Daesh to lose all Syria territory by 2019: French army chief

Civilians are concerned about chemical warfare in Idlib. (Reuters)
Updated 07 September 2018

Daesh to lose all Syria territory by 2019: French army chief

  • Lecointre predicted the end of the physical caliphate of Daesh before the end of the year, probably late autumn
  • Lecointre also said his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used

PARIS: Daesh will have been driven from all the territory it once controlled as a self-declared “caliphate” before the end of the year, French military chief Francois Lecointre said on Thursday.

The terrorists, who conquered vast stretches of Iraq and Syria in 2014, have lost all but a pocket of land in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province between the Euphrates river and Iraqi border, though they remain present in the  Syrian desert.

Lecointre predicted “the end of the physical caliphate of Daesh before the end of the year, probably late autumn.”

France is part of the US-led coalition that has been fighting Daesh since 2014 and is now supporting Kurdish and Arab fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces as they battle to oust the terrorists from their last holdout.

“Once the physical caliphate has fallen ... we will pose the question of how to reconfigure Operation Inherent Resolve,” Lecointre said of the coalition.

Speaking to reporters, the general pledged to downscale the French troop contingent — currently more than 1,000-strong — “as soon as I can.”

Lecointre also said his forces were prepared to carry out strikes on Syrian targets if chemical weapons were used in an expected regime offensive to retake the northern province of Idlib.

Russia, an ally of President Bashar Assad, resumed airstrikes against insurgents in Idlib on Tuesday after weeks of bombardment and shelling by pro-regime Syrian forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive against the last major enclave held by fighters.

“We are ready to strike if chemical weapons were used again,” said Lecointre. 

“They can be carried out at national level but it’s in our interest to do it with as many partners as possible.”

In April, France, the US and Britain launched more than 100 missiles at pro-regime targets in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack.

The prospect of an offensive on Idlib alarms aid agencies. The UN has said about half of the 3 million people living in opposition-held areas of the northwest have already been displaced. It estimates some 10,000 terrorists are in the area.

Idlib’s fate now appears likely to rest on a summit on Friday in Tehran between the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran — a meeting that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said would make the situation “clearer.”

While the US and its allies have warned of a blood bath, they have made clear they would only intervene should they deem that chemical weapons have been used.

A French military source said the indications were that Russia and its allies wanted to wrap up the Idlib offensive by the end of the year.

The source said Paris believed the US would maintain its military presence in Kurdish-controlled northwestern regions of Syria given that Washington wanted to limit Iran’s influence in Syria. 

Iran’s Zarif says risk of war with Israel is great

Updated 17 February 2019

Iran’s Zarif says risk of war with Israel is great

  • FM said Israel’s behavior violates international law
  • He also criticized Europe for not calling out Israel and US for illegal behavior in the region

MUNICH: Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday accused Israel of looking for war and warned that its actions and those of the United States were increasing the chances of a clash in the region. Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Mohammad Javad Zarif, also criticized the US administration after Vice President Mike Pence this week called on European powers to pullout of the nuclear deal with Iran. Zarif urged France, Germany and Britain to do more to save that accord.

“Certainly, some people are looking for war ... Israel,” Zarif said. “The risk (of war) is great. The risk will be even greater if you continue to turn a blind eye to severe violations of international law.”

Accusing Israel of violating international law after bombing campaigns in Syria, Zarif criticized European powers for not calling out Israel and the United States for their behavior in the region.

“Israeli behavior is putting international law on the shelf, US behavior is putting international law on the shelf,” he said.

Speaking to his cabinet on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Iranian belligerence was the main destabilizing factor in the entire Middle East.

“We must deny Iran nuclear weaponry and block its military entrenchment in Syria. We will continue taking constant action to ensure Israel’s security,” he said in remarks broadcast on Israeli media.

Europe falling short

Vice President Pence on Friday accused Iran of Nazi-like anti-Semitism, maintaining his harsh rhetoric against Tehran just a day he attacked European powers for trying to undermine US sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Zarif said the US had an “unhealthy” and “pathological obsession” with Iran and accused Pence of trying to bully his allies.

“All in the name of containing Iran, the US claims, and some blindly parrot, that it is Iran that is interfering in the region, but has it been asked whose region?” Zarif said.

“Look at the map, the US military has traveled 10,000 kilometers to dot all our borders with its bases. There is a joke that it is Iran that put itself in the middle of US bases.”

Zarif, who said Iran was committed to the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers for now, also accused France, Britain and Germany of not doing enough to ensure Tehran received the economic benefits of that accord.

These three countries this month set up the Instrument In Support Of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran to avoid US sanctions. But diplomats say it is unlikely to allow the big transactions that Tehran says it needs to keep a nuclear deal afloat.

Washington’s major European allies opposed last year’s decision by US President Donald Trump to abandon the deal, which also includes China and Russia, under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for Tehran accepting curbs on its nuclear program.

“INSTEX falls short of commitments by the E3 (France, Germany, Britain) to save the nuclear deal,” Zarif said. “Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against the dangerous tide of US unilateralism.”