Now that the political dust from the handshake of the century between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump has settled, it is time to turn to the material consequences of the most important tangible item to come out of the meeting: the ceasefire in south western Syria.
Most crucially, this ceasefire covers areas in Quneitra Governorate which covers the Golan Heights. Much of Quneitra has been illegally occupied by Israel since 1967 and in the last weeks it was from the Israeli occupied portion of the territory that numerous illegal airstrikes have been conducted with Israeli weapons aimed at and in most cases hitting Syrian targets.
While grossly under-reported, Vladimir Putin stated that in addition to speaking with Jordanian officials, Russia also was involved in consultations with Israel prior to ‘shopping’ the ceasefire to Donald Trump. This confirms that the ceasefire, much like the Astana Memorandum which covers other parts of Syria, is essentially a Russian authored document.
Russia is in a unique position in the Syrian conflict in that apart from jihadists, it can speak to all parties involved. Unlike Iran, Syria and Iraq (a Syrian ally), Russia can speak to Israel, unlike the United States, Russia can speak with Syria and Iran, unlike Turkey, Russia can speak to the Kurds and unlike Syria and Hezbollah, Russia maintains normal relations with all states in the Persian Gulf and the rest of the increasingly irrelevant Arab League.
This gives Russia a unique advantage in the conflict as a power capable of brokering meaningful deals.
There is every chance that Russia told Israel to cease its acts of aggression against Syria in the Golan Heights and that it would be in Israel’s interest not to undermine a ceasefire which is to be police by the United States, Israel’s most important ally and chief benefactor.
There is also every chance that having heard this from Russia, Israel would continue to act unilaterally in Syria as they have in the past. It’s no secret that Israel not only disregards the sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries it does not like as it is true that Israel often acts against the wishes and better judgement of its allies and for lack of a better world, international acquaintances.
However, the fact remains that Israeli strikes on Syria have ceased after unremitting assaults over approximately a two week period. Israeli aggression has ceased at precisely the time during which Russia would have been speaking to Tel Aviv about the ceasefire. This gives one necessarily cautious hope.
Whether this lasts is anyone’s guess but this will be the true sign of whether the ceasefire is effective because this is the ceasefire’s duel purpose.
Whether any of the de-escalation zones in Syria established though May’s Astana Memorandum have been materially effective is up for debate. However, since the signing of the Astana Memorandum the Syrian Arab Army has been making remarkable gains on many fronts against various terrorist groups. Turkey meanwhile in that same period has shifted its political allegiance to Russia in many important respects. Erdogan as much as admitted this when meeting with Putin at the G20. This has happened just as sure as the US has alienated Turkey, perhaps past a point of no return over its support for Kudish insurgents.
Israel, Turkey and the US still are not by any means chasing the same ultimate goals as Russia. Russia’s goals are supportive of Syrian sovereignty and are comparatively limited in terms of wanting anything out of Syria when all is said and done.
Turkey has not ceased its support of jihadists since the Astana Memorandum came into effect although its goals are certainly shifting from backing jihadists to containing Kurds.
The United States likewise is still operating under many of the same policies as in the Obama years, Putin said this directly, but nevertheless Trump’s flexibility vis-a-vis that of Obama gave Putin a cautious measure of hope, he said this directly also.
As for Israel, if Russia is able to force Israel to stand down rather than bomb a region which will soon be patrolled by Russian, American and Jordanian personnel, it meas that however incomplete any deal with countries like the US or Turkey might be, Russia will have secured a real achievement in the interests of peace and sovereignty for the Syrian Arab Republic.
If this comes to fruition, it will be a tremendous material/military achievement for Russia in addition to the geo-political victory it already is.