In cooperation with its allies in Russia and Iran, the Syrian regime began a battle in southern Syria. This development was a surprise for the Syrian opposition for several reasons.
First, these areas are all included in the de-escalation zones agreement, signed in Astana. Jordan also joined the observer states to prevent large numbers of Syrian refugees from fleeing to it from the south.
Second, the de-escalation in these areas was the result of a US-Russian agreement in Vietnam. The deal was considered historic at the time and the beginning of cooperation between the two presidents. The agreement came into effect on July 9, 2017. There was then a memorandum that established the de-escalation zone in southern Syria between the representatives of the three countries (Russia, the United States, and Jordan) on Saturday, 11 November 2017.
The memorandum stipulated that all combat would cease and Russia made guarantees to the Syrian regime while the US made guarantees for the opposition. The level of violence fell, allowing many residents to return to their towns and villages.
Third, the US State Department warned the Syrian regime forces against escalation in the south. On May 25, then, on June 14, the US State Department issued two statements expressing its concern about the Syrian regime's preparations for a military operation against the southern region. The State Department stressed that this would constitute a breach of the de-escalation agreement and the Russian-US agreement. It also called on Russia to exercise its influence to prevent the Syrian regime from violating the agreements.
On June 21, the US State Department issued, once again, a statement calling on Russia to pressure the Syrian regime to stop its attacks.
Fourth, there was a deep conviction among the Syrian opposition that there was a Russian-Israeli agreement not to allow escalation and not to have Iranian militias present on the Syrian-Israeli border. This conviction prompted Israel to attack the Syrian regime forces and the areas where Iranian militias were present dozens of times within the Syrian territories. This was carried out to send a clear message that the Iranian militias should not be stationed in those areas.
If the US strategic goal for the Middle East is to defeat Iran then defeating its proxies in Syria would limit its influence and aspirations to spread across the Middle East. The American abandonment of the Syrian opposition in the south can only be understood as a failure of the American strategy to besiege and defeat Iran. For the United States to convince itself of the Russian promises that the Iranian militias will withdraw from the border is the biggest fantasy and delusion for any observer to believe.
Iran promoted this before to convince Russia to continue the Russian-American talks on the southern borders. But, its militias are thriving in the east, on the Syrian-Iraqi border. This will be repeated on the southern border for one main reason, the complete decline of the Syrian regime. While the Iranian militias are indeed present, as they are the ones leading the battles and occupying the territories.
After the series of splits in the Syrian army, only sectarian militias fighting on behalf of and supporting Iran remained. Such militias include the Fatimids, Zeinabion, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias, all under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards led by Qassem Soleimani. Therefore, convincing the US that the Iranian militias have withdrawn from the border and that those who are fighting today are the regime's army is fantasy.
Iran's control of the Syrian-Jordanian and Syrian-Israeli borders effectively means absolute control over the border crossings. In turn, means the complete flow of arms to Hezbollah, as is the case with the Syrian-Lebanese border and the beginning of the spread of the Lebanese Hezbollah formula to Syria. This may also lead to the opening of extended regional fronts.
A Russian – Israeli understanding is what decided the matter and allowed for the beginning of the battle. However, on the other hand, what did Israel gain in exchange for this deal? Perhaps complete intelligence regarding Hezbollah and Iran's presence in Syria. This would mean the beginning of Israel's complete and absolute targeting of Iran and Hezbollah's presence in Syria. Thus, we should expect more Israeli strikes in Syria and complete Iranian or Syrian silence.
The violent machine will not stop killing the Syrians in Daraa and the surrounding territories as well as displacing its people. What the Russians want is not to rule the country and its people, but to empty the country of its people to control a desolate land, an exhausted nation, and a failed state. This is the case, even if it is forced to use internationally banned weapons, including chemical weapons, to achieve this. Who in this world is currently concerned with the Syrian blood and the Syrian bodies for which all the graves in the world are not enough?
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Hayat on 26 July 2018
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.