Written by Evgeny Satanovsky; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
This article was released by VPK on June 18, 2018
The Syrian war is ongoing. The weakness of Damascus, the tenacity of its opponents and the caution based on the experience gained in Afghanistan and Chechnya make Russia wary of being drawn into a large-scale guerrilla conflict.
At the same time, the Syrian authorities, with the support of the Russia Aerospace Forces take control of one province after another. The last one was East Ghouta. It is the turn of the Syrian south. The US is balancing between Turkey and the Kurds, trying to keep under control the eastern shore of the Euphrates and part of the Syrian-Jordanian border.
Who to be Friends with, Who to Kill
On June 14, the US State Department expressed concern about reports that the Syrian government troops are conducting operations in one of the de-escalation zones in the south-west of the country. As stated by the Iranian agency Fars, in the province of Deraa in southern Syrian, fighting broke out between the government army and rebel groups. Units of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) are operating there against Assad’s troops. Earlier, Damascus issued an ultimatum to the militants in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra with the requirement to lay down their arms and transfer the controlled territories to the government army. Some warlords said they did not intend to give up.
The soldiers of the Syrian Army eliminated the threat of a breakthrough of the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists in the south-west of Aleppo. As the news portal Surya Al-An reported, the gangs attacked the government troops positions near the village of Khan Tuman. In the province of Deraa, troops attacked the Jabha al-Nusra bases and its allies in the area of Tell al-Harra. According to the newspaper Al-Watan, the command of the armed forces moved army reinforcements to the south for the operation against terrorists. Soldiers deployed at the request of local residents of the villages of Khan Arnab, al-Chabaria, Deir Maker and Khodr. Al-Watan points out that the operation against the terrorists in Umm Batna area will involve fighters from the Palestinian brigade Liwa al-Quds fighting on the side of Damascus. Until now, the Palestinians, who are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), were involved in the battles only in Eastern Aleppo and Yarmouk. Here they replaced the Shi’ite pro-Iranian formations. The government forces, with the support of allies, intend to put an end to the irreconcilable militants in the southern de-escalation zone after Ramadan. Relevant consultations with the Americans and Jordanians were conducted during the last month, but ended in nothing.
The talks culminated in the Russian-Israeli agreement on the withdrawal of Iranian forces and their Lebanese Shi’ite allies from the Northern border of the Jewish state in the course of the upcoming operations in exchange of relinquishing air strikes on Syrian territory. For the Israelis this was a necessary step, as the consultations with the Americans and the Jordanians did not bring any results, the government forces operation in southern Syria was approaching, and the best course of action was to involve Moscow as a guarantor of the absence of the Iranians on the border.
Israel has put forward the withdrawal of Shi’ite militias on the Syrian territory as a condition to support the counter-terrorist operation. Consultations will continue. Thus, President Putin and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone conversation on June 15. But Israel’s position is constrained, and it would be more willing to have on its border even Islamists, but not Iranians or the Syrian Army, which the Israelis suspect of close cooperation with them.
As recent experience has shown, groups of banned in Russia ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra numbering tens of thousands of people took refuge in the abolished re-escalation zones under the guise of “moderate opposition”. Currently, two de-escalation zones continue to operate in the province of Idlib and in the south of Syria, on the border areas of Jordan and Israel in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra. The last two years have brought militants from all over the country to Idlib, but the situation is southern Syria is not so clear. The southern de-escalation zone was established in May 2017 following the Astana talks. On July 8, its status and operating procedure were clarified during the talks between the representatives of Russia, the USA and Jordan.