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Southern Syria: zones of de-escalation or "zones of influence"?

Following the "historic visit" of US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia, the publications close to the largest Arab monarchy began to vigorously share confidential information. It is clear, referring to the high-ranking sources dedicated to the military-diplomatic circles. According to one of the publications in the Ashadq newspaper Al-Awsat (published in London), in the next few days, Russia and the United States will resume the communication channel for Syria, which is established with the mediation of Oman (1). It is reported that representatives of Moscow and Washington decided to return to the discussion of the issue of creating a "security zone" in southern Syria (2), after such a dialogue was recently suspended.

The reason for the postponement of the Russian-American contact was the well-known air strike by the United States-led coalition against the terrorist group DAISH ("Islamic State", IG, IGIL) against the pro-government forces in Damascus. Speech about the 18 attack by May by the coalition of the pro-Iranian formations to the north-west of the city of At-Tanf in the province of Homs.

This locality at the intersection of the Syrian, Iraqi and Jordanian borders has recently attracted increased attention. Here, with the support of the US and British special forces (some sources also point to the "Norwegian military instructors" sent to At-Tanf), the forces of the so-called "New Syrian Army" (NSA) are concentrated, since December 2016, this alliance was named "Jash Magavir Al-Tavra "," Army of Revolutionary Commandos "). The official version - "moderate" militants are trained by Western special forces for combat operations against the terrorists of the IG. A more plausible mission of the wards of the US and British militants is still in the other. The formation of the "revolutionary commandos" is intended to become one of the counterbalances to the growing influence of Iran and its groupings in southern Syria, where, as is known, until June 4, the borders of one of the de-escalation zones, signed by Russia, Iran and Turkey, 4 May Astana.

Here and the fun begins. The zones of de-escalation before the beginning of the next week were decided to be fixed on maps, and then proceed to create them "on the ground" strictly in a three-sided format. That is, with the exclusive participation of representatives from Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. The question arises as to what Russian and US military and diplomats can then discuss in Oman if the US role in the trilateral memorandum 4 May is not reflected in any way? According to Asharq Al-Awsat, in the Omani capital, Russia and the United States will soon return to the consideration of questions about "the size of security zones, monitoring within them and ensuring humanitarly access to the local population." Further more. The sources of the publication argue that the American negotiators insist on "excluding the presence of pro-Iranian groups on the line from the Golan Heights in the Syrian province of Quneitra to Deraa and the province of Suweida, up to At-Tanf in the east of the province of Homs."

Obviously, in the latter case, an obviously impossible condition is set. And statements about the dialogue between Russia and the United States in Oman on the southern zone of de-escalation in general resemble an information diversion. Its main goal is to make a split between Moscow and Tehran, provoking the latter's suspicion of having "Russian games behind him."

The time for such information injections was chosen very carefully, in connection with the completion of the work of a joint group of Russia, Iran and Turkey on the definition of cartographic contours of de-escalation zones. The Americans and Saudis are more concerned with the southernmost areas of Syria, where the latest developments in the theater of war are not in their favor. Iran is a few steps away from the establishment of a permanent home base in the province of Damascus. Statements by the military and political leadership of the Islamic Republic about plans to double the number of its "military advisors" in southern Syria add to the unrest of the Americans, the Saudis and, undoubtedly, the Israelis. The secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, recently noted similar statements during a working visit to Moscow.

Tehran's acquisition of the point of stationary military basing in Syria fits into the logic of the Iranians' participation in the de-escalation of "certain districts of the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra" (according to the text of the Astana memorandum from 4 May). But in this case, Israel will face a serious challenge on its eastern borders, and for the Saudis, the risk of losing its, in fact, last point of influence in southern Syria - controlled by the group "Jays al-Islam" ("Army of Islam"), the suburb of Damascus, East Guta .

This area is allocated to a separate zone of de-escalation. But its geographical location and politically enclave status do not give Riyadh-sponsored militants absolutely no guarantee that sooner or later they will have to accept the conditions of government forces and evacuate to Idlib. Around East Guta, the ring of the continuous presence of the Syrian army and its allied pro-Iranian groups is surely compressed. In recent days, government troops have been trained to assault the very stronghold of the "Army of Islam", although this is more like reconnaissance by battle than a large-scale military operation (3).

Change the situation in favor of regional opponents of Iran can only take decisive measures on their part, even to massive preventive air strikes. Trial run-in of such a model took place 18 May, when an air raid of the American coalition, the pro-government formation was thrown back from At-Tanf. For the greater "tripartite union" of Israel-the United States-Saudi Arabia has not yet been resolved. Too high is the risk of stumbling upon Russia's "misunderstanding" and even its symmetrically rigid response.

Noteworthy is the argument of the United States, which on the same day, 18 May, issued a statement on behalf of the Unified Command of the operation "Unshakable Resolve" (Inherent Resolve). "The coalition struck a blow against pro-government forces within the established de-escalation zone in the At-Tanf area. The shelling was carried out after a demonstrative flight of fighters and a series of warning shots. The coalition forces have been operating in the At-Tanf area for many months, training and advising trusted partners involved in the fight against the IG, "the statement of the American coalition said.

A question arises. What "established de-escalation zone in the area of ​​At-Tanf" is meant, if this settlement is located at a significant distance from those southern regions that are mentioned in the tripartite memorandum 4 May? It turns out that the United States initially made it clear that they will not measure their further actions in the Syrian sky with the creation of de-escalation zones by Russia, Iran and Turkey. But as soon as there was an urgent need to explain its next aggression against the Syrian government troops, the reference to the "established de-escalation zone" was immediately followed.

Recall, in mid-May from Washington, they made it clear that they were skeptical about the prospects for maintaining the ceasefire in Syria, established with the joint guarantees of Moscow, Tehran and Ankara. No lesser doubts were voiced by US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs Stuart Johnson about the effectiveness of the efforts of the three capitals in creating Syrian de-escalation zones. The critical position of the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces and the CIA is presented with even greater relief. In such conditions, it is difficult to expect a constructive return from the "Oman channel" of confidential consultations between Russia and the United States, if any at all.

The main interest of Washington is to obtain from Moscow consent to the division of zones of influence in southern Syria. Such a proposal was once spoken by the previous administration of the White House, and to a large extent applied to the same province of Homs. However, the initiative of the US military and political establishment under Barack Obama, as can be understood, picked up by the team of Donald Trump, then found no positive response in the Kremlin.

Simultaneously with the goal of "persuading the Russians" in the division of zones of influence, the task of torpedoing Tehran's plans to create the first foreign military base of the Islamic Republic in the war-torn Arab country is being decided. It is precisely this arrangement of priorities - "zones of influence", and not "zones of de-escalation" - that the American administration is now trying to build. In this endeavor, it is fully supported by Israel and Saudi Arabia. Therefore, we should not be surprised when Trump's "historical visit" to the Arabian kingdom and the Jewish state began to fill the Middle East information field with relevant content. Ahead of the visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Moscow, before which new publications should be expected, mentioning "generous proposals" to the Kremlin on the Syrian direction.

(1) Ibrahim Homeidi, US Acts to Infiltrate the 'Iranian Crescent' // Asharq Al-Awsat, 29.05.2017.

(2) Representatives of Russia, the United States and Jordan are in talks to establish a security zone in southern Syria. About this television channel Al Arabiya in the very end of May it became known from the "source close to the negotiations." Other details of the alleged tripartite consultations between Moscow, Washington and Amman are not reported.

(3) Units of the Republican Guard of the Syrian Armed Forces and the National Defense Forces with the support of the "Liberation Army of Palestine" detachments 29 May resumed the offensive operation in East Gut. Government forces attacked the position of "Jays al-Islam" in the vicinity of the village of Hosh al-Dwara. During the fighting, the Syrian military and Palestinian militiamen managed to squeeze the enemy's defense on the southern and northern outskirts of the said settlement.

A source: EADaily

Tags: Syria, War in the Middle East, Politics, United States, Russia, Analytics