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The Remnants of Civil War: Wanning Stability as Deraa Slips into Mayhem

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The infamous Syrian civil war is etched into history forever. A decade-long conflict that claimed almost half a million lives, razed towns, and displaced millions. While the Arab spring is touted as the flicker of angst that sparked the catastrophe, the Syrian uprising began in the quaint city of Deraa. A southwestern city bordering Jordan, Deraa is widely attributed as the birthplace of the upheaval that upended Syria back in 2011 and onwards. However, while the devastating chaos has since mostly subsided, the city remains the epicenter of insidious instability as rebels maintain a domesticated stronghold despite government resistance. And while a fragile negotiation holds the last flicker of hope for the entrapped civilians, it is not a steady ground yet to expect a haven in the war-wrecked country.

The rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad seized control of Deraa right after the skirmishes turned into conflict before finally escalating into a full-fledged war. Their grip, however, lasted until 2018. With the fall of ISIS and the diffusion of Kurdish fighters to the northern frontier, the Russian-backed regime besieged multiple cities across Syria. The government campaign lasted months as brutal fighting undertook major cities under the control of the rebels. Weeks of fighting eventually led the government forces to overpower the rebels in Aleppo, Deraa, and Idlib. With no alternative, the rebels resorted to surrender. While Moscow brokered a peace agreement, also known as the ‘Reconciliation Accords,’ all was not well – especially in Deraa.

The Russian-backed forces took control of the city and most of the rebels either joined the government forces or handed over heavy weaponry in exchange for a safe exit to government-controlled regions in Syria. However, a few rebels retained control over a slew of areas within the city. With the help of influence within the forces of the regime, the rebels managed to hook control of the southern half of the city; which eventually became known as the eponymous district of Deraa al-Balad, while the northern half stood as the stronghold of the Assad regime.

Since the government seized the city, the escalation has developed into a routine for the civilians. While the genocidal tendencies no longer run rampant in Syria, artillery still rains like purgatory over the civilians as government forces try to permeate the southern region. The government forces have tried to impregnate the outskirts of Deraa al-Balad yet have continuously failed to topple the hold of the opposition leaders. In response, the roads are barricaded to surround the rebels, strangle their ammunition, and subdue their resistance. Instead, civilians have suffered starvation and casualties. Recently in July, an escalation resulted in the deaths of 18 civilians at the hands of the government forces as violence engulfed the city while the government forces attempted to breach the city.

A question is frequently posited; why do the government forces want to infiltrate the city so badly? Especially when the rebels have already surrendered heavy weaponry to the Syrian army. The foremost reason is the strategic location of Deraa al-Balad. The city is extremely proximate to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights: a strategic front touted as a key ground eyed by Iran’s proxies in Syria. The Iranian forces in the echelons of the Syrian army are driven by a motivation to gain access in the city to deploy forces on the southern front of Deraa. Meanwhile, the Russian offensive is at play to completely subdue the rebels to gain a whelming influence over Syria. Thus, the ulterior agendas of Iran and Russia could be labeled as the primary catalyst behind the raging military action around the city.

Another reason could be the desire of President Bashar al-Assad to crush opposition in every which way possible to avoid another scare in the future. The offense is clear in Idlib, Aleppo, and Deraa as the government forces are prudent in maintaining a pivotal position over the rebels to allow leverage if any faction decides to coagulate against the regime. Even during elections, almost a third of the Syrian population was barred from voting, including Deraa al-Balad, where mass demonstrations were staged to denounce Mr. Bashar al-Assad.

With his fourth stint in the office, President Assad has geared a renewed strategy to infiltrate the city of Deraa. The government now aims to deploy more forces in the city, run more rigorous checks and searches while gaining control of the frequented checkpoints of Deraa al-Balad. Moreover, the regime has demanded a surrender of soft weapons as well as a handover of the wanted opposition figures spewing venom against the regime. However, the rebel negotiators have called out for a peaceful transfer of all opposition leaders to Jordon or Turkey: a key point of contention. Furthermore, the leaders of Deraa have voiced their right to hold soft weapons and deny a thorough house search under the conditions of the 2018 Reconciliation accords. The impasse, however, exists as negotiations are teetering on a thin rope to somehow avoid chaos and bag a mutual consensus.

Since 2018, the Assad regime is accused of severing necessities from the city of Deraa al-Balad. Human rights observers have voiced concerns as the government forces continue to weaponize aid to bend the rebels to their will. International humanitarian organizations have cited that the government forces don’t differentiate between the civilians and the rebel fighters as hundreds of innocent civilians have been brutally killed since the government’s siege of northern Deraa. Now as the negotiations falter so does the standard of living of the civilians. Their lives have been forced to get accustomed to a constant fear of bombardment while barely surviving without food, medicines, or electricity.

Approximately 24,000 residents have been displaced while close to 12,000 still remain entrapped as government forces perpetually clash with the rebels. The harrowing reality is if the negotiations fail to settle the dispute, and the government’s assault progresses further, then surely the city of Deraa al-Balad would fall into a humanitarian crisis. A lasting solution is required, not a ceasefire, as both rebels and the government forces are not civil enough to maintain a passage of peace without going ballistic. The government (and the allied forces) should stop using civilians as scapegoats to lure the rebels and achieve geopolitical objectives. Instead, the government should strive for an inclusive society to put an end to the spiral of civil war – once and for all.

The author is a political and economic analyst. He focuses on geopolitical policymaking and international affairs. Syed has written extensively on fintech economy, foreign policy, and economic decision making of the Indo-Pacific and Asian region.

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Israelis and Palestinians do what they do best, but for the wrong reasons

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has put Israel’s closest allies and some of his key partners on the spot.

So has a generation of Palestinian youth that has nothing to lose and no longer sees fruitless engagement with and acquiescence of the Jewish state as a means of realizing their national and socio-economic aspirations.

It’s not that young Palestinians have necessarily given up on a compromise resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, however, they believe that armed resistance with the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank as its focal point will provoke a situation the international community will no longer be able to ignore.

Jenin is home to a black market for pistols, AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, and M16s, and thousands of youths caught in a Catch-22 in which they are ineligible for Israeli work permits because they are on a terrorism list.

So far, the Palestinian youth strategy appears to be working, even if US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to the region was aimed at calming tensions rather than solving problems.

Similarly, that was the message that the heads of Egyptian and Jordanian intelligence reportedly gave President Mahmoud Abbas on the same morning that the Palestinian president met with Mr. Blinken.

The intelligence chiefs’ bosses, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordanian King Abdullah, are in good company as they brace for the fallout of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence.

So is United Arab Emirates President Mohammed bin Zayed who in recent years spearheaded greater Arab engagement with Israel without a prospect for a resolution of the Palestinian problem, and the kings of Bahrain and Morocco, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Mohammed VI, who followed the UAE leader’s lead.

Returning from a rare visit to Sudan this week, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the two countries would establish formal diplomatic relations by the end of this year.

Unlike Mr. Al-Sisi and the Bahraini and Moroccan monarchs, Mr. Bin Zayed may be less concerned about domestic unrest in response to the Israeli-Palestinian violence but worries that regional security could be compromised by the potential fallout of Israel’s harsh response to Palestinian militancy compounded by a more aggressive Israeli posture towards Iran.

Struggling with an economic crisis, Egypt and Jordan, where Palestinians account for roughly half of the country’s 11 million people, are particularly vulnerable to the Palestinian plight becoming a catalyst for anti-government protest.

This week, Moroccans protested in several cities against their country’s forging two years ago of diplomatic relations with Israel.

The protests were in anticipation of Morocco’s hosting in March in the disputed Western Sahara a meeting of the foreign ministers of Israel, the United States, the UAE, and Bahrain to celebrate the anniversary of diplomatic relations between the Arab and Jewish states.

Last month, Jordanian security forces and protesters, angry about rising fuel prices and poor governance, clashed in the southern city of Maan.

Such demonstrations have a life of their own, and in a moment, they can turn into a protest against the government, poverty, and waste, and we have a direct confrontation whose results can be lethal,” said an Egyptian journalist.

All of this plays into the hands of militant Palestinian youth.

So does Mr. Netanyahu, as he accommodates hardline Jewish nationalist and ultra-conservative religious figures in his Cabinet who are in charge of national security and Palestine-related affairs.

To be sure, Mr. Netanyahu, in response to last Friday’s killing of Jewish worshippers at a synagogue, refrained from striking back with a sledgehammer as Israel typically does. Mr. Blinken’s visit may have been one reason for Mr. Netanyahu’s reticence.

Israeli officials suggest that behind closed doors, Mr. Blinken and other recent US visitors, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA Director Bill Burns, made clear that even if the US and Iran were on one page regarding Iran for the first time in years, their immediate concerns were related to Palestine and the threat to Israeli democracy posed by Mr. Netanyahu’s plans to undermine the independence of his country’s Supreme Court.

“It is a tragedy that we are forced to deal with less important and burning issues at this time. Our mind is on Iran, but our feet are stuck in Silwan,” said a senior Israeli security official, referring to the east Jerusalem neighborhood that is a hotspot of Palestinian-Israeli violence

“The Americans are exerting heavy pressure on the Palestinian issue and equally heavy pressure on the threat to Israeli democracy arising from the Netanyahu government’s legislative blitz. We’re talking to them about Iran and Saudi Arabia, while they want to talk about Jenin and Shireen Abu Akleh and democracy,” a former diplomatic official added.

The former official was referring to last week’s Israeli raid in Jenin, where 10 Palestinians were killed, and the killing last year of Al Jazeera journalist Abu Akleh.

Adopting a more aggressive stance against Iran, Israel is believed to have last month attacked a long-range missile production plant in the Iranian city of Esfahan as well as truck convoys along the Iraq-Syria border convoys carrying ammunition and weapons for Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Lebanese militia.

Moreover, last week, the US and Israeli militaries staged their most significant and complex exercise to date in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, Mr. Blinken sent mixed messages during his visit, the Israeli assessments of their talks with Mr. Blinken and the two countries’ closer military ties notwithstanding,

For the first time on a visit by a secretary of state, Mr. Blinken met with Israeli civil society organisations focused on LGBTQ rights, integration of ultra-religious Jews and Palestinian Israelis in the Israeli workforce, and Jewish-Palestinian co-existence.

No human rights or other groups working towards an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank were invited.

Even so, the militants and the policies enunciated by the Netanyahu government can take credit for the US focus.

The militants’ resorting to arms, Israel’s harsh response, and Israeli policies that ever more flagrantly violate international law and the Geneva conventions make it increasingly difficult for the United States and Europe to look the other way and for Arab states that maintain diplomatic relations with the Jewish states to limit themselves to verbal condemnations.

Israel’s response so far includes trying to push through legislation that many Palestinians say would amount to collective punishment. It would result in the expedited demolition of the homes of family members of Palestinians who’ve carried out attacks and plans to make it easier for Israelis to get guns.

That has not stopped Azerbaijan from dispatching its first ambassador to Israel in three decades of diplomatic relations with the Jewish state amid escalating tensions with Iran, its southern neighbour, or Chad inaugurating the African country’s first embassy in the country during a visit to Israel by President  Mahamat Deby.

Some analysts argue that the militants’ tactics may be a double-edged sword. Their tactics could backfire, and the militants could fall into a trap if the United States and others effectively remain on the sidelines.

“The deepest tragedy is that the Israeli extreme right seems to be counting on Palestinian rage and desperation to provide them with the opportunity to go as far as they can in their twin goals of annexation and expulsion,” cautioned columnist Hussein Ibish.

In a twist or irony, hardliners on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide may find that escalation serves both their interests, even if those interests are diametrically opposite.

Palestinian militants see increased Israeli brutality and violations of international law and the Geneva conventions as making it more difficult for the United States and others to stay on the sidelines or go through the motions of seeking to calm the situation.

So far, the US way to do so does not even amount to a band-aid, let alone a solution. The US is pressuring 86-year-old President Mahmoud’s Palestine Authority to revive security cooperation with Israel and take back control of Jenin and the West Bank city of Nablus.

The US proposition misses a key point: much like West Bank Palestinian militancy in the past, Palestinian youths’ despair is fuelled as much by Israeli policy as it is by the rejection of corrupt and ineffective Palestinian leadership.

“Twenty years ago, we made peace with Israel, but they don’t respect any of it. So, we’re done. We want destruction,” said Ahmad Qassem.

A 24-year-old resident of Jenin. Mr. Qassem has not found work since finishing ninth grade, his last year of school. He was last year released from an Israeli prison after a two-year administrative detention, during which he was never charged or granted a trial.

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Sisi’s visit to Armenia and Azerbaijan to join the Eurasian Union and BRICS

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Photo Credit: Official Facebook Page for the Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency

President El-Sisi’s visit to India, followed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, came as an affirmation from the Egyptian side and its president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, of Egypt’s desire to enter into several giant economic blocs, led by the BRICS with the help of China and India, and then the Eurasian Union with the help of Russia and Armenia mainly.  Rather, let us transfer the experience of the Eurasian Union to Egypt and the countries of the region, which is considered as a project for economic and political integration, based on the customs union of the countries of (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia), as well as the countries of the United Economic Zone, and announcing later its expansion plan, to include other countries of the economic group.  Eurasian, which is known for short as:

(EurAsEC Group)

  From my point of view and my reading of the general political and economic scene of the Egyptian state, and of President Sisi’s moves towards the east mainly, away from those complex calculations of Washington and the West and the political and economic conditionality of the International Monetary Fund and Western loans, Egypt’s accession to the Eurasian Union, or what is known as the Group of Independent States, will enable Egypt in the coming period to  An alliance worked with those countries, leading to the establishment of a free trade zone between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Union, led by Russia and Armenia, leading to the establishment of the customs union between Egypt and the countries of Eurasia, ending with the establishment of the United Economic Zone, and even planning to establish a unified currency for the countries of the Eurasian Union, which facilitates  The process of trade exchange between Egypt and those countries in the future, and of course contributes to the impact on the strength of the US dollar and its collapse and devaluation in the end.

  Also, President El-Sisi’s moves towards India, then Armenia and Azerbaijan in particular, is part of the Egyptian support for the eastern bloc, headed by China, Russia and then India.  This reflects the Egyptian vision to enter into the Eurasian Union, so that the emergence of this Eurasian Union can be seen as part of the announced Russian strategy to restore the importance it had previously on the international political arena during the so-called Cold War during the Soviet Union period, and this is mainly in the interest of Egypt and its President El-Sisi moves towards the Eastern Bloc and his aspiration to join the BRICS membership and then the Eurasian Union, so that this Eurasian Union will in the end serve as a counterweight to the European Union, in addition to the role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes in its membership both Russia and China.

 Also, the Eurasian Union, led by Russia and Armenia, was able to create a single currency like the euro in the European Union, which is to be called the “Altyn currency”.

 It will be a balance to the forces of the European Union in the eastern bloc, led by Russia, China, India, and then Armenia, with an invitation to the rest of Central Asian countries to join the single Eurasian currency later, which serves the Egyptian side and the economic agendas of developing countries in the foreseeable future, and reduces the value of the dollar in the long run.

 Bearing in mind, the United States opposes the Eurasian customs union project for the easy transfer of goods and commodities between countries, and Washington sees it as an attempt to re-establish Russian hegemony in the concept of the Soviet Union among the post-Soviet states.

  This was explicitly announced by the Russian President, “Vladimir Putin”, that his goal is to expand the membership of the Eurasian Customs Union, to include all post-Soviet countries, to include the Baltic countries that are members of the European Union, on top of which are:

(Armenia – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Kyrgyzstan – Moldova – Tajikistan – Turkmenistan – Ukraine – Uzbekistan)

 In addition to allowing the presence of countries that act as observer members, as is the case in most international federations and blocs, which makes it easier for Egypt, in the event of its completion, to open strong and influential economic and investment partnerships with those countries in the eastern bloc, away from the calculations and pressures of the West.

 The Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry has already started several rounds and serious and actual negotiations to join the Eurasian Union with Russia, Armenia and the countries forming it, and it was announced in June 2021 the success of the fourth round of free trade agreement negotiations between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union, with the aim of integration in common economic issues.  Among the countries joining it, and this is what Egypt and President El-Sisi aspire to at the present time.

 The fourth round of negotiations between Egypt and the Eurasian Union countries has already ended in the Russian capital, Moscow, with the Egyptian side making tremendous efforts to join the Eurasian Union.  This was mainly welcomed by the Russian side, and then President El-Sisi’s visit to Armenia strengthened the ability of the Egyptian file to join the Eurasian Union. This was reflected in the strong will and desire of all parties to accept the Egyptian side’s request for membership in the Eurasian Customs Union, in the heart of which is Russia and then Armenia.

  President El-Sisi’s visit to Armenia comes as an important occasion, to move forward towards completing the Egyptian side’s membership file, to complete the negotiations and reach a comprehensive and balanced agreement that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people and all the peoples of the Eurasian Union countries to develop trade exchange, and enhance industrial and investment cooperation between its parties.  In addition to strengthening rapprochement between Egypt and all its parties in all aspects of economic cooperation and opening prospects for future cooperation between all parties.

  Hence, we conclude that President El-Sisi’s moves towards Armenia and Azerbaijan were carefully calculated and planned by the Egyptian side, to join the powerful Eurasian Union bloc, because President El-Sisi realizes that the success of the agreement with the countries of the Eurasian Economic Union will contribute to strengthening trade, industrial and joint investment cooperation between Egypt and the countries.  Eurasian Union.  In addition, that Egyptian membership in the Eurasian Union bloc next to Russia and Armenia, and then the rest of the former Soviet Union countries, will support the system of transferring expertise and advanced industrial technologies to the Egyptian national industry in various productive sectors, in a way that enhances the capacity and strength of the Egyptian market and transfers various and different experiences to it.

 Here we can understand and analyze the reason for President El-Sisi’s moves to that Eurasian region represented in Armenia and Azerbaijan, as well as strengthening Egypt’s relations with the Russian, Chinese and Indian sides, because President El-Sisi and the Egyptian side realize that the agreement with the countries of the Eurasian bloc referred to will support inter-regional trade between Egypt and the countries  Central and North Asia and Europe across and between the countries of the Eurasian Union, and with the markets of the Arab countries and the countries of the African continent through the Egyptian market, through free and preferential trade agreements that link Egypt to those markets, knowing that the volume of trade exchange between Egypt and the countries of the Eurasian Union is with the membership of Russia and Armenia only,  It has reached more than $5 billion, and that percentage is likely to increase if Egypt is officially accepted as a member of the Eurasian bloc and the Eurasian Union, according to plans by President El-Sisi and the Ministry of Industry and Trade in Cairo.

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West sees Iran in a new way

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The Wall Street Journal reported from Tehran that “a lethal crackdown and an ailing economy have quieted anti-government street demonstrations organised protests have largely tapered off.” The paradox is, this interpretation is widely applicable in the contemporary world situation, including many G7 countries. How can one pretend there are no “protestor grievances” in Britain or France today, and, yet, how come they are mute? – asks Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer M.K. Bhadrakumar.

The western narrative never cared to admit that Iran is ruled by elected governments. The big question is, would such street violence have erupted in Iran without the covert support and coordination by foreign intelligence agencies? It is pointless to discuss Iran’s politics while in denial mode about the whole history of foreign interference in that country’s internal affairs.

Meanwhile, Associated Press reported that Iran and Russia are also moving toward linking their banking systems, turning their back on the petrodollar. Read the US Energy Information Administration data o know why the AP report matters. Simply put, almost a quarter of the world’s oil reserves and around 40 percent of the world’s gas reserves may potentially be traded outside the western banking system if Russian and Iranian policies work in tandem, dealing a body blow to the “world currency,” American dollar.

Suffice to say, there is no question that the protests in Iran were a western reaction to the emerging alliance between Iran and Russia. Now that the protests over hijab have “tapered off,” the modus operandi will shift from colour revolution back to the classic mode of sabotage and assassinations (especially after Benjamin Netanyahu’s return to power in Israel.)

The burgeoning military cooperation between Iran and Russia puts Tehran on Washington’s crosshairs. In the context of the Ukraine conflict, the West see Iran in a new way. Indeed, the Russian interest in getting Iran on board the Moscow-brokered process of Turkish-Syrian rapprochement underscores that the Kremlin has jettisoned whatever past reserve it would had about aligning with Iran in geopolitical projects.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated at a press conference with the visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Moscow that “Russia, Iran, and Turkey are members of the ‘Astana troika’, which has been handling the Syrian settlement. Therefore, I consider it absolutely logical that any further communication on bringing relations between Turkey and Syria back to normal will also involve Russia and Iran.”

Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s foreign policy advisor Ibrahim Kalin has said: “We are pleased that Iran is joining this process. Iran is an important side. I think it will be able to contribute to this process. The participation of Iran in the negotiating process, which is held with the mediation of Russia, will make it easier.”

Unsurprisingly, a convergence of interests between the US, Israel and Kurds (and Kiev) to settle scores with Iran is only to be expected. The early signs are already there.

According to Iran’s defence ministry, three drones were involved in the attack at about midnight on a military facility in the city of Isfahan. It said one drone was destroyed by air defence systems and two were caught by “defence traps”, causing minor damage to a building. There were no casualties.

Pentagon spokesperson Brig Gen Patrick Ryder promptly said ‘the US military played no part in the strikes,’ but declined to speculate further.

However, Wall Street Journal quoted unnamed “US officials and people familiar with the operation” as saying Israel had carried out the attack. The New York Times also named Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, citing “senior (US) intelligence officials”.

Isfahan province is home to a large air base, a major missile production complex and several nuclear sites. Iran’s official Irna news agency said the drones had targeted an ammunition manufacturing plant. The BBC highlighted that “The attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and its supply of arms to Russia’s war in Ukraine.”

However, a stunning dimension to this sordid affair is that a top aide to the Ukrainian president Zelensky linked the Isfahan attack to the alleged supply of Iranian drones to Russia. An unnamed Iranian official has since reacted that unless Kiev disowned any such linkage, Tehran too may adopt “a new approach that is appropriate to the behaviour of the Kiev government.”

Not much ingenuity is needed to connect the dots in the Isfahan attack — Ukrainian and Israeli intelligence (and the American masterminds in Kiev) operated through the Kurdish groups based in Iraqi Kurdistan, which have long-standing links to both the US and Mossad, and “sleeper cells” within Iran.

The bottomline is that – today almost anything concerning Iran’s security would have a foreign dimension.

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