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Thursday, 15 September 2016

Syrian ceasefire II – Why any cessation of hostilities in Syria is doomed to fail and what it would mean for the Syrian Army and its allies

September 13, 2016
Syrian ceasefire II – Why any cessation of hostilities in Syria is doomed to fail and what it would mean for the Syrian Army and its allies
On 12 September a new nationwide ceasefire agreement was implemented in Syria, one brokered by the US and Russian Foreign Ministers after weeks of crunch talks. There had been several attempts to reach a deal in the previous weeks, but finally last Friday when foreign ministers Kerry and Lavrov announced their agreement, the world was lit with hope for some reason. Perhaps this time people believed the US would be genuine and able to control their multiple proxies operating in the country.
Part of this ceasefire agreement would include the fabled moderate rebels withdrawing from the jihadist camps; if they do not, the US says it will withdraw its support for these groups. Interestingly, this is the first time that the US openly threatens to withdraw its support for its proxies, something that Russian analyst Dmitry Kosyrev believes is because Washington does not have a chance to achieve its goals in this conflict, hence why they agreed to this painful deal. Kosyrev however also added that the most likely scenario will be that jihadists will most likely try to capitalize on this cessation of hostilities because “someone on the ground will refuse to adhere to the agreement”. [1]
I am inclined to agree with Kosyrev’s analysis and would also go as far to say that the Russian demand for “moderate rebels” to disassociate themselves from jihadist camps won’t be met. I say this for two reasons; firstly because there are no moderate rebels, there are only radical jihadists who want to overthrow the Syrian government, one of the last truly secular governments left in the region, and turn Syria into a Levantine Emirate. Secondly, in the unlikely event that there are any moderate rebels among the jihadist coalitions such as Jaysh Al-Fateh and Fatah Halab, any such group leaving these jihadist coalitions would commit both political and military suicide as they would lose any leverage they have over the Syrian government, as the jihadists know they are stronger if they remain united, furthermore any such group leaving the jihadist coalitions would most likely be turned into targets by the other jihadist groups who would deem them to be traitors. We are all too familiar with what terrorist groups such as ISIL and Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (formerly Jabhat Al-Nusra) do to those that they deem to be traitors.
Supporting this theory is the fact that rebel (jihadist) groups announced that they would not abide by the ceasefire even before it was implemented on Monday at sunset. Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Syria’s largest jihadist faction officially announced, through their deputy leader in a televised statement “Abu Ammar Al-Umar” that they reject the nationwide ceasefire proposal. He cited that they would reject any ceasefire that excludes “certain groups” in Syria, referring to Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, a close partner of Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham. This once again confirms the suspicion that the plethora of “rebel” groups in Syria all work as one with a common goal in mind, and that they will not leave the side of internationally designated terrorist groups, with close links to Al-Qaeda.[2]
On Tuesday morning, jihadist militants once again reaffirmed this position when over 20 jihadist groups declared that they have rejected the ceasefire proposal, an announcement made by groups such as the US-backed Free Syrian Army, Harakat Nour Al-Deen Al-Zinki, Jabhat Al-Shamia, Jaysh Al-Nasr and Ajnad Al-Sham. They all cited that the major reason for their rejection was the exclusion of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham and that this would leave the Syrian Army in a more beneficial position than they would. [3]
Contrary to the jihadist statements, Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah all welcomed the ceasefire proposal. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi, said on Sunday that “The Islamic republic of Iran always welcomes a ceasefire in Syria and the facilitation of the access of all the country’s people to humanitarian aid.” Meanwhile Hezbollah’s media wing “Military media” said that “the allies of Syria will support any decision that the Damascus government makes”. [4] [5]
Ghassemi also blamed armed groups for breaking previous ceasefires, saying, “Just as the Syrian government has a number of times emphasized, the lack of necessary guarantees on the adherence of terrorist-takfiri groups to the ceasefire have been an obstacle to the success of previous ceasefires.” Ghassemi added that for this ceasefire to be successful, there needs to be “comprehensive monitoring and control of the borders to block the dispatch of terrorism and arms.”
Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, however was more cautious about the ceasefire. “A ceasefire and a suspension of the war is the desire of everyone; however, if the cost of it is that the enemies of the government and people of Syria misuse it, not only will this ceasefire not be successful, but it will be harmful,” Velayati said. He added that previous ceasefires had been to the benefit of groups like Jabhat Al-Nusra.[6]
Velayati was referring to the previous ceasefire deal that failed and resulted in the jihadists capitalizing on the ceasefire to launch attacks in Southern Aleppo and recapturing areas previously lost to the Syrian Army and its allies, an incident that angered the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Hezbollah. In a previous article I quoted the Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan who expressed his dissatisfaction with the ceasefires that almost always resulted in the jihadists rearming and resupplying their forces in order to launch new attacks on the Syrian Army and its allies, Dehqan, referring to a May 7 attack on the town of Khan Touman said that “We agree to a guaranteed cease-fire that does not lead to terrorists building up their powers.”
The conservative newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz appeared to welcome the news of a ceasefire in an article titled “Obama’s Force Could Not Reach Assad.” It contends that the differences between the United States and Russia will force President Barack Obama to leave office with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still in office.[7]
It would seem that this time, there is a closer coordination between Moscow and Tehran on the conditions for the cessation of hostilities, with Iran and Hezbollah assuming an overall more positive stance towards the agreement. [8] This could be explained by the fact that the Syrian Army and its Iranian and Lebanese allies are seemingly no longer left paralyzed with their hands tied behind their backs, this time they are able to respond to any aggression with force, and due to the exclusion of Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham and their collaborators such as Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham and Harakat Nour Al-Deen Al-Zinki who have already rejected the ceasefire, the Syrian Army does not have to stop its campaigns in areas such as Southern Aleppo and Northern Latakia.
It should have come as no surprise to anyone that the jihadists broke the ceasefire only an hour after it took into effect last night by firing rockets at the Syrian Army positions in the volatile Northern Hama front. Later that same night, jihadists launched a new assault, targeting the small town of Khattab in Northern Hama. [9]
By all logic, this violation coupled with the jihadists rejecting the ceasefire should make them legitimate targets for the Russian Air Force, the Syrian government forces and its allies on the ground. This seems to be the case in areas such as Northern Latakia, Southern Aleppo, Quneitra and Northern Hama as the Syrian Army has geared up to continue its campaigns against the jihadists who have plagued these areas. As a matter of fact, the Syrian Army has already flooded the Aleppo province with reinforcements from the Republican Guard, IRGC and Harakat Al-Nujaba (Iraqi paramilitary) in preparations for an upcoming offensive, possibly led by the prominent Iranian General Qassem Soleimani who was seen last week in Southern Aleppo, inspecting the troops stationed there. [10]
It remains to be seen how Washington will respond to their proxies’ rejection of the ceasefire agreement, and the continued Syrian Army advance in the aforementioned areas. We can safely assume that Washington has not had a change of heart when it comes to the idea of regime change in Syria. This ceasefire deal is doomed to collapse because the jihadists cannot and will not accept a cessation of hostilities, and while the Russian Foreign Ministry said that it “hope[s] the American side walks its part of the road and exerts due influence on those it considers Syria’s ‘moderate’ opposition to have them completely obey by the regime of cessation of hostilities and implement the Russian-U.S. agreements,” the question remains; will Washington stay true to its words and end its support for these jihadists? [11]
The Russian Foreign ministry also added that “it is worth reminding that despite our consistent calls the United States has given no consent to put Ahrar al-Sham on the United Nations terrorist list.” Washington has kept a consistent policy of protecting terrorist factions in Syria from being designated as terrorists, why would it change its policy now, and label one of its major proxy forces as a terrorist organization, thus legitimizing Russian-Syrian-Iranian efforts against them?

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