Would it be too much to ask for NATO to be able to invade Syria, while at the same time demand Iran withdraw its military support totally, under the pressure and threats of a planned US economic blockade of the country, with Russia offering cooperation in compelling Iran to leave its Syrian ally?
It depends who you ask. Certainly the people of Syria are vehemently against a strong supporter being forced out, leaving them vulnerable to a resurgence of terrorist groups currently on the verge of total defeat. If you ask Israel, the answer is a definite yes, as it is the prime architect of a policy presented to the US as essential in rolling back and containing Iran and its alleged malign influence and support of terrorism across the Middle East. The Trump regime marches in lockstep with Israeli desires, reinforced by Trump’s powerful backers at home who insist on total alignment with the objectives of Israel in relation to Iran.
After two days of being left speechless at the belittling and badgering by Donald Trump, NATO state leaders are probably grateful for being able to release a rhetorically unified 79 point declaration at the conclusion of the annual NATO summit.
For Syria, the Brussels Summit Declaration contained one very interesting point, that being number 23, which reads:
- Assurance measures continue to provide the fundamental baseline requirement for assurance and deterrence. In addition, tailored assurance measures for Turkey to respond to the growing security challenges from the south contribute to the security of the Alliance as a whole, and will be fully implemented. We have increased the strength of the NATO Response Force, and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) is ready to deploy on short notice.
What to make of this security challenge from the south, which can be none other than from within Syria. The jihadist controlled province of Idlib abuts a significant portion of Turkey’s border, so this is feasibly what NATO is alluding to. Considering that Turkey has a sizeable presence there, setting up checkpoints as part of the de-escalation agreement and has supported various groups such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which is basically the latest manifestation of Al-Qaeda in Syria, this is not likely what concerns NATO, particularly when alliance members themselves still support Free Syrian Army factions.
Throwing its collective weight behind Turkey in its opposition to Kurdish militias which Turkey sees as an extension of the PKK, would undoubtedly please Recep Tayip Erdogan, but NATO has not shown opposition to Kurdish actions in Syria, neither the YPG or SDF is mentioned in the declaration and the US still supports them in Syria even as it tries to juggle the relationship with Turkey against that with its Kurdish proxies, of late steering toward Turkey with agreement on Turkish control of Afrin and plans for joint effective control of Manbij.
This leaves us with viewing the government of Syria itself, and by extension Syrians as being the problem that presents this security challenge. NATO is full of self-congratulatory pride in guaranteeing the collective security of its members, but once we step outside the alliance, a guarantee of security is not afforded to the sovereign state of Syria.
The impossible to ignore comprehensive support by Turkey to ISIS, Al-Qaeda and FSA groups, trained and armed to enter Syria to fight to overthrow the government of Bashar Al-Assad has never really raised any eyebrows in Brussels. Neither has NATO ever moved to curtail Turkish support for spreading terror and chaos in Syria, this being left to Syrian government forces later joined by Russia, Hezbollah and Iran in a joint effort to confront powerful terrorist forces well equipped and trained not just by Turkey, but also by other NATO members.
The spark that would ignite NATO forces which intend to be “ready to deploy on short notice” is without doubt the use of chemical weapons. To be sure, this would merely be strong accusations and expressions of horror, reinforced as always by duplicitous western media who show total solidarity with their intelligence agencies and governments which they have no interest in holding to account as they parrot their narrative almost without question. Assad is a barrel bombing, chemical weapon using beast in the lexicon of western media and political elites. Therefore it shouldn’t be too hard to concoct a chemical weapon fueled casus belli to put any such plan into action.
No comfort could be taken from relying on the NATO war machine to require overwhelming proof. The farce of Khan Shekhoun saw the White Helmets treating alleged victims of Sarin without bothering to take the life-saving precaution of personal protective equipment, as well as poking around a crater—again without protective equipment — which was the result of a mortar being fired into the ground, not a bomb being dropped from the air.
The evidence of the attack came from testimony by the White Helmets, Al-Qaeda terrorists and activists such as fraudulent Doctor Shajul Islam. The OPCW then violated its own standards by accepting samples for which they had no way of knowing if the chain of custody had been secure. Patients were bought to Turkey by Al-Qaeda terrorists, which raises the question can we be sure of either the adherence to the chain of custody or even who and where these patients came from. Turkey, as a sponsor of terrorist groups and strong opponent to the government of Syria has to be categorically ruled out as an impartial participant. The OPCW went further by not visiting the site, fearing for their safety in areas controlled by terrorist fighters. A fear for security should have translated into not trusting the honesty of the terrorist groups, but the OPCW, keen to show their relevance was willing to breach their standards in accepting material from the opposition groups as a substitute for an on the ground investigation, the lack of which is also a major breach of standards.
The failure to comply with its own standards is clear from the OPCW interim report on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on 7 April. The chemical watchdog says of its sample collection procedures:
All of the environmental samples were collected by the FFM team in the presence of representatives of the Syrian Arab Republic, following the Organisation’s chain-of-custody procedures.
Interestingly, when the OPCW was able to examine the scene of an alleged chemical weapons attack thanks to the provision of security by Syrian and Russian military forces, it found no trace of organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products.
The US led NATO bloc won’t be too disheartened by this setback, pinning their hopes that the chlorinated organic chemicals found will on further investigation be found to be of a molecular structure and in quantities that were weaponized to be used in an attack on Douma.
The United Kingdom, in its quest to further demonize Russia post the Skripal poisoning, managed to gain agreement among a majority of OPCW member states that the body will in future be able to attribute blame for any chemical weapons attacks.
NATO does not directly accuse the Syrian government of using chemical weapons on its own people, but the implication is clear in point 43 of the declaration:
- …Continued use of chemical weapons in Syria, as well as use in Iraq, Malaysia, and the United Kingdom, which we condemn unreservedly, underscore the evolving and increasing WMD threat to the Alliance…. we welcome the decision by the June 2018 OPCW Conference of States Parties, in particular to ask the independent experts of the OPCW Technical Secretariat to put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria…. mitigating the consequences of the full spectrum of the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats, including with trained and rapidly-deployable forces.
Donald Trump’s bombing of Shayrat airbase came less than 72 hours after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Shekhoun. The bombing of several sites across Syria following the Douma allegations took double the time to be conducted, but also incorporated criminal strikes from the US and France and were larger scale than the Shayrat bombing.
It is apparent that any future chemical weapons attack allegations is likely to result in military action by NATO states before any OPCW investigations can be completed, or even started. The NATO declaration may be more rhetoric than reality, but it does trigger concern of a new strategy to prolong the war on Syria and continue to occupy its territory.
On the flip side of any encroachment into Syria by NATO is the talk of an Iranian withdrawal under US pressure and a much discussed Russia/Israel agreement. There is reason to believe the US will try to persuade Russia to push Iran out of Syria at the Trump/Putin summit in Finland.
Before going into any potential deals or so called fracturing of the Syria/Iran/Russia/Hezbollah alliance, the first thing to say is that Iran is in Syria with the agreement and permission of the government. It is an agreement which works for the interests of both countries, Syria valuing the support of a close ally in pushing back against regional and western powers and Iran eager to stem the flow of terrorism across the region, inevitably into Iran itself, to counter the aggression of both Israel and Saudi Arabia and to reduce US malign influence in the Middle East. So therefore, any agreements among other states may not have much impact on the Iran/Syria alliance, although much political, economic and military force is being wielded to pressure Iran to leave. Iran has had a presence in Syria since the 1979 revolution and the strategic ties are deep and enduring. Israel, no longer with an aura of military invincibility needs to get used to the idea that despite good relations with Russia, it can’t deliver the wishes of Benjamin Netanyahu on a plate.
There has been some disagreement among the axis of resistance in Syria, but nevertheless it is not the developing chasm that those in the anti-Assad alliance would have you believe. The online journal, Foreign affairs, a publication of the highly influential, neocon Council on Foreign relations, speculated that the tough action promised by Mike Pompeo may be aided tremendously by “an emerging fracture in the alliance backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
After preposterous reports that Iranian and Hezbollah forces were dressing up in Syrian army uniforms to avoid detection and possible strikes by Israel, Haaretz reported on negotiations being held for the US to close its military base at Al-Tanf in exchange for the withdrawal of Iranian forces from southern Syria.
Apart from the fact that Syria has stated many times that Iran has military advisers in the country, but not military forces, the proposition is far less appealing to Russia than it may have been at the start of 2018. In the last four months, Syrian and allied forces have liberated East Ghouta and Yarmouk, have just liberated the city of Daraa and have opened up the Homs-Hama highway to the public for the first time in seven years.
All this shows that despite repeated air strikes by Israel in support of terrorist groups in the south, US occupation of 30% of Syrian territory, the ongoing supply of weapons and equipment by Israel, the US and its allies to terrorists groups and the to be solved at some point problem of Turkish occupation in the north, the Syrian army is making substantial progress, effectively cutting terrorist occupation to an enclave in Quinetra, ISIS cells spread across the north east, east and south west, and the occupation of Idlib by Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Even the supply of weapons has a positive side, as the SAA has been unearthing cache after cache of weapons as it liberates area after area. These weapons are now the property of the Syrian government, entitling its defense forces to turn them back against NATO and Gulf state sponsored terrorists, a delightful case of poetic justice.
The expanding US occupation of Syria under Donald Trump, the control of oil and gas fields, a willingness to regularly attack Syrian army and its allies positions, as well as Israel’s intensifying air strikes all bode ill for the continuation of the success of anti-terrorist operations, simultaneously boosting the morale of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the knowledge that they had an air force to protect it in its battles with Syrian government forces. Undeterred, the SAA has overcome these attacks and now sits perched on the Golan Heights, a worry for Israel which has illegally occupied this region of Syria for over 50 years.
If you take a look at a map of areas of control in Syria, you will see that Al-Tanf stands out like a sore thumb. The US has failed to stop Syria taking control of its border with Jordan and now sits isolated and vulnerable. It has used the base to train, arm and even rebrand terrorist proxies, sending them to fight Syrian and its allies in direct contradiction to its professed claim to be fighting ISIS. Rumors floated that it was planning to send a contingent of fighters to East Ghouta in March, but obviously that didn’t pan out. Now the US has to face the fact its proxies are somewhat redundant, unable to be deployed in large numbers to campaigns in the surrounding areas. It is time it cut loose and left, not least so that the suffering refugees at Rukban camp can receive vital humanitarian assistance.
Elijah J Magnier writes in an article on the proposed deal that the US agreed to pull out of Al-Tanf and north east Syria in exchange not just for Iran to be kept away from the south west, but to be withdrawn from Syria completely.
”The US will leave al-Tanf crossing and abandon north-east Syria in al-Hasaka and Deirezzour as soon as possible. The only condition is for Russia and Syria to guarantee a total withdrawal of all Iranian forces from the Levant. The US is ready to leave the Kurds and let these continue their negotiation with Damascus. The US establishment will recognise Assad’s authority over Syria but Iran must leave”.
The response, according to Magnier’s sources by Bashar Al-Assad was unequivocal.
Assad responded: “Iranian forces and their allies came to Syria under an official request by the central government and will leave when this government asks the allied forces to leave, and only when all terrorists have been eradicated from the Levant”.
The offer, in the realization that the dirty seven year war on Syria was not working, was too little too late, an attempt at diplomacy by a nation state that doesn’t understand the meaning of the term, raw power being the only tool it has in its increasingly ineffective kit.
“You – said Assad – came to Syria without any permission and occupied our territory. It is therefore our duty to push you out by all means. You shall not obtain by negotiation and peace what you failed to obtain after seven years of war”.
Media in the US—aside from the fact most consider Trump a traitor for meeting with Putin at all—pinned hopes that the Robert Mueller indictment of 12 Russians for hacking the DNC, would gain the US president some leverage in extracting concessions such as an Iran withdrawal. These are forlorn hopes, as Putin is well aware the timing of the indictment is designed to undermine the talks. Putin and his government are tired of hearing about the hacking scandal, focusing on ways to improve bilateral relations. They know the indictment is political theatre, and, speaking of bilateral relations, are developing deeper ties with Tehran, including billions of dollars in investment and trade deals. They also know that any such deal is naïve, as it weakens Syria, is part of the overall plan to destroy Iran through economic warfare, and ultimately weakens Moscow too.
Benjamin Netanyahu has visited Vladimir Putin several times in the past year. Undoubtedly he has had some success in stopping the supply of the S300 missile defense system to Syria, has gained Putin’s tacit agreement to allow Israel to strike Syria at will providing he doesn’t endanger Russian personnel and was even an honored guest at the Victory Day march in Moscow on 9 May. The number of visits indicates Netanyahu’s goals are not all achieved and Russia has not yet agreed to this demand.
Even if Russia were to agree to any US and Israel offers or demands, neither state can be trusted and any agreement would be null and void by a veto by Assad. In recent days the US has committed a civilian massacre near Abukamal and Israel has launched rocket strikes on Syrian military positions north of Nairab airport in Aleppo, which comes hot on the heels of missile strikes against positions in Quinetra, where the SAA is battling the last terrorists that separate them from the Golan Heights
The day after Netanyahu’s most recent meeting with Putin, Ali Akbar Velayati, Senior Adviser to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met the Russian leader. He said Iran’s presence doesn’t depend on Israel. Iran will act in coordination with Syria & Russia in making sure no there is no re-emergence of terrorists. Further, he said Iran is not willing to talk to the US. It can’t be trusted and is beyond negotiation for Iran. He also pointed out the US/Israel/Saudi plan is meant to divide the resistance to US hegemony in Syria and the wider Middle East.
This last point is crucial. The axis of resistance is acting to reduce US influence and aggressive behavior in the Middle East, as well as regional hegemonic plans of Saudi Arabia and Israel, which can only be achieved by maximum damage to Syria, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. In such circumstances the withdrawal of Iran is not going to happen until the forces of terrorism are vanquished in Syria and the axis of evil is foolish to believe otherwise.
— Paul Mansfield
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This largely confirms what is written in “Why Russia Wouldn’t Offer Iran to Israel & the US” at https://journal-neo.org/2018/07/26/why-russia-wouldn-t-offer-iran-to-israel-the-us/
Given Israel’s support for the Daesh terrorists most recently by shooting down the Sukhoi fighter against Syria and Israel’s cold-blooded killing of about 130 Palestinian “right of return” marchers in the last 3 months, and its illegal move of its capital to Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, Putin’s continuing friendship with Netanyahu is of concern to me.
In the case of Israel, I think it is definitely time for Vladimir Putin to “interfere” and call for regime change. Only when Netnayahu and his like are removed from office can there be any hope for lasting peace in Syria.
Apologies, the second paragraph above should have read:
Given Israel’s support for the Daesh terrorists most recently by shooting down the Syrian Sukhoi fighter and killing its pilot, its cold-blooded killing of about 130 Palestinian “right of return” marchers in the last 3 months, and its illegal move of its capital to Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, Putin’s continuing friendship with Netanyahu is of concern to me.