Danger Ahead if the U.S. Withdraws from Syria: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Apr. 02, 2018— The United States is considering reducing or ending its presence in Syria, according to President Donald Trump. In Ohio last week Trump said, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon.”

In Syria, We ‘Took the Oil.’ Now Trump Wants to Give it to Iran.: Josh Rogin, Washington Post, Mar. 30, 2018— There are a lot of good arguments for maintaining an American presence in Syria after the fall of the Islamic State, but President Trump doesn’t seem persuaded by any of them.

Here’s How to Deal With the Barbaric Syrian Regime: Yochanan Visser, Arutz Sheva, Mar. 19, 2018 — Last week, the US. Holocaust Museum in Washington opened a new exhibit which focuses on war crimes committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his cronies in the Russian-Iranian- supported regime.

The Nascent Russia-Lebanon Alliance and Israel: Emil Avdaliani, BESA, Mar. 23, 2018— The Russian entrance into the Syrian battlefield in 2015 propped up the Assad regime.


On Topic Links

DEBATE: How Might the Israeli-Iranian Face-Off in Syria Evolve?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Apr. 1, 2018

Israel and Syria: The UN and the Distortion of International Law (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Mar. 29, 2018

ISIS: Surging Again in Syria?: Sirwan Kajjo, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 27, 2018

The Sultan’s Pleasure: Turkey Expands its Operations in Syria and Iraq: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2018



Seth Frantzman

Jerusalem Post, Apr. 02, 2018


The United States is considering reducing or ending its presence in Syria, according to President Donald Trump. In Ohio last week Trump said, “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like very soon.” According to CNN, he told advisers in February that America must achieve victory over Islamic State and then come home. The Wall Street Journal also reported that the White House put on hold $200 million that was supposed to be directed toward rebuilding civilian infrastructure and stabilization in eastern Syria.

The abrupt about-face in US policy comes after the administration spent 2017 indicating it was preparing for the long haul in Syria. It said it wanted President Bashar Assad gone and that the US would continue to work with its partners among the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that had been the main driving force behind defeating ISIS. Here are five scenarios that could develop in the coming year:

Trump is boasting, but the US will remain: The White House comments are at odds with Pentagon policy on Syria. An NBC report on March 30 claimed that US soldiers feel a lack of consistent policy from Washington was jeopardizing the war on ISIS. Trump has always indicated that he was an “America first” president who was skeptical of foreign wars and entanglements. His comments on Syria reflect that.

However, Trump is also enamored of and listens to his top generals, especially Defense Secretary James Mattis, who has indicated that the US should stay in Syria. The question is what Mike Pompeo, who will likely take over at the State Department, and John Bolton at the National Security Council, think about Syria. Cultivating allies in eastern Syria has not only been the key to defeating ISIS but also serves to block Iranian influence, which is a concern to Pompeo and Bolton. It might be that Trump’s comments will not result in major policy change. Trump also urged a review of operations in Afghanistan last year and then decided to keep plowing ahead. The administration also wants Saudi Arabia to step up financial support for eastern Syria and his comments might be a way to nudge others to do more.

Iran, Turkey and Russia take advantage of a US withdrawal: Turkey is scheduled to host a meeting on Syria with Russia and Iran on April 4 at which the presidents of the three countries are expected. This is a serious development that has been in the cards since last year when Iran, Russia and Turkey grew closer on Syria policy. They all have their own reasons for opposing the US in Syria. Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, which are part of the SDF, to be terrorists, and Turkey waged a war against them in Syria’s Afrin area between January and March of this year. Turkey wants to roll back US influence and training of the SDF and has threatened to launch operations against Manbij, where US forces are based.

Russia wants the US out of Syria because Moscow supports the Assad regime. Russia is also angry that Western countries have expelled some 150 Russian diplomats in the last weeks. The US expelled 60 Russian diplomats in late March in response to UK condemnation of Moscow over a poisoning of a former Russian intelligence officer. Russia would like to hand the US an embarrassing defeat in Syria.

Iran also opposes the US in the region and wants to roll back US influence in Syria. It has already succeeded in handing the US a defeat in Iraq by reducing the influence of the Kurdistan Regional Government and placing its own allies in the top of the government in Baghdad. Getting rid of the Americans in Syria would clear yet another hurdle opposing Tehran’s corridor of influence stretching to Beirut.

Another disaster follows for the Kurds and faith in US policy: If the US leaves eastern Syria it would be handing over an area that was liberated from ISIS to a series of enemies of freedom. This includes particularly Assad. However, any influence from Turkish-backed rebel groups – which have not proven themselves to be democratic, or provide much in the way of civil rights in other areas they occupy in Syria – would be a disaster for the advancements made in eastern Syria. The US has gotten out of the democracy promotion game, but by walking away from eastern Syria after such investment would show that it does not stick by its partners and allies.

Thousands of Arabs, Kurds, and other groups joined the SDF to help defeat ISIS. They believed the US would stick by them. They wanted their cities reconstructed and the thousands of mines left behind by ISIS to be cleared. They were promised that last year, yet most of the support has not arrived. This has done damage to groups, such as Yazidis and others, which were victims of ISIS and whose persecution in 2014 was the reason the US launched Operation Inherent Resolve in the first place. If the US walks away, it will find it harder to get these kinds of partners back in the war against extremism. If it hands them over to Iran and the Syrian regime, they will understand that America is a fickle partner.

ISIS returns: ISIS has already begun a new insurgency in places in Iraq that were thought to have been liberated. Dozens have been killed by ISIS attacks in parts of Kirkuk province and around Hawija. Such killings are now being carried out every few days, illustrating the problem of declaring an area “liberated” and then walking away. ISIS is good at hiding among civilians, as it did in 2010 after the US-led surge in Iraq.

Leaving Syria without defeating ISIS and investing in the area will mean the ISIS tentacles will regrow and begin to threaten the Euphrates River valley again. ISIS moves between Iraq and Syria and feeds off the weaknesses of the two states in order to grow. It also feeds on Sunni resentment against Iran’s influence. To remain influential, it exploits the power vacuum and the disputes between the US, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime. If the US withdraws or openly signals it is withdrawing, that will fuel ISIS…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Josh Rogin

Washington Post, Mar. 30, 2018


There are a lot of good arguments for maintaining an American presence in Syria after the fall of the Islamic State, but President Trump doesn’t seem persuaded by any of them. Perhaps he would back off his urge to cut and run if he knew that the United States and its partners control almost all of the oil. And if the United States leaves, that oil will likely fall into the hands of Iran.

It’s one feature of a larger U.S. mission in Syria that is really about containing Iranian expansionism, preventing a new refugee crisis, fighting extremism and stopping Russia from exerting influence over the region. The United States has serious national security interests in making sure that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iran don’t push America out of Syria and declare total victory.

But Trump has repeatedly said those tasks are not the United States’ responsibility. He promised to pull the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops out of Syria at a campaign rally on Thursday in Ohio. “We’re knocking the hell out of ISIS. We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon,” he said. “Let the other people take care of it now.” It’s not an offhand remark. Last month, Trump said that although he thinks the slaughter in eastern Ghouta by Russia, Iran and the Assad regime is “a humanitarian disgrace,” he has no intention of doing anything about it, because our mission is to “get rid of ISIS and go home.”

Of course, that contradicts his top national security officials. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said late last year that the troops would stay to prevent “ISIS 2.0” and stabilize the situation. In January, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out in a carefully workshopped policy speech five long-term goals for U.S. policy in Syria, including ridding the regime of weapons of mass destruction and solving the political conflict. He promised that the United States “will maintain a military presence in Syria focused on ensuring ISIS cannot re-emerge.”

But if Trump disagrees and is looking for a Syria policy that fits his campaign, he might remember that he has constantly complained that in Iraq, “we should have kept the oil.” Of course, we can’t and shouldn’t take or keep Syria’s oil. But there’s a grain of truth in Trump’s idea. Control over oil is the only influence we have in Syria today. “We have this 30 percent slice of Syria, which is probably where 90 percent of the pre-war oil production took place,” said David Adesnik, director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “This is leverage.”

The actual people holding the land with the oil are not U.S. troops, but the mostly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces that were trained and armed by Washington, along with local Sunni Arab leaders who are resisting the ongoing onslaught by government- and Iranian-backed forces. The Assad regime and Iran have a stated and ongoing strategy to take back all the land that Assad once controlled, including the land containing Syria’s most valuable energy resources. What’s more, in May, Trump is expected to pull the United States out of the Iran deal, meaning that he will reimpose U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil. It would be profoundly counterproductive to hand Iran control over a swath of Syria that contains huge amounts of oil at the exact same time.

As Chagai Tzuriel, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Intelligence, told me, if the U.S. and its allies intend to stop Iran’s regional expansion, that mission must begin in Syria. Also, if there is to be any real peace negotiation, the U.S. military presence is crucial for America having influence there as well. “If there is a true commitment to counter Iran, it needs to be done in Syria first. If it’s not done in Syria, we will lose that campaign,” Tzuriel said. “The presence of the American forces is very important … That buys you a seat at the table that decides the future of Syria.”

If the U.S. troops leave, the Kurds are likely to cut a deal with the regime and leave the Sunnis to Assad’s cruelty. Then, the Iranians will move into the area, completing their land bridge of control from Tehran to Beirut. If Trump doesn’t have a real Syria strategy, he doesn’t have a real Iran strategy. “Iran is turning its proxy network, its axis of resistance, into a region-wide resistance army,” said Melissa Dalton, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She said Iran now has more than 250,000 proxy forces directly or indirectly under its influence around the region.

Syrian opposition leaders are asking for the United States to work with both the Kurds and the Sunni Arab local leaders to consolidate control in liberated areas and help organize local governance. Those who have fought the Islamic State don’t want to live under the rule of Assad and Iran, said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a nongovernmental organization that works with the Syrian opposition. “It’s incredibly important that with all these oil-rich areas … we don’t end up in a situation where we do have to pull out and there is some sort of deal that allows Iran to essentially take the land, the oil, and these areas, and empower their land bridge that they’ve been building inside the country,” he said. “We took the oil. We’ve got to keep the oil.”





Yochanan Visser

Arutz Sheva, Mar. 19, 2018


Last week, the US. Holocaust Museum in Washington opened a new exhibit which focuses on war crimes committed by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his cronies in the Russian-Iranian- supported regime. The opening of the exhibition coincided with the 7th anniversary of the Syrian war which began after a 14 year-old boy and other youths in the Syrian city of Daraa were tortured when they wrote anti-regime slogans on the walls of a local school.

Mouawiya Syasneh, the 14-year-old high-school student and a dozen of his school mates were hung “like chickens” in a interrogation center of the Shu’bat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Askariyya, Assad’s military intelligence service. The children were also electrocuted by putting power cables on their backs and lower body parts in a wet bathroom.

When their parents inquired about the youngsters’ fate they were told to forget about them and “to make more children” or to bring their mothers to the Mukhabarat base so that the security service could ‘help’ to make them pregnant again. Mouawiya later became a fighter for the Free Syrian Army, an act that was also inspired by the murder of his father at the hands of the Assad regime. His case of torture formed the beginning of a long series of atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its powerful allies Iran and Russia during the devastating war which has already killed more than 500,000 people and disabled another 1,5 million. The latest war crime committed by pro-regime forces took place on March 15th in the town of Hamouriyah just a few kilometers to the east of Damascus.

The Violations Documentation Center (VDC) in Syria reported that the regime offered the residents of the town free passage as part of a deal with local rebels. However a part of the population didn’t trust Assad’s government officials and choose an alternative escape route. An exodus began involving 2,000 people, some of them armed with rifles. Once the residents of Hamouriyah were out in the streets, Russian airplanes bombed them and also the only two hospitals in the town. At the same time, Assad’s tanks shot at the unarmed civilians or ran them over while regime forces were busy chasing young men who were then forcefully conscripted into the Syrian army, according to VDC.

The Trump Administration last week announced it would continue to release classified documents which give evidence to the claims Assad has been committing war crimes from the outset of the civil war. Speaking at the opening of the Holocaust Museum exhibit, Trump’s National Security Advisor H.C. Master said Russia and Iran were complicit in the endless stream of daily atrocities in Syria and should be held responsible for these crimes. “If we are to fulfill our promise, ‘Never Again,’ we must also act to protect victims and to hold all responsible parties accountable,” Mc Master said while emphasizing that the United States is documenting each and every war crime.

Trump’s security advisor then promised the US would hold Assad accountable for using chemical weapons in the war and said that the United States is working with the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its efforts to compel Assad to fully dismantle his chemical weapons program.” McMaster also compared the atrocities committed by Assad’s regime and his allies to the war crimes committed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler and said remembrance alone is not enough in Syria. “Preventing genocide and mass atrocities falls on all of us. Every nation, and every person, must share this responsibility,” he said after he pointed to the role of Russia and Iran in these war crimes.

However, the problem with preventing the atrocities which Assad has committed in Syria is that the country is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Because of this, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the war crimes committed in Syria and this is where the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) comes into the picture. The UNSC can refer the case of Syria to the ICC in The Hague in the Netherlands, but Russia and China have been blocking this track. Bill Waley , a Canadian war crimes investigator who worked for ICC, decided he could not remain passive in light of the horrors in Syria and in 2012 founded the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body located at an undisclosed location in western Europe – most likely The Netherlands…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Emil Avdaliani

BESA, Mar. 23, 2018


The Russian entrance into the Syrian battlefield in 2015 propped up the Assad regime. Moscow has continued to build up its military presence in the country: it has strengthened its bases on the Mediterranean shore, and recently received 49-year leases on Syrian airbase and port facilities. A Russian presence in Syria is thus projected well into the years to come, and by way of securing its long-term position there Moscow has carried out a string of active diplomatic moves in the neighboring countries, first and foremost Lebanon.

The Russian media has hinted at Moscow’s growing interest in this Mediterranean state by reporting on visits of Russian ships to Lebanese ports and disseminating rumors that Moscow will soon establish a military presence there. These leaks were partially corroborated when, on February 3, the Kremlin directed the Ministry of Defense to enter into an agreement with Beirut on increased military cooperation, including the use of Lebanese facilities by the Russian military. The two sides also agreed on a broader exchange of military information and intensive bilateral cooperation against terrorism.

The draft agreement is quite extensive. It involves joint training of troops, information and engineering support, military education and medicine, military topography, and hydrography. The agreement (which has yet to be signed) will be for a period of five years with automatic extensions for subsequent five-year periods. A Russo-Lebanese military agreement would be a significant event. It would signal a major shift on Lebanon’s part, as its military has traditionally been oriented towards the West.

Russo-Lebanese military contacts have been somewhat mixed in the past. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) possess Russian weapons, such as tanks and rifles, but in 2008 the LAF rejected Moscow’s offer of ten free MiG-29 fighters. So far, the LAF’s equipment is mostly American and European, including M60 and M48 tanks, M113 armored personnel carriers, and TOW antitank missiles. Under the last two US administrations, according to various estimates, $357 million in arms were sent to Lebanon.

For Russia, Lebanon’s geographical position on the Mediterranean – with its potential military facilities as well as proximity to war-torn Syria – makes it an attractive location from which to project influence. For Lebanon, Russia has turned into a potential guarantor of peace in Syria. Following the proposed bilateral agreement between Moscow and Beirut, Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament, called upon Russia to resolve the Syrian crisis: “I want to turn to Russia, which, along with the United States, is a great power; we cannot ask for this from the United States, but we ask Russia to help achieve a political settlement in Syria, which will be a major step toward the return of the Syrians to their homeland.”

Beyond the military significance, there is also an economic angle to greater Lebanese-Russian cooperation. Lebanon recently decided to begin exploiting its offshore Mediterranean natural gas reserves and offered exploration tenders to its seabed. Russian state companies, including Novatek, have expressed interest in tapping into Lebanon’s raw material resources, with the first exploratory to be drilled in 2019. This maritime resource exploration by Lebanon has reignited disputes with Israel over their maritime frontiers.

Lebanese-Russian cooperation will affect Israel as it is developing concurrently with an increase in Russia-Israel tensions following the February 11 Israeli airstrikes on Syrian-Iranian targets in Syria. These tensions could upset the status quo in which the Kremlin tolerates Israel’s preventive strikes on Syrian soil. However, from a Russian geopolitical perspective, it would be unwise to risk a deterioration of relations with Israel at this moment because Russo-Israeli tensions in Beirut could negatively affect Russo-Israeli contacts in Syria…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]



On Topic Links

DEBATE: How Might the Israeli-Iranian Face-Off in Syria Evolve?: Dr. George N. Tzogopoulos, BESA, Apr. 1, 2018—Q: The recent infiltration of Israeli airspace by an Iranian drone launched from Syria was considered by Jerusalem a severe violation of its sovereignty. In response, Israel conducted a mission to strike the Iranian drone installation in Syria. During that mission, an Israeli F-16 jet crashed. In the aftermath of this incident, Israel – while not wishing to escalate – made clear that it is prepared to act with determination and exact a heavy price from anyone who attacks it. BESA joins the debate by posing the question: How might the Israeli-Iranian face-off in Syria evolve?

Israel and Syria: The UN and the Distortion of International Law (Video): Amb. Dore Gold, JCPA, Mar. 29, 2018—Israeli settlements are back in the news, not because of something going on here in the Middle East, but rather because of decisions – distorted decisions –  that are being taken in Geneva at the UN headquarters.

ISIS: Surging Again in Syria?: Sirwan Kajjo, Gatestone Institute, Mar. 27, 2018—Two days after the Turkish military and allied jihadist forces took control of the Kurdish city of Afrin in northwestern Syria, Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists launched a major attack on Syrian regime forces in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor. The ISIS terrorists killed at least 25 soldiers and seized a large oil field. Around the same time, ISIS militants captured a strategic district in the suburb of Syria’s capital, Damascus, where they killed more than 60 government troops.

The Sultan’s Pleasure: Turkey Expands its Operations in Syria and Iraq: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 31, 2018—Turkish forces this month entered Afrin City, bringing Operation “Olive Branch,” launched on January 20, to a successful conclusion. Latest reports suggest that the Turks are now set to seek to enter the neighboring Kurdish-controlled town of Tal Rifaat, after reaching an agreement with the Russians allowing them to contest its control.