SYRIAN WAR REPORT – JAN. 23, 2019: SYRIA THREATENS TO STRIKE ‘TEL AVIV AIRPORT’

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Late on January 22, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) repelled a major attack by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) in the Idlib de-escalation zone.

According to the Russian military, about 150-200 militants supported by 15-20 vehicles equipped with machine guns attacked SAA positions in the areas of Abu al-Duhur and Abu Sharja. They also employed at least one suicide vehicle borne explosive device. The militants overran the first line of defense and penetrated about 1.5-2 km deep into the SAA-controlled area.

Then, the military deployed reinforcements and with support of artillery units SAA troops repelled the advance and forced militants to withdraw from the recently captured positions.

According to pro-SAA sources, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham members suffered significant casualties.

12 service members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) were killed in the January 20th Israeli airstrikes on Damascus’s International Airport, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on January 22. The SOHR claimed that the total death toll is 21 people: 6 Syrian Army troops, 12 IRGC service members and 3 other non-Syrian nationals.

On January 22, Syria’s envoy to the United Nations warned that if the UN Security Council did not put a stop to Israeli strikes on his country, Syria would retaliate on its own.

“Syria would practice its legitimate right of self-defense and respond to the Israeli aggression on Damascus International Airport in the same way on Tel Aviv airport,” Bashar Jaafari said.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that the strikes were aimed at Iranian targets in the country. According  to the very same version, IDF aircraft attacked Syrian military positions because they were responding ‘violently’ to Israeli strikes on Iranian forces. It should be noted that the SOHR claims contradict with the data provided by the Russian Defense Ministry. It said that 4 Syrian service members were killed in the attack.

The Russia-delivered S-300 system was not employed by the Syrian military during the encounter. According to Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, the reason is that Syrian S-300 crews are still not ready to operate the S-300 air defense system themselves. According to the report, the S-300 crews have not passed firing exams yet. The newspaper speculated that the crews would not be ready earlier than March 2019. Then, one battalion of the S-300 air defense system will reportedly be deployed in the T4 airbase area.

Citing its own sources, Kommersant stated that Russia is not going to change its current attitude towards Israeli strikes on Syria as long as Russian personnel are not near the targets being hit.

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ISIS Needs the US to Survive

ISIS Needs the US to Survive

Scott Ritter – American Conservative Jan 18, 2019

Scene of the suicide bombing in Manbij, Syria, Jan. 16, 2019

Scene of the suicide bombing in Manbij, Syria, Jan. 16, 2019

“No war is over until the enemy says it’s over,” James Mattis, the former Marine Corps General and recently resigned secretary of state, is quoted as saying. “We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact, the enemy gets a vote.” Mattis’s statement was made in 2012, well before President Donald Trump, in a surprise announcement on December 19, declared victory over the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” the president wrote. He later expanded on that sentiment in a video message, posted on Twitter. “Our boys, our young men and women, are coming home now,” Trump noted. “We won.”

But a recent attack on U.S. forces in Syria, carried out by a suicide bomber which ISIS claimed was operating on its behalf, has led to an outpouring of criticism of Trump’s precipitous decision. “ISIS has claimed credit for killing American troops in Syria today,” Senator Marco Rubio tweeted in the aftermath of the attack. “If true, it is a tragic reminder that ISIS not been defeated and is transforming into a dangerous insurgency. This is no time to retreat from the fight against ISIS. Will only embolden & strengthen them.”

While Mattis’s words were a cautionary warning about premature celebration, Rubio’s sentiments, along with those who share his point of view, miss the point of the ISIS attack altogether. The U.S. was on the verge of withdrawing from Syria, something Rubio and others believe would give ISIS a victory. Why, then, would ISIS attack American forces in such a high-profile manner, creating the condition for a reversal of Trump’s decision and keeping the U.S. military in Syria for the foreseeable future?

As far as military patrols go, the one carried out by forces assigned to the Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (SOJTF-OIR) in the northern Syrian city of Manbij on January 16 was as routine as it gets. SOJTF-OIR was authorized under Section 1209 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to provide assistance to the so-called “Vetted Syrian Opposition,” or VSO. A Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence specialist, accompanied by a Department of Defense civilian translator, was tasked with meeting with local personnel from the Civil Administration of Manbij and the Manbij Internal Security Forces, ostensibly as part of the overall coordination being conducted with the VSO in preparation for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria announced by Trump last month. The intelligence specialist was accompanied by a small force of U.S. soldiers, tasked with providing force protection commensurate to the threat.

The “threat” as it was, was two-fold. On the one hand you have the Turkish military and allied proxies on the outskirts of Manbij who are threatening to occupy Manbij in the wake of a U.S. withdrawal in order to expel Kurdish forces aligned with the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish political party Turkey accuses of being allied with the PKK, a Turkish-based Kurdish group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey. On the other, ISIS, an Islamic extremist group which had, until 2016, occupied Manbij. Although ISIS had been driven from Manbij by VSO forces, so-called “sleeper cells” remained. This threat was real—in March 2018 a U.S. Delta Force operator and British commando were killed in a roadside bomb attack carried out by ISIS.

But ISIS apparently was not a major factor in the security plan put in place by the patrol. The planned meeting took place in a popular restaurant located on the main street of Manbij. The owner had fled Manbij when ISIS took over, returning after its liberation to open this particular establishment, which became the “go-to” location for visiting dignitaries (Senator Lindsey Graham claims to have eaten there when he visited Manbij), and was frequented by U.S. soldiers during their “coordination” efforts with the VSO. If an ISIS suicide bomber wanted to pick one location in Manbij where he or she could be certain Americans and high-value local officials would regularly congregate, it would be this restaurant.

This is precisely what happened this week. Alerted by the tell-tale presence of the unique M-ATV vehicles used by U.S. special forces, flying large American flags, the ISIS suicide bomber waited until the Americans had entered the popular restaurant and sat down with their VSO counterparts. The bomber walked to the entrance of the restaurant, detonated a suicide vest carrying explosives and, in the resulting explosion, killed the DIA intelligence specialist, his American interpreter, and two other U.S. soldiers, and wounded three other U.S. soldiers. Eleven locals died in the bombing as well, including at least five members of the Manbij Internal Security Force.

Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria had been met with a wave of high-profile opposition, and prompted the resignations of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Brett McGurk, in protest. Senator Lindsey Graham led a chorus of Congressional opposition to the decision, calling it a “huge Obama-like mistake” and, in doing so, drawing parallels to the December 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, an action critics later claimed helped spawn the birth of ISIS. Graham further noted that “An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al Assad of Syria, and Russia. I fear it will lead to devastating consequences for our nation, the region, and throughout the world.”

While Iran, Syria and Russia have all supported Trump’s decision, ISIS had remained silent—until January 16. “The enemy gets a vote,” Mattis said. On January 16, 2019, ISIS voted, but it wasn’t the vote Senator’s Graham and Rubio have articulated. The ISIS attack in Manbij was a premeditated, carefully calculated event designed to sow chaos in the processes associated with an American disengagement in Manbij.

Manbij is a predominantly Arab city strategically located on the front lines separating Turkish forces from their arch-enemies, the Kurdish YPG, in the contested territory of northern Syria. The Manbij City Council, headed by a former Syrian Parliamentarian named Sheikh Farouk al-Mashi, has been touted as a model for similar Arab-led city councils in former ISIS strongholds such a Raqaa, the one-time capital of the ISIS caliphate. These councils would operate within the framework of a self-governing Kurdish-dominated entity in northeastern Syria known as Rojava. Arab-led city councils like the one in Manbij are viewed by the U.S. as a means of reducing the Kurdish profile in northeastern Syria, thereby placating the Turks, locking in a pro-U.S. Arab element opposed to the Assad regime in Damascus, and providing an Arab-based political entity that can effectively counter the attraction to ISIS on the part of many Syrian Arab tribes.

The problem with this approach is that it can’t work. The Kurds will never grant full autonomy to the Arab city councils, thereby guaranteeing Turkish angst, and the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, has insisted on the return of all Syrian territory to its control. Moreover, the city councils are weak and ineffective, and as such provide the perfect incubator for a residual ISIS presence. The only way the continued existence of city councils such as the one in Manbij is for the U.S. to remain in Syria and continue to prop them up.

The leadership of ISIS knows that its days are numbered once the Syrian government can turn its full attention on the eradication of that organization. ISIS was born in the vacuum of governance created by the collapse of central authority in both Iraq and Syria brought on by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent support of Islamic extremism as a vehicle of instability in Syria after 2011. As the Iraqi government, with the assistance of Iran, regains control of its own territory, the last remaining bastions of ISIS control are on Syrian soil, in areas controlled by the U.S. military. The correlation between the presence of U.S. military forces and the continued existence of ISIS should not be lost on anyone—ISIS needs the U.S. in order to survive.

The patrol that was attacked in Manbij was not, as the detractors of Trump’s decision to withdraw from Syria have stated, furthering the national security objectives of the United States. While it wasn’t their intention, through their actions these Americans were empowering ISIS by furthering a situation from which ISIS in Syria draws its relevance. A U.S. withdrawal from Syria would set ISIS adrift, allowing the Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, to defeat it and reassert its control over not only the territory currently occupied by ISIS, but also the hearts and minds of the Syrian Arabs whom ISIS needs for sustainment. By attacking the U.S. military and Manbij City Council on January 16, 2019, ISIS cast its vote in favor of the continued presence of U.S. military forces in Syria. Those who continue to argue in favor of a U.S. military presence in Syria are only giving credence to that vote.

Scott Ritter is a former Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD. He is the author of Dealbreaker: Donald Trump and the Unmaking of the Iran Nuclear Deal (2018) by Clarity Press

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Turkey, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Work To Defend ‘Syrian Revolution’

January 15, 2019

South Front

Leader of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham Abu Mohammad Al-Joulani declared his support to an expected Turkish military operation against Kurdish armed groups in northeastern Syria during an interview with Amjad Media on January 14.

He stressed that his group supports “the operation to liberate the eastern Euphrates”. He also rejected criticism from his militant counterparts that the recent Hayat Tahrir al-Sham expansion within the Idlib de-escalation zone opens a route for a Russian-backed military operation in the area. He recalled that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which just recently was the official branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, is an important part of the so-called “Syrian revolution” thus justifying its further actions.

Recently, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham de-facto established a full control of the most of the Idlib de-escalation zone by defeating the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation and forcing it to accept own rule across the area.

Now, the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leadership is working to consolidate its gains in security and media spheres. Experts say that the main idea of Al-Joulani and his inner circle is to become an irreplaceable partner of the Turkish government in Idlib-related issues and this approach has worked so far.

On January 14, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlet Cavusoglu stressed that Turkey is doing what is required to maintain peace and prevent violations in the Idlib de-escalation zone. He even claimed that the Idlib de-escalation deal has been “successfully” implemented despite difficult conditions and that the Syrian government and the countries that support it are to blame if Idlib becomes “terrorist nest”.

Cavusoglu somehow forgot to mention that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which is the internationally designated terrorist group, was excluded from the ceasefire regime established in the Idlib zone and is a legal target of military actions, which were expected to be undertaken in the framework of the deal. However, now it became clear that Turkey’s attempts to prevent the further military successes of the Damascus government in northwestern Syria openly contributed to the expansion of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-like entities there.

Meanwhile, the political leadership of the Syrian Kurds was once again encouraged by harsh statements of US President Donald Trump towards Turkey and announced that it had paused talks with the Damascus government.

An official representative of the Syrian Kurds in Moscow, Rshad Bienaf, told the Russian media that there was a “dialogue”, but no results were achieved because the Damascus government is not ready to change the constitution in the favor to the so-called “democratic system” established in the US-occupied area of northeastern Syria.

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israel’s (apartheid state) Top Commander Finally Spills Secrets Of “Invisible War” In Syria

Israel’s Top Commander Finally Spills Secrets Of “Invisible War” In Syria

Source: ZeroHedge

For years Israel denied allegations that it had a role in funding and weaponizing the anti-Assad insurgency in Syria, and more often military officials responded “no comment” even when confronted with overwhelming evidence of Israeli weapons documented in al-Qaeda linked insurgents’ hands, but this all changed in a new British Sunday Times interview with outgoing Israeli army commander Gadi Eisenkot, who has finally confirmed the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) supplied weapons to rebels across the border “for self-defense,” and further perhaps more stunningly, has admitted to long waging an “invisible war in Syria” that involved “thousands of attacks”.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot 

The interview constitutes the first time that any current top Israeli military or government official has fully acknowledged sending anything beyond “humanitarian supplies,” such as medical aid to Syrian militants seeking to topple the Assad government; and yet it still appears the country’s military chief is slow playing the confirmation, only acknowledging the IDF provided “light weapons” — even after years of reporting has definitively uncovered an expansive Israeli program to arm dozens of insurgent groups and pay their salaries, includingknown affiliates of al-Qaeda in Syria.

This comes after the Syrian government has for years accused Israel of partnering with the west and gulf countries, such as the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey of funding and weaponizing an al-Qaeda/ISIS insurgency as part of covert regime change operations aimed at Damascus and its allies Iran and Hezbollah. Since then, countries like Qatar have come forward to reveal just how vast their covert role in fueling the Syrian war really was, which we covered in our story, In Shocking, Viral Interview, Qatar Confesses Secrets Behind Syrian War.

The Sunday Times relates a key confession that comes out of Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot’s explosive interview as follows:

Eisenkot acknowledged for the first time, however, that Israel had supplied rebel groups in the border area with light weapons “for self-defence”.

Israel was a hidden player on a crowded Syrian battlefield.

Eisenkot positively boasted in the interview that “We operated in an area controlled by the Russians, sometimes attacking targets a kilometre or two from Russian positions,” in order to strike at Iranian assets in Syria.

The rare “confession” of sorts comes at a moment the White House says it’s moving forward on President Trump’s previously announced US troop pullout from Syria, something which has rattled Israel’s leadership, which has argued that Iran will become entrenched near Israel’s border as a result. Eisenkot’s words appear a warning to Iran that Tel Aviv aims to maintain operational capability inside Syria.

On this point the IDF chief admitted to “thousands” of attacks inside Syria:

“We carried out thousands of attacks [in recent years] without taking responsibility and without asking for credit,” he told the Sunday Times.

Given that prior military officials have typically put this number at “hundreds”, often from 200 to 400, this is an astounding admission that confirms Israel and Syria have been in a de facto state of open war since the first acknowledged Israeli airstrikes began in 2013.

Commenting on a prior report, The Times of Israel, summarized the timeline of Israel’s support to the anti-Assad insurgency as follows:

Foreign Policy said that Israel’s support for the rebel groups began in 2013, funding groups in places such as Quneitra and Daraa. It ended this summer as the regime’s forces advanced and made increasing gains in southern Syria against rebels. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops regained control of the border area in July.

The Syrian army said in 2013 that it had seized Israeli weapons in rebel hands.

The report said Israel sent the rebel groups weapons that included assault rifles, machine guns, mortar launchers, and vehicles. It initially sent the rebels US-made M16 rifles that would not identify Jerusalem as the source, and later began supplying guns and ammo from an Iranian shipment to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group that Israel captured in 2009, according to Foreign Policy.

But a number of analysts have suggested Israeli support to the opposition began even closer to the start of the conflict.

A prior Wall Street Journal investigation found that this relationship involved weapons transfers, salary payments to anti-Assad fighters, and treatment of wounded jihadists in Israeli hospitals, the latter which was widely promoted in photo ops picturing Netanyahu himself greeting militants. As even former Acting Director of the CIA Michael Morell once directly told the Israeli publicIsrael’s “dangerous game” in Syria consists in getting in bed with al-Qaeda in order to fight Shia Iran. 

Prior widely shared photo of Israeli soldiers speaking face to face with al-Qaeda fighters near the Israeli occupied Golan heights in Syria.

In recent years, multiple current and former Israeli defense officials have gone so far as to say that ISIS is ultimately preferable to Iran and Assad. For example, former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren in 2014 surprised the audience at Colorado’s Aspen Ideas Festival when he said in comments related to ISIS that, “the lesser evil is the Sunnis over the Shias.” Oren, while articulating Israeli defense policy, fully acknowledged he thought ISIS was “the lesser evil.”

Likewise, for Netanyahu and other Israeli officials the chief concern was never the black clad death cult which filmed itself beheading Americans and burning people alive, but the possibility of, in the words of Henry Kissinger, “a Shia and pro-Iran territorial belt reaching from Tehran to Beirut” and establishment of “an Iranian radical empire.”

What is clear, and now finally settled for the historical record, is that for years Israeli concealed its “hidden hand” in the proxy war while feigning merely “humanitarian aid” — something now fully admitted by Israel’s top military commander. In other words the humanitarian smokescreen was cover for a full-on covert war on Damascus, as we and many other independent outlets have reported many times, and for years. Yet another past “conspiracy theory” becomes today’s incontrovertible fact.

After years of speculation, IDF chief admits israel (apartheid state) supplied Syrian terrorists with weapons

After years of speculation, IDF chief admits Israel supplied Syrian rebels with weapons

After years of speculation, IDF chief admits Israel supplied Syrian rebels with weapons

RT | January 15, 2019

The outgoing IDF chief of staff has spilled the beans on a poorly guarded secret of the Israeli military, that it has supplied Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s government with weapons “for self-defense.”

Gadi Eisenkot, who was the Israeli Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff for the last three years, told the Sunday Times in a farewell interview that Israel had been directly involved in the Syrian conflict on the side of the Syrian rebels, something that Tel Aviv has been reluctant to acknowledge before.

The general, who is retiring from military service, said that Israel supplied rebels at the border with light weapons for the purposes of “self-defense.”

While the direct links between Syrian rebels and Israeli commanders have been officially revealed for the first time, rumors of close military ties between the armed militants and the Israeli government have been circulating for years.

Foreign Policy magazine reported in September that Israel supplied weapons and gave money to at least 12 rebel groups holed up in southern Syria. The arrangement reportedly included Israeli officials also giving $75-per-person monthly allowances to rebel fighters, in addition to the funds their leaders received to procure weapons on the black market.

In return, rebels were expected to deter Hezbollah and Iran proxies from the Israeli-occupied part of the Golan Heights.

The scheme was reportedly in effect throughout Operation Good Neighbor, which officially kicked off in June 2016 and was wrapped up only last November. Within this undertaking, Israel was openly assisting the rebels but claimed that assistance was strictly humanitarian. Israel treated wounded Syrian rebels and their families in its hospitals, provided some 1,524 tons of food, 250 tons of clothes, 947,520 liters of fuel, as well as a huge amount of medical supplies.

However, until recently Israel kept vigorously denying any involvement beyond that. The Jerusalem Post’s report in September on the IDF confirming that it had provided light weapons to Syrian rebels was promptly pulled from its website. The newspaper told RT at the time that it was forced to remove the article by the army’s censor, apparently, “for security reasons.”

In November, Maj. Gen. Gershon Hacohen, a former senior commander with the IDF, revealed that former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon had personally met with a group of Syrian rebels, without specifying the time period. Ya’alon was Israel’s chief of defense from 2013 to May 2016.

The Israeli military seems to have finally begun to reveal the scope of its involvement in the Syrian conflict, previously shrouded in secrecy. In an interview with the New York Times, Eisenkot acknowledged that Israel has been waging a large-scale bombing campaign aimed at degrading Iran’s military influence in the region. In 2018 alone, the IDF dropped 2,000 bombs on alleged Iran-linked targets in Syria. Sorties into the neighboring country’s territory became“near-daily events” after PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s government greenlighted the expansion of the operation in January 2017, according to the retiring general.

Trump Retreats from His Promise of Withdrawal While Al-Qaeda Makes Progress in Syria

By Elijah. J. Magnier
Source

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Al-Nusra front – al-Qaeda rebranded as HTS (Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham) – is expanding its influence and military control over entire Syrian cities and villages in northern and western rural Aleppo. Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the ex- ISIS (the Islamic State terror group) Emir of Syria and the self proclaimed Emir of al-Qaeda in the Levant, is ordering his forces to move towards Idlib and its rural area, mainly against the cities of Ariha, Jabal al-Zawiya and Maarrat al-No’man. His aim is to complete the control by his jihadists of the entire area defined in the Astana talks – by Russia and Turkey – where a ceasefire was established last year in order to stop the advance of the Syrian army to recover the northern territory. Idlib and its surroundings is today the location where the greatest number of jihadists ever to be united in one single geographic area in the Middle East are gathered. They are fully armed with the most advanced US weapons, notably guided anti-tank TOW missiles and armed drones, together with hundreds of suicide bombers ready to fight and die.

Up to now, Joulani has managed to dissolve over 14 Syrian armed groups, described by the West as “moderate”. These groups were financed and equipped by Turkey, whose forces have not reacted so far and have allowed Joulani’s group to consolidate power. Turkey’s policy may undermine the Astana deal, which aims to eliminate the presence and force of jihadists in the north of Syria.

Meanwhile, the US president Donald Trump – who has claimed that ISIS is already defeated and that in Syria “there is only death and sand” – and his establishment are doubling back on the previously announced schedule of withdrawal from Syria: The President’s national security advisor John Bolton said on Sunday that the US will consider withdrawing when ISIS is defeated and Turkey ensures the safety of US-allied Kurdish fighters. Trump is aware that ISIS is located in only 3 or 4 villages today along the east of the Euphrates river, on the DeirEzzour-al Qaem front. It is clear that the US establishment is exerting pressure on the inexperienced President to slow down withdrawal from Syria. But there are further, undeclared arguments for this sudden change of plan.

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Firstly, from the military and geo-political standpoint, the US has a lot to lose in pulling out of the Levant. Its presence is effectively hassling Iran and its allies, and it is disturbing Russia, Syria and Iraq who consider the forces of Washington a continuous source of trouble. The US does not seem willing to see the end of ISIS, a group that Israel has repeatedly said it would rather see in control of Syria. The presence of US occupation forces in Northeast Syria is considered a platform for it to continue exerting US hegemony on the Middle East; the US presence is, from Israel’s point of view, a welcome source of friction between two superpowers operating on the same territory in Syria.

Secondly, the Iraqi parliament is waving in the face of Trump the serious possibility of ordering US forces to pull out of Iraq. Trump triggered the Iraqi reaction by rebuffing protocol and refusing to meet the Iraqi Prime Minister, Speaker and President on Iraqi soil during his recent visit to the Iraqi-US base in Ayn al-Assad in Anbar, Iraq.

If Iraq pushes the US forces out of Mesopotamia, these will be completely out of the Levant as well – if Trump fulfils his promises to withdraw in 30 days to four months – to the detriment of US-Israeli interests in the Middle East.

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Thirdly, it cannot be ruled out that the new conquests of al-Qaeda in Syria might offer an additional pretext for the US establishment to slow down or even reject the idea of withdrawal from Syria. The Russia-Turkey-Iran Astana deal had stopped any attack on the city and rural area of Idlib at a time when the US establishment was ready to bomb the Syrian army on the false pretext that Damascus intended to use chemical weapons in the area. The Astana deal took away any possibility for the US to be an active player in Syria. Moreover, the meeting in Moscow last month between Russia and Turkey led to agreement to freeze any Turkish advance towards the area of Manbij, allowing the Syrian army to take up a position in the area and for the YPG Kurds to pull out their forces, to the displeasure of Washington. That also disturbed Washington’s plans to see Ankara’s forces (not Damascus’s) replacing the US occupation forces after their departure. The presence of the US in North-East Syria was fast becoming meaningless.

A new development then forced itself onto Syrian geopolitics. The rebranded Al-Qaeda in the Levant (HTS), along with its foreign fighters, took control of the demarcation line established by Astana between Turkey and Russia. This gives the Russian and Syrian forces the legitimacy to bomb the al-Qaeda controlled area and to disregard the Astana deal. Turkey, meanwhile, is not interfering in the events of the last week and seems unwilling to finish off the jihadists as it had previously agreed to do in discussions with Russia.

Today al-Qaeda is eliminating many of Turkey’s allies and those who were financed, armed and trained by the US. Nevertheless, if Syria and Russia retain their initial plan to attack Idlib, the US will find a new opportunity to bomb the Syrian army and to intervene and disrupt Moscow’s plan to end the Syrian war.

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Al-Qaeda’s control of the demarcation line will – no doubt – trigger a confrontation with the Syrian army. Al-Qaeda will likely bomb Aleppo so as to claim it is reviving the Syrian revolution and rejecting any deal with Damascus. Abu Mohammad al-Joulani, the ex-ISIS emir and leader of HTS, claims that president Erdogan of Turkey is “Kafer” (a disbeliever), and that therefore no forces would fight under the Turkish flag even though the Turkish presence in Syria is allowing Joulani’s power to grow as Turkey offers necessary logistics and supply lines to his group.

Among the Joulani commanders, there were (and many still are active) – to name a few – the Libyan Abu Usama (Intel officer in Idlib), the Jordanians Sami al-Aridi (scholar and religious leader), Abu Julayleb (Emir of Lattakia), Abu Hussein (Emir of Idlib), Abu al-Yaman (head of the “army”), Abu Hafas (intel officer), the Egyptians Abu al-Yaqzan (religious affairs), Abu Abdallah (religious affair Lattakia), and the Tunisians Abu Omar (Justice and religious affairs), Abu Haidara (religious affairs Idlib). Thousands of foreign fighters fight among its ranks and others have moved towards Hurras al-Deen (HAD) and Jabhat Ansar al-Deen (JAD), a more radical version of HTS. Today al-Joulani is providing a perfect justification for US occupation forces to stay in Syria, waiting for further developments, and possibly a reshuffle of the power on the ground.

ISIS is no longer a threat to the US. In fact, it holds today Al-Susah, Morashida, Safafina and al-Shajlah, all under the protection of US forces. Therefore, the terror group doesn’t represent a reason for Trump to keep occupying Syrian territory. Moreover, Bolton is asking Turkey to offer guarantee to protect the YPG Kurds, the Syrian branch of the PKK, the sworn enemy of Turkey and a group on the US State Department terrorist list.

Bolton is basically demanding from Turkey the impossible, showing the weakness of a President whose administration forces him to continuously recant on his promises. US intentions towards Syria don’t correspond to the positive response evoked by Trump’s initial promise to pull out US troops, even if Russia, Iran and Syria never believed him. Nevertheless, Damascus considers it is high time for the Kurds to choose their side and drop their protection of the US so as to force their early departure.

HAYAT TAHRIR AL-SHAM CAPTURES MULTIPLE AREAS IN SOUTHERN IDLIB FROM TURKISH-BACKED MILITANTS (MAP UPDATE)

South Front

09.01.2019

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda) has captured multiple areas across southern Idlib from Turkish-backed militants. According to reports appearing from the ground, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has established control of the villages of Safuhin, Termila, Abedin, Naqayr, Arinaba and Sotuh al Dayr and is developing its advance further.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Captures Multiple Areas In Southern Idlib From Turkish-backed Militants (Map Update)

Click to see the full-size image

MAP UPDATE: HAYAT TAHRIR AL-SHAM EXPANSION IN NORTHWESTERN SYRIA

This map provides a general look at the current military situation in northwestern Syria. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has significantly expanded its control within the Idlib de-escalation zone and is workong to expand it further.

Map Update: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham Expansion In Northwestern SyriaRelated News

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