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The Trump administration and Syria: targeting ISIS or working towards Syria’s partition?

Whilst talk of ISIS relocating from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor may be intended to prepare Syria’s partition that looks unrealisable and unrealistic.

Alexander Mercouris

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Recent US media reports – obviously sourced from the US military – that ISIS has been relocating its ‘bureaucrats’ from Raqqa to  Al-Madayin, a town in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, actually replicate information the US military was already circulating back in February.

This information is almost certainly true.  Raqqa is a provincial capital, but it is a relatively small place of no intrinsic significance, which only became ISIS’s ‘capital’ by chance because it has been under Jihadi control for a long time.

There is no inherent reason why ISIS should fight to the death for it, as opposed to relocating is ‘capital’ to Deir Ezzor.  Indeed there is a longstanding view that Deir Ezzor – relatively isolated from the rest of Syria and inherently more defendable – is a more logical location for ISIS’s ‘capital’ than Raqqa.

The one significant advantage Raqqa has for ISIS over Al-Madayin is that Raqqa has the prestige of being a provincial capital, which Al-Madayin is not.

That almost certainly explains ISIS’s relentless attempts since January to capture the town of Deir Ezzor, the provincial capital of Deir Ezzor province.  It seems that having lost hope of holding on to Raqqa, ISIS has been intent on capturing the city of Deir Ezzor so as to make it its new ‘capital’, and in anticipation of that it began to transfer its ‘bureaucrats’ from Raqqa to a location close to the city of Deir Ezzor in February.

What has prevented this plan from being put into effect is that the Syrian army garrison in Deir Ezzor has put up a much stiffer resistance than ISIS appears to have expected, so that contrary to the expectations of ISIS’s leadership the city of Deir Ezzor is still under the Syrian government’s control.  Indeed the very latest reports from the city suggest that the Syrian troops there have been gaining ground against ISIS recently.

The unanswered question is whether the relocation of ISIS’s ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Deir Ezzor is something which is actually wanted by the US.

The theory – discussed at length by the Moon of Alabama site – is that if ISIS captures Deir Ezzor and formally declares it its ‘capital’, then the US has a pretext to attack ISIS there, and – once Deir Ezzor is freed from ISIS – make Deir Ezzor the centre of a ‘liberated” ‘Free Syrian army’ Sunni controlled ‘safe area’ independent of the Syrian government in Damascus.

In that way the project of partitioning Syria would have been put into effect, with the advantage of placing the ‘Free Syrian army’ astride the lines linking the western part of the ‘Axis of Resistance’ – the Syrian government and Hezbollah – with its eastern part – Iran in the east  (see Afra’a Dagher’s detailed discussion of the strategic importance of Deir Ezzor, and its relation to all this).

Believers in this theory point to an apparent gathering of US backed ‘Free Syrian army’ Jihadi militia groups in Jordan, who it is supposed are being readied for an advance against ISIS in Deir Ezzor, with the real objective being to bar the advance of the Syrian army into this region, and to set up a US backed ‘Free Syrian army’ Jihadi “Sunnistan” once ISIS has been defeated there.

It is certainly possible that there are people in Washington who think this way.  The project of partitioning Syria by creating a Jihadi ‘Sunnistan’ in its eastern regions has been discussed in the US in the past, and it is certainly possible that there are officials in the US foreign policy and security bureaucracy who are still working towards achieving it.  Moreover the US air strike in September on Syrian army positions defending Deir Ezzor is consistent with this theory.

I would however make a number of important qualifications.

Though I am perfectly willing to believe that there are people within the US bureaucracy who think in this way, I strongly doubt that President Trump is one of them.  He does not come across to me as the sort of calculating strategist who would come up with or support this sort of plan, and his loathing of ISIS seems genuine, making it unlikely that he would consciously set out to use ISIS in this manipulative way.  In that important respect President Trump seems to me to be a very different person to his predecessor President Obama, who we know because of things former Secretary of State Kerry has said did indeed try to use ISIS as a tool against the Syrian government (see my detailed discussion here).

President Trump is not however the only official in the US government.  It is perfectly conceivable that there are others within the US government more cynical and ruthless than he is who are continuing with a strategy in Syria he probably doesn’t know about and wouldn’t approve of if he did.

However for the strategy to work ISIS has to capture Deir Ezzor.  So long as the Syrian garrison holds out there the Syrian army and the Russian air force have all the justification they need to engage ISIS there.  Moreover in doing so they now have the support of the Iraqi military.

The ‘Free Syrian army’ has consistently failed in any operation it has mounted against ISIS or the Syrian army in which it did not have external support.  It is very difficult to see it succeeding in territory contested between the Syrian army and ISIS, which is what Deir Ezzor province remains so long as the city of Deir Ezzor remains under the Syrian government’s control.  Would the US be prepared to challenge the Syrian army and the Russian air force to support a ‘Free Syrian army’ advance against ISIS, the Syrian and the Russian and Iraqi air forces in order to achieve some complicated plan for Syria’s partition?  That would be a massive escalation if it were to happen, and one which might be difficult to explain or justify.  President Trump has repeatedly ruled such an idea out, and frankly I don’t think it will happen.

What that means is that so long as Deir Ezzor remains in Syrian army hands this whole plan for Syria’s partition is a non-starter.  The Russians and the Syrians presumably understand this, which is why they have made defending the city a priority.

Beyond that there is the question of what would happen even if the plan were eventually to be ‘successfully’ carried out.

As the Moon of Alabama says, partitioning Syria in this way would leave the ‘Free Syrian army’ in possession of a poor, thinly populated desert region, sandwiched between the hostile powers of the Syrian army to the west and the Iraqi military to the east, with Iraq bound to oppose strongly the creation of a semi-independent Jihadi “Sunnistan” on its western border.

Sustaining such an entity would require a huge commitment of US resources.  Even if it were only intended to provide the US with leverage to strengthen the US’s hand in the negotiations for a political settlement of Syria’s future (in other words to remove President Assad from power) it hardly seems worthwhile.  Realistically, it would be far more likely to drain US resources, and to strengthen opposition against the administration’s Syrian policy within the US, than it would be to weaken the positions in the negotiations of the Syrian and Russian governments.

The extent of the US and Western fixation with President Assad means that it is not impossible – indeed it is very likely – that there are obsessive and hardline people in Washington and elsewhere who think in this way, and who come up with these over-complicated and dangerous plans, in this case of willing ISIS to capture Deir Ezzor in order to lay the groundwork for a Jihadi “Sunnistan” that can be used leverage the ouster of President Assad.  Possibly the latest moves should indeed be interpreted as intended to carry out such plans.

However these plans do not look to me at all realistic.  On the contrary they seem overcomplicated and unrealisable.  If they are seriously attempted they look certain to me to backfire on their creators.

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Macron cuts ski holiday short, vowing crack down on Yellow Vests (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 109.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the 18th consecutive week of Yellow Vests protests in Paris. Following last weeks lower participation, Saturday’s Yellow Vests in Paris gathered larger crowds, with various outbreaks of violence and rioting that has been blamed on extreme elements, who French authorities claim have infiltrated the movement.

“Act XVIII” of the protests has shown that the Yellow Vests have not given up. France’s Champs-Élysées boulevard was where most of the violence occurred, with the street being left in a pile of broken glass and flames.

One day after Paris was set ablaze, French President Emmanuel Macron cut his ski holiday short, returning to Paris and vowing to take “strong decisions” to prevent more violence.

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Via Zerohedge


Paris awoke on Sunday to smouldering fires, broken windows and looted stores following the 18th consecutive Saturday of Yellow Vest protests.

Around 200 people were arrested according to BFM TV, while about 80 shops near the iconic Champs Elysees had been damaged and/or looted according to AFP, citing Champs Elysees committee president Jean-Noel Reinhardt.

The 373-year-old Saint Sulpice Roman Catholic church was set on fire while people were inside, however nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains unknown.

The riots were so severe that French President Emmanuel Macron cut short a vacation at the La Mongie ski resort in the Hautes-Pyrénées following a three-day tour of East Africa which took him to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Macron skied on Friday, telling La Depeche du Midi “I’m going to spend two-three days here to relax, to find landscapes and friendly faces,” adding “I’m happy to see the Pyrenees like that, radiant, although I know it was more difficult at Christmas” referring to the lack of snow in December.

In response to Saturday’s violence, Macron said over Twitter that “strong decisions” were coming to prevent more violence.

Macron said some individuals — dubbed “black blocs” by French police forces — were taking advantage of the protests by the Yellow Vest grassroots movement to “damage the Republic, to break, to destroy.” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Twitter that those who excused or encouraged such violence were complicit in it. –Bloomberg

The French President has family ties in the Hautes-Pyrénées, including Bagnères de Bigorre where his grandmother lived. He is a regular visitor to the region.

Emmanuel Macron (2ndL), head of the political movement In Marche! (Onwards!) And candidate for the 2017 presidential election, and his wife Brigitte Trogneux (L) have lunch April 12, 2017 (Reuters)

 

 

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Vesti calls out Pompeo on lying about Russia invading Ukraine [Video]

Secretary Pompeo displayed either stunning ignorance or a mass-attack of propaganda about what must be the most invisible war in history.

Seraphim Hanisch

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After the 2014 Maidan revolution and the subsequent secessions of Lugansk and Donetsk in Ukraine, and after the rejoining of Crimea with its original nation of Russia, the Western media went on a campaign to prove the Russia is (/ was / was about to / had already / might / was thinking about / was planning to … etc.) invade Ukraine. For the next year or so, about every two weeks, internet news sources like Yahoo! News showed viewers pictures of tanks, box trucks and convoys to “prove” that the invasion was underway (or any of the other statuses confirming the possibilities above stated.) This information was doubtless provided to US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Apparently, Secretary Pompeo believed this ruse, or is being paid to believe this ruse because in a speech recently, he talked about it as fact:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine an attempt to gain access to Ukraine’s oil and gas reserves.

He stated this at IHS Markit’s CERAWeek conference in Houston, the USA, Reuters reports.

Pompeo urged the oil industry to work with the Trump administration to promote U.S. foreign policy interests, especially in Asia and in Europe, and to punish what he called “bad actors” on the world stage.

The United States has imposed harsh sanctions in the past several months on two major world oil producers, Venezuela and Iran.

Pompeo said the U.S. oil-and-gas export boom had given the United States the ability to meet energy demand once satisfied by its geopolitical rivals.

“We don’t want our European allies hooked on Russian gas through the Nord Stream 2 project, any more than we ourselves want to be dependent on Venezuelan oil supplies,” Pompeo said, referring to a natural gas pipeline expansion from Russia to Central Europe.

Pompeo called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine an attempt to gain access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.

Although the state-run news agency Vesti News often comes under criticism for rather reckless, or at least, extremely sarcastic propaganda at times, here they rightly nailed Mr. Pompeo’s lies to the wall and billboarded it on their program:

The news anchors even made a wisecrack about one of the political figures, Konstantin Zatulin saying as a joke that Russia plans to invade the United States to get its oil. They further noted that Secretary Pompeo is uneducated about the region and situation, but they offered him the chance to come to Russia and learn the correct information about what is going on.

To wit, Russia has not invaded Ukraine at all. There is no evidence to support such a claim, while there IS evidence to show that the West is actively interfering with Russia through the use of Ukraine as a proxyWhile this runs counter to the American narrative, it is simply the truth. Ukraine appears to be the victim of its own ambitions at this point, for while the US tantalizes the leadership of the country and even interferes with the Orthodox Church in the region, the country lurches towards a presidential election with three very poor candidates, most notably the one who is president there now, Petro Poroshenko.

However, the oil and gas side of the anti-Russian propaganda operation by the US is significant. The US wishes for Europe to buy gas from American suppliers, even though this is woefully inconvenient and expensive when Russia is literally at Europe’s doorstep with easy supplies. However, the Cold War Party in the United States, which still has a significant hold on US policy making categorizes the sale of Russia gas to powers like NATO ally Germany as a “threat” to European security.

It is interesting that Angela Merkel herself does not hold this line of thinking. It is also interesting and worthy of note, that this is not the only NATO member that is dealing more and more with Russia in terms of business. It underscores the loss of purpose that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization suffers now since there is no Soviet Union to fight.

However, the US remains undaunted. If there is no enemy to fight, the Americans feel that they must create one, and Russia has been the main scapegoat for American power ambitions. More than ever now, this tactic appears to be the one in use for determining the US stance towards other powers in the world.

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Ariel Cohen exposes Washington’s latest twist in anti-Russia strategy [Video]

Excellent interview Ariel Cohen and Vladimir Solovyov reveals the forces at work in and behind American foreign policy.

Seraphim Hanisch

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While the American people and press are pretty much complicit in reassuring the masses that America is the only “right” superpower on earth, and that Russia and China represent “enemy threats” for doing nothing more than existing and being successfully competitive in world markets, Russia Channel One got a stunner of a video interview with Ariel Cohen.

Who is Ariel Cohen? Wikipedia offers this information about him:

Ariel Cohen (born April 3, 1959 in Crimea in YaltaUSSR) is a political scientist focusing on political risk, international security and energy policy, and the rule of law.[1] Cohen currently serves as the Director of The Center for Energy, Natural Resources and Geopolitics (CENRG) at the Institute for Analysis of Global Security (IAGS). CENRG focuses on the nexus between energy, geopolitics and security, and natural resources and growth. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, within the Global Energy Center and the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center.[2] Until July 2014, Dr. Cohen was a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. He specializes in Russia/Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Cohen has testified before committees of the U.S. Congress, including the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees, the House Armed Services Committee, the House Judiciary Committee and the Helsinki Commission.[4] He also served as a Policy Adviser with the National Institute for Public Policy’s Center for Deterrence Analysis.[5] In addition, Cohen has consulted for USAID, the World Bank and the Pentagon.[6][7]

Cohen is a frequent writer and commentator in the American and international media. He has appeared on CNN, NBC, CBS, FOX, C-SPAN, BBC-TV and Al Jazeera English, as well as Russian and Ukrainian national TV networks. He was a commentator on a Voice of America weekly radio and TV show for eight years. Currently, he is a Contributing Editor to the National Interest and a blogger for Voice of America. He has written guest columns for the New York TimesInternational Herald TribuneChristian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, EurasiaNet, Valdai Discussion Club,[8] and National Review Online. In Europe, Cohen’s analyses have appeared in Kommersant, Izvestiya, Hurriyet, the popular Russian website Ezhenedelny Zhurnal, and many others.[9][10]

Mr. Cohen came on Russian TV for a lengthy interview running about 17 minutes. This interview, shown in full below, is extremely instructive in illustrating the nature of the American foreign policy directives such as they are at this time.

We have seen evidence of this in recent statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine, and an honestly unabashed bit of fear mongering about China’s company Huawei and its forthcoming 5G networks, which we will investigate in more detail in another piece. Both bits of rhetoric reflect a re-polished narrative that, paraphrased, says to the other world powers,

Either you do as we tell you, or you are our enemy. You are not even permitted to out-compete with us in business, let alone foreign relations. The world is ours and if you try to step out of place, you will be dealt with as an enemy power.

This is probably justified paranoia, because it is losing its place. Where the United Stated used to stand for opposition against tyranny in the world, it now acts as the tyrant, and even as a bully. Russia and China’s reaction might be seen as ignoring the bully and his bluster and just going about doing their own thing. It isn’t a fight, but it is treating the bully with contempt, as bullies indeed deserve.

Ariel Cohen rightly points out that there is a great deal of political inertia in the matter of allowing Russia and China to just do their own thing. The US appears to be acting paranoid about losing its place. His explanations appear very sound and very reasonable and factual. Far from some of the snark Vesti is often infamous for, this interview is so clear it is tragic that most Americans will never see it.

The tragedy for the US leadership that buys this strategy is that they appear to be blinded so much by their own passion that they cannot break free of it to save themselves.

This is not the first time that such events have happened to an empire. It happened in Rome; it happened for England; and it happened for the shorter-lived empires of Nazi Germany and ISIS. It happens every time that someone in power becomes afraid to lose it, and when the forces that propelled that rise to power no longer are present. The US is a superpower without a reason to be a superpower.

That can be very dangerous.

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