News compilation by New Cold War.org, July 22, 2017
Western corporate and state-run media are keeping quiet on the latest ceasefire agreement in Syria, which went into effect on July 9 and applies to regions in the southwest of the country. (See ‘U.S. and Russia agree to ceasefire in southwest Syria’, RT.com, July 7, 2017.) The enclosed news compilation draws largely from different sources.
Russia and the United States co-sponsored the ceasefire, marking a certain departure in the warmaking policy of the U.S. As the essay below by Neil Clark explains, “For the inhabitants of ‘Planet NeoCon’ and their pro-war ‘liberal’ allies, however, news the CIA will no longer be backing people to blow up and cut off the heads of Syrians with the ‘wrong’ views has led to expressions of outrage, anger, and grief.” The essay appears in RT’s ‘Op Edge’ feature.
Hezbollah not concerned about cease-fire deal in Syria
Despite reports that the cease-fire agreement reached on July 7 between the United States, Russia and Jordan in southwestern Syria would keep Hezbollah and Iranian forces away from border territories with Israel and Jordan, it is becoming clear that this agreement doesn’t appear to constitute a significant setback for Hezbollah.
With its deployment of several thousand fighters in Syria, Hezbollah has played a major role as an infantry force. The movement’s ground forces coordinated closely with Russian warplanes in defeating the rebels in Aleppo in December 2016.
And as this Hezbollah-Russian coordination proved effective, it is unlikely that the cease-fire agreement will lead Moscow to get tough on Hezbollah. According to media reports, a high-ranking Russian military official recently met with Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut to discuss the role Hezbollah would take in the next phase of the Syrian war.
A Hezbollah official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity to discuss his party’s stance toward the cease-fire agreement said that the movement supports “any chances for reconciliation or a cease-fire or political solution wherever possible.”
The official noted that even if Hezbollah were not present near the Golan Heights, it still retains a capability to strike at the Israeli front from Syria if tensions were to flare between the two rivals. “Borders do not prevent the launching of attacks,” he said, adding that the movement “has missiles with a range that could target Israel [from Syrian territory] without Hezbollah having to be physically present near the border area.”
This Hezbollah stance toward the cease-fire agreement that encompasses the areas of Daraa, Quneitra and Suwayda, stands in sharp contrast to that of its archenemy Israel. Following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris July 16, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly stated to reporters that Israel opposes the cease-fire agreement on the grounds that it “perpetuates Iranian presence” in Syria.
Meanwhile, the Israeli daily Haaretz quoted a senior Israeli official as saying that the cease-fire agreement in its current form “is very bad” and “doesn’t take almost any of Israel’s security interests [into account] and creates a disturbing reality in southern Syria.”
The senior Israeli official, also complained that the agreement “doesn’t include a single explicit word about Iran, Hezbollah or the Shiite militias in Syria.”
This disparity between Hezbollah’s somewhat positive stance toward the cease-fire deal on the one hand, and Israel’s complete negative stance toward it on the other, may very well be summed up in a single factor: Russian reluctance to put pressure on Hezbollah.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Sergey Strokan, a journalist for the Russian daily Kommersant, said that Russia will not put pressure on Hezbollah “despite the very good ties between Russia and Israel.”
Further explaining this point, Strokan added, “Hezbollah is of critical importance for Russia when it comes to boots on the ground [in Syria] that the Russian warplanes are supporting from the air.”
According to Strokan, Russia would also be reluctant to pressure Hezbollah as this could jeopardize the Astana process, which was launched in January between Russia, Turkey and Iran, whereby these countries hold periodic talks in the Kazakh capital, with the aim of reaching a settlement for the Syrian crisis.
“Losing Hezbollah would mean for Russia also losing Iran in the Astana process,” he said, emphasizing that Moscow is keen on continuing this process with Turkey and Iran.
At the same time, the Hezbollah official acknowledged that the cease-fire agreement has a drawback for the movement: an American presence on the ground in Syria. Coinciding with the announcement of the cease-fire deal, reports have emerged about the US military establishing new facilities throughout the Middle East, including two new facilities on both sides of the Syrian-Jordanian border.
“We do not want any American presence on the ground in Syria,” the Hezbollah official said, adding that the movement is “realistic and knows that the United States — as a superpower — will have leverage and influence in Syria.”
However, just how much the US presence in Syria will pose a problem for Hezbollah is a topic open for debate. The US military has in recent months targeted what it referred to as pro-Syrian regime “Iranian-backed” forces, which it said advanced toward a US base in the area of Tanf near the Syrian border with Jordan.
But the US military has also sought to convey a message in no uncertain terms that it does not intend to embark on a broad campaign against the Syrian army or its allies, like Hezbollah.
During a testimony to Congress June 13, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that the targeting of the “Iranian-backed forces” near Tanf was simply “self-defense” aimed at protecting US forces stationed in Syria.
The US Central Command also released a statement June 6 in which it said that the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (IS) “does not seek to fight Syrian regime or pro-regime forces but remains ready to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the deconfliction zone,” a zone surrounding the Tanf US base.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Joshua Landis, the publisher of the blog Syria Comment, underscored that the US military wants to keep its mission in Syria focused solely on fighting IS. He said, “Trump has granted increasing authority to the generals.” Further elaborating that “the generals are against going into any secondary wars in Syria other than fighting IS.”
This reluctance to wage secondary wars, however, is also likely to apply to Hezbollah itself and its approach toward the US military presence in Syria. The movement has more than enough on its plate as it continues assisting the Syrian government in taking back territories in Deir ez-Zor and Palmyra, where there is a significant IS presence.
At the same time, Hezbollah also faces the ongoing danger of a possible war with Israel on the Lebanese southern front, and may soon be participating in an operation to clear militants from the outskirts of the Lebanese village of Arsal, on the eastern mountain range border area with Syria.
With all this on its plate, it is highly unlikely that Hezbollah will broaden its mission in Syria to target the American troops stationed in that country.
Ceasefire holding in parts of Syria, fighting intensifies on Lebanese border, Associated Press, July 22, 2017
Hezbollah forces take offensive against Al-Quaeda fighters on Syria-Lebanon border, Al Masdar News, July 22, 2017
Syrian Army General Command announces cessation of hostilities in eastern Ghouta [Damascus province], Syrian Arab News Agency, July 22, 2017
We can’t have peace in Syria, that would be giving in to Russia!
By Neil Clark, published in RT.com‘s ‘Op Edge’ feature, July 21, 2017
Upon hearing the news that President Donald Trump is expected to phase out the CIA’s covert Syrian program, established by his predecessor Barack Obama, to arm and train anti-government ‘rebels’ in Syria, how did you respond? Did you:
a.) Welcome the news because it’s a positive step on the road to peace and reconciliation in Syria and a promising sign the U.S. has finally given up on (or at least put on the back burner), plans for an illegal ‘regime change,’ or
b.) go into a hissy fit, kick the cat, swear loudly at the TV and accuse the POTU.S. on Twitter of handing Russia ‘a victory.’
Well, I‘m sure for most ordinary members of the human race, keen to see an end to the suffering of the people in Syria, the right answer would be (a). Phasing out ‘Timber Sycamore’ (the code name of the CIA’s program), while keeping in mind that it won’t end U.S. interference in Syria, is at least it’s a step in the right direction.
For the inhabitants of ‘Planet NeoCon’ and their pro-war ‘liberal’ allies, however, news the CIA will no longer be backing people to blow up and cut off the heads of Syrians with the ‘wrong’ views has led to expressions of outrage, anger, and grief. Peace breaking out in Syria? Why that’s an absolute friggin’ disgrace! Better for the Syrian people to endure another 20 years of bloody conflict than to hand Russia ‘a victory’!
Never has the neocon agenda been so transparent as in the last few days. Those who have posed as concerned and humanitarian ‘Friends of Syria’ seem panic-stricken that the bombs may soon stop going off in the Arab Republic, and life in the country will get back to normal, with President Assad still in power and Syria’s international alliances not just unbroken but strengthened.
The aim of the operation from the outset, let’s be clear here, was not just to topple Assad but to turn Syria into a failed state, as U.S.-led wars/interventions have done to Iraq and Libya. For that, the U.S. president needs to be ordering the CIA to step up its covert support for anti-government ‘rebels,’ not telling them to end it. Hence the anger of the ‘Endless War lobby.’ They know what’s at stake. They know that despite all their efforts to destroy the secular Syrian Arab Republic as a functioning, independent nation, they’re currently staring a humiliating defeat in the face.
The heroic Syrian people haven’t buckled. Syria’s international allies have stood firm. Assad hasn’t flinched, or done a ‘Marin Cilic.’ Trump, for all his faults, appreciates the new reality and has acted accordingly. But the neocons and pro-war liberals construct their own reality, as we saw in 2003 and their claims that Iraq possessed WMDs.
A positive move by the U.S. president, one that increases the chances of an end to the hostilities in Syria, is portrayed as a disaster for America and the world.
‘Trump caves to Russia in Syria’ tweeted Anne Applebaum. Never mind that ‘rebels’ trained under the CIA’s program had defected, along with their arms, to ISIS and other radical jihadist groups. The Obama administration’s Syria policy “effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the ‘Global War on Terrorism’—the eradication of Al-Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates,”writes Gareth Porter, in his article ‘How America Armed Terrorists in Syria’.
Never mind, too, the enormous cost of Timber Sycamore to U.S. taxpayers, which some reports put at one billion dollars per year. For the likes of Applebaum, any policy, however expensive or destructive, can be justified so long as it undermines Russia or a Russian ally.
Noah Rothman of Commentary magazine seemed even more upset. He tweeted “This is huge. An absolute outrage. The first real Trump concession to Putin that undermines U.S. security directly.”
But the Syrian government has never been a security threat to the U.S., quite the contrary; in 2006, Syrian state security forces foiled an attack by an Al-Qaeda affiliate on the U.S. Consulate in Damascus. “Syrian officials came to the aid of the Americans. The U.S. is grateful for the assistance the Syrians provided in going after the attackers,” said White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.
That, of course, is conveniently forgotten by the ‘Endless War’ crowd today. And rather predictably, John ‘Bomb, Bomb Iran’ McCain expressed his anger at the prospect of peace breaking out in Syria. “If these reports are true the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin. A key pillar of American strategy must be the removal of Assad from power,” the old warmonger thundered.
Not to be outdone, Lindsey Graham, McCain‘s Republican sidekick, tweeted of the ending of the CIA program: “If this is true, a big loss for 1) Syrians who have been relentlessly attacked by Assad 2) our Arab partners 3) U.S. standing in the Middle East.” All three statements from Graham are utter bilge.
If there are no ‘rebels’ blowing up government forces or attacking civilians supportive of the government, there’s no need for military counter-action from the Syrian Arab Army. Ending support for ‘rebels’ will help end the war.
Arab partners, such as Jordan, are, according to reports, supportive of Trump’s action. In fact, one said that “strong Jordanian pressure” was behind the new approach. Other leading Arab ‘partners’ of the U.S., such as Egypt, have declared open support for the Assad government.
Finally, the U.S.’s standing in the Middle East will only improve if it takes a less interventionist approach and ends its policies of ‘regime change.’
The only people for whom the change in policy is a ‘big loss’ is those who want to see Syria burn forever.
The reporting of Trump’s decision has, surprise, surprise, been overwhelmingly negative. “How Trump just made it a little easier for Assad to stay in power” was how The Atlantic presented it. [How Trump made it a little easier for Assad to stay in power, July 19, 2017. Also in The Atlantic: ‘Trump’s Syria ceasefire is doomed‘, July 13, 2017]
We’re clearly meant to disapprove, but what right does the U.S. have to say who governs Syria in the first place? And, in any case, isn’t Assad staying in power preferable to ISIS, or Al-Nusra or ‘moderate’ rebels who chop off the heads of children?
After all, it isn’t Assad’s forces, or those inspired by his ideology, who have been massacring civilians in Manchester, London, Paris and across the world. Or aren’t we meant to notice this?
It’s noteworthy that none of those who are blasting the POTU.S. for ‘giving Russia a victory’ in Syria have anything to say about the illegality of the program which he has reportedly ended. It’s taken as a given that the CIA has the right to train, fund and arm rebels in other countries. Just imagine if the Syrian government approved its own security services doing the same in the U.S.!
The greatest fake news story of 2017 has been ‘Russian interference in the U.S. election,’ but U.S. interference in other countries is seen as perfectly normal. Such is the imperialistic mindset of the pro-war elites.
It’s a mindset that many ‘liberals’ have too. As Army vet Anthony Rawlings noted on Twitter, in 1967 hippies were protesting CIA‘s war in Vietnam; in 2017, they‘re protesting the CIA’s withdrawal from Syria.
The good news is that Syria has proved to be the Stalingrad of the NeoCon Empire. But as in Nazi Germany in 1944/45, there are still some fanatics in the bunker unwilling to accept that it’s game over.
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