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Enforcing the Ceasefire May Be America’s Way Forward in Syria

Aug. 18 2017

Taking advantage of the July ceasefire agreement, which applies in certain areas of southern Syria, Bashar al-Assad and his allies have been consolidating and expanding their control in other parts of the country. What’s more, writes Dennis Ross, the Russians “have agreed to several previous ceasefires or cessations of hostilities and have enforced none of them,” suggesting that they, and forces loyal to Assad, might resume fighting elsewhere when it suits them. If, with Russian support, Iran-backed, pro-Assad groups expand their influence, they will no doubt threaten U.S. interests and even undermine attempts to prevent the resurgence of Islamic State. Ross explains how the U.S. might be able to limit Russia and Iran from further taking advantage of the situation:

The Israelis have made it clear they won’t let Iran open up a . . . front against them in Syria. Maybe this will deter the Iranians; at a minimum, they will test and probe to see just how serious the Israelis are. Unfortunately, they are far less likely to be deterred from trying to position themselves along the Jordanian border, convinced this will give them the means to destabilize the Hashemite kingdom and threaten the Gulf states from yet another direction. . . .

[T]he ceasefire agreement is supposed to keep the Syrian regime and the Iranians 40 kilometers from the Jordanian border. [This], however, depends on the Russians stopping the Syrians and Iranians. If the past is any guide, they won’t, unless, of course, they decide that this will extend the conflict and increase their costs.

The Trump administration could make it clear that there is a cost. If it were prepared to say the U.S. will enforce these ceasefire areas and buffer zones if the Russians don’t, Putin would pay attention. Not only would it signal that the U.S. was going to be an arbiter of events in Syria—something Putin seeks to avoid—but it would also mean we would act to punish the Syrian regime for its transgressions.

One of Putin’s objectives has been to show that the Russians stand by and protect their friends. He is not going to want to have to protect further Syrian efforts at expansion if it costs the Russians, and he is also likely to be leery of having the insurgency re-emerge after seemingly containing it. One way for the U.S. to punish the regime would be to resume lethal assistance to Syrian opposition groups. That may seem very unlikely after the Trump administration has ended such assistance, but if the Russians appear to be retreating from the ceasefire agreement, this could be an option for the administration.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Jordan, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen