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Syria closes the trap: ISIS encircled in central Syria

Alexander Mercouris

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One of the most ambitious military operations launched over the course of the Syria war is now rapidly approaching its climax, with news today that Syrian troops advancing from Resafa in the north and from Al-Sukhnah in the south have largely succeeded in surrounding ISIS fighters in a large stretch territory in central Syria east of Salamiyah, an important government held town in Hama province.

This operation to trap ISIS fighters in what is now essentially a pocket or – using Russian military parlance – a ‘cauldron’ has been underway ever since the strategically important town of Al-Sukhnah in central Syria was captured a week ago.

A good idea of the nature of this pocket or ‘cauldron’ can be obtained from this map published by the Al-Masdar news agency.

Some words of caution are in order.

The Al-Masdar map gives an impression of a territory wholly surrounded on all sides by Syrian troops.

This is an exaggeration.  As is always the case in the Syrian war, the Syrian army simply does not have the necessary number of troops to carry out a total encirclement of this sort.  It is not even confirmed that the Syrian troops advancing from Resafa in the north and from Al-Sukhnah in the south have actually met with each other.

A more accurate way of describing what has happened is that the Syrian army has now gained control of all the main roads leading into and out of the pocket, and that all the towns and villages surrounding the pocket now accept the authority of the Syrian government.

This makes it all but impossible for large columns of ISIS fighters to enter or leave the pocket, or to be resupplied there.

Indeed movement of large groups of ISIS fighters is now also difficult, as their movements are now being constantly tracked by Russian and Syrian aircraft and Russian aerial drones which are patrolling the skies above the pocket.

Obviously individual or small groups of ISIS fighters can still move around or enter or leave the pocket, and over the new few days or weeks some may try to do so.  However Syrian troops and militia located around the pocket will be alert to precisely this danger, and will aim to track hunt down any ISIS fighters who try to enter or leave.

Indeed there were even reports back in February that the Russians have trained a special Syrian army unit named significantly the “ISIS Hunters” for precisely this role, a fact which incidentally shows how carefully the Syrian army’s operations over the last few months have been planned.

According to Syrian troops interviewed by CNN many of the ISIS fighters trapped in the pocket had previously fled there from ISIS’s former capital of Raqqa, which is now in the process of being liberated by the US backed Kurdish militia.

Many of these ISIS fighters are said to be very young, and to be putting up a fanatical resistance, still launching hit-and-run attacks on the main highway south from Aleppo whenever they can, as they have in fact been doing from this area for years.

Fully securing this highway – which ISIS and AL-Qaeda led Jihadi fighters actually managed to cut in the weeks before the Russian intervened in Syria in September 2015 – is an urgent priority for the Syrian government, and explains the high priority given to this operation.

According to the reports which have been appearing in the Al-Masdar news agency and in other Middle East media for the last few weeks, the chief ISIS stronghold inside the pocket is the town of ‘Uqayrbat.

With the main roads offering the main escape routes from the pocket now closed, the Syrian military apparently expects the ISIS fighters trapped in the pocket to fall back and concentrate on ‘Uqayrbat.

The capture of this town will therefore be a major operation, which when completed will signal the final success of the Syrian army’s operation to eliminate ISIS completely in central Syria.

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TravelAbout
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TravelAbout

Israel and its puppet the US have been extraordinarily quite lately concerning the SAA’s advances. They’re predictable and can a “mistaken” attack not be far off? Of course now that the Russians have adapted to these terrorist antics and now provide support aircraft for the SAA’s ground forces perhaps these two cowards know better? .

ColinNZ
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ColinNZ

Nice update Alex. Please also see below .. this is a reply from Syrianperspective analyst ‘Canthama’ to my question regarding US-SDF interference/disruption to SAA & allies progressive approach to the liberation of DeZ city … “… can’t say the SDF won’t try a thing in DeZ Province, but I doubt they will try it before Raqqa is finished, simply they do not have the nbrs for two offensives and BTW the Raqqa campaign has been extremely bloody, SDF lost an incredible amount of fighters, under reported of course. The Hama/Homs pockets must be cleared of ISIS, it is a dagger… Read more »

John Mason
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John Mason

Thanks Colin, that extract is exactly the type of information that needs to be told, very logical.

Daisy Adler
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Daisy Adler

“Syria closes the trap: ISIS encircled in central Syria”

I see here the Russian strategics hand. Syrian Army has now priceless counselors.
“Russians have trained a special Syrian army unit named significantly the “ISIS Hunters” for precisely this role, a fact which incidentally shows how carefully the Syrian army’s operations over the last few months have been planned.”

Precisely. There is order and pre-planned action. How things have changed since September 2015, when Russia air force became active on Syria front !

Daisy Adler
Guest
Daisy Adler

In the news: Syrian Brigadier General Suheil Hassan has been awarded by the Russian defense minister for conducting a successful parachute landing behind ISIS defense lines and in the capture of Al-Hadar. The operation was carried out by the Syrian army on Deir ez-Zor, August 12.
Russian armed forces’ chief of staff Valery Gerasimov handed an honorary weapon and a letter from Minister Shoigu to the general during his visit to the Hmeimim airbase in Latakia.

Shahna
Guest

Very nicely done Syria and Russia.
Very well done indeed.

Daisy Adler
Guest
Daisy Adler

Latest News:
“In order to prevent Daesh (ISIS) militants from escaping to Deir ez-Zor, aircraft from the Russian Air Force have been conducting both day and night aerial reconnaissance with the use of drones. Russian warplanes
are attacking terrorists’ equipment, including heavy weaponry and armored vehicles,” Russian Defense Ministry report.
730 Daesh targets were destroyed in the operation, including bunkers, ammo depots, weapons factories and armored vehicle facilities.
Video showing the use of high-precision weapons against terrorists near Akerbat, including guided missiles and smart bombs:
https://youtu.be/vQkPLKN5HP0

Daisy Adler
Guest
Daisy Adler

Russian Air force attacking and destroying the “Jebhan Al-Nusra” (Al Qaeda) HQ in
Hama, Syria.
Waiting patiently for all the terrorists to enter the building …
https://youtu.be/OhTN-t5tH1g

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BREXIT storm deepens, as parliamentary coup may be forming against May and Corbyn

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 166.

Alex Christoforou

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Emboldened by Theresa May’s lack of leadership and will to deliver the Brexit that UK citizens voted for in a democratic referendum, remain MPs are now mobilizing to do the EU’s bidding in forcing Britain to nullify the Brexit process and eventually stay a part of the European Union.

After yesterday’s thumping of May’s Brexit plan in parliament, The Times’ Matthew Parris is now openly floating the idea that “it’s time for parliament to wrest control from the zombies, stating that “Theresa May isn’t any good” and “Jeremy Corbyn is equally useless”…

There exists no leadership in either the government or the opposition capable of taking us through this mess. No hidden strengths, no unexpected qualities; no whizzbang new thinking, no magic. Forget May. Forget Corbyn. Salvation is not coming from these directions.
So it’s up to parliament. MPs are coming to understand that they have to act. It has been stealing on parliamentarians for months now and close contacts between leading members of both parties have been made and have been deepening.
From within the Commons a shadow executive must emerge, and is beginning to. Labour’s Yvette Cooper talks to the Tories’ Dominic Grieve. Around them is a cluster of senior parliamentarians who are getting used to talking.
A common purpose unites them: rescuing the country from a no-deal Brexit that only a small minority actually want. Whether this is to be done by seeking a better deal than May’s or by a new referendum, or both, they need to find a way soon. An “indicative” vote of the House of Commons may help guide them.
And however speedily the House can find its leadership and direction, it’s hard to imagine this can be done without an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period.
Overwhelmingly, the conclusion to be drawn from last night’s vote is that parliament must wrest control from a zombie prime minister, a zombie cabinet and a zombie opposition. I heard in May’s response to the result the hint of the straw at which she may now clutch: a Labour-style Brexit under a Tory nominal prime minister. I would be amazed if her party would accept it.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the turbulent and uncertain road ahead in the Brexit saga as a March deadline looms.

Shifting sands, and betrayal at the highest level is now crystallizing, as hints of a possible parliamentary coup against May and Corbyn is being floated as a possible solution to the impasse that will ultimately steer the UK back under EU control, and cancel the Brexit referendum.

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Via Straits Times

The words “humiliated” and “crushed” featured prominently in British newspaper headlines following Parliament’s massive rejection of a divorce deal with the European Union on Tuesday (Jan 15).

Dailies said Prime Minister Theresa May’s grip on power was waning after the huge vote against the agreement struck between her government and Brussels, as she prepared to fight a no-confidence motion on Wednesday.

“May humiliated by 230 votes,” The Daily Mirror tabloid said.

The Daily Telegraph wrote: “Humiliation for Prime Minister as MPs overwhelmingly reject deal and Labour tables no confidence vote.”

The broadsheet’s parliamentary sketchwriter Michael Deacon said Mrs May had somehow defied the odds by making a historic event an anticlimax.

“Her speech had all the brio of a mouldy gym sock,” he wrote.

“She sounded as winningly persuasive as a mother snapping at her children to eat up their cabbage or go to bed hungry.”

The vote itself “was as if Agatha Christie has allowed Miss Marple to solve the murder half way through and spend the rest of the novel pottering about in the garden”.

‘ZOMBIE PM’

The Times columnist Matthew Parris said it was time for senior MPs to take over the Brexit process.

“There exists no leadership in either the government or the opposition capable of taking us through this mess,” he wrote following the vote.

“Theresa May isn’t any good; she doesn’t have a fiendish, secret strategy; she’s careless with the truth and will say anything to get her through another week. She doesn’t know what to do.

“Overwhelmingly, the conclusion to be drawn… is that Parliament must wrest control from a zombie Prime Minister, a zombie Cabinet and a zombie opposition.”

The Daily Mail said the defeat left Mrs May’s power “hanging by a thread”, calling it a “devastating result, which threatens to plunge the Brexit process into chaos”.

The Sun, Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, said: “Crushed PM dares MPs to vote for general election after record Brexit defeat.”

“The crushing defeat – which saw 118 Tories turn against the PM – is the worst since the advent of full democracy and suggests Mrs May will never win enough support for her strategy,” said the tabloid.

The Financial Times newspaper ran a headline reading: “May’s defeat spells trouble for the EU’s Brexit approach.”

“Huge loss leaves PM in race against time,” the broadsheet said.

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Ukraine’s Cult of Stepan Bandera: Not a Detail, but a Cornerstone

Unlike Poroshenko with his aerial bombings of the Russian-speaking Donbass in 2014 and 2015, Bandera killed the “wrong” victims, the representatives of those nations that are valued even by the modern Western media.

Dmitry Babich

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Authored by Dmitry Babich via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


During the recent years of the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, there has been one issue where the Western mainstream press simply cannot fully ignore or reject the Russian arguments. This issue concerns the life and actions of Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) and his followers from what is known as the “Banderite” faction of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN, a far-right organization that took terrorist actions against Polish and Soviet officials from the 1920s to the 1950s and which is now legally protected from any criticism in Ukraine).

THE “WRONG” AND “RIGHT” VICTIMS

Because Bandera was born on January 1, 1909, celebrations of his birthday have become disgusting New Year’s rituals in Ukraine in recent years, with thousands participating in Nazi-style torch-lit marches that include shouted protests against “Putin’s Russia” and rants such as, “Jews out!” which are heard by everyone except the police. This New Year was no exception, since the current Ukrainian government under President Petro Poroshenko (who publicly identified himself as a Banderite after taking office in 2014) officially added Bandera’s 110th birthday to the list of Ukraine’s most important anniversaries. This time, there were several quiet voices of condemnation heard in Poland, Israel, and even the US. Why? In truth, torches, masks, political murders, and mob attacks against “pro-Russian” public figures are nothing new in post-Maidan Ukraine. And these things usually pose no problem for the mainstream press of the US and its allies. So, why is Bandera an exception?

The answer is ethnic, as awful as that may sound. Unlike Poroshenko with his aerial bombings of the Russian-speaking Donbass in 2014 and 2015, Bandera killed the “wrong” victims, the representatives of those nations that are valued even by the modern Western media, with its double and triple standards. In the 1930s Bandera killed Polish officials, in the 1940s his people killed civilian Jews and Polish peasants, and these are groups whose plight even the New York Times cannot ignore today. If Bandera’s infamous slogan “Death to enemies!” had been directed only against “disloyal” Russians and anti-Banderite Ukrainians (the groups currently persecuted by Poroshenko), Bandera would have been no different from his modern admirers in the Ukrainian government. But Bandera’s followers from the OUN decimated the Jewish population of Lvov and Kiev in 1941, trying to curry favor with the advancing Germans. And between 1943 and 1944, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), taking its orders from Bandera’s OUN officers, ethnically cleansed his native Western Ukraine of ethnic Poles, killing from 70,000-100,000 of them (the infamous “slaughter of Volhynia”). The aim was to create an “ethnically pure” Ukraine before the arrival of the Red Army in late 1944. Documents published by the Polish historian Grzegorz Motyka indicate that Bandera and the OUN hoped that the Red Army would soon be replaced by Anglo-American domination. “His strategy was to clean up the house before the arrival of the real master,” Motyka concludes in his book.

THE LADY OF THE RADA VS. ISRAEL’S PRESIDENT

The American domination took another 70 years, but it did come. And now the Banderites’ (and Poroshenko’s) only historic disagreement with the West is over the infamous “ethnic cleansing,” to which Bandera’s “glorious heroes” subjected Ukraine in 1941-1944. When Israeli President Reuven Rivlin dared to raise the issue during his visit to Ukraine in 2016, he got a scolding from the vice speaker of the Ukrainian parliament (Verkhovna Rada), Irina Gerashchenko: “The Israeli president allowed himself some incorrect and undiplomatic words about the OUN’s tragic history,” Gerashchenko said at the time. “It was highly inappropriate, especially now, when Ukraine is fighting for its independence.” Gerashchenko forgot to mention the fact that Babi Yar, the burial site of some 30,000 Jews killed by German and Ukrainian Nazis in Kiev in 1941, was vandalized nine times between 2015 and 2016, according to data provided by the Ukrainian Jewish Committee.

WHY THE WEST WANTS TO FORGET, BUT CANNOT

In the immediate aftermath of the Maidan coup in 2014, the mainstream press was ready to forget even that, since an honest account of Bandera’s activities between 1939 and 1959 could rekindle memories of the undesirable parallels to the “resistance to Russian occupation” by Poroshenko’s army in the Donbass in 2014 and 2015. Between the summer of 2014 and the winter of 2015, about 10,000 people died there, victims of the aircraft and tanks sent by Poroshenko (just months earlier, the US and the EU had been unable to abide the use of truncheons by the police of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych). At the time, the NYT called Bandera the “Ukrainian nationalists’ hero.” Obviously, the NYT’s authors were taking their cues from the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum, with her Banderite headline, “Nationalism is exactly what Ukraine Needs” in the once-glorious New Republic.

But here the mainstream press tried to kill off a memory that will never die — the memory of how Hitler’s East European Nazi allies participated in the destruction of the region’s Jewish population in the early 1940s. This was something not even Anne Applebaum could make people forget.

In his articles in the American press, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, Eduard Dolinsky, tried to explain to the American public that Bandera’s cult is not an isolated, unpleasant phenomenon: Stepan Bandera never acted alone, he represented a crudely nationalist ideology. Unfortunately, this ideology reigns triumphant in modern Ukraine behind the “liberal” façade displayed for the West. For example, Dolinsky notes that Poroshenko’s hypocritical speeches memorializing Jewish victims can be heard next to, say, a memorial to OUN activist Ivan Rogach, whose newspaper called Jews “the greatest enemy of the people” in 1941. “The Ukrainian leadership set itself on the course of rehabilitating anti-Semitism and introducing censorship of history,” concludes the official statement of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human-rights group, famous for its work to bring Nazi criminals to justice.

THE RUSSIAN QUESTION BEHIND THE JEWISH ONE

If the West cannot afford to be completely silent about Bandera’s participation in the Holocaust, it is willingly ignoring another huge injustice that is inseparable from Bandera’s cult in modern Ukraine — the erasure of the Russian and anti-Banderite component of Ukraine’s historic memory. In 2017, Kiev’s Vatutin Avenue was renamed Bandera Avenue, resulting in an outcry in Russia and complete silence in the West. This avenue, a major thoroughfare in the Ukrainian capital, had originally been named in honor of General Nikolai Vatutin, who liberated Kiev from Nazi occupation in 1943 and died in a shootout with the OUN’s guerillas in 1944. At the time, there was no question about where America’s sympathies lay: the fight against Hitler was not yet over, and Vatutin, born in 1901 to a peasant family living immediately adjacent to the future Russian-Ukrainian border, was a useful ally for the United States. Will Bandera and his modern followers be a good replacement? Only someone with Poroshenko’s plans for Ukraine or with Anne Applebaum’s views on history could agree.

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Entering a Major Regional Re-set – The Syria Outcome Will Haunt Those Who Started This War

It should be obvious now that we are entering a major regional re-set.

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Authored by Alastair Crooke via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The Middle East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are emerging, yet Trump’s foreign policy ‘hawks’ still try to stage ‘old movies’ in a new ‘theatre’.

The ‘old movie’ is for the US to ‘stand up’ Sunni, Arab states, and lead them towards confronting ‘bad actor’ Iran. ‘Team Bolton’ is reverting back to the old 1996 Clean Break script – as if nothing has changed. State Department officials have been briefing that Secretary Pompeo’s address in Cairo on Thursday was “ slated to tell his audience (although he may not name the former president), that Obama misled the people of the Middle East about the true source of terrorism, including what contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. Pompeo will insist that Iran, a country Obama tried to engage, is the real terrorist culprit. The speech’s drafts also have Pompeo suggesting that Iran could learn from the Saudis about human rights, and the rule of law.”

Well, at least that speech should raise a chuckle around the region. In practice however, the regional fault-line has moved on: It is no longer so much Iran. GCC States have a new agenda, and are now far more concerned to contain Turkey, and to put a halt to Turkish influence spreading throughout the Levant. GCC states fear that President Erdogan, given the emotional and psychological wave of antipathy unleashed by the Khashoggi murder, may be mobilising newly re-energised Muslim Brotherhood, Gulf networks. The aim being to leverage present Gulf economic woes, and the general hollowing out of any broader GCC ‘vision’, in order to undercut the rigid Gulf ‘Arab system’ (tribal monarchy). The Brotherhood favours a soft Islamist reform of the Gulf monarchies – along lines, such as that once advocated by Jamal Khashoggi .

Turkey’s leadership in any case is convinced that it was the UAE (MbZ specifically) that was the author behind the Kurdish buffer being constructed, and mini-state ‘plot’ against Turkey – in conjunction with Israel and the US. Understandably, Gulf states now fear possible Turkish retribution for their weaponising of Kurdish aspirations in this way.

And Turkey is seen (by GCC States) as already working in close co-ordination with fellow Muslim Brotherhood patron and GCC member, Qatar, to divide the collapsing Council. This prefigures a new round to the MB versus Saudi Wahhabism spat for the soul of Sunni Islam.

GGC states therefore, are hoping to stand-up a ‘front’ to balance Turkey in the Levant. And to this end, they are trying to recruit President Assad back into the Arab fold (which is to say, into the Arab League), and to have him act, jointly with them, as an Arab counter to Turkey.

The point here is obvious: President Assad is closely allied to Iran – and so is Moscow and Turkey. To be fashionably Iranophobic – as Pompeo might wish the GCC to be – simply would spoil the GCC’s anti-Turkey ‘play’. Syria indeed may be (justly) skeptical of Turkey’s actions and intent in Syria, but from President Assad’s perspective, Iran and Russia are absolutely crucial to the managing of an erratic Turkey. Turkey does represent an existential Syrian concern. And trying to lever President Assad – or Lebanon or Turkey – away from Iran, would be absurd. It won’t happen. And the GCC states have enough nous to understand this now (after their stinging defeat in Syria). The Gulf anti-Iranian stance has had ‘the burner’ turned sharply down, (except when their need is to stroke US feathers).

They can see clearly that the Master of Ceremonies in the Levant – putting together the new regional ‘order’ – is not Mr Bolton, but Moscow, with Tehran (and occasionally Ankara), playing their equal part ‘from behind the curtain’.

Presumably, America’s intelligence services know, (and Gulf states certainly are aware), that in any case, Iranian forces are almost all gone from Syria (though of course Syria’s ‘Iranian connection’ remains as firm, as ever) – even as Pompeo and Israel say the precisely the opposite: that they are pushing-back hard at the ‘threatening’ Iranian military ‘footprint’ in Syria. Few in the region will believe it.

The second notable emerging regional fault line then, evidently is the one that is opening between Turkey and the US and Israel. Turkey ‘gets it’: Erdogan ‘gets it’ very clearly: that Washington now deeply distrusts him, suspects that Turkey is accelerating into Moscow and Beijing’s orbit, and that DC would be happy to see him gone – and a more NATO-friendly leader installed in his stead.

And it must be clear to Washington too ‘why’ Turkey would be heading ‘East’. Erdogan precisely needs Russia and Iran to act as MCs to moderate his difficult relations with Damascus for the future. Erdogan needs Russia and Iran even more, to broker a suitable political solution to the Kurds in Syria. He needs China too, to support his economy.

And Erdogan is fully aware that Israel (more than Gulf States) still hankers after the old Ben Gurion ideal of an ethnic Kurdish state – allied with Israel, and sitting atop major oil resources – to be inserted at the very pivot to south-west and central Asia: And at Turkey’s vulnerable underbelly.

The Israeli’s articulated their support for a Kurdish state quite plainly at the time of Barzani’s failed independence initiative in Iraq. But Erdogan simply, unmistakably, has said to this ‘never’ (to Bolton, this week). Nonetheless, Ankara still needs Russian and Iranian collaboration to allow Bolton to ‘climb down his tree’ of a Kurdish mini-state in Syria. He needs Russia to broker a Syrian-led buffer, vice an American-Kurdish tourniquet, strapped around his southern border.

It is unlikely however, that despite the real threat that America’s arming of the Kurds poses to Turkey, that Erdogan really wants to invade Syria – though he threatens it – and though John Bolton’s ‘conditions’ may end by leaving Turkey no option, but to do it. Since, for sure, Erdogan understands that a messy Turkish invasion of Syria would send the delicately balanced Turkish Lire into free-fall.

Still … Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia now all want America gone from Syria. And for a moment, it seemed it might proceed smoothly after Trump had acquiesced to Erdogan’s arguments, during their celebrated telephone call. But then – Senator Lindsay Graham demurred (against the backdrop of massed howls of anguish issuing from the Beltway foreign policy think-tanks). Bolton did the walk-back, by making US withdrawal from Syria contingent on conditions (ones seemingly designed not to be met) and not tied any specific timeline. President Erdogan was not amused.

It should be obvious now that we are entering a major regional re-set: The US is leaving Syria. Bolton’s attempted withdrawal-reversal has been rebuffed. And the US, in any event, forfeited the confidence of the Kurds in consequence to the original Trump statement. The Kurds now are orientated toward Damascus and Russia is mediating a settlement.

It may take a while, but the US is going. Kurdish forces (other than those linked with the PKK) are likely to be assimilated into the Syrian army, and the ‘buffer’ will not be directed against Turkey, but will be a mix of Syrian army and Kurdish elements – under Syrian command – but whose overall conduct towards Turkey will be invigilated by Russia. And the Syrian army will, in due time, clear Idlib from a resurgent al-Qaida (HTS).

The Arab states are returning to their embassies in Damascus – partly out of fear that the whipsaw of American policy, its radical polarisation, and its proclivity to be wholly or partially ‘walked-back’ by the Deep State – might leave the Gulf unexpectedly ‘orphaned’ at any time. In effect, the GCC states are ‘hedging’ against this risk by trying to reconnect a bifurcated Arab sphere, and to give it a new ‘purpose’ and credibility – as a balance against Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood (Syria’s old nemesis).

And yet – there remains still another layer to this calculus, as described by veteran Middle East journalist, Elijah Magnier:

“Indeed the Levant is returning to the centre of Middle East and world attention in a stronger position than in 2011. Syria has advanced precision missiles that can hit any building in Israel. Assad also has an air defence system he would have never dreamed of before 2011 – thanks to Israel’s continuous violation of its airspace, and its defiance of Russian authority. Hezbollah has constructed bases for its long and medium range precision missiles in the mountains and has created a bond with Syria that it could never have established – if not for the war. Iran has established a strategic brotherhood with Syria, thanks to its role in defeating the regime change plan.

NATO’s support for the growth of ISIS has created a bond between Syria and Iraq that no Muslim or Baathist link could ever have created: Iraq has a “carte blanche” to bomb ISIS locations in Syria without the consent of the Syrian leadership, and the Iraqi security forces can walk into Syria anytime they see fit to fight ISIS. The anti-Israel axis has never been stronger than it is today. That is the result of 2011-2018 war imposed on Syria”.

Yes. This is the third of the newly emergent fault-lines: that of Israel on the one hand, and the emerging reality in the Syrian north, on the other – a shadow that has returned to haunt the original instigators of the ‘war’ to undermine Syria. PM Netanyahu since has put all the Israeli eggs into the Trump family ‘basket’. It was Netanyahu’s relationship with Trump which was presented in Israel as being the true ‘Deal of the Century’ (and not the Palestinian one). Yet when Bibi complained forcefully about US withdrawal from Syria (leaving Syria vulnerable, Netanyahu asserts, to an Iranian insertion of smart missiles), Trump nonchalantly replied that the US gives Israel $ 4.5 billion per year – “You’ll be all right”, Trump riposted.

It was seen in Israel as an extraordinary slap to the PM’s face. But Israelis cannot avoid, but to acknowledge, some responsibility for creating precisely the circumstances of which they now loudly complain.

Bottom line: Things have not gone according to plan: America is not shaping the new Levantine ‘order’ – Moscow is. And Israel’s continual, blatant disregard of Russia’s own interests in the Levant, firstly infuriated, and finally has provoked the Russian high command into declaring the northern Middle East a putative no-fly zone for Israel. This represents a major strategic reversal for Netanyahu (and the US).

And finally, it is this repeating pattern of statements being made by the US President on foreign policy that are then almost casually contradicted, or ‘conditioned’, by some or other part of the US bureaucracy, that poses to the region (and beyond) the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. The pattern clearly is one of an isolated President, with officials emptying his statements of executive authority (until subsequently endorsed, or denied, by the US bureaucracy). It is making Trump almost irrelevant (in terms of the setting of foreign policy).

Is this then a stealth process – knowingly contrived – incrementally to remove Trump from power? A hollowing out of his Presidential prerogatives (leaving him only as a disruptive Twitterer) – achieved, without all the disruption and mess, of formally removing him from office? We shall see.

And what next? Well, as Simon Henderson observes, no one is sure – everyone is left wondering:

“What’s up with Secretary Pompeo’s extended tour of the Middle East? The short answer is that he is trying to sell/explain President Trump’s “we are leaving Syria” policy to America’s friends … Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE); Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Kuwait City, Kuwait. Wow, even with his own jet and no immigration hassles, that’s an exhausting itinerary … The fact that there now are eight stops in eight days, probably reflects the amount of explaining that needs to be done.”

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