The circumstances surrounding the flare-up in Syria between the US occupation forces and pro-Iranian militia groups remain murky. President Biden claims that the US is reacting, but there are signs that it is likely being proactive to create new facts on the ground, notes M.K. Bhadrakumar, Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer.
The US Central Command claims that following a drone attack on March 23 afternoon on an American base near Hasakah, at the direction of President Biden, retaliatory air strikes were undertaken later that night against “facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.”
However, this version has been disputed by the spokesman of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council who accused Washington of “creating artificial crises and lying.” The Iranian official has alleged that “Over the past two days, American helicopters have carried out several sorties with the aim of increasing instability in Syria and transferred Daesh (Islamic State) terrorists in the territory of this country.”
He said Washington must be held accountable for such activities. The official warned that Tehran will give a prompt response to any US attack on whatever false pretext against Iranian bases that exist on Syrian soil at the request of Damascus for fighting terrorism.
Is the US deliberately ratcheting up tensions in Syria even as the China-brokered Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is radically changing the security scenario in the West Asian region in a positive direction?
There is optimism that Syria stands to gain out of Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Already, the Saudi Foreign Ministry revealed that talks are going on with Syria for resuming consular services between the two countries, which will pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic relations and in turn make it possible to reinstate Syria’s membership of the Arab League.
Saudi Arabia has established an air bridge with Syria to send reef supplies for those affected by the devastating earthquake in February.
The backdrop is that the normalisation of relations between Syria and its estranged Arab neighbours has accelerated. It must be particularly galling for Washington that these regional states used to be active participants in the US-led regime change project to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Saudi-Iranian rapprochement badly isolates the US and Israel.
From such a perspective, it stands to reason that the US is once again stirring up the Syrian cauldron. Lately, Russian aircraft have been reported as frequently flying over the US’s military base At Tanf on the Syrian-Iraqi border where training camps for militant groups are known to exist.
Israel too is a stakeholder in keeping Syria unstable and weak. In the Israeli narrative, Iran-backed militia groups are increasing their capability in Syria in the last two years and continued US occupation of Syria is vital for balancing these groups. Israel is paranoid that a strong government in Damascus will inevitably start challenging its illegal occupation of Golan Heights.
A key factor in this matrix is the nascent process of Russian mediation between Turkiye and Syria. With an eye on the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary election in Turkiye in May, President Recep Erdogan is keen to achieve some visible progress in improving the ties with Syria.
Erdogan senses that the Turkish public opinion strongly favours normalisation with Syria. Polls in December showed that 59 percent of Turks would like an early repatriation of Syrian refugees who are a burden on Turkish economy, which has an inflation rate of 90 percent.
Significantly, Erdogan telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday and the Kremlin readout mentioned that amongst “topics concerning Russian-Turkish partnership in various fields,” during the conversation, “the Syrian issue was touched upon, and the importance of continuing the normalisation of Turkish-Syrian relations was underlined. In this regard the President of Türkiye highlighted the constructive mediatory role Russia has played in this process.”
It is entirely conceivable that Erdogan has sought Putin’s help and intervention to reach a modus vivendi with Assad quickly. Of course, this is a spectacular success story for Russian diplomacy — and for Putin personally — that the Kremlin is called upon to broker the Turkish-Syrian normalisation.
The China-brokered Saudi-Iranian normalisation hit Washington where it hurts. But if Putin now brokers peace between two other rival West Asian states, Biden will be exposed as hopelessly incompetent.
And, if Turkiye ends its military presence in Syria, the limelight will fall on the US’ illegal occupation of one-third of Syrian territory and the massive smuggling of oil and other resources from Syria in American military convoys.