As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, “[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us.” This despite Washington’s earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called “de-escalation zones” would have “serious repercussions,” including “firm and appropriate measures.” (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
Earlier this month, apparent Russian air-strikes (denied by Moscow, although it is possible they were carried out by Assad’s warplanes, and it makes little difference) killed dozens in a so-called “de-escalation”” zone in Idlib, the only other Syrian province that remains in rebel hands. There was, of course, no US response. (MEE, CBS)
The US has long been constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS and other jihadists. Now that ISIS is essentially defeated, we appear to be witnessing Trump’s betrayal of the Syrian opposition in an evident carve-up deal with Putin.
Israel is meanwhile escalating its air-strikes on Syrian territory, last week targetting positions of a pro-regime Shiite militia near al-Bukamal (Deir ez-Zor governorate), leaving several fighters dead. (Haaretz) Putin seems to have brokered an unspoken deal between his buddies Assad and Netanyahu, allowing Israel to bomb Syrian territory as long as it only targets Iranian forces, Hezbollah and allied foreign militias, and not actual regime positions. A narrow distinction perhaps, given Assad’s overwhelming reliance on foreign paramilitary forces—especially in the “sectarian cleansing” of conquered territories.
But that’s why they call it a Great Game.
(Southern Front logo via Wikipedia)