The Daraa dilemma
The Syrian Arab Army is moving ever closer to the south-western city of Daraa, a place where in 2011, early foreign coordinated provocations first unleashed the wave of chaos that would balloon into the present conflict in the country. For weeks, a multi-sided game of rhetorical chicken has been played wherein the US has threatened to take action against the Syrian troops advancing on the small city they intended to liberate from the occupation of multiple Takfiri terrorist groups, including factions supported by Washington.
Throughout the entire process there has been more innuendo than solid fact although it is still generally believed that Hezbollah’s forces will participate in the liberation of Daraa against the wishes of Russian officials who are aiming to accelerate a dignified withdrawal of the troops who came from Lebanon at the request of the Syrian government.
The confusion surrounding the Daraa operation stems from an earlier deal that Russia cut with “Israel” wherein Tel Aviv’s forces would cease their frequent acts of aggression against Syrian territory in exchange for the orderly withdrawal of Iranian advisers and Hezbollah from the country – particularly from western Syria. This unique deal saw Russia getting the habitually obstinate “Israeli” regime to recognise the right of Syria to exist and be led by its current Ba’athist leadership in exchange for something that ultimately Russia also seeks for its own interests of balancing rivalling forces of the region.
While the US would ultimately like to inflict as much late-stage damage to Syria as possible even though it is now beyond question that Damascus has won the overall conflict, the US which along with Russia and Jordan monitors a de-escalation zone near the Jordanian border, also appears now to be following “Israel’s” strategy which itself has derived from intense discussions with Moscow regarding the situation in the south west of Syria.
Today, Reuters published excepts of a private correspondence between Washington and its Takfiri proxies in and around Daraa in which an unnamed US official writes,
“You (Takfiri fighters) should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us”.
The letter also states that the US will continue to condemn moves by Syria and Russia to liberate Daraa but the implication is clear enough that the US will likely not conduct any military operations to halt the rapid advance of the Syrian Arab Army in the region. There are several possibilities regarding the developments that have led to today’s private statement by the US to the terrorists of Syria’s south-western frontier.
1. Hezbollah will not actively participate in the operation
While Hezbollah officials in Lebanon earlier defied the wishes of Russian officials and claimed they would indeed actively participate in the Daraa operation, it may be that quietly, an unpublicised deal has been reached to limited the operation’s combatants to Syrian soldiers, Russian advisers and the Syrian Arab Airforce.
While countless theories about the presence of lack thereof of Hezbollah forces continues to fill notoriously unreliable Arabic social media accounts, a confirmed statement by Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon hints that some sort of agreement may have been reached where Hezbollah has opted to trade its presence in Daraa for a supportive statement from a key Russian official. The pro-Hezbollah Lebanese media outlet Al-Manar has just published an interview with Russian Ambassador Alexander Zasypkin, originally conducted by the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, in which Zasypkin decries the forthcoming proposals on a peace plan for Palestine, the so-called “Deal of the century” authored by Saudi Arabia and the United States. Al-Manar quotes Zasypkin as stating,
“The deal of century is a matter of surrender. It’s not peace. Israel’s calculations which suit with some Arab states don’t match with the condition of Syria, Lebanon and Palestine”.
During the interview, Zasypkin also assured his Lebanese audience that the terrorists of the south western Syrian frontier will ultimately be destroyed.
It could very well be that in exchange for Russian assurances to a Lebanese audience, Hezbollah has in fact taken a backseat in the Daraa operation although this will only be fully known once the operation against the city centre begins in earnest. As for Zasypkin, while his remarks were clearly designed to assuage fears in Lebanon that somehow Russia might not follow through on its mandate to fight terrorism in Syria, he has not said anything particularly novel.
Russian officials have repeatedly said that they seek to shift the trajectory of the Syrian conflict from a military to a political process with the ultimate goal of achieving a negotiated peace as soon as possible. That being said, Russia has also confirmed that it will continue to aid Syria in the form of a clear and limited anti-terror mandate in regions where the Takfii threat remains. Likewise, as the US/Saudi “Deal of the century” is dead on arrival as Palestine has for months refused to entertain the forthcoming proposals that have been widely leaked in Arabic media, Russia has nothing to lose by telling anti-Zionist media outlets in Lebanon that the deal is flawed. This itself paves the way for a future Russian mediation in a peace process for Palestine that will likely be less shamelessly biased than the proposals being hammered out by the Americans and Saudis.
2. Too many Russians near Darra
Russia and the US may have different views on the nature of the Syria conflict and on a desired outcome, but they have nevertheless agreed to refrain from engaging one another militarily in the country. Because of this, the US has quietly agreed to not attack areas of Syria where there are Russian human and material assets and likewise, Russia has vowed to attack US assets in Syria only if Russians come under attack.
Because Russia is playing a role in the liberation of Daraa that is somewhat larger than initially expected, it could be that no deal regarding Hezbollah has been reached but that instead, the US simply does not want to risk attacking a remote part of Syria where Russians could fall victim to such an attack – thus eliciting a Russian response that could escalate tensions at a time when both the US and Russia (in different ways and for different reasons) seek to wind down the war in Syria.
3. No strategic value
The only reason that Daraa became a flash point for violence early in the Syrian conflict was because Takfiri assets of western governments could be easily supplied by NATO forces as Daraa is near the Jordanian border. In this sense, Darra was chosen as an early spot in which to stage a provocation by the United States because it was within reach of US bases in Jordan. Now that the war is winding down, Daraa has once again become a place of little strategic value to the United States and its allies.
Because of this, it could very well be that on cost-benefit analysis, it is not worth attacking Syrian and allied forces in the region, because all it would accomplish is a delay of the inevitable victory of Syrian forces – not least because any would-be US attack would have to be limited in scope in order to avoid hitting Russian assets. Furthermore, due to creeping instability in Jordan as a result of the worsening economic crisis, it may well be that America’s Jordanian ally privately wants Syria to achieve victory over the Takfiri terrorists in Daraa due to the fact the if conditions worsen in Jordan, the Takfiris could cross the border in order to stage provocations on Jordanian soil. If this is the case, then perhaps the US has not only reached an understanding with Moscow but also with Amman.
The last two explanations for the apparently authentic letter being reported by Reuters suggesting that the US will not militarily intervene against the Syrian liberation of Daraa are almost certainly true – assuming Reuters hasn’t received and foolishly published a decoy document – something which cannot be ruled out.
What is less clear at the moment is whether the US letter was inspired by Russia guaranteeing a reduced or removed Hezbollah presence in the operation – thus fulfilling a long standing goal of both Washington and Tel Aviv.
Whatever the case may be, it can no longer be denied by anyone that the war in Syria is becoming more limited in respect of its geographical scope and in the individual ambitions of all combatant nations. It appears that in one form or another, all sides are making various compromises in-line with Russia’s overall goal of a compromise based conclusion to a conflict which has openly raged for seven years.