Trump’s Syria safe zone plan ‘realistic’ but hinges on Russia’s consent

US President Donald Trump speaks during a joint press conference with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May in the East Room of the White House on Friday in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 02 February 2017
0

Trump’s Syria safe zone plan ‘realistic’ but hinges on Russia’s consent

WASHINGTON: With US President Donald Trump’s formal executive order to establish “safe zones” in Syria expected imminently, experts see the plan as realistic in at least two areas of the country.
 
But it all hinges on Russia’s acquiescence and implicit support to minimize the US military commitment, the Syria-watchers suggested.
 
The news of a safe zone emerged this week following the leak of a draft executive order halting most Syrian refugee resettlement in the US. It suggested “a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement.”
 
While officials from both the State and Defense departments told Arab News they are waiting for “formal directives” before commenting on hypothetical plans and drafts, experts who closely follow the Syrian conflict saw the move — in its timing and intent — as “realistic” and achievable.
 
Trump’s bargain
Following the leak of the draft, Trump told ABC News that he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria.” This was the second time since winning the election in November that he has spoken with such clarity on the issue.
On Nov. 17, the then President-elect Trump told his supporters: “in Syria, take a big swatch of land, which believe me, you get for the right price, OK?... what I’d like is build a safe zone, it’s here, build a big beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier.”
 
Nicholas Heras, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and at the Jamestown Foundation, tells Arab News that Trump “is serious about this proposal, as are senior members of his administration.”
 
The bargain that Trump, the businessman, sees in the safe zone plan is the following, explains Heras, “a way to alleviate human suffering in Syria while at the same time prevent future refugee flows that threaten the stability of Europe and which put political pressure on the US to accept Syrian refugees.”
 
Such a plan would be designed “with minimal commitment from Washington,” says Hassan Hassan, a senior fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington.
 
Logistics and potential layout
Hassan, co-author of the bestseller “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” tells Arab News that “no more resources than are already dedicated to the fight against ISIS in eastern and southern Syria would be required from the US.”
It is in these areas where the US is battling Daesh that the safe zones would be located. Heras identifies two locations in Syria “where there is the immediate opportunity that safe zones could be built.” The first is in the north “in the territory stretching from the eastern Aleppo suburbs to the Syrian-Iraqi border in the northeastern tip of Syria,” he adds. The second “is in southwestern Syria, along the Syrian-Jordanian and Syrian-Golan Heights borders.”
 
Hassan agrees that these areas “are de facto safe zones and what is lacking is a policy to help people return to their areas and rebuild their communities.” He sees such an approach “essential and not optional, if the US is to ensure ISIS does not regenerate.”
 
While there is a risk of the Assad government bombarding these areas, Heras notes that the regime and its allies have had “a military manpower problem and can only carry out limited military campaigns to take and hold territory that is close to Assad’s statelet in western Syria.” The areas under consideration “have been independent from the Assad government and under self-governance since 2011 and 2012, and are not likely to return to Assad government control for a long time,” he adds.
 
Russia’s green light?
Both Hassan and Heras see Russia’s blessing or at least acquiescence to such plans as critical. “No safe zones will be built in Syria without Russia’s acceptance,” says Heras. Moscow’s role will be key to “apply pressure on the Assad government, and to work to reduce the influence of the Iranians and their proxy forces inside of Assad’s statelet, as part of a broader ‘Balkans’-like international stabilization mission for Syria.”
 
Russia’s improved relations with Turkey and their latest joint cooperation in Syria on the political and counterterrorism fronts make these safe zones “more realistic,” says Hassan. He explains that “Turkey and Russia have been working together to deescalate the situation, and this relationship can be utilized to neutralize the civilian population from the ongoing operations.”
 
These foreign spheres of influence in Syria “make it easy to reach a bargain to establish safe zones in areas where hostilities between the main warring parties are not reduced or non-existent,” Hassan adds. “The fragmentation of Syria along various spheres of influence is an opportunity to create safe areas that allow displaced people, especially in neighboring countries, to go back to the country and unlike before, this does not need to be seen by Damascus and its allies as a threat.”
 
Hassan emphasizes the importance of coordination “with countries in the region and in Europe to build the capacity of the local communities to police their own areas and prevent jihadists from building influence and networks in those areas.”
 
As far as the US military commitment is concerned to protect these safe zones, it would all be contingent on Assad’s response, says Heras. “If Assad decides to attack them, the US will need to be able to strike Assad government targets, either using standoff weapons like cruise missiles, or by launching airstrikes,” adds the defense analyst. If the Assad government chooses to wage a ground campaign, “it will require US ground forces — tens of thousands — with local partners to hold them off.”
 


UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

Updated 18 January 2019
0

UK court rejects case brought by mother of Daesh 'Beatle' held in Syria

  • El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year
  • United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way

LONDON: The mother of one of the British Daesh militants suspected of murdering western hostages, lost a legal challenge on Friday that it was wrong for Britain to assist a US investigation which could lead to them facing the death penalty.
Britons El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey — two of a notorious group of British fighters nicknamed “The Beatles” — are being held by Kurdish militia after being captured in Syria last year.
The United States wants to extradite them and Britain has said it will not stand in the way of any future US prosecution that would seek the death penalty, waiving a long-standing objection to executions.
Elsheikh’s mother, Maha El Gizouli, had sought a judicial review, saying it was unlawful for Britain’s interior minister to provide mutual legal assistance in a case which could lead to prosecutions for offenses which carried the death penalty.
Her lawyers said the minister’s actions were flawed, inconsistent with Britain’s unequivocal opposition to the death penalty and violated her son’s human rights. However, London’s High Court disagreed and dismissed her claim.
“My priority has always been to ensure we deliver justice for the victims’ families and that the individuals suspected of these sickening crimes face prosecution as quickly as possible,” Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.
“Our long-standing opposition to the death penalty has not changed. Any evidence shared with the US in this case must be for the express purpose of progressing a federal prosecution.”
The most notorious of the four of the so-called Beatles was Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John,” who is believed to have been killed in a US-British missile strike in 2015.
He became a public face of Daesh and appeared in videos showing the murders of US journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, US aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and other hostages.
“This group of terrorists is associated with some of the most barbaric crimes committed during the conflict in Syria,” Graeme Biggar, Director of National Security at Britain’s interior ministry, said in a written statement to the court.
Britain has said it does not want the men repatriated to the United Kingdom and their British citizenship has been withdrawn.
British prosecutors concluded they did not have the evidence to launch their own case against the men but US officials then expressed frustration with the British stance of seeking an assurance that US prosecutors would not call for the death penalty, court documents showed.
However, last June, British ministers and senior officials decided the best way of ensuring a prosecution and to protect US relations was to seek no such assurance in this case.
That decision provoked criticism from opposition lawmakers and from some in the government’s own party who accused ministers of secretly abandoning Britain’s opposition to the death penalty.