Iran’s meddling ‘a threat to all in region,’ US says

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The Syrian regime has intensified its bombardment of the besieged Eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus, killing more than 245 civilians including dozens of children. (Reuters)
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Updated 12 February 2018

Iran’s meddling ‘a threat to all in region,’ US says

BEIRUT/WASHINGTON: The war in Syria threatened to enter a new and dangerously unpredictable phase on Sunday as the US and Israel issued stark warnings over Iran’s role.
Israeli forces will press ahead with Syria operations despite the loss of an F-16 warplane shot down on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Israel carried out major air raids in Syria on Saturday against what it described as Iranian targets.
“We inflicted a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday.
“We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy.”
Iran also came under fire from the US State Department. “Iran’s calculated escalation of threat and its ambition to project its power and dominance place all the people of the region — from Yemen to Lebanon — at risk,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
“The US continues to push back on the totality of Iran’s malign activities in the region and calls for an end to Iranian behavior that threatens peace and stability.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said all concerned in Syria and in the region must abide by international law, and called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria. The UN Security Council will discuss the crisis on Wednesday.
Guterres is “following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the dangerous spillover across its borders,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Ambassador Marcelle M. Wahba, president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, told Arab News: “These incidents … are of great concern as they could easily escalate. With the US military presence in Syria, as well as Russians, Iranians, Hezbollah, Syrian regime forces, Syrian Kurdish forces and a number of other opposition groups, it is a recipe for disaster if things get out of hand. I’m sure the US government is encouraging restraint on all sides.”
Ellen Laipson of the Stimson Center in Washington told Arab News Saturday’s events were “a dangerous turning point in the conflict. Israel and Syria have long experience in avoiding confrontation, but this incident risks changing the behavior of both states.
“It will not necessarily lead to sustained Israeli involvement in Syria’s civil war, but it illustrates that after the territorial defeat of Daesh, and the view that Syria has prevailed in its internal war against domestic opposition, the Syrian crisis has turned into a multiheaded monster.”
On the ground in Syria, six civilians, two of them children, died in renewed Assad regime airstrikes on Saturday night on the opposition held enclave of Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus.

Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 23 September 2018

Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.