Bolton sets the rules … and Idlib is in readiness

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – Aug. 31, 2018, issue 9291, p. 21

Certainly what has been leaked since the previous Helsinki summit on expectations or reflections continues to be suspended to date. But the two crises that were the priority of this meeting, Syria and Ukraine, remained stuck without a fundamental change until the visit of US National Security Secretary Bolton to Tel Aviv. With the clearest statements, Bolton put for the first time into practice Washington’s strategy in Syria since Trump took over the leadership of the White House, through several points that set the tone for any talks with the international key player in Syria, Moscow.

Israeli national security is at the top of the pyramid in any political or military solution to Syria’s dossier, just as I said in my previous article in the Al-Quds newspaper entitled “The Helsinki summit and the reins in Tel Aviv“. In this article, I stressed that the policy of Presidents Putin and Trump would be within the limits of Israel’s satisfaction. Another very important and decisive point in Bolton’s remarks was the confirmation that there would be no US withdrawal from Syria without ending the files of the Islamic State and Iran. These statements in my personal opinion are the key to understanding the next phase of the Syrian crisis and its environment.

The Islamic State file

This file is still on the table of the White House and Congress and will remain for a period of time for two reasons. The first is linked to the organization itself, which began during the last period to develop a new internal strategy for dealing with US and Kurdish attacks on the one hand and the attacks of Russia, Assad and its allies on the other. It has rebuilt its military structure to make it more solid. Also, information coming from ISIS-controlled sites indicates that there is a change in the religious structure of the organization as well. It has become less fanatical and more lenient than the past. This demonstrates the desire of the leadership of the organization to increase the number of its members and reduce tensions with residents in the controlled areas. It should also be noted that the financial support of the organization continues despite all international efforts to end. The second reason for the survival and continuity of ISIS is the international factor and the regional environment. Assad, who triumphs over his empty victories in southern Syria, found the ISIS fighters who lost the battle at Yarmouk camp the best tool to bring back the Suwayda area under his control while the continued survival of the organization in the eastern part of Syria is the best diplomatic and media cover for the US government. Washington, on the basis of Bolton’s words, will not rush to close this file at the moment.

The Iranian presence in Syria

That is the most ambiguous part of Bolton’s options. He stressed that Putin told Trump that Moscow could not achieve the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria, which means that this file will be open to all options. Israel will not stop its attacks on the Iranian presence in Syria, despite the decline in the severity of these attacks lately. The arrival of James Jeffrey of official in charge of the Syrian file at the US State Department is the beginning of more severe measures against Iran in Syria, which may reach to focused air strikes against the support lines from Iran to Syria and will cover the area from the Anbar desert in Iraq to the Syrian desert. Information leaked from a diplomatic source confirms Washington’s deployment of two radars, one in Ein-al-Arab (Kobane) and one in Shaddadi, raising doubts about its intention to impose a no-fly zone in eastern Syria. However, these steps will not be effective in ending the presence of Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Syria unless Moscow is a partner. The Russian administration was convinced that the Western and US support and that of the Gulf  countries for the rebuilding of Syria will remain elusive unless Iran moves out from Syria. Therefore, the solution to this file should be linked in one hand to strong US military action whose drums have already begun to sound in the last few days, and Putin’s strategic decision to revise his priorities in Syria on the other.

The political solution file for the Syrian crisis

Far from the field movements, De Mistura keeps the file of the political solution in Geneva awaiting. The constitutional commission, which will start its work later on, will only be a bubble without effect. The solution is far from what Moscow is trying to present in Sochi and Astana. Bolton’s assertion of the Geneva resolutions and UN resolution 2254, which includes a transitional period and parliamentary and presidential elections under the control of the United Nations, is the head of the thread and no alternative. In this context, the speeches of French President Macron and US Defense Secretary Mattis have been recently launched, stressing that there is no solution without the formation of a new government in Syria where Assad will have no role to play.

The leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran will meet in Tehran early next month. The Syrian file will be at the top of the talks. The Russian and Turkish sides will discuss the details of the forthcoming battle of Idlib and the possibility of avoiding it. Russia is not confident of the results and success of this move without Ankara’s support, and Ankara is unable to withstand the cost of a battle that could lead to a refugee wave of three million Syrians in a turbulent economic environment. Meanwhile, the Iranians expect the next US sanctions and their impact as well as who will implement them, making Syria’s file less important and Iran more flexible in Turkey’s and Russia’s demands.

The Syrian crisis is now at the threshold of a new phase whose international title will be determined by the White House. Its revolutionary title will be determined by a group of brave men in Idlib and around it.