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6/21/17

Middle East - Syria: Trump Is on a Collision Course With Iran - by Dennis Ross

Rarely has the Middle East been more baffling. The United States sells fighter jets to Qatar, a country the American president accuses of sponsoring terrorism. In Syria, the U.S. is relying on Kurdish fighters that Turkey, a NATO country closely aligned with Qatar, says are terrorists, supporting their mission to take Raqqa, the Islamic State’s capital, with airstrikes launched from a giant U.S. base outside of Doha. The U.S. accuses Russia of complicity in the Syrian government’s chemical attacks on its own people, and hits Syrian forces, but hopes to collaborate with Moscow to fight ISIS.

Got all that? Amid this confusion, Iran is pressing ahead to strengthen its grip on Syria, even as Trump goes after ISIS. Iran’s intervention to save President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has involved sending not just elite Iranian military advisers but also bringing in Lebanese Hezbollah and other Shia militias from as far away as Afghanistan. While estimates vary on the size of these forces, the numbers are in the tens of thousands. Iran’s sectarian shock troops are being used to extend the regime’s writ, especially as the Syrian regime’s deployable military manpower has shrunk to about 20,000 forces.

Regrettably, if the Trump administration cannot do more to counter Iran’s actions in Syria, it is not likely to be able to “demolish” ISIS and prevent its return. Iran is using its Shia proxy militias both to fight ISIS and to challenge U.S. efforts to train local forces in southeastern Syria. Last week, an Iranian-made drone fired on al-Tanf, an area along the Damascus-Baghdad highway and the Syrian border with Jordan where U.S. Special Forces have been conducting the training. The U.S.-led coalition destroyed the drone. The White House statement after the attack pointed out that the United States has maintained a presence at Tanf for the past year and that this location was part of the de-confliction understanding with the Russians—and yet Iranian-backed Shia militias in Syria moved against this area and fired on the U.S. presence anyway.

What’s going on? Iran is actively trying to create a land corridor through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. To that end, Iran is pushing from within Iraq and Syria, using its Shia militia proxies on both sides of the border. On the Iraqi side, the Shia militias have now largely cleared ISIS from border crossings. Within Syria, Iran has sent significant Hezbollah forces eastward to Deir ez-Zour, a major Syrian city along the Euphrates River. With the U.S.-supported effort to liberate Raqqa under way, Iran wants to prevent any U.S.-backed groups from establishing themselves in eastern Syria—something that could preclude the Iranian aim of controlling Syria’s borders with Iraq and Jordan. (With Hezbollah also now active in the area of Deraa, a southern Syrian city close to the Golan Heights, the Iranians have their eye on the Syrian-Israeli border as well.)

Note EU-Digest Editor: the details on Iran in the above report by the usually very accurate Politico this time seem to be leaning towards "conspiracy theories". First of all, who cares if Iran takes over the job of cleaning up ISIS from the US, which, lets face the facts, is a US creation as a result of the Bush Iraq war in the first place. 

The other question one must ask: what is the position of Saudi-Arabia in all this and why is that country kept out of the story?  Iran, at least, has an elected government, which we certainly can not say about Saudi-Arabia.  So, if the US and Russia can be in Syria, why can't Iran.  All of these countries have their own objectives for fighting these proxy wars, which, let's face it, certainly have nothing to do with democracy. 

Come on Politico - even though we should pray this does not happen, our prediction - and all signs are pointing in that direction - is that the US in close cooperation with  Israel will soon bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, for the sake of "peace in the Middle East". Unfortunately if that happens, we have the sneaky suspicion it will not end well.

Read more: Trump Is on a Collision Course With Iran - POLITICO Magazine

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