ridwan forces regained the control of Homs, around Damascus, Aleppo and operate in most hot areas in Syria). Moreover, Iran has formed 7 brigades and other forces under different religious names. These ended more than eighteen months of intense training and participation in multiple wars in Syria, acquiring distinctive military experience. They have practicedwarfare throughout the years, dealt with artillery cover and preliminary jet bombing, attacked irregular forces but enjoying advanced fighting knowledge and capability. They have also engaged in many locations and battles against the well-experienced militants of “Al-Qaeda” (Hay’at Fatah al-Sham).

Field commanders who participated in many battles against the jihadists speak highly of Al-Qaeda’s determination and excellent training on most fronts and particularly in al-Eiss and during “the battle to lift the siege of the city of Aleppo”.

These commanders say that al-Qaeda is a stubborn, intelligent and expert opponent. Its militants do not easily retreat from their positions unless all means of victory and resistance are closed. On the other hand, ISIS relies only on vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs), suicide attacks and snipers. They are no match for al-Qaeda, say field commanders who fought against both groups in Syria.

Al-Qaeda in Syria uses remote-controlled drones, booby-trapped vehicles, suicide attacks, pre-bombardment and proper systematic military advancements according to thoughtful tactical plans. They are considered the most dangerous fighters on Syrian soil because of their experience mixed with their lack of fear of death, holding a strong ideology, advanced manoeuvring techniques, including the ability to occupy a position regardless of the losses.

Iran looked after the “Hezbollah Syria group” and other more organisations aiming at fighting the enemies of the Syrian government, including Israel. The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is convinced that the occupied Golan will not be returned through peace negotiations but, like Lebanon, by the use of guerrilla attacks. Syria may be in a better position to fight against Israel than a Lebanon divided between those who have declared animosity towards Israel and those who do not want Hezbollah to continue its armed struggle and want to reconcile with Israel to join the other countries of the region that are beginning to show their “privileged” relationship with Tel Aviv.

If Assad is destined to remain in power or even be replaced by another President, the hostility towards Israel may not shift, regardless of the few direct contacts that take place between some opponents of the regime, (with insignificant representation on the ground,) and Israeli officials.

Yes, this is of particular concern to Israel, especially since the arms depots targeted by Israeli jets and missiles at Damascus airport are mostly not destined for the Lebanese Hezbollah but for other local organisations. Hezbollah already suffers from a “deluge” of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles of short, medium, and long range, anti-ship missiles, armed drones, anti-air defence systems and laser guided missiles. Hezbollah is even developing weapons domestically according to the type of the battle to possibly engage against Israel in the future.

And yes, this worries Israel because these “non-state” organisations are supported, trained and supplied by a state. These benefit from the training and experience sharing with Iran and Iranian proxies who fought for over 30 years against Israel and gathered enough knowledge on the enemy style of operation. Of course, the struggle of “brains” between Hezbollah and Israel never stops.

And yes, this worries Israel because these organisations have more experience than ISIS even if the Salafi extremist organisation came from the womb of “Al Qaeda”. Of course, the same Al-Qaeda – before the war in Syria – never had drones, laser guided missiles, oran army of thousands of militants gathered in one single place when it was engaged in guerrilla warfare. But today, in Syria, al-Qaeda is much more experienced, (yet not at the level of Hezbollah).

What Israel is unaware of is the fact that al-Qaeda has changed its policy in Syria to become more flexible – under the leadership of Abu Muhammad al-Julani – and is working on slow empowerment (Tamqeen) and accepts even sending its militants to Israeli hospitals. This move does not mean that Israel has become an ally of al-Qaeda or a friend of ISIS. These organisations operate by priority, like most jihadists ideological organisations. For example, the priority of ISIS is the “near enemy”, occupying the largest territory possible and kilingl the Shia before heading towards Israel. Ayman al-Zawaheri himself warned the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to avoid killing shia in Iraq and to concentrate on attacking the US forces, saying: “Do you know anyone in the history of Islam who managed to exterminate all the Shia”? Zawaheri forgot that there is no opinion to be given for those who do not obey.

Al Qaeda has a military and a political project, is trying to control more territory, and trying to live with other religions or beliefs (for the time being), creating alliances according its needs.

The dispute over the Syrian south has reached a severe stage among the holders of a strong ideology. Israel is taking a tactical advantage from the Sunni-Shiite conflict and therefore the Hezbollah’s struggle against al-Qaeda. But Tel Aviv’s turn is only postponed and its forthcoming troubles are yet to begin.

Conflicts have reached their peak in the Syrian south, where solutions remain elusive. Today, Donald Trump has given the authority in Syria and Iraq to the generals in the Pentagon to decide how many troops they need for their plans in the Levant and Mesopotamia. Thus, America – like Israel – is governed by the military, not by the governments who apparently lead their states. All military options are therefore on the table, making the situation in the Middle East more dangerous than ever. Syria remains a hotbed of conflict even after six years of non-stop war.