An end to the Syrian war, but not to the crisis
The aim of the negotiations, led by the Russians and the UN envoy, is to end direct confrontations between different factions. The most dangerous part of it, based on the acknowledgment of the failure of the military solution, is that it accepts the temporary geographical distribution of Syria between different foreign forces, Russia, the US, Iran and Turkey, as per the status quo. The idea of temporary separation is to have these factions stop the fighting and later negotiate a final solution. However, the internationally acceptable positioning, albeit temporary, would mean regional conflict between Iraq, Israel and Turkey, all of which are getting ready for the “post-ceasefire” stage.
Recently published satellite maps show that Iran is building a series of small military bases, extending from the southern suburbs of Damascus to the Golan, apart from the military compounds built by Lebanese Hezbollah in its positions in other areas inside Syria. All of these facts point to near-future arrangements that aim to impose facts on the ground regardless of the international agreement expected later on. The Iranian and other allied military presence, with all this quantity and depth, establishes a reality that cannot be disregarded as a danger to the region in general rather than to Israel, which has a huge destructive military power and an American ally it can rely on.
Israel, like other countries in the region, underestimated the Iranian infiltration into Syria. It thought that the civil war served its interests — a sectarian swamp that would involve Hezbollah and Iranian forces against Daesh, and they all must have lost a significant number of their forces and fighters during the past three years.
But even if the agreement between the main powers succeeds in putting an end to the fighting, we have to worry about the signs of a new phase of regional confrontations inside and outside Syria.
Israel still considers Hezbollah a forward Iranian battalion in the context of the power play in the Middle East, which would be fueled by the anticipated ceasefire agreement that would acknowledge the Iranian presence in Syria. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards have been building for a long presence for its forces and militias of foreign fighters in the areas under its control, and which extend to about 50 km on the borders of Israel in the Golan.
Satellite pictures show how the Revolutionary Guards built a series of military bases to be support and finance centers, and which would play the role of an Iranian highway that goes through Iraq into Lebanon. That is why the new Israeli threats are against Hezbollah in both Lebanon and Syria. The aim of these threats is to face the new realities. Moreover, previous Israeli wars against Hezbollah used to be based on the accumulation of weapons at Hezbollah’s disposal as well as its deployment, and they used to happen once every 10 years.
As for Syria, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns against the new realities and believes that “when Daesh is banished from a place, Iran replaces it.” Of course, the reason is clear, which is that the Syrian regime does not have enough military capabilities due to its losses.
Israel, Turkey and Iraq all have borders with Syria and are directly involved in the details of the solution and the forces from local and foreign militias that would control the lands. Jordan also faces the danger of the Iranian march toward its borders with the city of Daraa, had it not been for the American warnings.
A peace agreement is on the cards that will halt the fighting, but it will not address the pernicious influence of Iran and the foreign militias who will control large parts of the country.
Iran, however, has no borders with Syria; nevertheless, it is the most extended and militarily active country. Had it not been for the Russian air cover, the Iranian militias would not have been able to advance; rather, they would have faced almost certain defeat.
This is the reality, and I do not know how the agreement for ending the war in Syria would tackle it; an agreement that would finish the presence of terrorist groups such Daesh, Nusra and Ahrar Al-Sham, but fail to rid Syria from more dangerous regional militias.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.
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