Jaish al Fatah is an “umbrella” organization of jihadists who fight against the Shiites, but not necessarily against Isis.
Assad’ Syrian Arab Army has completely liberated sixteen suburbs of Aleppo, while the anti-jihadist forces still attack some districts, including Karam al-Tarab and Amiriyah, so as to make Aleppo definitively safe and then move forward towards Idlib, still held by the jihadists.
Obviously Bashar al-Assad’s forces must also harshly oppose the expansion of the Turkish military forces operating in Northern Syria.
Furthermore, the Russian Aerospace Forces keep on bombing the Hama Province.
Finally, Assad’ Syrian Arab Army also fights against Isis in the Eastern region of Homs.
Hence this is the picture of the current situation there.
Nevertheless, some pro-Turkish militants, backed by the Turkish army, have attacked the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Arab Army in the village of Azrak, near Aleppo.
Turkey and the Kurdish YPG have clashed also in Sheik Nazir, Qert Weran and Oshali.
In short, Turkey keeps on creating protection buffer zones also in favour of Isis, which can use the Turkish flank to defend itself from the Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish YPG.
In essence this is the Turkish, Kurdish and jihadist military framework of Greater Syria.
It is worth recalling, however, that on December 1 last President Vladimir Putin adopted the new Russian strategic doctrine.
This changes many factors.
Let us see its main aspects: Russia does not accept NATO’s expansion eastwards; it supports the agreements for a balanced reduction of armaments and it does not accept the “global missile defence system” that the United States are supposed to perfect and finalize within 2020.
In short, it is a doctrine designed to make the global strategic balance increasingly multipolar.
Furthermore Russia does not accept any US attempt to put pressure on it and reserves its right to militarily respond to military actions deemed unfriendly.
With reference to Syria, Russia’s ultimate goal is to build a broad international coalition to be defined within the UN framework.
The explicit fight against the jihad and everybody’s acceptance of a united, independent and intact Syria should be at the basis of this coalition.
The very important aspects of the media policy will be studied separately in another article.
Hence, on the Syrian military ground, the Syrian Arab Army and its Russian and Iranian allies are recording successes in North Aleppo, while the Russian aircrafts are bombing the ISIS rear-lines and have significantly reduced the Isis operating mass and materials.
Hence if the Russian air forces continue to carry out their operations, Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Army will be in a position to press victoriously on Idlib northwards and on Raqqa eastwards.
After the breakup of the jihadist front in north-east Aleppo, the defences of the moderate “insurgents”, as the Americans call them, are supposed to collapse in the short term.
However, despite the many Turkish actions, Syria’s air responses – supported by Russia – have not allowed Turkey to reach its true goal in Syria, namely the creation of a Turkish enclave between Raqqa, Manbij and al Bab.
An emplacement that EU analysts consider “irrelevant”, as we will see later on.
Soon the jihadist pocket in Western Ghouta – the old oasis near which Damascus was founded, the area from which many jihadists will leave as “refugees” towards puerile Europe – will be eliminated.
And the fundamental political and strategic factor is that now the Egyptian forces are entering the Syrian region.
The reason is simple: President al-Sisi rightly believes that every jihadist success in Syria is a vital threat to Egypt.
The United States have always supported the Muslim Brotherhood – suffice to read the very detailed book by Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich, published in 2010.
Al-Sisi’s only other option was turn to Russia.
Hence the US strategy of negotiating with the Islamic fundamentalism and de facto relinquishing the US traditional friendship with the Maghreb countries and with Iraq, the country “liberated” a few years ago, was formidable in its inanity.
Hence now Egypt is entering the Syrian scene, siding with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s alliance with Iran – an intra-Islamic religious paradox which has its own perfect strategic logicality.
Stressing Islam’s religious differences too much makes us forget the extreme pragmatism – not to say cynicism – of the Arab and Islamic political elites.
Hence a few weeks ago a high-level Egyptian delegation had arrived in Syria to discuss the operations that the Egyptian forces should carry out under the Russian and Syrian command.
Some sources maintain that Egyptian aircrafts and helicopters are already deployed in the Hama base.
And it is worth recalling that Egypt has independent access to Syria by sea.
The two “Mistral” ships that France had built for Russia and that it could not sell to it, were later sold to Egypt.
Ironically, those two ships – not sold to Russia due to the current restrictions on trade with this country – will go to Syria to fight in favour of Russia and Assad, thanks to the EU stupidity and the inability of whole Europe to think strategically.
Each of the two French “command and power projection” frigates can accommodate a battalion of 900 soldiers with all their equipment.
Hence a situation would materialize in which a brigade – protected by the Russian air force – is fully autonomous and can operate freely on Syrian territory, being also equipped with Russian attack helicopters.
Therefore the Egyptian forces would be the real “game changer” in the Syrian war, because even the Hezbollah brigades and the Iranian “volunteers” need the Syrian support and logistics.
Hence Egypt can carry out its operations in Syria on its own, in close coordination with Russia and Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Numerically the Iranian situation in Syria is as follows: 4,000 Iraqi units and 4,000 Shiite units sent directly from the Shiite republic, coordinated by 400 Pasdaran operational units in Iran.
Hezbollah has also sent 2,000 units of its special forces, namely “Ridwan” units, from the Lebanon.
In this particular situation, the 4,000 Egyptian units would be a significant increase of military and operational efficacy.
Obviously no one could prevent Egypt from taking part in the Syrian war, considering that forces and soldiers pass through the Suez Canal.
This is a real blackmail even for the countries which fund and support the jihad, since anyway their oil passes through the Egyptian waterway.
Hence this new complexion of anti-jihadist forces would allow a fast and powerful attack on Raqqa, which would be final and would close the game in Syria, except for some jihad “remnants” in the South.
Furthermore, President-Elect Donald Trump does no longer intend to support the “good” and “moderate” jihadists – hence the Turkish and Saudi game could soon be put to an end.
The era of President Obama – who only aimed at eliminating Assad and did not view the jihad as a real threat which, furthermore, strangely operated ever more often with “US-made” weapons – is over.
The European Union has published a new document on Syria, entitled “The First Trump Test: European Policy and the Siege of Aleppo”.
The EU analysts maintain that unfortunately President Assad is still there and so it is impossible not to accept his political presence.
Hence they think that we must swallow the bitter pill of accepting Assad still in power, as if they could send him away from there – which is not the case – and as if the jihad were an irrelevant operation.
Finally, EU analysts maintain that if Turkey remained interested in its Northern corridor, so as to counter the Kurds, it should no longer create many problems in putting in place a vague, bombastic and non-existent “transition”, which should be managed by the Europeans, who pretend to have powers and abilities they do not have and take actions for no reason or purpose.
We all know, however, that Turkey wants its corridor to trigger off a second fight against the Kurds and Assad – which is not harmless at all, as the EU strategy claims.
The winner does not need to sit at the negotiating table, which the losers need to reduce damage.
Hence it is not clear who should participate in the “transition” led – alas – by the Europeans.
Finally the EU analysts that drafted the Document on Syria believe that currently Europe should resume President Obama’s Syrian policy, namely to reach any bad deal so as to put an end to violence and help the Syrian people.
Nevertheless bad deals worsen the situation – and then, what about jihadists? Are they to be blamed for the Syrian disaster or rather the Russians and the “tyrant” Assad?
It seems that the EU still does not consider the holy war which, however, will certain not pay heed to the EU “humanitarian” requests.
Yet another proof of European inanity while, as President Putin maintains, it would be enough not to provide European aid to President Erdogan for three months and his regime would collapse.
Certainly the European Union will do nothing of this sort. Simply it will take no action at all.
Has Assad succeeded in overcoming the Syrian crisis?
A series of revolutions swept through the Arab region. The first torch was from Tunisia when protester Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself in opposition to the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. This wave of revolts led to the overthrow of many Arab regimes and leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other Arab countries. There has been a state of destruction, displacement and economic collapse in the countries affected by the revolutions, a lot of killing, torture and political division, as well as the penetration of terrorist groups in the Arab world.
The revolution began in the form of peaceful protests, but soon developed using violence between the Syrian army and opposition groups. Over time, the Syrian opposition was divided into a peaceful opposition aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime through diplomatic means and the armed opposition, which was divided into several factions: the Free Syrian Army, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, as well as other armed factions.
This difficult situation brought the Syrian regime into a stage of internal popular and military pressure, which led to a request for military assistance from Russia. Russia responded to Assad’s request and defended the Syrian regime in earnest. Russia, which had good relations with the Libyan regime, did not veto the UN Security Council in favor of the Gaddafi regime. In the Syrian crisis, however, Russia and China have vetoed the UN Security Council in favor of the Assad regime, and they defended the Syrian regime in international forums.
Russia, which has historical ties with the Syrian regime, regards Syria as an extension of its strategic interests in the Middle East. Evidence of this is the presence of Russia’s military base in Syria, which is Russia’s only military base in the Middle East. Iran also stood by the Syrian regime in its war, and there was constant coordination between the Syrian and Iranian leaderships. On the other hand, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Turkey demanded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down and replace the existing regime with a new regime. The United States has repeatedly threatened military intervention to strike the Syrian regime, but the American threat has always been matched by a Russian willingness to retaliate, creating a balance of power on the Syrian battlefield.
Russia’s active support of the Syrian regime and its allies’ support led to Assad’s steadfastness, despite widespread international dissatisfaction with this outcome. Syria’s political position has not yet changed, but the Syrian-Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance has been strengthened. Many military analysts believe that what happened in Syria cannot be repeated with other countries. The most important reason is Syria’s strategic geographic position and the need for a regime like Assad to govern Syria for the time being.
The Assad regime has not collapsed, but there has been an internal and international resentment that did not exist in the past. This is expected to happen because of the nature of the Syrian regime’s alliances and the division of the region between an eastern and a Western axis. But the Assad regime has been able to withstand and maintain its position in the face of the severe crisis in Syria.
The Syrian regime must work hard to involve the Syrian opposition in government and form a government that includes all strata of Syrian society so as not to feel a large segment of the Syrian people injustice, and must increase the margin of freedom in the country. These steps should change the perception that prevailed towards the Syrian regime, and lead to its acceptance internally and internationally in the next stage.
Landing in Riyadh: Geopolitics work in Putin’s favour
When Russian President Vladimir Putin lands in Riyadh this week for the second time in 12 years, his call for endorsement of his proposal to replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf with a multilateral security architecture is likely to rank high on his agenda.
So is Mr. Putin’s push for Saudi Arabia to finalize the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile defense system in the wake of the failure of US weaponry to intercept drones and missiles that last month struck key Saudi oil installations.
“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia protect their people. They need to make clever decisions…by deciding to buy the most advanced S-400 air-defence systems. These kinds of systems are capable of defending any kind of infrastructure in Saudi Arabia from any kind of attack,” Mr. Putin said immediately after the attacks.
Mr Putin’s push for a multilateral security approach is helped by changing realities in the Gulf as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s repeated recent demonstrations of his unreliability as an ally.
Doubts about Mr. Trump have been fuelled by his reluctance to respond more forcefully to perceived Iranian provocations, including the downing of a US drone in June and the September attacks on the Saudi facilities as well as his distancing himself from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu following last month’s elections, and most recently, the president’s leaving the Kurds to their own devices as they confront a Turkish invasion in Syria.
Framed in transactional terms in which Saudi Arabia pays for a service, Mr. Trump’s decision this week to send up to 3,000 troops and additional air defences to the kingdom is likely to do little to enhance confidence in his reliability.
By comparison, Mr. Putin, with the backing of Chinese president Xi Jinping, seems a much more reliable partner even if Riyadh differs with Moscow and Beijing on key issues, including Iran, Syria and Turkey.
“While Russia is a reliable ally, the US is not. Many in the Middle East may not approve of Moscow supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime, but they respect Vladimir Putin for sticking by Russia’s beleaguered ally in Syria,” said Middle East scholar and commentator Mark N. Katz.
In a twist of irony, Mr. Trump’s unreliability coupled with an Iran’s strategy of gradual escalation in response to the president’s imposition of harsh economic sanctions in a bid to force the Islamic republic to the negotiating table appear to have moderated what was perceived as a largely disastrous assertive and robust go-it alone Saudi foreign and defense policy posture in recent years.
While everyone would benefit from a dialling down of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Mr. Trump’s overall performance as the guarantor of security in the Gulf could in the longer term pave the way for a more multilateral approach to the region’s security architecture.
In the latest sign of Saudi willingness to step back from the brink, Saudi Arabia is holding back channel talks for the first time in two years with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The talks began after both sides declared partial ceasefires in the more than four year-long Yemeni war.
The talks potentially open the door to a broader Russian-sponsored deal in the context of some understanding about non-aggression between the kingdom and Iran, in which Saudi Arabia would re-establish diplomatic relations with Syria in exchange for the Islamic republic dropping its support for the Houthis.
Restoring diplomatic relations and reversing the Arab League’s suspension of Syrian membership because of the civil war would constitute a victory for Mr. Al-Assad’s main backers, Russia and Iran. It would grant greater legitimacy to a leader viewed by significant segments of the international community as a pariah.
A Saudi-Iranian swap of Syria for Yemen could also facilitate Saudi financial contributions to the reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria. Saudi Arabia was conspicuously absent at last month’s Rebuild Syria Expo in Damascus.
Mr. Putin is likely to further leverage his enhanced credibility as well as Saudi-Russian cooperation in curtailing oil production to boost prices to persuade Saudi Arabia to follow through on promises to invest in Russia.
Saudi Arabia had agreed to take a stake in Russia’s Novatek Arctic-2 liquefied natural gas complex, acquire Sibur, Russia’s largest petrochemical facility, and invest an additional US$6 billion in future projects.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak predicted that “about 30 agreements and contracts will be signed during President Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia. We are working on it. These are investment projects, and the sum in question is billions of dollars.”
In anticipation of Mr. Putin’s visit, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said it was opening its first overseas office in Riyadh.
RDIF and the kingdom’s counterpart, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), are believed to be looking at some US$2.5 billion in investment in technology, medicine, infrastructure, transport and industrial production.
The Russian fund is also discussing with Aramco, the Saudi state-owned oil company, US$3 billion in investments in oil services and oil and gas conversion projects.
Saudi interest in economic cooperation with Russia goes beyond economics. Ensuring that world powers have an increasing stake in the kingdom’s security is one pillar of a more multilateral regional approach
Said Russian Middle East expert Alexey Khlebnikov: “Clearly, the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities have changed many security calculations throughout the region.”
No peace for Kurds: Rojava still under attack
The Amazon is still on fire. The “lungs of the Earth” are hardly breathing while the flames are threatening people and nature reserves. As long as we do not see with our own eyes the burnt trees, the endangered species and the indigenous tribes fighting to save their dying forest, we seem incapable to understand the actual consequences.
Thousands of miles away from this environmental catastrophe, a different kind of tragedy is waiting to happen. Rojava-Northern Syria Federation — the self-declared autonomous region that Kurdish people managed to carve out in northeastern Syria during the Civil war — is burning again.
On September 24, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a controversial speech to the United Nations General Assembly and proposed to create a “safe zone” in the north of Syria, in order to resettle up to 2 million Syrian refugees. He is hoping to establish a peace corridor with a depth of 32 kilometers and a length of 480 kilometers, which would easily turn the area into the world’s largest refugee camp. Despite the seemingly humanitarian purposes, this might represent the umpteenth attempt to destroy the Kurdish dream of an independent democratic enclave.
It is undeniably clear, in fact, how Turkey could take advantage of the situation: Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin has already claimed that Ankara’s aim is also to clear the borders from “terrorist elements.”
The People’s Protection Units and the Women’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), which — along with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — played a key role in the fought against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), are the official army of Rojava but currently designated as terrorist organizations. These armed groups, in fact, are considered as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the far-left militant and political organization founded in 1978 by Abdullah Öcalan and often involved in armed clashes with Turkish security forces.
Kurdish people are about to be left alone once again and the recent decisions of the White House trigger alarm in the whole Middle East.
On October 7, president Donald Trump announced that the United States — so far the main financer, trainer and supporter of Kurds — would start pulling troops out of those territories, although it would not constitute a full withdrawal.
Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said that “The Department of Defense made clear to Turkey — as did the president — that we do not endorse a Turkish operation in Northern Syria,” and that “The US Armed Forces will not support, or be involved in any such operation.”
Mazlum Kobanê, the commander in chief of the SDF, announced that they will protect Syrian’s borders and fight back against Ankara’s army. Since the majority of Kurdish cities are located in this area, it is not difficult to understand how potentially devasting this ongoing operation could be.
Turkish assault is going to begin from the city of Gire Spi/Tell Abyad, once controlled by the so-called Caliphate and captured in 2015 by the YPG during the Tell Abyad offensive. The cities of Qamishli, Derek/Al Malikiya, Tell Tamer and Kobanê/Ayn al Arab are next to become target of air strikes and artillery fire as well.
It is no coincidence that shortly after the siege of Kobanê, Kurdish forces directed their efforts towards Tell Abyad, being such a strategic site for ISIL militias. The city, in fact, was better known in the West as the “Jihadi Highway”, a de-facto corridor for foreign fighters. In the chaos caused by the fighting, jihadists would surely try to regain strength and Turkish move is serving the cause.
At the Al-Hol camp — a huge detention female camp near Al-Hasakah — numerous riots have occurred in the past few weeks, and the managers of the structure believe that the women held in the prison — former jihadi brides — might be the vehicle for renewed forms of radicalization.
In view of the fact that US officials confirmed that they will not intervene nor will they seize control of those prisons, Kurdish forces called Washington’s move “a stab in the back”. Meanwhile in Raqqa, ISIL militants are still carrying out suicide bombing attacks against SDF positions.
Shervan Derwish, official spokesman of the Mambij Military Council, has expressed his concern with a very touching message on Twitter.
The YPG and YPJhave fought in many historical battles and their solitary resistance during the last Turkish Afrin offensive in January 2018 became a symbol of their resilience.
On the other hand, Turkey’s army will be backed by their well-known rebel allies: “The Turkish military, together with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), will cross the Turkish-Syrian border shortly, “wrote Fahrettin Altun — Turkey’s communications director — in a Washington Post column. Numerous military groups are active in the region and, although their nature is still debated, there are evidence of many connections with jihadi-inspired organizations.
Working in cooperation with the SDF, Rojava’s cantons are ready to resist and defend their independence, but Trump’s decision sounds like a betrayal.
If forests are burning, so will be democracy in Syria. The Rojava project is in imminent danger, and this time there will be no mountains for the Kurds to seek refuge in. Here in the West we are blessed not to directly witness the destruction of both tragedies, but it is still up to us whether to look those flames in the eye or remember them as the unique environments they actually were.
In loving memory of Mehmet Aksoy, who dedicated his life to the Kurdish cause.
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