Syria truce to al­lay Is­rael, Jor­dan fears about Iran

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

A sep­a­rate truce for south­ern Syria, bro­kered by the US and Rus­sia, is meant to help al­lay grow­ing con­cerns by neigh­bor­ing Jor­dan and Is­rael about Ira­nian mil­i­tary am­bi­tions in the area, in­clud­ing fears that Tehran plans to set up a dis­rup­tive long-term pres­ence there. Such ap­pre­hen­sions were stoked by re­cent move­ments of Shi­ite mili­tias - loyal to Iran and fight­ing along­side Syr­ian gov­ern­ment forces - to­ward Jor­dan’s bor­der with Syria, and to an­other strate­gic area in the south­east, close to where the two coun­tries meet Iraq.

The ad­vances are part of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad’s push to re­gain ter­ri­tory from rebel groups, some backed by the West, in the south­ern Daraa prov­ince, and from Is­lamic State ex­trem­ists in the south­east, near the tri­an­gle with Iraq. But Syria’s neigh­bors sus­pect that Iran is pur­su­ing a broader agenda, in­clud­ing carv­ing out a land route through Syria that would cre­ate a ter­ri­to­rial con­tin­uum from Iran and Iraq to Le­banon.

The cease­fire for south­ern Syria, set to start at noon to­day, is meant to keep all forces pinned to their cur­rent po­si­tions, said Jor­dan’s gov­ern­ment which par­tic­i­pated in the talks. This would pre­vent fur­ther ad­vances by forces un­der Iran’s com­mand, in­clud­ing Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah mili­tia.

The truce is to be mon­i­tored through satel­lite and drone images as well as ob­servers on the ground, a se­nior Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said yes­ter­day, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss de­tails with re­porters. Syria ally Rus­sia is to de­ploy mil­i­tary po­lice in the area.

In­for­ma­tion on truce com­pli­ance could be shared and dis­cussed in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Jor­dan, the of­fi­cial said. Is­rael did not par­tic­i­pate in the truce talks, but was pre­sum­ably briefed by the US, the Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said. Cease­fires have re­peat­edly col­lapsed in Syria’s six-year-old civil war, and it’s not clear if this one will last. The south­ern Syria truce is sep­a­rate from so far un­suc­cess­ful ef­forts by Rus­sia, Turkey and Iran to set up “de-es­ca­la­tion zones” in Syria, in­clud­ing in the south.

Is­rael is ex­pected to watch for truce vi­o­la­tions. Is­rael has re­peat­edly said it will not al­low Iran to set up a per­ma­nent pres­ence in Syria. Is­rael has car­ried out a num­ber of airstrikes in Syria against sus­pected ship­ments of “game-chang­ing” weapons bound for Hezbol­lah. “The ques­tion and con­cern is of course if it will be ex­ploited by the Syr­ian regime, Hezbol­lah and Iran to cre­ate new facts on the ground,” said Cha­gai Tzuriel, the di­rec­tor gen­eral of Is­rael’s In­tel­li­gence Min­istry.

Ahead of Fri­day’s truce an­nounce­ment, Jor­da­nian and Is­raeli of­fi­cials ex­pressed con­cerns about Ira­nian am­bi­tions. The Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, re­gional pow­ers and Jor­dan would not tol­er­ate the cre­ation of a “land line all the way from Tehran to Beirut”. Such a “Shi­ite cres­cent” would dis­rupt the re­gional bal­ance and be con­sid­ered a “su­per red line,” he said, re­fer­ring to ri­val Sunni and Shi­ite Mus­lim po­lit­i­cal camps led by Saudi Ara­bia and Iran, re­spec­tively.

Con­flicts be­tween the camps have es­ca­lated in re­cent years, in­clud­ing in proxy wars in Syria and Ye­men. Pre­dom­i­nantly Sunni Jor­dan is a US ally and main­tains dis­crete se­cu­rity ties with Is­rael. Jor­dan pre­vi­ously raised con­cerns about Iran in talks with Rus­sia, the of­fi­cial said. The As­sad gov­ern­ment surely re­ceived the mes­sage, he said, adding that it’s un­clear how much in­flu­ence the Syr­ian pres­i­dent has over his al­lies.

A suc­cess­ful truce could pave the way for talks about Syria re­tak­ing con­trol of bor­der cross­ings with Jor­dan that it lost to rebels dur­ing the war, the Jor­da­nian of­fi­cial said. Is­rael is also wor­ried about the re­cent move­ments of Ira­nian-backed forces. Is­rael con­trols the Golan Heights, a strate­gic plateau in south­west­ern Syria that it cap­tured in the 1967 Mideast war. Is­rael has fought cross-bor­der wars with Hezbol­lah from Le­banon.

In com­ments ear­lier this week, Tzuriel raised three points of con­cern, in­clud­ing the Hezbol­lah pres­ence near the Golan and ef­forts by Iran in Le­banon to build what he said is an “in­dige­nous mis­sile pro­duc­tion and up­grade ca­pa­bil­ity”. He also noted last month’s linkup of forces be­long­ing to the Ira­nian axis, in­clud­ing Shi­ite mili­tias, com­ing from both sides of the Syr­i­anIraqi bor­der, near Jor­dan. This raises con­cern that con­trol of parts of the bor­der will al­low Tehran “to re­al­ize its strate­gic aim of com­plet­ing an over­land con­tin­uum from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Le­banon,” he said. “Th­ese are threats which should con­cern all par­ties who are in­ter­ested in sta­bi­liz­ing Syria and the re­gion, in­clud­ing the United States and Rus­sia,” he said.

The truce deal, the first such agree­ment be­tween the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and Rus­sia, could help the US re­tain more of a say over who fills the power vac­uum left be­hind as Is­lamic State is routed from ad­di­tional ter­ri­tory in Syria. Wash­ing­ton has been re­sis­tant to let­ting Ira­nian forces and their prox­ies gain strength in Syria’s south. In re­cent weeks, US forces have shot down a Syr­ian air­craft that got too close to Amer­i­can forces as well as Ira­nian-made drones.

The Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Jor­dan, Ed­ward Oak­den, said Rus­sia has an im­por­tant role to play. “It’s ob­vi­ously in­cum­bent on the Rus­sians to bring pres­sure to bear on both the (Syr­ian) regime and the Ira­ni­ans, and on the regime’s Hezbol­lah al­lies, to re­spect the spirit and the let­ter of this cease-fire and to con­trib­ute ac­tively to the es­tab­lish­ment of a de-es­ca­la­tion zone, rather than, as it ap­pears, seek­ing to un­der­mine it,”he said.


Mem­bers of Syr­ian pro-gov­ern­ment forces take selfies by Lake As­sad, the enor­mous reser­voir cre­ated by the Tabqa dam, at a wa­ter pump­ing sta­tion which they cap­tured near the vil­lage of Dibsi Faraj, at the en­trance of Raqqa prov­ince and ad­ja­cent to ar­eas taken by Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces (SDF) yes­ter­day.

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