Originally published in Huffington Post Greece on Apr. 10, 2018
Since the beginning of this year the eastern part of Syria has been transformed into a quiet zone in terms of military moves. Moscow and Washington reached an important initial agreement that was raveled in the Philippines by the Foreign Ministers of the two countries. Its final points were delineated at the Trump and Putin meeting in China. Under this agreement, the Euphrates River is a dividing line between the two forces of the two countries and their allies. Washington is stationed in the cities of Manbej and Tabqa in addition to the eastern Euphrates, while the center of Moscow and its allies is located in the west of the Euphrates. Within this management scheme, the forces of the two countries managed to expel ISIS from 90% of the Syrian territory it controlled, limiting it to a small spot between the city of Deir ez-Zor and the city of Palmyra to the west of the Euphrates and north of the city of Bukamal east of the Euphrates and to the north of Syria on the border with Iraq.
In an incident that has been most important since the beginning of the year with regard to the Syrian east, Russian forces belonging to the Russian private security company Wagner crossed north of Deir ez-Zor to the other side of the Euphrates River and advanced to Khasham village aimed at the Koniko gas field, which is under the control of the Kurdish allies of Washington. This attack was decisively dealt with by the US Air Force. A local source assured that three F-16s, as well as Apache helicopters, repelled the attack by driving the Russian troops into retreat and causing the deaths of dozens of Russian soldiers and their supporting forces. This major development was a warning for the Pentagon officials, who considered that the Manila Agreement had become non-binding for the parties, and that Washington would have to rearrange its cards in the east of Syria.
It is important to emphasize that in the Syrian East there are many strategic advantages for the regional and international players involved in the Syrian conflict. Oil, gas and phosphate in the region are important for Moscow and Washington, and the border corridor between Iraq and Syria has a high degree of importance for Tehran to use it to equip the Hezbollah militia with weapons and link the Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. The border line between northern Iraq and northeast Syria is very important for Turkey as it is the link of the PKK in its southern boundaries with northern Iraq and the northeastern part of Syria. Therefore, the importance of this area makes it a gateway to a larger war.
An American source reports of Donald Trump’s intention to leave Syria that more than 2,000 US and British soldiers, accompanied by armored vehicles and tanks, arrived at the Al-Tanf base in the south-east of Syria. The same source pointed out that a large force of US Marines, backed by Black Hawk helicopters, arrived a few days ago in the Syrian city of Shaddadi, south of Qamishli in the east of Syria. This important military development came in conjunction with the progress of the US troops to Manbej, the future of which is in sharp disagreement with the Turkish side. Therefore, Washington – and I refer specifically to the movements of the Pentagon – has begun to redeploy its forces in the region. Information coming from the region controlled by ISIS confirms that a secret agreement has been reached in recent weeks between the Kurdish allies of Washington and the terrorist organization for a ceasefire. This agreement has enabled ISIS to re-equip its troops, as is shown by the increase in its attacks on Assad and his allies in the vicinity of the Syrian cities of Mayadeen and Deir ez-Zor.
Regardless of Trump’s view of what is happening in Syria, Republicans and CIA and Pentagon officials are unhappy with Moscow’s leadership and exclusivity over the course of the Syrian crisis. Washington’s influential Israeli lobby is pushing it to move more aggressively to end Iran’s influence in Syria. It is, therefore, likely that the target of the newly arrived US troops is the Baghdad-Damascus road connecting Tehran with Beirut. In my view, in the coming days we will see new progress of the ISIS troops to the west of the Euphrates, and so Washington will be able to control the entire length of the border between Iraq, Syria and Jordan. An important supporter of this move will be Britain with the motive of revenge on the Skripal case.
In May, important decisions will be made by the White House on the future of the nuclear agreement with Iran. The annulment of this agreement would mean that the diplomatic solution ceases to exist and that the military solution is the only one on the table. Israel will be an important factor in this solution. Eastern Syria will be the starting point for a larger plan. Abandoning the border to Iranian control would mean that any military action against the Tehran nuclear program would open a major fire on Tel Aviv from Tehran to Beirut. Therefore, developments in the east of Syria will pave the way for the new change in the Middle East in general.