Authored by Nauman Sadiq,
After seven years of utter devastation and bloodletting, a consensus has emerged among all the belligerents of the Syrian war to de-escalate the conflict, except Israel which wants to further escalate the conflict because it has been the only beneficiary of the carnage in Syria.
Over the years, Israel has not only provided medical aid and material support to the militant groups battling the Syrian government – particularly to various factions of the Free Syria Army (FSA) and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate al-Nusra Front in Daraa and Quneitra bordering the Israel-occupied Golan Heights – but Israel’s air force has virtually played the role of the air force of the Syrian jihadists and has conducted more than 100 airstrikes in Syria and Lebanon during the seven-year conflict.
Washington’s interest in the Syrian proxy war is mainly about ensuring Israel’s regional security. The United States Defense Intelligence Agency’s declassified report of 2012 clearly spelled out the imminent rise of a Salafist principality in northeastern Syria (Raqqa and Deir al-Zor) in the event of an outbreak of a civil war in Syria.
Under pressure from the Zionist lobby in Washington, however, the Obama administration deliberately suppressed the report and also overlooked the view in general that a proxy war in Syria will give birth to radical Islamic jihadists.
The hawks in Washington were fully aware of the consequences of their actions in Syria, but they kept pursuing the ill-fated policy of nurturing militants in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to weaken the anti-Zionist Syrian government.
The single biggest threat to Israel’s regional security was posed by the Shi’a resistance axis, which is comprised of Iran, the Assad administration in Syria and their Lebanon-based surrogate, Hezbollah. During the course of 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel and Israel’s defense community realized for the first time the nature of threat that Hezbollah and its patrons posed to Israel’s regional security.
Those were only unguided rockets but it was a wakeup call for Israel’s military strategists that what will happen if Iran passed the guided missile technology to Hezbollah whose area of operations lies very close to the northern borders of Israel.
In a momentous announcement at an event in Ohio on March 29, however, Donald Trump said, “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.”
What lends credence to the statement that the Trump administration will soon be pulling 2,000 US troops out of Syria – mostly Special Forces assisting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces – is that President Trump has recently sacked the National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster.
McMaster represented the institutional logic of the deep state in the Trump administration and was instrumental in advising Donald Trump to escalate the conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria. He had advised President Trump to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan from 8,400 to 15,000. And in Syria, he was in favor of the Pentagon’s policy of training and arming 30,000 Kurdish border guards to patrol Syria’s northern border with Turkey.
Both the decisions have spectacularly backfired on the Trump administration. The decision to train and arm 30,000 Kurdish border guards had infuriated the Erdogan administration to the extent that Turkey mounted Operation Olive Branch in the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in Syria’s northwest on January 20.
After capturing Afrin on March 18, the Turkish armed forces and their Free Syria Army proxies have now cast their eyes further east on Manbij, where the US Special Forces are closely cooperating with the Kurdish YPG militia, in line with the long-held Turkish military doctrine of denying the Kurds any Syrian territory west of River Euphrates.
It bears mentioning that unlike dyed-in-the-wool globalists and “liberal interventionists,” like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who cannot look past beyond the tunnel vision of political establishments, it appears that the protectionist Donald Trump not only follows news from conservative mainstream outlets, like the Fox News, but he has also been familiar with alternative news perspectives, such as Breitbart’s, no matter how racist and xenophobic.
Thus, Donald Trump is fully aware that the conflict in Syria is a proxy war initiated by the Western political establishments and their regional Middle Eastern allies against the Syrian government. He is also mindful of the fact that militants have been funded, trained and armed in the training camps located in Turkey’s border regions to the north of Syria and in Jordan’s border regions to the south of Syria.
According to the last year’s March 31 article for the New York Times by Michael Gordon, the US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the recently sacked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had stated on the record that defeating the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was the top priority of the Trump administration and the fate of Bashar al-Assad was of least concern to the new administration.
Under the previous Obama administration, the evident policy in Syria was regime change. The Trump administration, however, looks at the crisis in Syria from an entirely different perspective because Donald Trump regards Islamic jihadists as a much bigger threat to the security of the US than Barack Obama.
In order to allay the concerns of Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East, the Trump administration conducted a cruise missile strike on al-Shayrat airfield in Homs governorate on April 6 last year after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. But that isolated incident was nothing more than a show of force to bring home the point that the newly elected Donald Trump is an assertive and powerful president.
More significantly, Karen De Young and Liz Sly made another startling revelation in the last year’s March 4 article for the Washington Post: “Trump has said repeatedly that the US and Russia should cooperate against the Islamic State, and he has indicated that the future of Russia-backed Assad is of less concern to him.”
Mindful of the Trump administration’s lack of commitment in the Syrian proxy war, Israel’s air force conducted an airstrike on Tiyas (T4) airbase in Homs on April 9 in which seven Iranian military personnel were killed. The Israeli airstrike took place after the alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma on April 7 in order to convince the reluctant Trump administration that it can order another strike in Syria without the fear of reprisal from Assad’s backer Russia.
Despite scant evidence as to the use of chemical weapons or the party responsible for it, Donald Trump, under pressure from Israel’s lobby in Washington, eventually ordered another cruise missiles strike in Syria on April 14 in collaboration with Theresa May’s government in the UK and Emmanuel Macron’s administration in France.
What defies explanation for the April 14 strikes against a scientific research facility in the Barzeh district of Damascus and two alleged chemical weapons storage facilities in Homs is the fact that Donald Trump had already announced that the process of withdrawal of US troops from Syria must begin before the midterm US elections slated for November. If the Trump administration is to retain the Republican majority in the Congress, it will have to show something tangible to its voters, particularly in Syria.
The fact that out of 105 total cruise missiles deployed in the April 14 strikes in Syria, 85 were launched by the US, 12 by France and 8 by the UK aircrafts shows that the strikes were once again nothing more than a show of force by a “powerful and assertive” US president who regards the interests of his European allies as his own, particularly when he has given a May 12 deadline to his European allies to “improve and strengthen” the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise he has threatened to walk out of the pact in order to please Israel’s lobby in Washington.
Finally, the Trump administration will eventually realize at its own risk that placating the Zionist lobby is unlikely if not impossible because Israel has conducted another missile strike in Aleppo and Hama on Sunday (April 29) in which 26 people, including many Iranians, have been killed and 60 others wounded.
According to NBC, the blast at the Brigade 47 base in Hama which serves as a warehouse for surface-to-air missiles was so severe that it caused 2.6 magnitude earthquake and shockwaves were felt as far away as Lebanon and Turkey. This seems like a last-ditch attempt by Israel to further escalate the conflict and to force the Trump administration to abandon its plans of withdrawing US troops from Syria.
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Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and Middle East regions, neocolonialism and petro-imperialism.