For years Israel has been concerned over the possibility of a multi-front war, including a conflict in the north along the Lebanese and Golan border with Syria. Iran will have to tread carefully.
https://www.jpost.com/-By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Syrian soldiers stand at the Nasib border crossing with Jordan in Deraa, Syria July 7, 2018.(photo credit: REUTERS/OMAR SANADIKI)
Russian forces entered the last rebel bastion in Syria’s south, according to reports this week. This “rebel” area had actually been retaken by the Syrian regime in the summer of 2018 after seven years of war. However, simmering tensions since 2018, and the Syrian regime being weak and relying on former rebels to secure the area meant that control of Daraa was tenuous.
Daraa is actually where the Syrian rebellion began in 2011, and is a symbol of resistance. The southern Syria rebellion was always more moderate than the extremists who emerged in Idlib and Raqqa. In addition, it never received major foreign backing. Turkey invaded northern Syria and co-opted the rebels there. ISIS destroyed the Syrian rebellion in eastern Syria, and a US-backed coalition of mostly Kurdish fighters called the SDF defeated ISIS and took control of eastern Syria. Meanwhile, Russian and Iranian backing for Damascus helped it retake swaths of the country by 2018.
The fact that Daraa again became embroiled in rebellion this summer shows that the regime has not settled its existential problems. The role of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia is still paramount. The regime laid siege to protesters in Daraa, which is not far from the Jordanian and Israeli borders. Now an agreement appears to mean that Russian military police will patrol Daraa and other areas.
“The last rebel bastion in Syria’s southwest has surrendered under a deal that halted an Iranian-backed government offensive to retake the birthplace of the 2011 popular uprising, military and civilian sources said,” Reuters reported.
Russian generals brokered the deal, the report says. This came after the bombardment of the rebels “by elite Fourth Division government forces.” The fact that rebels held out for two months with basically no media coverage reveals how the Syrian regime is able to do as it wants. The West has no interest in Syria anymore. The US has left Afghanistan and promised it won’t do any more military interventions or “nation-building.” The signal is that rebels can be crushed wherever they are, and that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes can always use force.
Despite the Biden administration talking about “human rights” when it came into office, the lack of interest or monitors for southern Syria shows there are few human rights in the Middle East, or much of the world. The US State Department condemned on Wednesday what it called “the Assad regime’s ruthless assault on Daraa that has killed civilians and displaced thousands.”
“Russian troops hoisted the Russian and Syrian flags inside the Daraa al Balad district, where the first peaceful protests against Assad family rule in 2011 broke out before security forces cracked down and the unrest morphed into civil war,” Reuters wrote this week. “Under the deal, local rebels began to hand over light weapons based on assurances that Russian military police would maintain patrols and checkpoints to bar Iranian-backed militias from entering, preventing feared reprisals, negotiators said.”
The role of Iran is sensitive. Israel has opposed Iranian entrenchment in southern Syria, and there have been tensions with Hezbollah’s attempt to infiltrate near the Israeli border. In the fall of 2018, Hezbollah sent a “killer drone” team to southern Syria near the Golan to threaten Israel. Over the years, Israel has carried out airstrikes to reduce Iranian entrenchment in Syria. However, Iran’s tentacles continue to grow.
Although Iran may have reduced some of its IRGC forces, it continues to seek to send advanced precision-guided munitions to Hezbollah. Iran also bases drones in Syria. In May an Iranian drone flew into Israeli airspace and was shot down. Another Iranian drone was shot down in February 2018.
“It is a sad day to see the flag of the Russian occupier and the criminal regime in the cradle of the revolution that has seen tens of thousands die for its cause,” said Abdallah Aba Zaid, a Daraa resident whose wife and four children died in a Russian airstrike on rebel-held Daraa province earlier in the war, according to Reuters.
In the past few years, reports have said that Iran would be kept some 40-60 km. from the Golan border. However it’s unclear if that has transpired. Reuters notes that “under a Russian-orchestrated deal then, the Western-backed Daraa rebels handed over heavy weapons but were allowed to continue their own administration of Daraa al Balad. Moscow also gave guarantees to Israel and the United States in 2018 that it would restrain Iranian-backed militias from expanding their influence in the sensitive border region.”
Many thousands were displaced by the fighting in southern Syria. It is not clear what comes next. Iran and Hezbollah may soon try to infiltrate the area. This could increase tensions in the region and between Israel and Hezbollah. For years Israel has been concerned over the possibility of a multi-front war, including a conflict in the North that would include areas along the Lebanese and Golan border with Syria. Iran will have to tread carefully regarding its next moves after the most recent Daraa deal.