Archive for the ‘Syria safe zones’ category

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones

July 5, 2017

Astana Peace Talks Fail over Syrian Safe Zones, DEBKAfile, July 5, 2017

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

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The fifth round of Russian-initiated Syrian peace talks taking place Tuesday, July 4, in the Kazakh capital of Astana was designed to prepare the ground for the Trump-Putin summit Friday on the sidelines of the Hamburg G20 summit, by laying out proposals for deconfliction zones in Syria.

To support this move, Moscow twisted the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad’s arm to declare a unilateral ceasefire in southern Syria.

However, the ploy was soon aborted. The Astana conference quickly broke down when Iran and Turkey, two of the three sponsors along with Russia, rejected the formula for deconfliction zones on Syria’s borders with Iraq, Jordan and Israel, DEBKAfile’s sources report.

Present at Astana along with the three sponsors were leading Syrian opposition and rebel groups, as well as UN envoy for Syrian affairs Staffan de Minstura, US Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones, and Jordanian Foreign Ministry adviser Nawaf Uasfi Tal.

The Iranina and Turkish delegates had no objections to the two demilitarized zones proposed for the Damascus and Homs areas, but withheld their consent for the zones in eastern and southern Syria, and refused to accept the formula for forces policing the latter deconfliction zones, their identity, powers as truce monitors and the types of arms they were allowed to carry.

Iran and Turkey demanded the deployment of their own troops along with Russians in the two safe zones, which border on Israel, Jordan and Iraq, and wanted them armed for “self-defense.” The representatives of the US and Jordan refused, proposing instead that an international force be established to supervise the zones. Turkey and Iran rejected this out of hand.

DEBKAfile’s sources report that the Russians suggested that the discussion be held over for the next session. They then took the Americans by surprise by relocating the sixth session of the Astana conference to Tehran. This too was a measure of the conference’s breakdown as a peace forum. US, Jordanian and Syrian rebel opposition groups will never travel to the Iranian capital to negotiate an end to the Syrian war.

By knuckling under to Tehran on this venue, the Russians have shown their hand as supporters of Iran’s military objectives in Syria, which they have hitherto tried to disguise.

The failure of the Astana peace track calls into question the ceasefire declared on Sunday by Damascus on all the warfronts of southeastern Syria, including the battle for Daraa, 1 km from the Jordanian border, and the fighting for the Quneitra region, just 3 km from Israel’s Golan.  That front was the source of the mortar shells that strayed across the border into the Golan last week.

The ceasefire was supposed to be in effect until midnight on Thursday, June 6, but there is now a possibility that the fighting will resume earlier, perhaps even in the coming hours.

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks

July 3, 2017

Syria declares truce before Trump-Putin talks, DEBKAfile, July 3, 2017

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

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The Syrian army Monday July 3 suddenly declared a ceasefire in the fierce fighting with rebel forces in the southern districts on the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

This was just one of three unexpected events occurring in this embattled part of Syria in the last 24 hours:

1. The ceasefire Damascus said would be in force up until Wednesday, July 6 covers all the active battlefronts in the South: Daraa just 1 km from the Jordanian border: Quneitra – from which Syrian military mortars flew across into the Golan all last week; and Suwaydeh which lies east of Daraa.

Oddly enough, the ceasefire was not announced until Monday afternoon, although it went into effect Sunday midnight without notice.  According to our sources, the Russians most likely had to twist President Bashar Assad’s arm to overcome his refusal to order his army to stop fighting. And then too he would only accept a four-day pause before resuming combat.

2.  The announcement coincided with a meeting of Russian, Turkish and Iranian diplomats in the Kazakh capital of Astana to discuss the carving out of four de-escalation zones in Syria, one of which is southern Syria, where the ceasefire went into force.

3. DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that this step is the first visible sign of an initial understanding reached by American and Russian officers in secret talks Saturday, July 1, in Amman. They discussed the ceasefire in the South for paving the way for establishing a demilitarized zone in eastern Syria.

According to our sources, their understanding covered a 128km strip running from Tabqa in the north up to Karama in the Euphrates River valley. It is not yet clear whether the Syrian army and the pro-Iranian Iraqi and Hizballah forces fighting there will agree to halt their advance on the Syrian-Iraqi border, in compliance with the Russian-US understanding.

The picture beginning to unfold is that Washington and Moscow are making an effort to put in place the outline of a plan for deconfliction zones, in time for the first Trump-Putin encounter that is scheduled for later this week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

However, the two presidents may find pushing hard against them are Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Assad and Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Syrian and Iraqi fronts. This trio is in full momentum of an offensive to seize this prized, bitterly-contested border region of Syria, and convinced that the tide of this offensive is rolling in their favor.

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin

May 6, 2017

Russia’s 4 Syrian ceasefire zones – Kremlin spin, DEBKAfile, May 6, 2017

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

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The widely reported Kremlin plan to set up four safe or “de-escalation” zones, that were supposed to have gone into effect in Syria Friday night, May 5, turns out to be nothing but a propaganda ploy. The spin factor leaps to the eye from the small print of the plan that was released by Gen. Sergey Rudskoy, head of Russian General Staffs Operations Division, Friday night.  He outlined four steps that may never take off.

1. Observation points will be set up to monitor the ceasefire (in the four designated de-escalation zones).

So when the putative safe zones were to have started operating Friday night, there were no observation points to monitor them.

2. The boundaries of the zones will be determined in accordance with the observation points.

This means that the zones don’t exist.

3. By June 4, a working team made up of officers of the three guarantors, Russia, Turkey and Iran, will be created to administer the observation points.

Who can tell what will happen in Syrian in a month’s time.

4. Only after the observation groups of the three sponsor-nations’ armies finish mapping the ceasefire zones can it be determined whether the plan is doable or not.

Still no zones.

The Russian propaganda machine worked overtime this weekend to convince the Western media that the ceasefire zones plan had won the support of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The truth is that US President Donald Trump did not commit himself one way or another when he talked on the phone with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, May 2, although most of their conversation was devoted to Syria, rather than the North Korean crisis. There was no agreement between them on any Syrian issue, except for a decision that American and Russian forces in the war-torn country would stay out of each other’s way.

In sum, Moscow’s ceasefire zones plan, though effectively propagandized, has changed nothing in Syria’s bloody predicament.

With so much still up in the air, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked by phone Friday to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, after which he gave the following statement: “The secretary looks forward to further meetings with the foreign minister to discuss the respective roles of the United States and Russia in de-escalating the conflict and supporting the talks in Geneva to move the political solution forward.”

Tillerson made no mention of any safe zones which Moscow claims to be setting up with Ankara and Tehran, or of the Russian-sponsored Syrian peace conference in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Rebel groups, supposed to be holding a dialogue with Assad regime representatives, walked out of its fourth round last week. And the Trump administration appears unwilling to throw its support behind the Russian-sponsored peace initiative, preferring to stand solidly behind the UN-sponsored Geneva process.

Turkey and Iran, the other two “sponsors” of the Astana framework, and putative “guarantors” of the safe zones, are strangely silent about the roles assigned them by the Kremlin. And no wonder. As rivals in the Syrian arena, their forces are ranged against each other in both Syria and Iraq. It is hard to see them working shoulder to shoulder alongside Russian officers to monitor safety zones which are still pie in the sky.

The situation at the moment is this: In Iraq, Turkish and Iranian troops – essentially pro-Iranian militias under the command of Revolutionary Guards officers – glare at each other across two warfronts, Tel Afar and Sinjar. In Syria, each of their armies is poised to grab Al-Bab in the Aleppo province.

The only real change in Syria’s military situation is a surreptitious one, which may present a fresh, wide-ranging peril: The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah has agreed to place the 8,000 members fighting in Syria for Bashar Assad under direct Iranian command. This is part of a radical reorganization of all the military outfits Iran has deployed in Syria, whereby all the Shiite militias including Hizballah fall henceforth directly under a single centralized Iranian command.

This fundamental shift in the military balance in Syria was initiated by Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Suleiman, commander of Iranian forces in Syria and Iraq. He convinced supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that there was no other way to safeguard Iran’s military supremacy in the Syrian war arena, guarantee a land bridge to Lebanon, or mobilize tactically for future confrontations with Israel.

The Syrian ruler also submitted to this step. Therefore, Hizballah and the Shiite militias will henceforth operate under the orders of the Iranian military mission which has its seat at Syrian High Command Headquarters in Damascus.

This “reorganization” opens the door for Hizballah officers to assume Iranian army uniforms and act as “ceasefire monitors” if Russia’s fictitious safe zones ever get off the ground.

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones

May 3, 2017

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones, DEBKAfile, May 2, 2017

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.

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One of the most consequential exchanges on the disposition of Syria’s border lands with Israel and Jordan – and the future of the Syrian conflict at large – took place between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday, May 2. The call took place when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that the two presidents focused strongly on an effort to agree on how de-escalate the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year and bring it to an end. The Russian leader proposed drawing armistice lines between the warring sides under the guarantee of a special Russian military mechanism. The Americans have not released any ideas, but they are believed to be contemplating establishing safety zones barred to the Syrian air force. One of those zones would be marked out in the south on Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, the Iranian military-political command and Hizballah are resisting US feelers for the introduction of these safe zones, regarding the plan as a ploy hatched by the Saudis, Israelis and Jordanians to take control of South Syria by engaging local Syrian rebel groups as their vehicle. Damascus, Tehran and Beirut believe that if they allow the scheme to go forward without resistance, it will be the start of similar off-limits enclaves in other parts of Syria, and the country will quickly fall apart into self-ruling segments.

That is why late last month, Syrian army units, the Shiite militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers’ command and Hizballah combined their resources to push against the local Syrian rebels of the South in the regions of the borders with Israel and Jordan.

It is doubtful whether Trump and Putin were able to work out something tangible in their first phone conversation since the US fired Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Syrian Shayrat air base on April 7. The Russian president used the shock of that event to cultivate closer ties with the Syrian ruler and strengthen his missile defenses, in case of an American repeat attack or Israeli air strikes on military targets in Syria.

At the same time, Putin becamed more careful about infringing on parts of Syria deemed to be under American influence, especially the Kurdish enclaves.

The US president was also careful not to direct personal attacks on Putin or criticize Russia’s military involvement in Syria, merely expressing the hope that at some point the two powers could reach an understanding to end the vicious conflict.

When reporters in Sochi asked the Russian president if he thought he could sell his plan to Assad, he replied: “A ceasefire is the first priority and cooperation with Washington is critical.”

At the same time, Russia operates in tandem with Turkey and Iran and was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation on all sides,” he said.

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.

Trump-Putin safe zones deal ousts Iran from Syria

January 26, 2017

Trump-Putin safe zones deal ousts Iran from Syria, DEBKAfile, January 26, 2017

syria_safezones

Russia had originally planned to deploy Syrian military, pro-Iranian Shiite militia and Hizballah forces in battles for the capture of land around the cities of Derra and Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan. That plan has been dropped and will be superseded by the deployment in southern Syria of US troops accompanied by Jordanian special forces and Syrian rebels, trained by American instructors in Jordanian military camps.

Israelis will breathe a sigh of relief over the removal of the threat of Iranian and Hizballah forces being deployed along their northern border with Syria.

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Syria stands on the threshold of dramatic changes that will directly impact on the strategic and military situation along the Syrian borders with Israel and Jordan, DEBKAfile reports exclusively. They derive from a deal struck this week by US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to establish US, Russian and Turkish security zones in Syria. This scheme will transfer military control of the country to those three powers. Each of them will be responsible for a zone whose borders will be defined and agreed upon by Washington, Moscow  and Ankara.

As part of this arrangement, all forces from the Iranian military, the pro-Iranian Shiite militias and Hizballah will be required to leave Syria.

The US military is to have two security zones – one covering the entire area east of the Euphrates River up to the Iraqi border including Kurdish areas (see attached map). This arrangement will partly resurrect the accord reached in late 2015 by US President Barack Obama and Putin, for the division of Syria into areas of influence. All territory east of the Euphrates was allocated to the US, with Russia taking responsibility for all areas west of the river until the Mediterranean coast.

Under the new deal, the Turkish area is to stretch about 650 kilometers along the entire Syria-Turkey border and extend between 35 and 50 kilometers into Syrian territory up to Al-Bab, the town where the Turkish military is engaged in its third straight month of fighting for its capture from ISIS.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that the overriding change on the ground will be the establishment of a second US security zone adjacent to Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan. It means that the approximately 7,500 US special operations forces troops currently in Jordan will be shifted northward into southern Syria.

Russia had originally planned to deploy Syrian military, pro-Iranian Shiite militia and Hizballah forces in battles for the capture of land around the cities of Derra and Quneitra on the Syrian side of the Golan. That plan has been dropped and will be superseded by the deployment in southern Syria of US troops accompanied by Jordanian special forces and Syrian rebels, trained by American instructors in Jordanian military camps.

Israelis will breathe a sigh of relief over the removal of the threat of Iranian and Hizballah forces being deployed along their northern border with Syria.

The Trump-Putin deal for Syria and its ramifications are explored in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly (for subscribers) out Friday, with especially attention to the way it leaves Iran and Hizballah high and dry.

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