The following is a selection by our editors of significant weekly developments in Syria. Depending on events, each issue will include anywhere from four to eight briefs. This series is produced in both Arabic and English in partnership between Salon Syria and Jadaliyya. Suggestions and blurbs may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iranian Nukes … From a Syrian Perspective
8-9 May 2018
Reuters and Al-Jazeera
President Donald Trump declared the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iranian nuclear dear on Tuesday.
The decision came after repeated threats from the US administration to abolish the deal, which it describes as “catastrophic.” Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Wednesday to start imposing strict economic sanctions on Iran, noting the gravity of the deal that allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium, thus increasing the potential of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. (Al-Jazeera)
US pressure failed to convince European partners in the deal to withdraw, as the European Union, Germany, France, and Britain declared that they will remain in the deal. However, the nature of US sanctions imposed on companies that maintain business dealings with Iran will put a lot of pressure on future economic cooperation between Iran and Europe.
Israel, the main beneficiary of sanctions on Iran, welcomed the US withdrawal, as did Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. On its part, Iran said that it would remain in the deal despite the US withdrawal, while Russia and China supported the continuation of the deal (Reuters), reflecting the evident scope of international and regional tensions, which possess great potential for deterioration.
These tensions were manifested on the ground in Syria as the battle between Iran and Israel started to evolve into a direct confrontation. After Israel declared, or leaked, that it attacked Iranian positions or forces in Syria numerous times, including the attack on the T-4 base in central Syria, Iran threatened that Israeli aggressions will not go unpunished.
Netanyahu in Moscow and Airstrikes in Syria
7 May 2018
Reuters and Al-Mayadeen
Al-Mayadeen TV channel said on Wednesday that the Resistance Axis carried out a rocket attack on four Israeli military positions in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, making it the first military offensive in the area since 1974. This offensive came one day after President Trump declared the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. No one has officially claimed responsibility for the attack. Israel said that Iran launched twenty Grad and Fajr missiles, which were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system or did not reach their targets in Golan, adding that the Quds Force, a special forces unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for external operations, is the party that launched the rockets. Israel also said that it carried out rocket attacks on Iranian bases in Syria in retaliation to the “Iranian attacks” on Golan, increasing the fears of deterioration into a large-scale regional conflict.
Syrian official media said that Israel carried out rocket aggressions in the early hours of Thursday, striking air defense positions and an ammunition depot. The Russian news agency reported that Syrian air defenses intercepted half of the Israeli missiles. Official Syrian media sources stated that Israel launched a rocket attack on a target near Damascus on Tuesday, a short time after President Trump’s announcement of the US withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear deal. The Israeli army said that after observing “irregular activities” of the Iranian forces in Syria, it issued orders for civil authorities in the Golan Heights to prepare shelters, in addition to deploying new defenses and calling reserve forces. (Reuters)
Russia, Germany, and France called for self-restraint and wisdom, whereas the US administration condemned the Iranian offensive. Trump’s administration portrayed its opposition to the nuclear deal by saying that the opposition, in one of its aspects, is a response to Tehran’s military intervention in the region.
The irony in the regional scene is that the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on a visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the eve of the large-scale Israeli offensive on Syria. Israel said that it informed Russia of the attack beforehand. This indicates the complexity of alliances and interests regarding the Syrian war.
The intensity of the escalating rhetoric decreased on Thursday, as Netanyahu considered the response adequate and the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that he hoped that the violence with Iran on the Syrian borders was over. It is worth mentioning that the Israeli Ministers for Defense and Energy had previously threatened the Syrian government in case it allowed for the continuation of Iranian presence on Syrian territories.
Regional powers do not seem to be ready to de-escalate as of yet, and there is increasing potential for new forms in the Syrian war with all the investment in arming, aggressions, violations, and incitement, especially when the conflict is linked to issues such as occupation, identity, hegemony, and tyranny.
Corrosion of al-Hajar al-Aswad (Black Rock)
13 May 2018
Reuters and Enab Baladi
Fierce battles between government forces and ISIS have continued in the neighborhoods of al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk Camp south of the capital Damascus. Although the Syrian army is advancing, it is a slow advance accompanied by huge human losses according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, due to the nature of street wars in residential areas and the use of tunnels by ISIS fighters in the battles. As of Sunday, the government holds control of eighty percent of the neighborhood with some parts of Yarmouk Camp still under the control of ISIS
The official SANA news agency said that there were two terrorist explosions, one in Maisat Square and the other in Damascus Tower which left two people dead and fourteen others injured. There were conflicting reports of whether the explosions were a result of a car bomb or rockets launched by ISIS fighters in Yarmouk Camp.
The government expanded their control to the neighborhoods of Yalda, Bibila, and Beit Saham that are adjacent to al-Hajar al-Aswad and Yarmouk Camp after an agreement between Russia and the Syrian government on one hand opposition factions on the other, which provided for the exit of eight thousand six hundred and thirty-two civilians and fighters towards northern Syria, who were distributed between the northern countryside of Aleppo and Idlib. (Enab Baladi)
The Last of Enclaves
13 May 2018
The last besieged enclave of the opposition is taking the same course of Ghouta. The Syrian government army and opposition factions said that thousands of opposition fighters and civilians left the last main besieged enclave for the opposition in Syria after the factions handed in their heavy weaponry, and opposition fighters not willing to stay started getting ready to leave for areas controlled by opposition forces in northern Syria. This means that future fronts between government forces and opposition factions will be concentrated in the southern front, the north-western countryside of Aleppo, Idlib, and north-east of Syria with the Syrian Democratic Forces.