Polarization of interests grows over Syria's Idleb

By Haifa Said
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, October 12, 2018
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Photo taken on Sept. 18, 2018 shows a general view of the Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the UN headquarters in New York. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday asked for the quick implementation of a Russia-Turkey agreement to set up a demilitarized buffer zone in Syria's Idlib province, which could avert a full-scale attack on the last major rebel stronghold in the country. [Photo/Xinhua]

Developments in the Syrian arena have been unfolding at an accelerated pace over the past weeks, with the northwestern city of Idleb making the headlines. Idleb is the militants' last stronghold in the Arab country, and therefore, the strategic spot where the Syrian state is poised to seal a final military victory in the ongoing seven-year war.

After having retaken the strategic areas of Damascus's Ghouta and the country's south, the Syrian army has been preparing to start a large-scale offensive in Idleb, now home to thousands of hardline militants and "jihadi" fighters, to further consolidate the government's full authority over the Syrian territory.

However, the anti-Syrian government regional and international forces will not be happy seeing President Bashar al-Assad, whom they have failed to topple throughout the seven years of the war, come out victorious and in a stronger position where he would likely be unwilling to make political concessions to fulfil those forces' military, political and economic interests. 

It was neither a surprise nor a new occurrence to see that an American-led Western propaganda campaign has been launched as the showdown over the Idleb battle looms, making baseless allegations that President al-Assad was planning to use chemical weapons in the upcoming battle, and threatening a "much stronger response" than the tripartite U.S.-British-French missile attack on Syrian sites last April.

Providing no evidence, not to mention motives for the Syrian government force which, on a winning streak, has no reason to do a foolish thing that it knows will evoke an international response, the claim by countries in the West is clearly meant to mislead public opinion to justify a possible foreign intervention in Syria.

Aware of the ploy, Russia has provided evidence that the militants and the notorious Western-backed White Helmets group, which has previously staged false-flag chemical attacks in Khan Sheikhoun and in Douma, have smuggled chlorine into Idleb to orchestrate possible chemical provocations in order to evoke a retaliation against the Syrian government.

Polarization has been growing over Idleb, which has become a platform for intertwined interests of regional and international players seeking to achieve multidimensional gains in the conflicted Middle East region.

Donald Trump's statements about withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria have receded and been replaced by agreeing to an indefinite military effort, with new military bases being built in northeastern Syria and NATO warships sent to the Syrian coast, alongside a new diplomatic push, mainly aimed at forcing the exit of Iran and Hezbollah from the country and getting a share of Syria's oil sector, with or without Russia's help.

Forcing Iran and Hezbollah out of Syria is the highest goal of Washington's closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, which has continued striking sites in Syria while keeping a coordinated "de-confliction" relationship with Russia.

Having bolstered its military presence in Idleb, Turkey wants to eliminate the Kurdish threat in northern Syria, ensure its borders' safety and guarantee the future of the militant groups which it has supported and used throughout the past years against the Syrian army and the Kurds.

Iran wants to ensure that the Syrian government gains a firmer grip over Idleb and the entire Syrian territory, whereby it can consolidate its position in the face of its staunchest foes, Washington and Tel Aviv.

Faced with this complicated situation, Russia, which has played an influential role in the defeat of ISIS in Syria and wants to remain a regional power in the Middle East, is seeking to balance the conflicting interests of the different players.

In this context, Moscow, in coordination with Damascus and Tehran, agreed with Ankara on Sept. 17 to establish a Turkish-Russian controlled "demilitarized zone" in Idleb, which undermines the possibility of Western intervention in the north and in the political settlement, and will reportedly end in the restoration of the Syrian government's authority in the city, after the militants' withdrawal from residential areas. 

While escalation-defusing efforts were in place, an incident with likely game-changing consequences surfaced. Enraged by the agreement, Israel launched a new attack on Syria, causing a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft with 15 people aboard to be accidentally downed by the Syrian air defense systems after using it as a cover for its four attacking warplanes.  

In response to the incident, which Moscow insists was intentional, Russia has started delivering S-300s to Syria and providing it with automatic control systems that can jam satellite navigation, radar and communication systems of combat aircraft, to upgrade the security of Russian sites in Syria.

The bold Russian moves, which could lead to the closure of much of Syrian airspace, will put Israel's hitherto free military movement over Syria on a leash. It will also bring Damascus, Moscow and Tehran closer in the face of the U.S.-led NATO buildup, potentially increasing military tensions in the region to a new high.

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