Safe Zones in Syria: Astana’s Key to Political Settlement?

Global Research, May 06, 2017
Inside Syria Media Center

According to the director of the Kazakh MFA Department for Asia and Africa Aidarbek Tumatov, the Astana process of signing a new memorandum on tensions de-escalation zones will allow to stop bloodshed in Syria and initiate a new political dialogue.

The main points

According to the document at our disposal, 4 zones of the escalation of tensions are to be created in Idlib governorate, to the north of Homs, Eastern Ghouta and in the south part of Syria. The exact coordinates of the zones will be determined by guarantor states May 22. The working group will be created within five days.

It is expected that the usage of arms will be prohibited inside the zones and the humanitarian organizations will be provided with all the necessary assistance. The measures on restoring urban infrastructure, water supply and other life support systems will be also taken.

Along the de-escalation zones borders it is planned to create lines of demarcation to prevent ceasefire violations. There also should be checkpoints for civilians, delivery of goods and humanitarian aid.

It was also said that Iran, Russia and Turkey act as a guarantor of peace and security in the region and at the same time support the territorial integrity and independence of Syria.

Opposition’s view

Inside Syria Media Center tried to find out opposition’s point of view on this issue.

Qadri Jamil

The head of the Syrian opposition’s Moscow Group Qadri Jamil said, that all sides support the idea of creation such zones and their presence can actually stop bloodshed and create favorable conditions for political settlement in Syria.

Mahmoud al-Hamza

Mahmoud al-Hamza, a member of the Syria National Council also stated that he welcomes any steps aimed at reducing violence as the Syrians are tired of war and yearn for peace. He stressed that such an initiative should be implemented.

Along with this, some analysts express their concern regarding that it’s not clear which foreign troops may be placed in Syria to provide security for the four-zone perimeter in the country. Some observers call upon strengthening the security for civilians not only inside the safe zones.

Analogies

Not so long ago the U.S. put up an initiative to create “no-fly zones” and “safe zones” in Syria while Turkey offered to set up refugee zones along the Syrian-Turkish border. However, there were concerns that Washington and Ankara may support the Syrian opposition under the pretext of a humanitarian operation. According to CNN, Donald Trump is ready to discuss and even adopt the initiative.

 

The two previous scenarios of informal zones of influence according to ISMC and XAirForces

Conclusion

To sum up, such zones is a decisive step towards the settlement of the conflict. It’s important that their creation goes side by side with the political dialogue. Meanwhile, a lot will depend on how scrupulously the parties will comply with the memorandum.

Sophie Mangal is a special investigative correspondent and co-editor at Inside Syria Media Center.

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روسيا ترفض دور الدولة الإقليمية

د. وفيق إبراهيم

تعرف الولايات المتحدة الأميركية أنّ قصف مطار الشعيرات لا يعطّل قدرات الجيش السوري ولا حركة طائراته الحربية.. الدليل ليس غامضاً، فالطائرات السورية تواصل القصف حتى من المطار المقصوف نفسه، والوحدات العسكرية تواصل تحرير القرى والبلدات من دون خوف.

هذا استنتاج يحظى بإجماع عام…

لذلك يجب التفتيش عن أسباب أخرى لتفسير القصف الأميركي؟

كانت روسيا تُمسك بزمام المبادرة في سورية تدعم الجيش السوري وحلفاءه بالقصف والتخطيط والدعم بالسلاح، ما أتاح فرصة تحرير مناطق واسعة.

وتجلّى هذا التعاون في مفاوضات جنيف، مخلّفاً أثراً على مستوى التماسك داخل المعارضة المسلّحة، فكادت أن تنهار رغم الدعم التركي والغطاء الأميركي، وتبادلت مكوّناتها الشتائم كما تلقّت سلسلة اتهامات بالعمالة تزامنت مع هجمات عسكرية من تنظيمات أكثر تكفيرية موضوعة على لوائح الإرهاب في مجلس الأمن الدولي.

وابتدأ الروس يرعون مصالحات داخلية بين الدولة وقسم من المتمرّدين عليها، حتى أنّهم ذهبوا أبعد من ذلك بنسج علاقات مع قسم من الأكراد من جهة، وفصائل من المعارضة السورية من جهة ثانية، فارضين على تركيا تفاهماً حصرها في نطاق ضيّق، لكنّه حقق لها جزءاً من حركتها التاريخية المتعلقة بلجم إمكانية تشكيل دولة كردية في شرق سورية. أما الجزء الآخر «العثماني» فأصيب «بشلل روسيّ». هذا بالإضافة إلى نجاح موسكو برعاية «منصة معارضة سورية» موالية لها، إلى جانب نجاحها بمهادنة السعودية في اليمن وتوثّبها لأداء دور في العراق، وانفتاحها على مصر واستعدادها للقفز إلى ليبيا باستقبالها اللواء حفتر…

ولموسكو علاقات مع الجزائر تتمتّع بشيء من العمق التاريخي. وهكذا جمع الروس بين القوة العسكرية والتمدّد السياسي، أمّا الذي استثار الأميركيين وجعلهم يعيشون وهم عودة الحياة إلى الاتحاد السوفياتي، فهو الدور الروسي النشيط في فنزويلا وبوليفيا والبيرو، إلى جانب علاقة موسكو بالبرازيل العضو في مجموعة «بريكس»، والتي تتحيّن الفرص لإعادة الحيوية إلى أعمالها الاقتصادية وبالتالي السياسية المناهضة للأحادية الأميركية.

ومع تولّي دونالد ترامب الرئاسة الأميركية، شعر الأمن القومي الأميركي بهذا التطوّر في الدور الروسي الذي يتّخذ من سورية محطة لمعاودة الإقلاع نحو أهداف أخرى. فقدّم البيت الأبيض قراءة بضرورة تفكيك كلّ العناصر الداعمة للدور الروسي، أو مستفيدة منه أو قد تشكّل بالتحالف معه «قوة كونية لا تُنافس»، لذلك أطلق ترامب أهدافاً اعتبرها الأكثر عداءً لبلاده، منتقياً المسلمين والصينيّين، وكان بذلك يحاول تجريد الروس من وسط العالم النفطي والاستراتيجي حيث يوجد العرب، ويعرقل انطلاقة الصين المنافس الاقتصادي الجدّي والمخيف. ألم يقل الكاتب الأميركي صموئيل هنتنغتون في كتابه صدام الحضارات: «إنّ الإسلام والكونفوشيوسيين هم أعداء الحضارة الغربية»؟! وللإشارة، فإنّ كونفوشيوس هو فيلسوف صيني يؤمن الصينيون بمبادئه إلى حدود القداسة.

أما وسط العالم فهو «الشرق الأوسط» العربي، لكن لماذا استثنى الأميركيون الروس من خطّتهم؟ لأنّ مكاتب الأمن القومي تعتقد أنّ روسيا دولة ضعيفة اقتصادياً، تراجعت صناعاتها غير العسكرية، لذلك تبيع الغاز لتغطية أربعين في المئة تقريباً من موازناتها. أمّا بكين، فتكاد موازنتها تعادل الأميركية، وقد تسبقها في عقد فقط أو أقلّ.

بالإمكان إذاً كما استدلّ الأكاديميون إيقاف الزحف الروسي بالمكابح الاقتصادية، على شاكلة خلق منافسات قوية في أسواق الغاز والنفط مع «الشرق الأوسط»، فينهار الاقتصاد الروسي أو قد يؤدّي إلى تمرّد داخلي على إدارة بوتين محدثاً كارثة سياسية، فتجد موسكو نفسها مضطرة للعودة إلى عصر يلتسين الذي أدار روسيا ورائحة الخمر تفوح من فمه ويكاد لا يستطيع الانتصاب على قدميه. إلّا أنّ حسابات المكاتب الأنيقة لم تتقاطع مع نتائج الميادين، وتبيّن أنّ التساهل الأميركي مع الدور الروسي في سورية لم يعطِ المراد منه… كادت المعارضة أن تتشرذم وتسقط تحت ضربات الحلفاء السوريين والروس والإيرانيين.

ولم تُبدِ الصين أيّة إشارات وهن أو ضعف أو مجرّد تراجع صغير. ظلّت مصرّة على مبادئ التجارة الحرّة التي يعتبر الرئيس ترامب أنّها أساس التراجع الاقتصادي الأميركي، أو ما يسمّيه «البلاء الكبير». هذا البلاء الذي يدعم كوريا الشمالية التي تابعت تجاربها الصاروخية، بطريقة توحي وكأنّها رسائل صينية إلى الكاوبوي الأميركي وعنوانها رفض الامتثال والانصياع.

وكذلك فعلت إيران التي واصلت بدورها إطلاق صواريخ باليستية بدافع التجربة من دون أن تعبّأ بالتهديدات الأميركية والغضب السعودي الخليجي، وتابعت بتعميق نفوذها الإيجابي من آسيا الوسطى إلى سواحل لبنان. وهكذا لم تمضِ أشهر معدودة على ولاية ترامب حتى تكوّنت الصورة التالية:

تراجعت ثقة الأصدقاء في فرنسا وبريطانيا بالإدارة الأميركية، حتى أنّهم بدوا كـ»الرواديد» يهاجمون حين تهاجم واشنطن، ويتراجعون بعد تراجعها. ما أظهرهم أمام العالم مجرّد مقلّدين من فئة الكومبارس يحاول التقاط ما يرميه أصحاب الأدوار الأساسية من أدوار هامشيّة تنفع للأفلام الكوميدية فقط في بلدان العالم الثالث. ينطبق الأمر أيضاً على ألمانيا.. لكن ما أخافَ واشنطن هو انطلاق موجة خوف في دول أوروبا الشرقية والقوقاز وآسيا الوسطى التي كانت قد انتقلت من المحور السوفياتي القديم إلى العباءة الأميركية. هؤلاء أُصيبوا بهلع لنموّ الدور الروسي وما يعنيه هذا النموّ من عودة «الكماشة الروسية» التاريخية.

أمّا تركيا، المستاءة من إهمال واشنطن لطموحاتها، فأخذت تقترب من الروس لابتزاز الأميركيين واستيعاب غضب موسكو في آنٍ معاً، مع محاولة كبح مشروع الدولة الكردية من جهة ثالثة. هذا المشروع الذي يرعاه الأميركيون ويمنعون الأتراك من القضاء عليه أو حتى الاقتراب منه بشكل عدائي.

يتبقّى دول الخليج التي لا تزال تنوح منذ تشكّل الدولة الإسلامية في إيران العام 1979، والأسباب ليست واضحة.. وإلّا كيف نفسّر دعم هذه الدول لصدام حسين بغزو إيران قبل بدء إيران بإنتاج وقود نووي؟ الحجة النووية إذن باطلة، ما يكشف أنّها تؤدّي دوراً لخدمة الأميركيين و«الإسرائيليين» متقاطعاً مع خلفيات سياسية خاصة بها، فهي لا تريد نموذجاً إسلامياً متطوّراً قبالتها على الشاطئ الآخر للخليج، وتفضّل حرباً أميركية ضدّ إيران وتحالفاتها في سورية والعراق واليمن.

هذه هي الصورة التفصيلية التي وضعها الأمن القومي الأميركي أمام ترامب لوضع بلاده، ولا بدّ أنّهم «أفهموه» أنّ عودة روسيا إلى «الشرق الأوسط» لا تعني إلا تراجع الدورين السياسي والاقتصادي للولايات المتحدة وبقوّة. ولا بدّ أنّهم «أفهموه» أنّ تقاطع هذه التراجعات الأميركية الخارجية مع نموّ المعارضة الداخلية، من شأنه دفع واشنطن إلى مواقع صعبة في عالم مضطرب قد يكسر حاجز الخوف ويتمرّد على هيمنتها الكونية.

قد تبدو المخاطر المعروضة أكبر من حجم قصف مطار الشعيرات، لكنّ المتعمّق يدرك أنّ محاولة إيقاف العجلة الروسية في سورية لا يمكن تفسيرها إلا بمحاولة للجم التدحرج الروسي العالمي، وذلك عن طريق إعادة إنعاش «المعارضة» السورية والحيلولة دون انهيارها، مع الإيعاز للطرفين التركي والأردني بتمرير سلاح وإرهابيين وتدريب التكفيريين بأموال خليجية كما يحدث.

المطلوب إذاً، إيقاف التمدّد العسكري السوري وإيقاع الروس في خضمّ حرب شرسة ترتدي طابع حرب العصابات، ما يسمح لقوات كردية وعشائر عربية وجيش أردني وعسكريين أميركيين بهندسة المنطقة السورية من الرقة وحتى الحدود العراقية والأردنية، بما يخدم «أسر» التقدّم الروسي ضمن إطار الدولة السورية فقط وبإطارها الحالي.

لذلك، يعتبر قصف مطار الشعيرات رسالة مزدوجة.. قسم منها إلى المعارضة وحلفائها بالعودة إلى التحرّك العسكري، والآخر إلى روسيا لإفهامها بأنّ انتقالها من وضعية دولة إقليمية إلى مرحلة مرجعية عالمية غير مسموح أميركياً، وواشنطن ستعرقله في سورية والعراق، ولن تسمح بعد اليوم لحليفتها تركيا بمغازلة موسكو.

وتعتبر واشنطن أنّ الخط الذي يجب أن تقف عنده موسكو في سورية، هو خط تدمر حتى حلب. وهذا الأمر يمنع روسيا من العودة إلى فضاء الاتحاد السوفياتي وتبقى واشنطن المرجعية العالمية الوحيدة.

هذا ما يريده البيت الأبيض، لكنّه ليس قدراً محسوماً، وبإمكان الحلف الروسي الإيراني السوري المبارك بأدعية صينية أن يؤكّد للأميركيين أنّ مرحلة الأحادية قد ولّت إلى غير رجعة، والميدان السوري الذي يتهيّأ لهبّات ساخنة هو الدليل على صحة هذه المقولة المرتقبة.

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The Trump administration goes Neocon-crazy

The Trump administration goes Neocon-crazy

Oh boy, that did not take long.  As I wrote in February, the Neocons and the US deep state have completely neutered Trump.  Just look at these two headlines from RT (and read the articles):

 ‘It crossed a lot of lines’: Trump on alleged chemical gas attack in Syria

‘We are compelled to take own action’ if UN fails in Syria – US envoy

Frankly, I feel like saying “QED – I rest my case” and stop writing here.  But I won’t – this is too serious.

First, let’s set the context.  The Syrians gave up their chemical weapons three years ago (courtesy of Russia).  The Syrians have also pretty much defeated the Anglo-Zionist-Wahabi aggression against their country (courtesy of Russia, again). There is a new (kind of) US Administration in power (some say that this was also courtesy of Russia) which appeared to have given up on overthrowing Assad.  And right at this moment in time, in what is supposed to be a *pure coincidence*.

  1. The Syrian forces used chemical weapons
  2. In a location filled with children
  3. and a lot of folks with cameras

How stupid do they think we are?

But, of course, it’s not about us.  It’s about Trump.  And he, alas, is proving to be the overcooked noodle he has been since, well, pretty much day 1 and ever since:  flaccid, confused and spineless.  And yeah, he appears be stupid alright, especially so-called “plan” to defeat Daesh (more about that below).

And nevermind that Russian experts have been warning for along time that the “good terrorists” had chemical munitions. Nah!  Who cares?  besides, these are the same evil Russkies who have now been “unmasked” courtesy of a CIA report about “foreign agents”.

We all know that Anglo-Zionists are peace loving, shy and generally kind people.  This is why we think of them as the “Axis of Kindness”.  The only way to really force their hand and make them use their “best military in the world” is to show them dead children.  Like in Kuwait, in Bosnia, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and now Syria.  That, and women raped for political reasons (Bosnia, Libya – soon in Syria I suppose).  Good thing that the latest atrocity of the “Syrian regime” came in daylight and involved lots of horribly dying children!

Now the Americans will get to destroy the village to save it.

Except they won’t.

There have been plenty of articles speculating about what the “Trump plan” for defeating ISIS/Daesh will be.  I won’t even bother listing them here.  In plain English his plan is, how should I put it, not very complex:

  1. Increase the number of US troops already present in Syria
  2. Offer the Kurds their own autonomous region in exchange for acting like cannon-fodder for Uncle Sam
  3. Liberate Raqqa as a tangible sign of success

In truth, there is nothing new here.  It’s is just a re-heated version of the very same plan Obama had(great minds think alike, and so do the not so great, apparently).

Can you see the problem with this plan?

Let me help here.  Problem #1 – no UNSC Resolution will back it.  Neither will the Syrian government.  But who cares, right?  We already know that Nikki Haley thinks about that: once again the US will arrogantly violate international law under the pretext of “being compelled to take action”.  Welcome back to Bosnia and Croatia!  It’s 1994 again!  We now live in the era of the “RTP – responsibility to protect”.  International Law, RIP.  But that is only a ‘minor’ problem.  The real problem is simple:

Besides the Syrians themselves, the Russians, the Iranians and the Turks are categorically against such a plan.  And these four countries just happen to represent the overwhelming military force in Syria, and all of them *already* have boots on the ground (and air defense systems).  For Turkey especially, such a plan is a casus belli, they have said so many times.  I am no big fan of Turkey or Erdogan (although I do like the Turkish people themselves), but I have to admit that should Trump go ahead with this goofy plan he will live no other choice then to chose between war or civil war.  Mostly likely a combo of both.

Then there are the Kurds.  Actually, in many ways I feel sorry for them and I admire them.  But they have to realize the enormous dangers of accepting the US plan.  First, that means that they will be the frontline cannon-fodder against Daesh which happens to be one of the best trained and experienced infantry force in the region.  But worse, do the Kurds really commit the same historical mistake as the Albanian of Kosovo who have 100% linked their future with Camp Bondsteel and who will be instantly re-invaded by the Serbia as soon as NATO or the US leave (which they will, sooner or later, inevitably).

There is a reason why the US always supports minorities everywhere: because by accepting and relying on that support these minorities always become completely dependent upon the USA.  That, in turn, means that the US can then use these minorities in any way they want “or else”.  And, since sooner or later the Americans leaves, the “or else” inevitably and always happen.

I submit that it would be the hight of folly for the Kurds to commit the same mistake.  Yes, sure, they want their autonomy and/or their own country.  But they have to realize that the only viable way to achieve either objective is by negotiations with their neighbors, not some ignorant US official who will forget about them as soon as he is done promising them the moon.  I would remind the Kurd of a time-honored US tradition here: as soon as things get ugly, the Americans “declare victory and leave”.

That also means that the Kurds might have to settle for less than what they want.  Politics is the art of the possible.  But if the choice is some viable limited autonomy vs full independence followed by an inevitable war against Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria then I think that the former is the best possible outcome.  But even if we assume that the Kurds decide to try the “Kosovar option”.

Iran is the number one military power on the ground.  And Hezbollah.  The Syrians are struggling, I will admit to that.  But they are holding and making incremental efforts, some of their best units are actually pretty good.  As for the skies over Syria – they are Russian.

So far, the Americans have not re-heated the “no fly zone” concept, but they might as well, since their entire plan is idiotic to the extreme.  Besides, I simply cannot imagine US generals agreeing to deploy their forces in Syria without air cover (in case you did not know, the US solider cannot fight without air cover.  He just won’t.  It’s “air cover for me or I don’t fight”).  However, air cover for the US forces in Syria imply either a tacit agreement with the Russians and the Syrians, something like what the Israelis apparently have, or an immense risk for the USAF and USN aircraft.  So we are back to negotiating with the Russians and via the Russians, with the Syrians.

In fact, I bet you that this is what the Americans are doing right now.  Quietly negotiating with the Russians.  Problem: the Neocons hate Russia and everything Russian.  And they loathe Putin.  So how does the State Department or the White House negotiate with the Russians while, at the very same time, Congress, the US media and the CIA are all engaging into a hysterical and paranoid hate-campaign against Russia?

So here is Trump’s conundrum: he desperately needs the real enemies of Daesh – Russia, Iran and Syria – to agree to his plan but at the same time, he is too much of a whip to tackle the hate campaign against, well, Russia, Iran and Syria inside the United States.

The Neocons, apparently backed by the CIA and the Pentagon, want to go at it solo: just shoot up all of Syria “OK Corral” style and they seem to be convinced that they can somehow scare the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrian into submission.  If so, then they are both stupid and ignorant.  Or, there is even a worse possibility: the Neocons *know* that this plan will end up in disaster, but they want Trump to go to war anyway because that will destroy his presidency.  That is almost elegant, in a perverted way.

What is sure is that you will never see a Neocon in frontline combat.  Neither they nor their kids will die no matter what they do.  Or so they think.  This is one of the main reasons why these Neocons are the single biggest danger for the United States and the American people: they despise the real American people and they won’t hesitate to sacrifice them, in large numbers if needed (9/11 anybody?).

This is why so many Americans voted for Trump and his promise “to drain the swamp”.

Alas, the swamp drained Trump and all is back to “normal”.

So what happens next?  My fervent hope: nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  As long as the Americans are all talk and as long as they don’t actually do anything, there could be real progress in Syria (Daesh is already loosing the war!).  I hope that the Kurds will, you know, “kinda, sort of, give it a try” and then stop before things go critical.  Should the Kurds really decide to fight for Uncle Sam, I hope that they will keep in mind that the US will dump them as soon as Raqqa is liberated simply because really creating some kind of autonomy for the Kurds against the will of Syria, Iran and, most importantly, Turkey could result in Erdogan really slamming the door on NATO and Turkey leaving the alliance.  Should that happen the only option left for Turkey would be some kind of understanding, and maybe even alliance, with Russia and Iran.  The various domino effect scenarios are almost infinite and nothing is really impossible.

Right now the Americans are still sort of busy liberating Mosul.  I suppose if they stay at it long enough they will eventually succeed, at least for a while.  I don’t see them really controlling the city for very long.  They might build a US ‘consular fortress’ like in Bagdad or Kabul, but that will not mean that they control the city.  If they intend to liberate Raqqa as long as they took to liberate Mosul then this can continue for a long, long while.

There is a scarier possibility: the US begins its operation in Syria, runs into problems, and then begins the endless cycle of escalations and doubling-down.  Sooner or later, that means clashing with the Russians and that could turn ugly very fast.  A direct clash with Iran with equally unpredictable consequences.  If that happens, a lot of Americans will die.

Assuming that there still is somebody rational and sane left in the Trump administration with enough influence, then all this madness can still be stopped.  There is also the very real possibility that the current fight inside the US elites will drain so much energy that nobody will really have to time and energy to engage in very risky foreign military operations.  And if all else fails, maybe somebody will suggest to Trump that a unilateral military intervention in Syria is pure folly and will cost him his presidency.  Maybe this is an argument which he will understand.

2018 will be a very tough year.  I don’t think that there is any hope left for a real change in US policies and I am afraid that we are going to have to learn how to live with some kind of Obama 2.0 or some other form of “neo-neoconism”.

It felt really good to hope for a while.  Now we have to accept that our hopes never materialized and resume the struggle.

The Saker

PS: I just learned that, just as I had predicted, Bannon has been removed from the US National Security Council.  See for yourself: https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-05/bannon-removed-from-national-security-council-role-in-shakeup.  Now the coup against Trump is fully completed.  And Bloomberg celebrates “Intelligence director, Joint Chiefs chairman elevated”.  Yeah, no kidding!  It’s over folks, the Neocons have totally crushed Trump. And he did not even given them a halfway decent fight…

Commentary Mag is already celebrating: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/politics-ideas/step-toward-rational-national-security-council/ like it’s Purim all over again.

Syria – Erdogan’s Lost Bet – Trump Likely To Follow A Cautious Strategy

By Moon Of Alabama

March 02, 2017 “Information Clearing House” –  “Moon Of Alabama” – The last Syria thread noted:

South of Al-Bab the Syrian army is moving towards the Euphrates. It will cut off the Turkish forces path to Raqqa and Manbij.

That move concluded. The Turkish invasion forces are now blocked from moving further south. They would have to fight the Syrian army and their Russian allies to move directly onto Raqqa. They would have to fight the Syrian-Kurdish YPG and its U.S. allies to move further east.

For the first time since the start of the war the supply lines between Turkey and the Islamic State are cut off!
map by Peto Lucem bigger
map by South Front bigger

Erdogan is still hoping for U.S. support for his plans for Raqqa but I doubt that the U.S. military is willing to give up on their well regarded Kurdish proxies in exchange for an ill disciplined Turkish army in general disarray and with little fighting spirit. Erdogan removed any and all officers and NCOs that he perceived as not being 100% behind his power grab. That has now come back to haunt him. He is lacking the military means to pursue his belligerent policies.

Last year Erdogan had allied with Russia and Iran after a (U.S. supported?) coup attempt against him failed. He felt left alone by the U.S. and its reluctance to support his plans in Syria. After Trump was elected Erdogan perceived a coming change in U.S. policies. He exposed himself as the ultimate turncoat and switched back to a U.S. alliance. His believe in a change of U.S. policy drives his latest moves and announcements.

Elijah Magnier reports that his sources in Damascus have the same impression of Trump as Erdogan. They believe that Trump will strongly escalate in Syria and will support the Turkish moves against the Syrian state.

But it is the U.S. military that drives the strategy in the Trump cabinet. The Pentagon has no appetite for a big ground operation in Syria. The plan it offered Trump is still the same plan that it offered under Obama. It will work with Kurdish forces to defeat the Islamic State in Raqqa. Notable is also that a director of the Pentagon financed think tank RAND Corp publicly argues for better cooperation with Russia in Syria. The old RAND plan of a decentralized Syrian with zones under “international administration” (i.e. U.S. occupied) is probably no longer operative.

Recently Erdogan announced that his next move in Syria would be to towards Manbij, held by the YPK. Shortly thereafter pictures of U.S. troops in Manbij displaying U.S. flags were published on social networks. The message was clear: stay away from here or you will be in serious trouble.

On Monday planes from the Iraqi air force attacked Islamic State positions within eastern Syria. The attack followed from intelligence cooperation between Syria and Iraq. It is easier for Iraq to reach that area than for Syrian planes stationed near the Mediterranean. This cooperation will continue. In western Iraq militia integrated with the Iraqi military are ready to storm Tal Afar. This is besides the besieged Mosul the last big Islamic State position in the area. The U.S. had planned to let the Islamic State fighters flee from Mosul and Tal Afar towards Syrian and to let them take the Syrian government positions in Deir Ezzor. Syrian-Iraqi cooperation blocked that move. The U.S. attempt to separate the war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq failed. Any attempt to again use the Islamic State as a means to destroy Syria will meet resistance in Iraq where the U.S. is more and more engaged. U.S. commanders in Iraq will be well aware of that threat.

In my opinion Trump’s more belligerent remarks on Syria, on safe zones and military escalation, are rhetoric. They are his negotiation positions towards Russia and Iran. They are not his policies. Those are driven by more realistic positions. Obama balanced more hawkish views supported by the CIA, Hillary Clinton and the neoconservatives against reluctance in the military to engage in another big war. Trump will, even more than Obama, follow the Pentagon’s view. That view seems to be unchanged. I therefore do not believe that aggressive escalation is the way Trump will go. Some additional U.S. troops may get added to the Kurdish forces attacking Raqqa. But any large move by Turkish or by Israeli forces will not be condoned. The big U.S. invasion of Syria in their support will not happen.

Meanwhile the Syrian army is moving on Palmyra and may soon retrieve it from the Islamic State. A new Russian trained unit, the 5th corps, is in the lead and so far makes a good impression. With Palmyra regained the Syrian army is free to move further east towards Raqqa and Deir Ezzor.

Erdogan may still get some kind of “safe zone” in the area in north Syrian his forces now occupy. But Damascus will support Kurdish and Arab guerilla forces against any Turkish occupation. The Turkish forces in Syria will continue to be in a lot of trouble. Erdogan will not get active U.S. support for further moves to capture Syrian land. His change of flags, twice, was useless and has severely diminished his standing.

Netanyahoo and the Israel lobby also want a “safe zone”. This one in south Syria and under Jordanian command. This would allow Israel to occupy more Syrian land along the Golan heights. But the areas next to the Golan and towards Deera are occupied by al-Qaeda and Islamic State aligned group. These groups are a serious danger for the unstable Jordanian state. There is nothing to win for Jordan in any “safe zone” move. Likewise the U.S. military will have no interest in opening another can of worms in south Syria. Like Erdogan Netanyahoo will likely be left alone with his dreams.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.

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New Military Alliance to Be Formed in Middle East

New Military Alliance to Be Formed in Middle East

PETER KORZUN | 17.02.2017 | WORLD

New Military Alliance to Be Formed in Middle East

Combining available information to get the whole picture, one can see the situation in the Middle East changing drastically, especially as the US strategy is reviewed and new alliances are formed.

The Trump administration is in talks with Middle East allies about forming a military alliance that would share intelligence with Israel to help counter Iran, according to several Middle Eastern officials.

The planned coalition would include countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain. Egypt and Jordan have longstanding peace treaties with Israel. For the Arab countries involved, the alliance would have a NATO-style mutual-defense component under which an attack on one member would be treated as an attack on all, though details are still being worked out. The US and Israel will cooperate without full-fledged membership. According to the Wall Street Journal, «one Arab diplomat suggested that the notion that the Trump administration might designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group was being floated as an incentive for Egypt to join the alliance».

US President Donald Trump has assured visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Tehran would never be able to build a nuclear weapon.

«The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which I’ve talked a lot about. One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal», Trump told reporters at a joint news conference with Netanyahu at the White House. Reading the statement between the lines, it becomes evident that the US is ready to go much further than warnings and sanctions to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

Russian Izvestia daily reported the US plans to substantially increase its military presence in Iraq. The newspaper cited its own sources in the U.S. Republican Party. The plans include a few thousand troops to arrive in Iraq in the coming months. The reinforcement will continue the policy of the Obama administration, which was gradually expanding the military presence in that country.

It was reported on February 16 that the Pentagon was developing proposals for sending an unspecified number of American military personnel into Syria, conventional ground forces which would augment the 500 combat advisers already there coordinating efforts to destroy the Islamic State (IS).

Military Times reports that multiple US Army sources indicated that about two thousand soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team may soon bolster other Army elements already in the region. Currently, about 1,800 paratroopers from the 2nd BCT are in Iraq participating in the US military’s train-and-advise mission. The 82ndAirborne Division is based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Citing an unidentified U.S. defense official, CNN indicated additional deployments could happen within weeks. Today, there are about 5,000 US troops deployed to Iraq and another 500 in Syria.

The White House indicated in January that it could task the military with establishing «safe zones» on Syrian soil. A large number of troops would be needed to defend havens, pitting them against pro-government forces as well as rival rebel groups. Without approval by UN Security Council, few nations will contribute leaving the US alone to shoulder the main burden. Hundreds of aircraft will have to be deployed to carry out the mission.

Deploying substantial forces in the Middle East risks putting the US on a slippery slope to further involvement in the war. Safe zones should not become no-fly zones to impede the operations of Russian and Syrian air forces. If the US decides to continue with the idea, it should it become an issue on the agenda for talks with Russia before any practical steps are taken to implement it.

It’s not Arab states only. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told lawmakers on February 9 that thousands more American or NATO troops are needed to break the «stalemate» between Afghan forces and the Taliban insurgent group while the IS also remains active in the nation. The general did not specify how many additional troops were needed, but did not rule out the potential for up to 30,000.

The strategy, which relied on special forces teams and intensive operations conducted by drones, may become a thing of the past, with the U.S. returning to large-scale presence.

The terrorist activities of the IS go beyond the scope of a regional problem. There are a few options here for cooperation of the military agencies and special services of Russia and the US ranging from intelligence exchange on IS to exercising influence on the countries affected by the war with the terrorist threat.

Whatever are the plans of Trump’s administration aimed at changing the Middle East strategy, the US cannot go it alone there. It needs allies, partners, and friendly pertinent actors to coordinate activities with. This shows how important it is to speed up bilateral and multilateral discussions.

It all goes to show that Russia and the US should speed up launching regular contacts to exchange opinions on the situation in the Middle East. On February 16, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford met face to face with their Russian counterparts Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chief of General Staff General Valeriy Gerasimov in Bonn and Baku respectively. Hopefully, the first contacts will spur the process and the parties will be engaged in dialogue concerning major security issues. The volatile situation in the Middle East should be addressed without delay as part of preparations for a possible summit in Slovenia.

President Assad: US Only Way to Defeat Terrorism in Syria is through Cooperation with Syrian Government

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

February 10, 2017

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gave interview to Yahoo News in which he stressed that the US needs to be genuine regarding the fight against terrorism if it wants to really defeat terrorism in Syria, adding that this aim requires a clear political position on the part of the US towards the sovereignty and unity of Syria and cooperation with its government and people.

The following is the full text of the interview:

Question 1: Mr. President, thanks for giving us the opportunity. This is your first interview with American media since President Trump has taken office. Have you had any communications with President Trump directly or indirectly, or anybody in his administration?

President Assad:  No, not yet.

Question 2: This is an opportunity for you to convey a message to President Trump, if you have one. What would you like to say to him?

President Assad:  wouldn’t convey the message through the media, I would send it through a different channel, maybe diplomatic channels. But any message for us is the public one, we don’t have two messages; we have one stand, one position toward what’s happening in Syria, and it’s about fighting terrorism.

Question 3: You said yesterday, I believe, that what you have heard from the new administration is promising. Explain what you meant.

President Assad: The position of President Trump since he started his campaign for presidency till this moment is that the priority is to fight terrorism, and we agree about this priority, that’s our position in Syria, the priority is to fight terrorism, and that’s what I meant by promising.

Question 4: You indicated that you thought there was some way for cooperation between the United States and Syria, but you didn’t explain what that would be. What sort of cooperation can you envision?

 President Assad:  Against terrorists, and against terrorism. That’s self-evident for us. This is beside having cooperation between any two nations, but in the meantime, in these circumstances, the priority is to have cooperation in fighting terrorism between the different nations, including Russia, Iran and Syria, of course.

Question 5: The President has tasked his Secretary of Defense with developing plans for defeating ISIS or Daesh. Among the proposals they are reportedly considering is using more special forces and even military assets such as Apache helicopters inside Syria, and arming Kurdish fighters who are fighting Daesh in the north. If such moves would defeat ISIS, would you welcome them?

President Assad:  Could the American prowess defeat the terrorists in Afghanistan or in other places? No, you cannot… it’s not enough to have this Apache or F-16 or F-35, whatever you want to label it, to defeat terrorists. There has to be a more comprehensive way of dealing with that complicated issue. So, if you want to start genuinely, as United States, to do so, it must be through the Syrian government. We are here, we are the Syrians, we own this country as Syrians, nobody else, nobody would understand it like us. So, you cannot defeat the terrorism without cooperation with the people and the government of any country.

Question 6: But you have welcomed Russian troops into your country. Would you welcome American troops into your country?

President Assad:  We invited the Russians, and the Russians were genuine regarding this issue. If the Americans are genuine, of course they are welcome, like any other country that wants to defeat and to fight with the terrorists. Of course, with no hesitation we can say that.

Question 7: So, you want American troops to come into Syria to help fight ISIS?

President Assad: Troops is part of the cooperation. Again, let’s go back to the comprehensive, you cannot talk about sending troops if you’re not genuine, if you don’t have a clear political position toward not only the terrorism; toward the sovereignty of Syria, toward the unity of Syria. All these factors would lead to trust, where you can send your troops. That’s what happened with the Russians; they didn’t only send their troops. First of all, there’s a clear political position regarding those factors. This is where the Russians could come and succeed in fighting the terrorists in Syria.

Question 8: Do you see cooperation between the United States and Russia to attack ISIS in Syria?

President Assad:  It is essential. Any cooperation in any conflict around the world, it needs the, let’s say, the rapprochement, between the Russians and the Americans. It’s very essential, not only for Syria.

Question 9: Well, you talk to the Russians all the time, don’t you?

President Assad:  Of course.

Question 10: Yeah? When’s the last time you spoke to President Putin.

President Assad:  A few weeks ago.

Question 11: What’d you talk about?

President Assad:  About the problem in Syria, about the advancement of the Syrian Army in Syria.

Question 12: Right. Are you going to try to broker some sort of arrangement between the United States and Russia in this fight?

President Assad: There’s direct contact between them, and President Putin had a telephone call with President Trump a week or so, and they talked about different issues including Syria, so they don’t need my role to do so, and we don’t have any contact with the Americans to help the Russians make contact or improve their relation. We’re not in that position.

Question 13: President Trump recently said he absolutely wants to create “safe zones” inside Syria to protect refugees, and possibly allow many of them to return. If such a move would help protect your country’s endangered citizens, would you support that?

President Assad:  But actually, it won’t. It won’t. Safe zones for the Syrians could only happen when you have stability and security, where you don’t have terrorists, where you don’t have flow and support of those terrorists by the neighboring countries or by Western countries. This is where you can have a natural safe zone, which is our country. They don’t need safe zones at all. It’s much more viable, much more practical and less costly to have stability than to create safe zones. It’s not a realistic idea at all.

Question 14: Upwards of half of your country’s population has been displaced. How can you say that safe zones to protect them from bombardment would not be helpful?

President Assad:  The first thing you have to ask: why were they displaced? If you don’t answer that question, you cannot answer the rest. They were displaced for two reasons: first of all, the terrorist acts and the support from the outside. Second, the embargo on Syria. Many people didn’t only leave Syria because of the security issues. As you see, Damascus is safe today, it’s nearly normal life, not completely. But they don’t find a way for life in Syria, so they have to travel abroad in order to find their living. So, if you lift the embargo, and if you stop supporting the terrorists – I’m not talking about the United States, I’m talking about everyone who supported terrorists including the United States during Obama’s administration – if you stop all these acts, most of those people will go back to their country.

Question 15: There are, what, 4.8 million Syrian refugees since this crisis began. Just as way of comparison, that is more than 4 times the total number of Palestinian refugees from the events of 1947 and 48. Do you accept that this is a humanitarian disaster?

President Assad:  It is a humanitarian disaster created by the Western support of those terrorists, of course, and the regional support by Turkey and Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It didn’t happen just like this.

Question 16: And you bear any responsibility at all for this disaster?

President Assad: As president?

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad:  Regarding the policies that I undertake since the beginning of the crisis, they were supporting the dialogue between the Syrians, fighting terrorists, and supporting reconciliation, and they succeeded. So, no, regarding these policies, I think we were correct, and we are continuing on these pillars for the future of Syria regarding this crisis.

Question 17: As you know, President Trump has signed a very controversial executive order barring refugees, immigrants, from predominantly Muslim countries, but specifically all Syrian refugees, saying that their entry into the country would be detrimental to the interests of the United States. The premise is that some of them are terrorists.

President Assad:  Yeah.

Journalist: Do you agree with President Trump on this?

President Assad:  This question has two aspects: the first one is American, this is an American issue and it’s related to the sovereignty of the American nation. Every country has the right to put any regulations to enter their country. We can disagree or agree, but if you ask me as president, as official in the Syrian state, my responsibility is not to go and ask any president to allow the Syrians to go there and to have refuge in that country. My responsibility is to restore the stability, in order to bring them back to Syria and find refuge in their country. So, I’m not going to discuss that this is right or wrong; this is American issue.

Question 18: But the question was: are some of these refugees, in your view, aligned with terrorists?

President Assad:  Oh, definitely.

Journalist: Definitely?

President Assad:  Definitely. You can find it on the net; the same picture that you saw them – in some cases, of course – in some instances, those terrorists in Syria, holding the machinegun or killing people, they are peaceful refugees in Europe or in the West in general. Yeah, that’s true.

Question 19: So, how many terrorists do you believe are among the 4.8 million Syrian refugees?

President Assad: No one has any number, nobody knows, because nobody knows all the terrorists to give a percentage, no one at all.

Question 20: Do you believe it’s a significant number?

President Assad:  It’s not about significant, because you don’t need a significant number to commit atrocities. 11th of September, it happened by only 15 terrorists out of maybe millions of immigrants in the United States, so it’s not about the number; it’s about the quality, it’s about the intentions.

Question 21: So, if what you’re saying is correct, then President Trump would be justified in keeping them out of the United States?

President Assad:  I’m not American to justify it; only American people would say this is against the interests of the United States or with the interests. From the outside, we can discuss it as value; this is with the values of the humanitarian situation in the world or not, that’s how we can discuss it. But again, I can only speak as president; for me the priority is to bring those citizens to their country, not to help them immigrate. That’s the natural duty according to the constitution and to the law.

Question 22: Would you welcome all of Syria’s refugees back into your country?

President Assad: Definitely, definitely.

Journalist: Definitely? Even the terrorists?

President Assad: I don’t have to welcome them as president; I don’t own the country, it’s not my house, it’s not my company, it’s not my farm. This is country to every Syrian.

Question 23: But if you believe that some of them are terrorists, what would you do with them when they return to Syria?

President Assad:  It doesn’t matter what I believe, what matters is what the law would say about every person who committed any act against his country, taking into consideration that we gave amnesty in Syria to thousands of people who committed actions or acts against their country as part of the reconciliation.

Question 24: How do you expect them to return? What is your vision or plan for bringing Syria’s refugees back into Syria?

President Assad: Already many of them, not a huge number, but many of them came back to Syria, many of them, in spite of the security issues and the embargo. So, the majority of Syrians would like to come back to their country. This is natural for every citizen. They will come back when there’s security and when there’s no embargo.

Question 25: Your military, just last month, drove the rebels from eastern Aleppo. Do you see this as a turning point in Syria’s civil war, and do you believe you’ve now won this war?

President Assad: No, it’s not a turning point. The turning point was when we took the decision to fight terrorism in spite all the propaganda against us abroad, especially in the West, and against every pressure. That was the turning point. Aleppo is an important step against terrorists, in the fight against terrorism, but I cannot say it is a turning point, because we’re still going in the same way, in the same direction, we haven’t changed our direction. Maybe for the terrorists it’s a turning point? They better answer. Maybe for their masters in the West and in the region, it could be, but they have to answer, I cannot answer on their behalf.

Question 26: I was asking you before about potential cooperation between the United States and Syria, but the problem that many would have with that is the continued allegations of human rights abuses by your government. Now, just today, we have a new report from Amnesty International about Sednaya prison, “human slaughterhouse” they call it, 5,000 to 13,000 detainees hanged in mass hangings there, horrific conditions, trials of blindfolded prisoners, one to three minutes in length, no lawyers, secret, all in secret. This would, on its face, be contrary to every aspect of international law. What do you know about what’s going on in that prison?

President Assad:  Let’s first of all talk about the first part of your question, which is the problem how to – for the United States – to open relations with Syria, regarding the human rights. I will ask you: how could you have this close, very close relation, intimate relation, with Saudi Arabia? Do you consider beheading as human right criteria?

Journalist: But I’m not interviewing the King of Saudi Arabia right, I’m interviewing you.

President Assad: Yeah, I know. Yeah, of course.

Journalist: I’m asking you about reports of human rights abuses in your prison, in your country.

President Assad: You own the question, I own the answers, so that’s my answer. So, when you answer about Saudi Arabia and your relation, you can put yourself in that position. Second, the United States is in no position to talk about human rights; since Vietnam war till this moment, they killed millions of civilians, if you don’t want to talk about 1.5 million in Iraq, without any assignment by the Security Council. So, the United States is in no position to say “I don’t open relations because of human rights,” and they have to use one standard. This is first.

The second part now. Now I can move to the other part, that report, like many other reports published by Amnesty International, put into question the credibility of Amnesty International, and we never look at it as unbiased. It’s always biased and politicized, and it’s a shame for such an organization to publish a report without a shred of evidence. They said it’s based on interviews, on interviews.

Journalist: Yes.

President Assad: What about the documents? What about the concrete evidence? Not a single concrete…

Journalist: Interviews with four former prison officials and guards, three former Syrian judges, three doctors…

President Assad: It means nothing.

Journalist: It means nothing?

President Assad:  It’s interview… no, no, when you need to make a report, you need co st year. They paid money for such a report, and they brought their own witnesses, and they ncrete evidence. You can make any report, you can pay money to anyone like Qatar did la made a report.

Question 27: I wanna just read you something from the report… “the process of hanging is authorized by officials at the highest levels of the government. Death sentences are approved by the Grand Mufti of Syria, and by either the Minister of Defense or the Chief of Staff of the Army, who are deputized to act on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad.”

President Assad: First of all, what’s the evidence? This is first. Second…

Journalist: Is it true or not?

President Assad: No, no, it’s not true, definitely not true.

Journalist: How do you know? Do you know what goes on in that prison? Have you been there?

President Assad: No, I haven’t been, I’ve been in the Presidential Palace, not in the prison.

Journalist: So here you have a very disturbing report about something going on in one of your prisons, are you going to investigate?

President Assad: So, Amnesty International knows more about Syria than me, according to you. No, that’s not true. No, they haven’t been to Syria, they only base their reports on allegation, they can bring anyone, doesn’t matter what’s his title, you can forge anything these days, and we’re living in a fake news era, as you know, everybody knows this. So, we don’t have to depend on this. Second, you have to talk about the reality, they said in their report that we made serial executions, is that correct?

Journalist: Yes. Mass hangings.

President Assad:  First of all, execution is part of the Syrian law. If the Syrian government or institution wants to do it, they can make it legally, because it’s been there for decades.

Journalist: Secret trials, no lawyers?

President Assad: Why do they need it, if they can make it legally? They don’t need anything secret.

Journalist: Is that legal, in your country?

President Assad: Yeah, yeah, of course, it’s legal, for decades, since the independence. The execution, according to the law, after trial, is a legal action, like any other court in many countries in this region.

Question 28: Will you allow international monitors to visit that prison and inspect and investigate these reports?

President Assad:  It depends on the credibility of that organization, not anyone, because they’re going to use this visit just to demonize the Syrian government more and more and more, like what’s happening.

Question 29: This is not the first time that very serious human rights allegations have been made. Just last week, a woman in Spain, Syrian, filed a lawsuit accusing nine of your senior government intelligence and security officials of human rights abuses. Her brother had disappeared in one of your prisons. You asked about documents, the lawyers who have filed this, accusing your government of human rights abuses, have collected 3,000 pages of evidence and over 50,000 photographs taken by one of your former government’s photographers showing emaciated, tortured bodies in your prisons.

President Assad: Who verified the pictures? Who verified that they’re not edited and photoshopped and so on?

Journalist: Have you seen the photos?

President Assad: No, I didn’t.

Journalist: Have you seen the photos?

President Assad:  No, no, I saw some photos in previous reports. But it’s not about the photo. How can you verify the photo?

Journalist: You have said that the…

President Assad: Do you have a photo?

Journalist: I do have the photos.

President Assad: Can you show it to me?

Journalist: Yes, I’ll be happy to. here.

President Assad: This photo… have you verified who are those?

Journalist: I… can tell you…

President Assad: Because you have it, and because you mention it in front of your audience…

Journalist: There’s a number of photos…

President Assad:  You have to convince your audiences, you cannot mention such a picture without verifying who are those and where and everything about, just to put it in front of the audience, tell them “they’ve been killed by the Syrian soldiers.”

Journalist: The woman who filed the lawsuit, the Syrian woman who filed the lawsuit said she saw her brother in those photographs.

President Assad: At the end, these are allegations. We have to talk about concrete evidence, at the end. That’s how you can base your judgment. Anyone can say whatever he wants.

Question 30: The US State Department gave these photos to the American FBI crime lab, digital lab. They examined these photos, and said the bodies and scenes depicted – these are 242 of these images – the bodies and scenes depicted exhibit no artifacts or inconsistencies that would indicate they have manipulated. As a result of the above observations, all of these 242 images appear to depict real people and events.

President Assad: Who said that?

Journalist: The FBI. Have you seen their report?

President Assad: No. When was that?

Journalist: That was 2015.

President Assad: The question is when your institutions were honest about what’s happening in Syria? That’s the question. Never. For us, never, so we don’t have to rely on what they say, if the FBI say something, it’s not evidence for anyone, especially for us. The most important thing: if you take these photos to any court in your country, could they convict any criminal regarding this? Could they tell you what this crime is, who committed it? If you don’t have this full picture, you cannot make judgement, it’s just propaganda, it’s just fake news, they want to demonize the Syrian government. In every war, you can have any individual crime, it happened here, all over the world, anywhere, but it’s not a policy.

Question 31: But let me just… If I hear what you’re saying, the FBI is just forwarding… propagating propaganda, Amnesty International is propagating propaganda, everybody is conspiring against the Syrian government. Why?

President Assad: Ask them, we’re not…

Journalist: You’re the one making the allegation.

President Assad: No, no, I’m not making an allegation, they supported the terrorists, and you go back to what they said… John Kerry, a few months ago, said and by his voice that “we were watching ISIS advancing, and we expected the Syrian president to make concessions.” What does it mean? Obama said it in one of his speeches, that the war on Iraq created ISIS. So, who supported ISIS? We didn’t create it, you created it, the United States created all this mess. Who supported the rebels and called them “moderate rebels” while they became ISIS and al-Nusra in Syria? We didn’t. So, it’s not a conspiracy, these are facts, this is reality. We didn’t give money, we didn’t support these terrorists. Your country supported them, UK, France, publicly, and they said they sent armaments, we didn’t. So, it’s not my allegation, it’s your official allegation, including Joe Biden, the Vice President of Obama. He said, about Saudi Arabia and other countries supporting the extremists…

Journalist: That’s Saudi Arabia, but the United States…

President Assad: So, this allegation is their allegation, it’s American allegation before it’s been Syrian allegation.

Question 32: The United States and its coalition partners have been bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, it’s supporting the Iraqi army in its efforts to liberate Mosul from ISIS. How can you say that the United States is supporting ISIS?

President Assad: Can you explain to me how could they defeat ISIS in Iraq, and ISIS was expanding since the American coalition started attacking in Syria?

Journalist: Is it expanding now?

President Assad:  It’s been expanding, no, it’s…

Journalist: Is it expanding now?

President Assad:  It started shrinking after the Russian intervention, not the American one. How could they use our oil fields and export with thousands of barrel trucks to Turkey without being seen by your drones and by your satellites while the Russians could be able to do so and attack them and destroy them. destroy all their facilities? How? This is cosmetic campaign against ISIS.

Question 33: Just to be clear; I have shown you the FBI report, I have shown the photographs, I have shown you the Amnesty International report. Will you cooperate in investigations to determine if these very serious reports are in fact true?

 

President Assad:  You showed me many things, but you didn’t show me a single evidence.

Journalist: I showed you an FBI report.

President Assad: No, no, it’s not evidence at all. It’s actually the contrary; any American institution for us during the Syrian crisis was against the reality, it was the opposite of the truth. That’s how we look at it. So, it’s not a Syrian institution, we don’t care about what they say. For me, what I care about is what reports I have from Syrian people, and we had investigations, because we have many claims regarding not mass crimes, actually, more individual acts and we’ve been investigating many, and many people were punished, but that happened in every war.

Question 34: Do you… are you disturbed enough about any of this to try to determine the truth yourself?

President Assad:  I think you should show it to Western officials to ask them that question: are they disturbed to see what’s happening since they started supporting the terrorists in Syria? This killing and this destruction? That’s the question. Of course I’m disturbed; I am Syrian.

Journalist: You are disturbed about this? About these reports?

President Assad:  About what’s happening in Syria. No, no, not about the report. I don’t care about the report.

Journalist: Not about this.

President Assad: No, no, I’m disturbed about what’s happening in Syria. It’s my country, it’s being destroyed by proxy terrorists, of course.

Question 35: You have acknowledged that your troops in this war have committed mistakes in its prosecution against the rebels, and that anyone could be punished. So, how many mistakes are we talking about?

President Assad:  No, I didn’t say that. I never said that. I said there are always mistakes in any action; that’s a human…

Journalist: How many mistakes are we talking about? How many innocent civilians have been killed by your government’s mistakes?

President Assad:  Nobody knows, because thousands and thousands of those are missing people; nobody knows anything about their fate, nobody at all. So, you cannot tell till the end of this war.

Question 36: Was it a mistake to bomb hospitals in Aleppo?

President Assad: We never bombed hospitals in Aleppo. Why to bomb a hospital? Can you convince your audience that we have interest in bombing hospitals? Actually, this is against our interest. This is against our interest to bomb a hospital if it’s used as hospital, and the proof that it was a lie, every time they talk about bombing hospitals, every time they say this is the last hospital in eastern part of Aleppo, and the second time they talk about another hospital and they say the same; “they bombed the last hospital.” So, it’s lies and lies and lies. We can spend the whole interview talking about lies, and we can talk about the truth and reality. I have to talk about the reality.

Question 37: Is it a mistake to use barrel bombs and chlorine gas?

President Assad: You have to choose which part of the narrative is correct. Once they said we are using indiscriminate bombs and they called it barrel bombs. The other day, they said we targeted hospitals and schools and convoys. We either have precise armaments or we have indiscriminate armaments. So, which one do you choose?

Question 38: Well, you do acknowledge though that innocent civilians… there have been civilian casualties in this war?

President Assad: Of course, every war is a bad war, every war is a bad war. You cannot talk about good war. Let’s agree about this. Every war has causalities; every war has innocent people to pay the price. This is the bad thing about war. That’s why we need to end that war, but having casualties doesn’t mean not to defend our country against the terrorists and against the invasion from abroad through those proxies by foreign countries like the Western countries and the regional ones. This is self-evident.

Question 39: President Obama gave a speech in 2013 about US counter-terrorism efforts, including drone strikes, and he says while defending those strikes, nevertheless it is a hard fact that US strikes have resulted in civilian casualties from me and those in my chain of command, those deaths will haunt us as long as we live. Are you haunted by the deaths of innocent civilians caused by your government’s military actions?

President Assad: That’s an important example about the armament, it’s not about what bomb do you use, whether you call it barrel or any other name; it’s not about that. It’s about the way you use and your intentions. That’s why the state of the art drones with their missiles, the American ones, killed much more civilians than terrorists. So, it’s not about the drone, it’s not about the armaments; it’s about your intentions. In our case in Syria, of course we have to avoid the civilians, not only because they are our people and this is a moral issue; it’s actually because it’s going to play into the hands of the terrorists. If we kill the civilians intentionally, it means we are helping the terrorists. So, why would we do it, why we are defending the civilians and killing the civilians? It doesn’t work; this is contradiction. If we are killing the civilians, who are we defending in Syria? Against who and for who?

Question 40: You were asked just yesterday: are all means justified in this war, and you said, your answer was yes, it’s a duty. So, you can use every mean in order to defend the Syrian people.

President Assad: Exactly.

Journalist: Every mean?

President Assad: Every mean.

Journalist: Including torture?

President Assad: No, it’s not a defense; torture is not a defense. Why to use torture? What’s the relation between torture and defending your country?

Journalist: So, where you draw the line?

President Assad: You have rules, you have very clear rules like any army; when you want to defend your country, you use your armaments against the terrorists. This is the only rule that I’m talking about. This is all the means that you can use in order to defend your country militarily, if I’m talking about military. Of course, you have to defend it politically, economically, in every sense of the word. But if you talk militarily, torture is not part of defending your country.

Question 41: Last question: can you just give us your vision of a settlement of this conflict, and can it… under any circumstances, will you be willing to step aside if it can end this disaster of a war for the Syrian people?

President Assad: Definitely, for me, whenever the Syrian people don’t want me to be in that position, I will leave right away, this is a very simple answer for me and I don’t have to think about it, and I’m not worried about this. What I would worry about is if I’m in that position and I don’t have the public support; this is going to be a big problem for me and I can’t bear it, and I cannot produce anyway. Regarding the first part, how would I see the solution, two pillars: the first one is fighting terrorism; without fighting terrorism and defeating the terrorists, no other solution would be fruitful at all, at all, any kind of solution. In parallel, dialogue between the Syrians about the future of Syria, that will include anything, everything, regarding the whole political system, the whole Syria in every sense of the word, then when we can get elections, and you can have national unity government, then you can have parliamentarian elections, then if the Syrian people think about early presidential elections or any kind of presidential elections, that will be viable.

Journalist: So, earlier than the completion of your term, which I believe, is in 2021?

President Assad:  If there is public consensus about this.

Question 42: How would you determine whether there’s public consensus or not?

President Assad: We can discuss it at that time; it’s still early to talk about it. We haven’t finished any of the stages that I’m talking about. So, we never thought about how because we don’t know what circumstances are we going to face that time. But at the end, when you live in a country, you can sense; Syria is not a continent, it’s a small country, we can deal with each other, we can know each other as society. You can sense, you can feel if there is public consensus, and then if you want to do something documented, you can have referendum, that’s very clear.

Question 43: Do you have any cause for optimism?

President Assad: Of course, without that optimism we wouldn’t fight for six years. The only… the main optimism that we’ve had is that we’re going to defeat those terrorists and their masters, and we’re going to restore stability in Syria, and more important than my optimism is the determination of the Syrian people; this is very important source for optimism. Without that determination, you wouldn’t see Syria in these very difficult and exceptional circumstances still living the minimum life, let’s say, if not the normal life, but the minimum life, to survive, and for the government to offer different services and subsidies, and so on.

Journalist: Thank you Mr. President.

President Assad: Thank you very much.

Russia, America, and the turn of the image in Syria روسيا وأميركا وانقلاب الصورة في سورية

Russia, America, and the turn of the image in Syria

Written by Nasser Kandil,

Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria and the impossibility of overthrowing the country and its President as in Tunisia and Egypt, Russia was a partner in the international decision concerning the politics and the war in Syria, starting with the veto that disabled the international cover which America needs to make the war directly, and ending with the Russian military deployment and positioning in Syria and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Practically five years ago was the date of the first veto on the Arab project to overthrow Syria according to Chapter VII, and its fall by the Russian Chinese veto. And the aggravated international dimension of the war on Syria which dominated over the local dimension.

The status of Russia and America as two partners was present till the moving of the US fleets towards targeting Syria which was disabled due to the field veto of the Russian missiles which said that all the possibilities are open, so the fleets returned back after face-saving by the Russians through a political solution that ends with the abandonment of Syria of its chemical weapons.

At the end of the mutual discovering of the limits of the mutual readiness for going to the war in Syria defending the visions, interests, and the considerations which means for more than a year after the positioning of the Russians militarily and the start of the attack to restore the initiative by the Syrian army and its allies, the Americans were behaving on a basis of an equation of hiding behind the war on ISIS to establish influence bases in Syria most notably is the Kurdish gate, and to make use of the remaining of ISIS in order to prolong the time of exhausting Syria and the resistance axis, as once Jeffrey Feltman said to the Lebanese Deputy Walid Jumblatt. After having control of the rules of the war on ISIS as the US exclusive specialization through playing under the table with Al Nusra front directly and through the armed factions which were nominated as moderate by Washington, and which were described by the Former US President Barack Obama as fantasy that has no existence, but where the extremism and Al-Qaeda is a common background for these factions. This dual containment which experienced by Washington in the field is the same which it did in the negotiations which led to an understanding that did not emerge to light, because it depends on the decision of the transition to the US confrontation against Al Nusra front and the participation with the Russians in the war on it, in exchange of the partnership of the Russians in the war on ISIS. This partnership in the two confrontations will mean the acceleration of the elimination of the two organizations by mobilizing the allies of each of Washington and Moscow in a war on two common fronts that ensures the swift end of the two organizations.

During more than a year Moscow has followed a plan in which it has combined between the war on Al Nusra and the war on the associated factions towards exerting pressure on the regional sponsor of the armed groups represented by Turkey and which forms the first ally in the campaign led by Washington, because it has the ability to affect the war on Syria. It has put Turkey between two choices either to lose everything with the end of these factions militarily or to accept the political path that ensures a role for Turkey and for the factions which it sponsored under the ceiling of dismantling their relation with Al Nusra. Despite the skepticism of many of the feasibility of this plan which was disabled once at the gates of Aleppo nearly a year ago and then resumed towards the liberation of Aleppo, Turkey has reached the difficult choice and has entered the planned path till Astana. Moscow was not in need of a decision taken by Turkey and its factions for the war on Al Nusra but for a statement that foreshadows of that war, to pave the way for Al Nusra to wage the war in anticipation and thus to recall the Turkish US intervention to protect what is left of these factions after the decision of Al Nusra of getting rid of them.

On the other bank, Turkey and its formations stumble in the war on ISIS in Al Bab city, while ISIS’s units attack the Syrian army in Deir Al Zour, after Al Raqqa and Mosul became threatened of fall during this year. So moving away to the south from the gate of Deir Al Zour became the available withdrawal plan for ISIS. Therefore, the real scene became a literal translation for what was desired by the Russian from the beginning. A scene in which the US aircraft is attacking sites of Al Nusra front and targeting its leaders, while the Russian strategic bombers attack ISIS’s sites and target its leaders. This field military exchange happens along with strategic military exchange, where the departure of the US fleets from the Mediterranean Sea coincides with the coming and the positioning of the Russian fleets. This scene is culminated by an exchange in the political position in the Syrian crisis. The importance moved from US sponsorship that was at the front lines and then followed by Moscow as a second partner, to become Russian sponsorship and the partnership is American as an observer or a little more, Iran which was waiting to be invited to Geneva becomes at the first places of the sponsors, while Saudi Arabia which put veto on the Iranian presence is now waiting.

The speech of the US President Donald Trump about safe zones in Syria will not change anything but it will end with a talk about an understanding with the Syrian government on areas to accommodate the displaced returnees.

Translated by Lina Shehadeh,

روسيا وأميركا وانقلاب الصورة في سورية

ناصر قنديل

– منذ بداية الأزمة في سورية واستعصاء إسقاط الدولة ورئيسها على الطريقة التونسية أو المصرية، وروسيا شريك في القرار الدولي الصانع للسياسة والحرب في سورية، بداية بالفيتو المعطّل للغطاء الدولي الذي يحتاجه الأميركي لجعل الحرب مباشرة، ونهاية بالانتشار والتموضع العسكري الروسي في سورية والبحر المتوسط. ومنذ خمس سنوات عملياً تاريخ أول تصويت على المشروع العربي لإسقاط سورية بالفصل السابع وسقوطه بالفيتو الروسي الصيني، والبعد الدولي المتعاظم للحرب في سورية وعليها يكبر ويسبق ويطغى على البعد المحلي فيها، ومكانة روسيا وأميركا كشريكين قائمة، لحدّ أن تحرك الأساطيل الأميركية نحو توجيه ضربة لسورية لم يكمل طريقه بسبب الفيتو الميداني لصواريخ روسية قالت إن الاحتمالات كلها مفتوحة، فعادت الأساطيل لكن محملة بماء وجه مَن أرسلها بعدما حفظه له الروس بحلّ سياسي ينتهي بتخلي سورية عن سلاحها الكيميائي.

– في منتصف الطريق ونهاية الاستكشاف المتبادل لحدود الاستعداد المتبادل في الذهاب للحرب في سورية دفاعاً عن الرؤى والمصالح والحسابات، أي منذ عام ونيّف بعد تموضع الروس عسكرياً وبدء هجوم استرداد زمام المبادرة للجيش السوري وحلفائه، والأميركيون يتصرفون على قاعدة معادلة قوامها، الاختباء وراء الحرب على داعش لتكوين قواعد نفوذ في سورية أبرزها عبر البوابة الكردية، واستخدام بقاء داعش وإطالة أمد استنزاف التنظيم لسورية ومحور المقاومة، كما قال ذات مرة جيفري فيلتمان للنائب اللبناني وليد جنبلاط، وبالمقابل بعد التحكم بقواعد الحرب على داعش كاختصاص حصري أميركي، اللعب تحت الطاولة مع جبهة النصرة مباشرة وعبر الفصائل المسلحة التي تسميها واشنطن بـ«المعتدلة»، وهي ذاتها التي وصفها الرئيس الأميركي السابق باراك اوباما بالفانتازيا التي لا وجود لها، حيث التطرف والقاعدة خلفية جامعة لهذه الفصائل كلها. وهذا الاحتواء المزدوج الذي مارسته واشنطن في الميدان هو ما فعلته ذاته في المفاوضات التي أنتجت تفاهماً لم يبصر نور التطبيق، لأنه يتوقف على قرار بالانتقال للمواجهة الأميركية مع جبهة النصرة والتشارك مع الروس في الحرب عليها، مقابل شراكة الروس معهم في الحرب على داعش، وهي شراكة في البعدين ستعني تسريع ساعة القضاء على التنظيمين بحشد حلفاء كل من واشنطن وموسكو في حرب على جبهتين مشتركتين تكفل نهاية سريعة للتنظيمين.

– خاضت موسكو خطة مقابلة خلال عام ونيف جمعت بين الحرب على النصرة والفصائل المتموضعة معها، وصولاً للضغط على الراعي الإقليمي للفصائل المسلحة الذي تمثله تركيا، ويشكل الحليف الأول في المعكسر الذي تقوده واشتطن لجهة القدرة على التأثير في الحرب على سورية، ووضع تركيا بالحصيلة بين خياري خسارة كل شيء بنهاية هذه الفصائل عسكرياً، أو القبول بمسار سياسي يحفظ دوراً لتركيا وللفصائل التي ترعاها تحت سقف الانفصال عن النصرة، ورغم تشكيك الكثيرين بجدوى هذه الخطة، التي توقفت مرة عند أبواب حلب قبل عام تقريباً، وعادت فأكملت طريقها لتحرير حلب، وصلت تركيا إلى الخيار الصعب ودخلت المسار المرسوم حتى استانة، ولم تكن موسكو بحاجة لقرار حرب تتخذه تركيا وفصائلها للحرب على النصرة، بل لبيان يبشر بهذه الحرب، حتى تتكفل النصرة بخوض الحرب استباقاً، وتستدعي تدخلاً تركياً وأميركياً لحماية ما تبقى من هذه الفصائل بعد قرار النصرة بتصفيتها.

– على ضفة مقابلة تتعثر تركيا وفصائلها في الحرب على داعش في مدينة الباب وتهاجم وحدات داعش الجيش السوري في دير الزور، بعدما صارت الرقة والموصل خطوطاً مهدّدة بالسقوط خلال هذا العام، وصار النزوح جنوباً من بوابة دير الزور خطة الانسحاب المتاحة لداعش، فصار المشهد الواقعي ترجمة حرفية لما أراده الروس منذ البداية، مشهد تغير فيه الطائرات الأميركية على مواقع جبهة النصرة وتستهدف قادتها فيما تغير القاذفات الاستراتيجية الروسية على مواقع داعش وتستهدف قياداتها. ويحدث هذا التبادل العسكري الميداني جنباً إلى جنب مع تبادل عسكري استراتيجي، حيث يتزامن رحيل الأساطيل الأميركية من المتوسط مع قدوم وتمركز الأساطيل الروسية فيه، ويتوّج المشهد تبادل في الموقع السياسي في الأزمة السورية فينتقل الثقل من رعاية أميركية تتقدم الصفوف وتليها موسكو شريكاً ثانياً، لتصير الرعاية روسية والشراكة أميركية بصفة مراقب أو أكثر قليلاً، وتصير إيران في الصفوف الأولى للرعاة، بينما كانت تقف على باب انتظار دعوة إلى جنيف، لتبادلها السعودية التي وضعت الفيتو على الحضور الإيراني الجلوس في قاعة الانتظار.

– لا يغيّر من هذا بشيء حديث الرئيس الأميركي دونالد ترامب عن مناطق آمنة في سورية، ستنتهي بالحديث عن تفاهم مع الحكومة السورية على مناطق لإيواء النازحين العائدين.

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