Is it possible that Bibi Netanyahu was conned by Putin over the promised Iranian pull-out from Syria to the same extent that Donald Trump was conned by Kim Jong-un over North Korea’s eagerness for denuclearization? As I pointed out in my last column, nothing much has happened in North Korea except for a visible increase in the production of nuclear weapons.
When Trump’s emissary, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed that out, the North Koreans reverted to their usual whining that the West was using mean words instead of paying the usual bribes. So much for Kim Jong-un’s alleged promise to Trump for CVID: “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.”
As former spy chief General Clapper predicted, CVID isn’t ever going to happen, but at least Kim has temporarily suspended underground testing and firing missiles. That is technically a point for Trump, but why do the president and Pompeo feel they have been played by Kim Jong-un? Promises, promises, but, as usual, an oral contract with Kim isn’t worth the paper it isn’t printed on.
Trump once bragged that he could never be fooled, that he could always spot a con man. For example, he was the only celebrity who immediately walked out of a famous British comedian’s fake news interview. He and Bibi should both have walked out on Putin when he promised to throw the Iranian militias out of Syria. That isn’t ever going to happen. Bibi and his buddy were conned.
Instead of throwing the Iranians out of Syria as he promised Bibi, Putin ordered his proxy/puppet Assad to quietly merge the Iranian militia recruits into the regular Syrian Army. Same screaming Shiite soldiers, different uniforms. Old whine, new battles.
Now no one in the intelligence community, and I mean no one, thought for a nanosecond that President Assad dared to do this on his own. The Assad family’s predecessor was brought down from power because of a Black September initiative that had not been approved by the Kremlin. For this crime of independent thinking, the ruler of Syria was violently replaced by the first President Assad, Hafez. He was chosen as the Syrian officer who was the most obedient to Russian interests.
In 2000, President Obedient turned the throne of Syria over to his even more obedient son, Bashar, or “Game Boy” as he is known to the CIA because of his penchant for playing children’s video games while he awaits instructions from Moscow. Bashar Assad knows that it was the Russians who put his daddy in the palace and that it will be Putin, the new Czar of all the Russias and other stuff, who can throw Game Boy out of the palace with a snap of his fingers.
Puppet/President Bashar would never dare defy Russian orders by sneakily disguising his Iranian militia buddies with Syrian uniforms. The plan to merge the Iranian militias into the regular Syrian Army had to have been pre-approved by Putin. The merger was already underway when Putin whispered the lie that he was going to deport all of Iran’s militias inside Syria. Both Bibi and the Donald fell for Putin’s deceitful bait, hook, line and sinker. How do I know? Hindsight is the clearest vision. It also helps to have someone draw a map for you. This map was drawn by the ETANA organization, which describes itself as: “Organically connected to Syrian civil society, ETANA has extensive networks of sources across Syria to track developments inside the country on a daily basis.”
In other words, it is probably an anti-Assad intelligence service in the Sunni regions of Syria funded by the Saudis. The Saudis want Iran out of Syria almost as much as the Israelis do. It would make sense for them to underwrite ETANA.
I don’t know for sure who the ETANA organization represents, but they sure make good maps. You can see their meticulous map showing the locations of all the Iranian-backed militias in southwestern Syria that are currently being merged into Assad’s regular army.
This is what the military intelligence types call an “order-of-battle map.” The little white boxes identify the true nature of each foreign unit currently in Syria, long after Putin promised there would be no more foreign units in Syria. There are lots of boxes for Hezbollah, the Iranian-funded terrorist group from Lebanon. There is one box for the headquarters of the IRGC, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that funds all the Shiite militias in Syria. The map lists dozens of these Iranian funded Shiite militias “mixed” with regular army units of the Assad regime. There is even a Shiite unit from Iraq “wearing Syrian Army uniforms.”
We know it is also a Shiite unit because of the name: The Brigade of Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, also known as the al-Abbas Brigade, a pro-government Shia Muslim militant group operating throughout Syria. It is named after the nickname of al-Abbas ibn Ali, son of Imam Ali, who was the first imam of Shia Muslims. The group was formed in late 2012 to defend the Sayyidah Zaynab Mosque and other Shia sites in Syria. It rose in prominence in reaction to the desecration of various shrines, heritage sites and places of worship by rebels during the Syrian civil war and subsequently collaborated with the Syrian Army. Its fighters include native Shia Damascenes, Damascus-based Iraqi Shia refugees, Iraqi Shia volunteers and other foreign Shia volunteers. Iraqis form its primary constituent. It fights primarily around Damascus, but it has fought in Aleppo as well.
The order-of-battle map shows mixed militia units at the Syrian State Security School, the “Missile Proliferation” center, the Syrian Air Base, etc. “Mixed” in this map context can only mean Iranian-backed militias mixed into the Syrian regular army for cover. They never went home to Iran at all. Even Hezbollah is staying in Syria, although they have been told to keep a low profile.
Reuters reported that “several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they saw a convoy of over a hundred armored vehicles and tanks with Russian and Syrian state flags, along with hundreds of troops near Nasib. Assad’s Iran-backed allies are also fighting in the campaign, defying Israeli demands that they keep out of the border area. Hezbollah is helping lead the offensive but keeping a low profile.”
The Russians are providing air cover to Assad’s regular army, which has now pushed through the eastern half of Daraa Province all the way down to the border with Jordan. But the western half of the province is still in rebel hands. This area closest to Israel is where the Iranian militias are now congregating. It is a major violation of what Putin promised President Trump:
“But just under half of Daraa Province—including part of the provincial capital of the same name—still remains in the hands of rebels, and the UN is putting the numbers of internally displaced at over 160,000. The fighting in the Daraa Province is going on even though the territory is inside the de-escalation zone agreed to last year by the US president, Donald Trump, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Jordanian government.”
The Russians claim to have brokered a peace negotiation so that the rebels can leave the southern part of Syria and move to a “safe zone” in the north.
“Rebels who did not wish to come back under Assad’s rule would leave for the insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria,” they said.
It echoes the terms of previous opposition surrenders, but according to rebel sources, they also secured a concession that some government forces would withdraw from the area.
The rebels want the Iranian-backed militias that are mixed in with Assad’s army to leave and be replaced by Russian military police. The Russians may agree to do that in the south, but not in the western half of Daraa, and not in Quneitra. It seems that Iran’s militias are massing along the border with Israel in preparation for the final battle against the rebels. Or is it the first battle of another war with Israel? One thing is sure—the Syrian peace talks are not going well.
“Syrian rebel spokesman Ibrahim Jabawi, rejecting the Russian terms for a deal, said: ‘The talks collapsed because the Russians insisted on their conditions that want us to surrender.’ He said Russia wanted the rebels to hand over their weapons followed by a return of government forces to rebel-held areas.”
The Russians have partly backed off that demand, saying it is only the heavy weapons that they want removed. But that does not end the problem:
“A negotiator in the rebel-held part of Daraa city told Agence France-Presse: ‘All people who carried arms would be put on trial. The regime wants us to hand over everything: Daraa city, the Nasib crossing, ourselves and the heavy weapons. It’s inadmissible.’”
He has a point. Reporters visiting the refugee camps east of Damascus are finding that the Assad regime has been quietly taking away most of their young men without explanation. None have returned, and it is feared that they have been executed. The rebels fear that once they are disarmed, death is exactly what the Russians and Iranians have in store for them in the south:
“Syrian’s main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), implored the international community to speak out against the violence, saying it should be clear to members of the UN Security Council that Russia and Iran ‘cannot be trusted to negotiate peace, since they are violating the agreement they themselves made.’
“‘We call on the international community to condemn the brutal breaching of the de-escalation zone…and take all possible measures to halt this assault on our people,’ SNC spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said.”
But Putin’s people have promised there will be no massacre by the local Iranian militias, and that they will use Russian military police to ensure that it doesn’t happen.
Apparently, the mixed Iranian-Syrian militias will remain in Syria, but with Russian commanders to control them:
“The deal is to be rolled out across rebel-held areas of Daraa in phases, but there is no timeline as yet,” said Abu Shaima, spokesman for an operations room for rebels under the Free Syrian Army banner.… “Russia has been at the forefront of the Daraa campaign, both bombing and negotiating with rebels who were told at the start of the offensive to expect no help from the United States.”
Putin is putting Russian police troops down on the southern border with Jordan, where the international observers are. At the same time, he is moving the bulk of Assad’s mixed forces up to the Israeli border at Quneitra. President Trump is aware of this shell game. So are the Israelis.
“Assad’s next target in the southwest appears to be rebel-held areas of Quneitra Province at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where fighting between insurgents and the government escalated on Friday…. Israel said it had targeted a Syrian army post that shelled a frontier ‘buffer zone’ in the Golan area.”
This buffer zone was part of the armistice between Syria and Israel ending the Yom Kippur War. It looks like none of these previous agreements may be binding on Assad, who may secretly be planning to retake the Golan:
“Israel has deployed artillery and armored reinforcements along its northern border with Syria, the Israel Defence Forces said on Sunday, as tens of thousands of Syrians fled towards its borders and those of Jordan…Russian efforts to impose a broad ceasefire in southwest Syria broke down at the weekend, prompting the Syrian regime to undertake fresh air raids. The government forces now claim to be in control of more than half of Daraa Province…The fighting is in a diplomatically delicate region, abutting both Jordan and the Israel-occupied Golan Heights. As many as 11,000 refugees had already reached the Israeli border fence on the Golan Heights on Sunday, judging it the safest place to avoid Syrian air force raids. Some of the refugees were asking Israel to protect them or even annex the territory.”
Israel won’t take in refugees for the same reason Jordan won’t do it: There is a large remnant of the ISIS (Daesh) terrorist group camped in the corner of Quneitra where Jordan and Israel meet. If the Syrian Army tries to clear them out, they will have to invade the buffer zone. If Israel fires back to keep the regime forces out of the buffer zone, Assad and Putin can claim that Israel is sheltering ISIS, thus justifying a broader war on Syria’s western front that could easily spill over into a battle for the Golan Heights.
So why don’t the Americans do something? Because they know they will soon be attacked in the eastern front of Syria. I see a two-pronged sneak attack. The president of Turkey is helping Putin by promising to cross the Euphrates River and drive the American forces out of Manbij. The Americans are in a general funk. No, really, a three-star general named Paul Funk is in command of the American forces in Manbij, which consists of some 2,000 Special Forces troops. A few dozen of these guys defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan in ten weeks, something the entire Russian Army couldn’t accomplish in ten years. Iran wants them gone and wants Turkey to do it for them.
Bottom line: At the same time that the Syrian Army and the Iranian militias are preparing for an assault on the Golan in the west, the two largest armies in NATO may be heading for a collision in Manbij in the east. Putin promised the Americans that they would be in a protected “deconfliction zone” and that no Russian troops would cross the Euphrates. Well, not Russian exactly, just Russian backed, another Putin promise to Trump broken. No wonder Trump is flying off to a sudden summit.
Putin is believed to be the richest man in the world, but there is no similar consensus concerning his claim on the crown of most deceptive man in the world. Events in Syria make that case for him. There is overwhelming evidence that Russian-supplied chemical weapons, including chlorine bombs and sarin nerve gas, were used to poison Syrian civilians. Now Putin is assembling Russian-backed proxy units from Turkey, Lebanon and Iran that are being poised to break all previous promises and drive Israel and America completely out of Syria and the Golan Heights. Putin is willing to fight down to the last Syrian to get what he really wants—higher oil prices and an end to sanctions.