The Helsinki summit puts the Syrian rebels at a crossroads

Al-Quds Al-Arabi – July 09, 2018

The second meeting of US President Trump with his Russian counterpart is expected in Helsinki, after that on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the summer of 2017, described as positive by both parties, during which the various crises mainly in Syria and Ukraine were discussed, as well as the mutual defense rules between NATO and Russia, especially after the great tension between the two parties in the last year of Barack Obama’s term.

The meeting in Hamburg

The Hamburg meeting resulted promises about Syria in particular, and without consensus on the Ukrainian crisis. However, things did not change significantly on the ground. The agreement of the Euphrates River line in Syria remained ink on the paper and both parties avoided implementing it. Russia tried to cross the river several times through the forces of Assad and his supporting militias, on the one hand, and Wagner’s Russian expendable mercenaries on the other. But all these efforts failed, and the US side, which promised to leave the Al-Tanf base on the Syrian-Jordanian border, increased its military presence there by two thousand soldiers and hundreds of armored vehicles. Consequently, the previous meeting had no effect on the map.

According to diplomatic leaks, the next meeting will be divided into two parts, political and military regarding the future of the Syrian, Ukrainian and Iranian crises, while the second part will be economic. I will analyze in this article the effects and plans prepared for this meeting and their implications for the future of the Syrian crisis in particular.

The US retreat from its warnings of any military action in southern Syria and the abandonment of Syrian military opposition elements in the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra did not occur in the moment but are certainly linked to Bolton’s visit to Moscow and his meeting with Putin last month. The US side took this step as a pledge towards full reconciliation with Moscow in Syria, while the most important point of disagreement between the two sides lies in two points: the first is the US presence in the eastern part of Syria where, my view is that the quantities of oil and gas in this area are not enormous to require the retention of Washington forces with the high cost of military and geopolitical presence. The second point relates to the protection of Israeli national security against any threat from Iran or its militias. Therefore, the solutions of these two points are linked to each other. Washington may put forward the idea of ​​a total withdrawal from eastern Syria in exchange for sufficient promises by Moscow about the withdrawal of Iran from Syria and its Lebanese arm of Hezbollah altogether, albeit gradually. In this way, the two sides will have reached their goals. In these solutions may have contributed the secret meetings and the diplomatic mobility during the past few weeks of regional players in the Middle East. Western diplomatic sources confirm the communication between Israel and Assad via Moscow, in which he stressed his intention not to maintain the presence of militias in the southern part of Syria and to ensure total peace on the northern border of Israel. This consensus was preceded by intensive meetings between Israeli and Arab officials in Jordan, where Tel Aviv made it clear that Iran’s exit from Syria is a common demand, and that Assad’s survival is for the benefit of all. Israeli satisfaction was demonstrated on the ground in the battles in Daraa and will be more visible in the Helsinki meeting.

The Turkish position

Some may wonder about the Turkish position towards what will happen in the Syrian east. Russia promised to give the Kurds of Syria their own federal region in return, for Assad taking over the Syrian-Turkish border. Thus, Turkey, fearing the threat of the PKK arms in eastern Syria, is obliged to accept Assad and work with him to limit these militias and in a future step to end them. Here it is worth noting the relationship between what will be agreed in Helsinki and the agreement of the century with respect to Israel. Tel Aviv works to close the legal status of the Golan Heights as part of the state of Israel through a deal with the dictator of the Muhajireen. And it is certain that Assad will not be more patriotic than his father.

The most likely issue on Western diplomatic corridors is Russia’s ability to push Iran outside Syria. Despite the close relationship between the Assad regime and Tehran prior to the Syrian revolution, its presence was no more than diplomatic, while secret services were limited to a small number of military advisers in two secret bases. At the start of the Syrian revolution, the Iranian presence was only aimed at keeping Assad in power rather than expanding militarily within the Israeli security line. Therefore, any scheme that will keep its agent at the Muhajireen palace is enough for Tehran to withdraw its troops, in principle, unless the Washington economic war extends so that it will be forced to re-share the deck of the area.

Under these circumstances, the dark Syrian scene is at a crossroads linked to those who still hold the flag of the early Syrian revolution. One way leads to accepting the international plan and complying with the imperatives of their supporters in the North and the South, which will inevitably bring them to their return under the roof of prison or the so-called roof of the homeland. The other is the road of freedom and liberation from the language of diplomacy and political realism.

The choice is in your hands and not in Helsinki, Amman or Ankara.