This may be the last chapter of the Syrian war as we knew it over the past six years. However, the Syrian crisis has more chapters to come. In order to end the war, the Russian and American presidents whom are believed to agree on the failure of the military solution and who think it’s time for a “peaceful solution” met in Vietnam to discuss the matter. The Russian and Turkish presidents have also met before for the same purpose. Meanwhile, Iran and Israel are preparing for the next phase.
The final outcome of the negotiations, which are led by the Russians and the UN envoy, aims to suspend the direct fighting between the different parties in Syria. It admits the failure of the military solution, but the most dangerous thing about it is that it accepts the temporary geographic distribution of Syria between four foreign parties which are Russia, the US, Iran and Turkey. The idea of this temporary division is that these powers stop fighting and can later negotiate a final solution. However, the internationally-accepted positioning, even if it’s temporary, will nurture the regional conflict between Iraq, Israel and Turkey who are all preparing for the phase after “stopping the war.”
Satellite maps which have been recently published show how Iran is building a series of small military bases that extend from the suburbs in southern Damascus to Golan. This is in addition to military gatherings, which the Lebanese party Hezbollah established in other posts in Syria. All these reflect the arrangements for the near future in order to impose a fait accompli despite the international agreement which is expected later. The military presence of Iran and its allies, in this magnitude, is establishing for a reality which threatens the entire region in general as well as Israel that has massive destructive military power and whose American ally vows to defend.
Like the rest of the region’s countries, Israel underestimated Iran’s infiltration of Syria. It believed that the civil war served its interests. It saw a sectarian swamp in which Hezbollah and Iranian powers get involved with ISIS and thought that they must have lost a lot of fighters during the past three years.
However, even if the agreement between the major parties succeeds in suspending the fighting, we must be worried of the indicators of a new phase of regional confrontations inside and outside Syria.
An advanced Iranian battalion
Israel sees Hezbollah as an advanced Iranian battalion that’s part of the conflict over influence in the Middle East and which is nurtured by the expected agreement to stop fighting in Syria while accepting the Iranians’ presence there. The Revolutionary Guards have solidified the presence of their foreign militias and fighters in their strongholds in Syria, which are about 50 kilometers on the borders of Israel with Golan. Photos show how the Revolutionary Guards built a series of military bases to be centers of support and financing that will operate as an Iranian highway that extends from Iraq to Lebanon. This is why recent Israeli threats have been directed against Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria. The aim of these threats is to confront the new reality. Previous Israeli wars were launched against Hezbollah according to how much the party has piled up weapons and expanded – almost every ten years. Regarding Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of the new reality saying that “when ISIS is expelled from a place, Iran is replacing it.” The reason is of course obvious, and it’s that the Syrian regime no longer has military capabilities as a result of its multiple defeats.
Israel, Turkey and Iraq are countries which have borders with Syria and are thus directly concerned in the details of the solution - such as which local and foreign militias control the situation on the ground. If it hadn’t been for American warnings, Jordan would have been threatened with Iranian militias marching towards its borders from Daraa.
Although Iran does not have borders with Syria, it has expanded the most there. It’s also the country with the most military activity in Syria. If it hadn’t been for Russia’s air support, Iran’s militias would not have expanded and would not have even survived defeat.
This is the reality which I do not know how the agreement to end the war in Syria will handle. The agreement only ends the presence of terrorist groups like ISIS, al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham but it will fail in ridding Syria of the more dangerous regional militias.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.
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