20:00 GMT17 January 2021
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    Washington's decision to suspend support for Syrian rebels amid the Syrian Army's southward advance has caught many by surprise. Speaking to Sputnik, Syrian and Israeli analysts shed their views on what could be behind the apparent shift in the US’ Syrian strategy.

    It appears that Washington has given the green light to the Syrian Arab Army's (SAA) southern offensive, although just a few days ago it threatened Damascus and Moscow with "serious repercussions" for what it called the violation of a "de-escalation" agreement for the region bordering Jordan and the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

    However, on June 24, Reuters broke the news that Washington had told Syrian jihadi rebels in the south that they should not expect it to step in and provide them with military aid amid the Syrian-Russian advance.

    "It will be called the great betrayal. And it was a long time coming. But the grim message from Washington to the anti-Assad fighters of southern Syria… will one day figure in the history books," Robert Fisk of The Independent, wrote on June 27.

    Sputnik got it touch with political analyst of Syrian origin Ghassan Kadi and Israeli publicist and political commentator Avigdor Eskin asking them to shed light on Washington's apparent change of heart.

    "It is very difficult to understand what is really happening behind the scenes, and there are many conflicting reports to that effect speaking about different 'deals' involving the parties concerned," Kadi told Sputnik. "With or without a deal however, the SAA is making its advances."

    The political analyst referred to a "deal," allegedly brokered by Moscow, that "guarantees Israel and the US that positions currently held by terrorists in the Daraa region will only be replaced by regular SAA units and that those liberated areas will be a redline for Hezbollah and any Iranian presence."

    "Such a 'deal,' if it exists, could explain the American 'change of heart' you mentioned," Kadi presumed. "Personally, I doubt if such a deal was struck, and I believe that the anti-Syrian government forces do not have a choice but to either sit back and watch the SAA move in or risk a war they are not ready for in that region, a war that could spiral out of control."

    When asked about potential risks the SAA is facing amid its advance, the analyst responded that "when national sovereignty is under threat, there are no options but to defend and liberate national soil regardless of the risks and sacrifices needed."

    "Any war involves risk, and Syria's decision to fend off the invaders back in 2011 involved a very high risk potential, as Syria was taken by surprise and did not have the on-ground support of the allies that it has now," he noted.

    For his part, Avigdor Eskin insists that there was no "change of heart" whatsoever: "This is not any major strategic change," he said. "President Trump wants to get out of Syria. One can doubt, how real this is with regards to the Kurdish part of Syria, but it is natural that Washington will not act on behalf of Al-Qaeda* offspring, even if they are violently hostile towards ISIS [Daesh]* for their internal reasons."

    The Israeli publicist drew attention to the fact that neither Iranians nor Hezbollah are included in the southern operation by pro-Assad military forces backed by Russia.

    "The assault is coordinated with both Washington and Jerusalem [Tel Aviv]," Eskin presumed. "Israel will not prevent Assad's forces from taking positions near the [Israeli] border if Iranians and Hezbollah is not there. We can see it as some positive developments."

    Eskin highlighted that Washington's decision to step aside amid the Syrian-Russian southward offensive by no means undermines the US' two strategic goals in Syria — to prevent the Iranians from building a corridor between Tehran and the Mediterranean Sea via Iraq and Syria and "the systematic attempt to exterminate ISIS [Daesh]*. "Therefore, not much surprise," the Israeli political commentator remarked.

    As for Washington's flip-flops on whether or not "Assad must go" Eskin opined that the US administrations did not really try to overthrow the Syrian president: "Even during the time of [US President Barack] Obama the approach was two-fold: putting up with [Bashar] Assad for the purpose of struggle against ISIS [Daesh]* and supporting the efforts of Sunni partners to win for themselves greater influence on Syria with different opposition groups which were not Islamic State-oriented*."

    An Israeli soldier walks in an old military outpost, used for visitors to view the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, Thursday, May 10, 2018
    © AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
    An Israeli soldier walks in an old military outpost, used for visitors to view the Israeli controlled Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, Thursday, May 10, 2018

    Situation Could Still Spiral Out of Control

    Commenting on Israel's vocal discontent with the Iranian military presence in Syria, Kadi highlighted that President Assad has repeatedly stressed that formal Iranian presence in Syria is limited to that of experts and consultants and that there are no formal Iranian troops on the ground.

    "However, even if we adopt the Israeli narrative about the presence of Iranian troops in Syria, in reality, they would be enough to make Israel uncomfortable, but not under existential threat due to their presence," the political analyst suggested.

    Earlier, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted that "Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria" and that Israel is "already taking action against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria, both close to the border and deep inside Syria." Over the past few months the Israeli Air Force has been attacking alleged Iranian infrastructure in Syria.

    Kadi presumed that Tel Aviv's discontent is not limited to the supposed Iranian military presence on the ground in Syria. According to the analyst, Israel "is unhappy that the Syrian government is regaining sovereignty on Syrian soil, especially in the southern regions close to its borders, and will use any excuse to launch attacks on Syrian positions and alleged Iranian positions."

    In any event, the Iranian-Israeli standoff in Syria is unlikely to translate into a major conflict, he believes: "In my view, what Israel would be seeking are 'deals' like the alleged 'deal' mentioned earlier, but I don't believe that either Iran or Israel are prepared to risk a full-on confrontation, and it is highly likely that Russia is working very hard behind the scenes to prevent such a scenario."

    However, he warned that still "there is a present possibility that the tensions could escalate and spiral out of control" especially if Saudi Arabia and other US regional allies step in to confront Tehran on the ground in Syria.

    While Syrian pro-government forces continues their advance on the jihadi positions in the south of Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry refuted the claims about the alleged withdrawal of Russia from the agreement on the southern Syrian de-escalation zone.

    Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his American counterpart Donald Trump have finally agreed the date of their long-anticipated meeting. It is expected that the Syrian problem will be discussed by the presidents among other burning issues. It may shed further light on Washington's strategy in the war-torn region.

    *Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State), al-Qaeda are terrorist groups banned in Russia.

    The views and opinions expressed by the contributors do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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