Posted tagged ‘U.S. Syria war’

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders

August 12, 2017

Trump-Putin deal imperils Israeli, Jordan borders, DEBKAfile, August 12, 2017

Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

******************************

The transformation of a small, strategic wedge of land between the Syrian, Israeli, Jordanian and Iraqi borders is going forward apace without arousing much interest – even in Israel, where it should cause the most concern, DEBKAfile reports.

On Wednesday, Aug. 8, two Russian army companies of Ingushet troops from the northern Caucasus set up a command post in the Syrian village of Tal al-Shahm, 13km from Israel’s Golan border. Its commander, Col. Alexei Kozin, has thus taken charge of Syria’s border with Israel. As DEBKAfile reported last month, his task is to set up 10 control checkpoints along that border.

This border area was designated as one of four de-escalation zones agreed on between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7.

According to understandings reached between Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, the UN separation force (UNDOF) will return to its Fawar base opposite Quneitra as a buffer between IDF and Russian forces. Its past history in this role between IDF and Syrian forces was never exactly impressive.

A piece of diplomacy consistent with this process was contributed by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, Aug. 11. It was an assurance that Russia would take into account Israel’s interests in Jerusalem in the framework of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

It also fits in with the surprising statement from Washington on the same day, namely, that Donald Trump, although in the midst of a fearsome crisis with North Korea with military overtones, is planning to send his senior adviser, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Israel-Palestinian peace broker Jason Greenblatt, on an early visit to the Middle East to continue this mission.

To see how these disparate elements fill out the whole picture, we turn 70km east from Quneitra on the Syria Golan to the battles ongoing at Sweida in southeastern Syria opposite the Jordanian and Iraqi borders. Russian troops moved into the key town of Daraa, abutting on the Jordanian border on July 13. Like in Quneitra, a month later, they set up command posts to monitor the first de-escalation or ceasefire zone to be set up under the Hamburg accord.

The Russian troops’ assignment was to stop the fighting there and execute the withdrawal of the combatant forces, the Syrian army, Iran, and its foreign Shiite militias, including Hizballah, to a distance of 40km from the border.

But that arrangement never stood up.

Nearly four weeks later, on Wednesday night, Aug. 9, on the same night that Russian troops moved into Quneitra, the Syrian army and Hizballah launched a major offensive in Sweida province. Three days later, by Saturday, they had forced the local rebel forces to retreat into Jordan and seized 57km of Syria’s southern frontier with the Hashemite Kingdom.

Neither the Russians nor the American interfered with the Syrian-Hizballah-led push, although the Russians took responsibility for maintaining the ceasefire, and US special forces were and still are posted to the east of Sweida at Al-Tanf in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle.

(See attached map)

DEBKAfile’s military sources add that the Syrian-Hizballah offensive violated the ceasefire deal. Local US-backed Syrian rebel groups disbanded without a shot, went over to the Syrian government side and handed in their US-supplied weapons to Syrian army and Hizballah fighters.

The Sweida episode demonstrated how the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah alliance sees its way to using the Trump-Putin ceasefire zones accord as an open door for seizing control of southern Syria and grabbing the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

The Syrian rebel movement is disintegrating at an alarming rate following the “Jubeir earthquake,” as it has become known – another momentous event which Western and Israeli front pages have chosen to ignore.

Last week, Saudi Foreign Mniser Adel al-Jubeir reportedly informed a delegation of Syrian opposition leaders invited to Riyadh that his government was pulling its support from their fighting militias, in the wake of President Trump’s decision to reduce US military action in Syria solely to the war on ISIS – and therefore end US resistance to the Assad regime.

Saudi officials did not deny the report, only termed it “inaccurate.”

But meanwhile, the decisions by Riyadh and Washington to abandon the anti-Assad cause spread like wildfire among Syrian rebel groups. Many responded by laying down their arms and surrendering.

The fate of the rebel movement after six years of cruel warfare against the dictator Bashar Assad should be an object lesson to other recipients of American and Russian promises. Therefore, Lavrov’s pledge to take Israel’s interests in Jerusalem into account should be taken with a pinch of salt. He was most likely shooting a line to allay Israeli skepticism about the prospect of Russian troops keeping Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah troops at bay from its northern border – even through this pledge was underwritten by Washington.

Instead of taking the two powers at their word, Israel need only watch what is going on in the last few hours just across the border at Sweida, to appreciate the value of such promises.

Sooner or later, the Sweida model will be replicated in Quneitra. Neither the Russian troops nor UN peacekeepers will fight to stop it happening. By then, the Syrian rebel groups, in whose support Israel invested for years as a buffer against hostile Syrian, Iranian and Hizballah forces, are already falling apart. Disowned by their Saudi backers, they are being crushed by the US-Russian “de-escalation” steamroller. Israel like Jordan will soon find three hostile forces sitting pretty just across its border, far too close for safety.

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering.

June 19, 2017

Assad and Putin are testing the US in Syria. Trump is answering., Washington ExaminerTom Rogan, June 19, 2017

(Please see also, Missile strike on ISIS turning Iran into a world power. — DM)

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

****************************

On Sunday, an F-18 fighter jet (almost certainly from the Mediterranean-deployed USS George H.W. Bush carrier strike group), downed a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter jet.

It was the right decision for both tactical and strategic reasons.

For a start, the Syrian jet was bombing United States allies (the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces) on the ground. It was warned, but did not retreat.

Yet it’s not just relevant who the Syrians were bombing, it’s also important where they were doing so. Because the Su-22 was striking targets in north-central Syria, proximate to the Islamic State capital, Raqqa, and a town and dam, Taqba.

That locale matters for two reasons.

First, because the Syrian axis (Bashar Assad, Russia, Iran, the Lebanese Hezbollah, and other associated Shiite militias) are determined to displace U.S./allied forces from that area. The Assad axis recognizes that if it secures Taqba, it can push east of the Euphrates river and degrade anti-regime forces operating there with U.S. protection. As I’ve explained, this area of northern Syria is crucial for the future of the Syrian civil war.

Second, had the U.S. allowed axis forces to displace Kurdish forces from the area, the axis would have been able to disrupt the operation to retake Raqqa from the Islamic State. While the axis argue that they support the U.S.-led effort to defeat the Islamic State, the reality is different.

After all, the axis have vested interests in allowing the Islamic State to survive in some form. While the Islamic State is indeed their enemy, its existence allows the axis to pretend that the choice in Syria is between Assad, and the Islamic State and al Qaeda. Russia, especially, uses this narrative to delegitimate and attack more-moderate U.S.-supported Syrian rebel groups. Ever notice that the Russians always claim they are bombing “terrorists” in Syria? The Islamic State gives them that excuse.

Absent the threat of the Islamic State, the axis powers know that the world would view the Syrian regime much more harshly. Absent international jihadist groups in Syria, the regime would no longer be able to claim “we’re the best of a bad bunch.”

Still, there’s a broader issue at stake here.

This latest axis push against U.S. interests is just the tip of the iceberg. As I noted recently, the axis is also threatening a major U.S. base in south-eastern Syria. Collectively, these efforts are designed to test the Trump administration’s commitment to U.S. interests in Syria. Put simply, by escalating their threat against the U.S., and by dangling the prospect of future U.S. casualties, the Assad axis wishes for the Trump administration to back away from its resistance to Assad’s regime. They believe that, as was the case with President Barack Obama’s red lines, the U.S. can ultimately be compelled to yield.

For that reason, the U.S. response on Sunday was the right one.

A two-person U.S. aircrew in an advanced multirole fighter met a Soviet-era aircraft and outmatched it.

The United States remains the world’s sole superpower. Realistic in our appraisal of national interests and prudent in their pursuit, our adversaries must never doubt our resolve.

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.

************************

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.

Who killed Al-Adnani? US, Russia or maybe ISIS?

September 1, 2016

Who killed Al-Adnani? US, Russia or maybe ISIS? DEBKAfile, September 1, 2016

Adnani

While the US has frequently claimed to have liquidated an Islamic terrorist leader, Russia put in its first claim on Aug. 31, when the defense ministry in Moscow announced for the first time that the day before, an SU-34 bomber had killed ISIS senior terrorist mastermind Mohammed Al-Adnani during a high-profile gathering at Maaratat-Umm Khaush near Aleppo.

The claim was worded so as to indicate that Russian intelligence had pulled off a major feat by a hit that took out 40 high-profile operatives.

This claim came 24 hours after a US official said that a Predator drone rocket had hit a car believed to be carrying Adnani near Al-Bab, and that the results were “being assessed” – even though ISIS itself reported that the terrorist leader, tagged as senior spokesman, “was martyred while surveying the operations to repel the military campaigns against Aleppo.”

The Pentagon sources called the Russian version “lies” and “a joke.”

The distance between al-Bab and Maaratat-Umm Khaush is only 28km, but the gap between the American and Russian claims is less immeasurable.

Fighting has escalated around the city in recent weeks, with rebels breaking a siege by government forces and Syrian and Russian warplanes bombing rebel-held areas.

The competing Russian and American claims of a successful aerial-cum-intelligence action against a high-profile ISIS founder-member break new ground in the war on Islamic terror.

Al-Adnani, who was born in 1977 in the northern Syrian town of Banash, was responsible in the past two years for orchestrating terrorist atrocities in Tunisia, Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Nice, Sinai Peninsula and Istanbul, as well as suicide bombings in Baghdad.

Far from being a joke, the cold war dividing Moscow and Washington appears to have spread to the war on Islamist terror and infected the Syrian arena.

The early collaboration between the two powers in the Syrian conflict has broken down. This was admitted on Aug. 26 in Geneva, after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov failed to agree on further military and intelligence cooperation.

Ironically, it is noted by DEBKAfile’s intelligence and counterterrorism sources, that both powers’ clandestine services received intelligence on their target’s movements from the same source.

IsisSpokesman480

That is another first; never before has any Islamic terrorist organization fed the same piece of intelligence to the US and Russia. If that is what happened, it could mean only one thing: that someone in ISIS had decided it was time for Al-Adani to go.

This would be par for the course in the harsh world of jihadist terror organizations, such as Al Qaeda from which ISIS sprung.

When Osama bin Laden, whom US special forces killed in 2011, felt the need to cull the Al-Qaeda leadership of high-profile operatives who had outlived their usefulness or were suffering from fatigue, he would get rid of them by arranging for US intelligence to be tipped off about their whereabouts.

In one notable instance of this purge, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, senior planner of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, was turned in to the CIA in 2003.

If this is what happened to Al-Adani, DEBKAfile’s counterterrorism sources link it to the recent reappearance on the Islamist terrorist scene in Syria three weeks ago of the veteran Al-Qaeda master-terrorist Saif al-Adel with a group of followers.

Al-Adel is rated one of the world’s most dangerous terrorists, with long experience of planning and executing mass-casualty operations stretching back to the 1980s. He is “credited” with the large-scale assaults on the East African US embassies in 1998 and a string of murderous strikes in Saudi Arabia in 2003, some of which hit US targets.

It is not yet known how Al-Adel and his gang reached Syria and for what purpose. They are only known to have crossed the border from Iraq. It is presumed by intelligence watchers of terrorist insider politics that, after deciding that Al-Adnan was a spent asset, ISIS leaders found his replacement.