Mohammed Ibrahim Samra, the governor of Deir ez-Zor has stated that the Syrian Arab Army is 24 to 48 hours away from storming the gates of Deir ez-Zor city which for years has been besieged by ISIS.
Furthermore, Deir ez-Zor has subsumed the role as the major ISIS stronghold in Syria as fighters continue to flee the self-proclaimed ISIS capital of Raqqa.
While the United States and its Kurdish proxies who lead the SDF are struggling to break into Raqqa city, which is being held by approximately 2,000 ISIS terrorist fighters, Deir ez-Zor is now home to upwards of 20,000 terrorists who have arrived from liberated regions of both Iraq and Syria.
A Syrian soldier has stated,
“We carried out at dawn a successful raid against one of ISIS terrorists’ barricades in the direction of the Water Resources area through crawling and infiltrating it and throwing several bombs when we almost approached the area, killing all the terrorists at the site”.
Syria’s elite Tiger forces are now less than 3 kilometres from the city gates. With Russian Aerospace Forces consistently and successfully clearing the path for the Syrian Arab Army, the defeat of ISIS on the battle field is now a matter of when and not if and more specially, such a thing could be achieved before the end of September of this year.
The credit for the destruction of ISIS as a military unit will be legitimately earned by Syria, Russia, Iran,their volunteer partners and the Lebanese party Hezbollah.
But with the military phase of war against ISIS about to be won by Syria, the eventuality which must be planned for will be settling a peace that prevents terrorist incidents form isolated ISIS cells and lone-wolf adherents to the perverse ISIS ideology.
Syria should consider the following in order to avoid terrorism in the future.
1. Work with Russia to preserve Syria’s territorial integrity
Russia is the only party to the Syrian conflict which maintains either good or normal relations with all of the other parties including Syria’s allies: Iran, Hezbollah, Iraq as well as Syria’s adversaries: Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United States.
Interestingly, Russia’s relations with the US are worse than any of the aforementioned countries, but in spite of this, Russia continues to cooperate with the US on policing a de-escalation zone in south western Syria, along with Jordanian forces.
Russia has been unambiguous in its desire to see Syria’s territorial integrity preserved in the aftermath of the conflict.
In order to restore Syria’s territorial integrity, it will be necessary to secure a total withdrawal from the country of US and Turkish troops. Currently, US troops are mostly concentrated in north eastern Syria, with a few pockets remaining in the south near the Jordanian border, while Turkish forces and their proxies remain in Idlib and parts of Aleppo Governorate.
Russia’s increasingly good relationship with Turkey will prove extremely important in such matters. While Turkey has quietly dropped its support for anti-government terrorists in Syria and is primarily focusing on the legitimate threat posed to Turkish security by Kurdish forces in Syria, Turkey is still operating in Syria illegally and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recently stated that he still does not have any plans to mend Syria’s broken relations with Ankara.
If there is to be a peaceful withdrawal of Turkish forces or some understanding between Damascus and Ankara on the Kurdish issue, it will almost certainly fall on Russia’s diplomats to be the go-between during such initial discussions. This could also theoretically pave the way for an eventually restoration of normal relations between Turkey and Syria.
In many ways, Turkey is more ready for dialogue with Damascus than Syria is with Ankara. The reason for this is that Turkey’s original illegal actions in Syria which saw Turkey,fighting beside, arming and training terrorists, was merely an attempt by Turkey to extend influence in the Arab world by choosing what at the time looked to be the winning side.
For Turkey it was not a matter of ideology, but a matter of material, political and territorial ambition cloaked in a wider ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ style militant Sunni ideology.
Now that Turkey is aware that it in fact chose the losing side, Ankara is scrambling to redefine itself as an anti-Kurdish force in Syria rather than an anti-Syrian one.
In respect of US forces, matters are more complicated. While the US has zero legal mandate to be in Syria, there is a danger that the US might try and attain one by stealth. This could be accomplished via the unilateral declaration of a Kurdish state like entity on Syrian soil.
Here, Russia has the ability to thrash out some sort of settlement between the Kurds and Damascus, one which might also include security guarantees for Turkey, all while avoiding the creation of a Kurdish entity in Syria.
If Russia was able to manage this, it would deprive the US of even the most tentative justifications for a continued illegal presence on Syrian soil. At such a point, the US might simply cut its loses and focus on Iraq, where in spite of an Iraqi government which is increasingly anti-American, the US still technically has a legal presence. This of course assumes that the US isn’t inexorably intent on exercising more long-term menacing plans in Syria.
In respect of Syria’s allies Iran and Hezbollah, Syria has every right to develop any kind of security and cooperation deal with them that it sees fit. The trouble here is that Israel has committed multiple acts of illegal aggression against Syria due to Syria’s alliance with Iran and Hezbollah. In recent weeks, leaders of the Israeli regime have promised more such strikes against Syria.
Here, Russia too has a unique ability to draft an agreement which in theory could assuage Israeli paranoia over Syria conducting legal partnerships on her own soil. That being said, this is a tall order, but one that Russia is uniquely placed to attempt to resolve, whereas no other country can realistically say that it is in such a position.
2. Sealing the borders
Syria has already secured much of its borders with Lebanon, Jordan and in-part, Iraq. In order to prevent any influx of foreign terrorists in the future, it will be essential for Syria to totally secure its frontiers on all sides.
Here, Turkey and Israel present the biggest problems.
While Turkey has all but given up trying to influence events in the majority Arab territories of Syria, Turkey maintains a presence along self-proclaimed Kurdish regions which all border Turkey. Here, one must refer to the previous section in respect of Russia being a go-between in order to deliver messages from Damascus to Ankara.
Since Turkey shares the largest single border with Syria and also because after Iraq, Turkey is the most popular entry point for terrorists sneaking into Syria, it is essential that Syria seals this border, something which could also benefit Turkey as it would seal off pockets of Kurdish terrorism from linking up with their brethren in parts of southern and eastern Turkey.
Israel has illegally occupied the Syrian Golan Heights since 1967. While no nation, including even the United States, recognises the illegal occupation, the nuclear armed Israel will likely not vacate the territory without a large international effort forcing Tel Aviv to obey international law. Therefore, it will be crucial for Syria to constantly monitor this region in order to prevent any penetration of Syria’s de-facto frontiers in this region.
3. Policing extremism in Sunni majority regions
While many of the terrorists who have attempted to destroy Syria sine 2011 are foreign, others are drawn from Sunni regions of the country. While the majority of all Syrians support the government, a violent minority of Sunnis have shown various degrees of loyalty to extremist Sunni supremacist ideologies which threaten the peace of the region and the wider world.
Since 1971, Syria has had one of the most professional security services in the region, the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma. It will be necessary for the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma to heavily police regions that are susceptible to populations being brainwashed by Sunni supremacist propaganda, mainly from Saudi Arabia and its allies.
Just as Syria crushed an insurgency by the Sunni extremist terrorist group Muslim Brotherhood in 1982, Syria today, must work to effectively eradicate any lingering traces of Wahhabism/Salafism/Takfirism in the country. Anything less will mean that Syria has won the important battles, but lost the wider war for survival.
This must be done in tandem with re-development programmes to invest in infrastructural development in all parts of Syria along with education and in some cases re-education programmes to promote secular, inclusive, multi-faith Ba’athist policies. Those who oppose such a settlement should be treated by Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma as instantly suspicious individuals who are potential enemies of the peace.
Unless Syria works hard to police Sunni supremacists, such people could transform from ISIS on the battlefield, into dangerous lone-wolf terrorists who could turn Syria into a state in constant danger of Wahhabi attacks.
This must never be allowed to happen and the Idarat al-Mukhabarat al-Amma is the body which must be strengthened in order to produce a military like response to any potential disturbances.
Here, Iran can help with intelligence sharing and enhanced training techniques, although it will be crucial for any Iranian presence in policing matters to be done covertly so as not to make it appear that there is a Shi’a vendetta against violent Sunnis, something which plays into the hands of Saudi style propagandists.
If Syria can accomplish these three tasks in the aftermath of what looks to be a certain defeat for ISIS and their fellow travellers, Syria can not only return to peace, but can work with economic partnership throughout the world including China, to make Syria a model of recovery after years of suffering under foreign sponsored terrorist groups.