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A US-Iran confrontation is just what Israel seeks – and it may get

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 18, 2017

The move by the US military to shift for the first time the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) into Syrian territory from Jordan signifies that the Pentagon has created a new fact on the ground. According to the CNN, the deployment will be in the military base in Al-Tanf near Syria’s border with Iraq in the south-eastern region, which is currently an area of contestation between US-backed rebel groups and Syrian government forces.

A Russian Defence Ministry statement in Moscow on Thursday noted that the deployment might suggest a US intention to attack the Iran-backed Syrian government forces. The Russian statement said:

  • The range of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System is not enough to support the US-backed units… in Raqqa. At the same time, the US-led anti-terrorist coalition has several times attacked the Syrian government forces near the Jordanian border, so it can be assumed that such attacks will continue, but this time involving the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.

Indeed, such authoritative Russian statements, even while speculative, must be relying on intelligence inputs. Clearly, the US intentions need to be interpreted. One possibility could be that it might actually be a defensive move. The US has so far counted on other protagonists – government forces, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Russia – to exercise absolute self-restraint in not confronting the American forces. This tacit understanding (or pragmatism on both sides) largely worked well so far. Although, US-Russia relations continue to deteriorate, the ‘de-confliction’ arrangement in Syria has worked well so far.

However, war is war and there is nothing like a bit of self-help in such uncertain times. The point is the HIMARS provides an alternate means to hit the adversary if air operations are not feasible for some reason – or is simply a preferable option. From all appearances, the US reportedly has plans to create military bases in southern Syria (similar to what it has done in the northern regions bordering Turkey and Iraq) and, if so, the deployment of HIMARS fits into the plan.

Suffice to say, it all boils down to the big question: What are, going ahead, the Trump administration’s politico-military intentions in Syria? At a press briefing in Baghdad on June 7, Brett McGurk, US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, maintained that the US military presence in and around Al-Tanf (near Syrian-Iraqi border) is purely temporary. While explaining the rationale for the recent US attacks on the Syrian government forces in that area, McGurk claimed that the US mission is to fight the ISIS in Syria and “when the fight against Daesh is over, we won’t be there.” But then, one thing that the Qatar crisis has shown is that the Trump administration can be diabolical.

On the other hand, Syrian government forces are interested in regaining control of their country’s border with Iraq. President Bashar Al-Assad has repeatedly insisted that he intends to regain control of the whole of Syria. And there are sufficient indications that the Syrian government forces are being deployed to regain the vast, vacant, lawless spaces in eastern Syria bordering Iraq. This Syrian military thrust has been interpreted by some commentators as aimed at opening a land route across Iraq all the way to Iran through which Tehran can beef up Hezbollah. The assumption here is that a 1000-kilometre long land bridge connecting Damascus with Tehran (via al-Tanf and Baghdad) serves the purpose.

A commentary by the Brussels-based think tank European Council on Foreign Relations – US must avoid a war with Iran in eastern Syria – cautions the Trump administration that it is bound to lose in any rivalry with Iran over control of the Syrian-Iraqi border. However, Israel is betting on a US-Iranian conflagration and it remains to be seen how far the Trump administration can withstand the pressure from the Jewish lobby.

Meanwhile, latest reports suggest that Iraqi government forces and Sunni fighters have taken control of the border crossing near Al-Tanf inside Iraq (known as al-Waleed border crossing). A Reuters report has interpreted this development as in effect “preventing Iranian-backed forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from receiving heavy weaponry from Iran by using the main highway between Iraq and Syria.” Quite obviously, a US-Iranian contestation is building up in southern Syria.

In sum, Israel might be getting what it seeks, but it is another matter altogether whether it is going to like the final outcome of the struggle between the US and Iran over control of southern Syria near Golan Heights. It is improbable that Iran will give up the ‘axis of resistance’ because it is ultimately about Iran’s own defence. Read an incisive analysis by the Middle East Eye on the joint Israeli-US game plan to work in tandem with ISIS to pile pressure on Iran to pull back from the Syrian and Iraqi theatres — The CIA and Islamic State: Iran’s twin threats.

June 18, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia warns US against attacks on Syrian forces

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 12, 2017

Diplomats dissimulate, journalists exaggerate, politicians waffle, but an army general has no reason to obfuscate the stark ground reality. Therefore, the rare remarks by the commander of Russian forces in Syria, General Sergey Surovikin, merit great attention. Excerpts are reproduced below:

  • The US-led coalition lets militants of the Islamic State terrorist group leave Raqqa instead of killing them… The US-led coalition enters into collusion with ringleaders of the ISIS, who give up their settlements without fighting and head to the provinces where the Syrian government forces are active… The Russian force in Syria sees in the Raqqa area militants leaving the city and its suburbs unhindered. In early June, ISIS terrorists left the populated localities 19 kilometers southwest of Raqqa offering no resistance and headed toward Palmyra.
  • The Americans are using ISIS to robustly block the movement of government troops… The aviation of the US-led coalition is impeding the struggle of Syrian government forces against terrorists… They have blocked the way of government forces, who are eliminating ISIS militants and setting up border posts along the border with Iraq to the north-east of Al-Tanf.

The long and short of Gen. Surovikin’s chilling account is that although President Donald Trump vows to fight the ISIS with tooth and nail, Pentagon guys may have other ideas. They continue to use the ISIS with a hidden agenda where the Syrian government (and Iran) is the number one enemy. The US objective appears to be two-fold in Syria: a) create a buffer zone in southern Syrian regions bordering Israel and Jordan, which will be dominated by “good terrorists”; and, b) take control of the entire Syrian-Iraqi border on a North-South gradient so that Iran’s logistical capability to render help to the beleaguered Syrian government forces is sharply reduced.

Indeed, a ‘frozen conflict’ would effectively balkanize Syria. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank which is closely associated with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (a pro-Israel lobby group in Washington), featured a commentary recently, entitled Growing Risk of International Confrontation in the Syrian Desert. It implicitly warns Moscow of dire consequences if Russian forces intervene to disrupt the efforts by the US to prevent a Syrian government consolidation in the Al-Tanf / Deir Ezzur — Palmyra region.

However, no matter what the pro-Israeli think tankers in Washington pontificate, General Surovikin’s remarks underscored that Moscow is seized of the strategic importance of the Syrian government forces succeeding in re-establishing control over the country’s border with Iraq. Russia had earlier adopted a wary approach vis-a-vis the scramble for control of the Syrian desert regions bordering Iraq. But that seems to be changing — although Russian priority is to work with the Americans.

On Saturday, Russia has put the US on notice that the Syrian government forces intend to advance on Al-Tanf itself. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that US air strikes on the Syrian government forces are unacceptable. He called for “concrete measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.”

A Syrian army statement went a step further to announce on Saturday their intent to advance to the Iraqi border north of Al-Tanf. It warned the western forces in the area against interfering — “The general command of the army and armed forces warn of the risks of repeated attacks of the so-called ‘international coalition’ and their efforts to block the advances of the Syrian Arab Army and its allies in their war on terror.”

The planned Syrian operations north of Al-Tanf will scuttle the US plans to stage a ground operation with “good terrorists”, aimed at reaching Deir Ezzur city ahead of the government forces who are advancing in easterly direction from Palmyra. The Iranian reports suggest that Russian jets are actively backing the Syrian government operations in the region to the northeast of Palmyra.

Simply put, Iran is creating new facts on the ground in southeastern Syria, which the US (and Israel) will have to learn to live with. An Iranian war dispatch says thatthousands of (Syrian) army men and Hezbollah combatants entered the countryside of Palmyra city to resume a fresh phase of one of the army’s greatest operation in Homs (province) in recent years.”

June 12, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment