The fires raging from the Syrian conflict have not even cooled down and the region is already looking towards another bloody conflict. With the defeat of Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq the Syrian conflict continues to rage on with the respective regional and global powers vying for their share of the pie before the endgame. Turkey under President Erdogan has always aimed at rekindling its Ottoman glory as we have also documented in our book “The New Global Order”. To this end it launched Operation Olive Branch in January 2018 against the Syrian Kurdish groups along its southern border with Syria where it has pounded the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) killing around 1500 of their men and displacing nearly 1,50,000 people from Afrin. Turkish forces have now routed the SDF and unfurled the Turkish flag at the Afrin city centre. Further, Turkish President Erdogan has made it clear to the United States to choose between Kurdish terrorists or its NATO ally in Syria suggesting that Manjib, another Northern Syrian city manned by the US forces may be Turkey’s next target while the US has cautioned Turkey against any strikes on its positions or bases in Syria.
Turkey’s assault on Afrin is a pivotal moment in the Syrian conflict in the wider Middle East because it was tactically facilitated by the Russians who backed the air defences for Turkish operations against the US-backed Kurdish militias.
When the Syrian Army and its backed militias tried to enter Afrin, the Turkish military pounded upon them forcing them to retreat. Turkey has made it amply clear that it is in for a long haul in the region. Adding to this chaos are the Russian Private Military Contractors who along with the Syrian Armed Forces are attempting to target an American base in Syria’s Deir-ez Zor region where the American jets and troops killed more than 100 Russian mercenaries as retaliation. All these proxy wars in Syria make the country a lawless state where everyone is vying for their share of the bounty. Israel has now joined the party with airstrikes on the Syrian Army and the Hezbollah arm shipments in and around Damascus which recently even led to the loss of one of its F-16 jets.
So what comes next? To answer this it is important to understand the recent dynamics of the Syrian Civil War which is inextricably linked to the bigger geopolitical Shia-Sunni conflict in the region.
The United States has already signalled its intent to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal to its European allies when President Trump is due to sign the waiver of sanctions on Iran per the JCPOA on May 12, 2018.
On January 13, 2018 the State Department issued a communiqué to its European allies for the conditions that need to be renegotiated to correct the flaws in the Iran Nuclear Deal. The cable state that, “The Trump Administration calls on key European partners to join with the United States in fixing significant flaws in the deal, countering Iranian aggression, and supporting the Iranian people. We are asking for your commitment that we should work together to seek a supplemental or follow-on agreement that addresses Iran’s development or testing long-range missiles, ensures strong IAEA inspections, and fixes the flaws of the ‘sunset clause’. The cable further states that “in the absence of a clear commitment from your side to address these issues, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal. If at any time the President judges that such commitment is not within reach, the President would end U.S. participation in the deal”. The State Department memo makes it explicitly clear that President Trump is not inclined to stay in the Iran Nuclear Deal unless its European allies pressurize Iran to agree to harsher conditions on its Nuclear Program, Missile Program and roll back its proxy fronts such as Hezbollah and Shia Militias in Lebanon and Syria and the Houthis in Yemen.
It was perhaps this leaked State Department Cable that showed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s inability to muscle through a solution in the region that resulted in President Trump terminating Secretary Tillerson and appointing Mike Pompeo who shares a hawkish stance with the Trump Administration on Iran’s Nuclear Deal and its activities in the Middle East. The European allies have thus far been unable to arrive at a compromise formula to retain the Iran Nuclear deal which the Trump Administration is egging to rip apart. Germany has also rejected the demand from the US negotiating team to outlaw all of Hezbollah because the Militia is linked to Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Though it seems that Britain and France are amenable to sanctioning however with some differences over what punitive measures to take. The sentiment in Washington DC is echoed by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia who on his latest visit to the US termed “the Iran Nuclear Deal as flawed and the Shia theocratic regime as biggest threat to the region”. It has also been reported that the Trump Administration has asked Saudis to pay $4 billion for a safe exit route in Syria.
The shakeups in Washington DC show the larger footprint of Israeli influence on President Trump’s foreign policy when it comes to Iran Nuclear Deal, its proxy fronts and the wider Middle East question. The building of Iran’s Shia Crescent from Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq all the way to Iran as a land bridge has been the cause of much strategic concern to the Israeli defence lobby which feels that Iran and its proxy Hezbollah’s presence in Syria is a prime threat to Israel’s safety and security.
Thus when proxy warfare in Syria is at its peak and the time to make a decision on the Iran Nuclear Deal comes closer, Israel could very well launch a war on Lebanon targeting the regions of South Lebanon to further weaken and even possibly dismantle the Shia Crescent by striking at the very roots of Hezbollah, the Iranian backed militia group based in Lebanon. A top general in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in February 2018 said that Israel is gearing up for a war in 2018 on multiple fronts against Iranian proxies i.e. Hezbollah and Shia Militias in Lebanon and Syria and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. This was followed up by the latest military exercise “Juniper Cobra” between the US and Israeli forces in Israel where the USAF Third Airforce commander Lt Gen Richard Clark went on record to say, “should need arise the American troops are willing to die for the Jewish State”. The sound of war drums was even audible in Washington DC where Republican Senator Lindsey Graham warned that South Lebanon is where the next war is coming and that Israeli officials had made two major requests to American lawmakers. The first was military support via ammunition and weapon supplies and the second, the US backing of Israel in case civilian targets in Lebanon where Hezbollah is operating were struck.
The war clouds in the Middle East are gathering once again and could prove to be bloodier than the last round in 2006 when Israel attacked Hezbollah in Lebanon and got a bloody nose by Iranian backed militia. The Lebanese prime minister has also recently ordered additional army regiments to be deployed on the southern border with Israel anticipating an Israeli action naming it as its prime adversary.
This prospective war in the Middle East on Iranian Proxies i.e. Hezbollah and other Shia Militias in Syria has been in the making for months if not years now. On 07th November 2017 after the shocking resignation of Lebanese PM Saad Hariri, Israel sent a cable to all its embassies to do everything to ramp up diplomatic pressure against Hezbollah and Iran; accusing Iran of engaging in regional subversion. It also instructed its diplomats to urge the Lebanese government to nix Hezbollah officials from the government and politics. The cable also urged support for Saudi Arabia’s war on the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen. This cable was widely covered by the Israeli media and even telecasted on Israel’s Channel 10 news network. Thus Israel has since long been drumming up a case of war against Iran and it proxies and in President Trump, it now has an administration which holds similar views to its own.
The next war in the Middle East in Lebanon could have reverberating consequences across the region and globe. Any Israeli action with an active backing of the US against Hezbollah and other Iranian proxies in Syria would mean the degradation of the Shia Crescent as well as Hezbollah’s strength with engagement in multiple theatres. An attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon would also imperil the Assad regime which has been gaining ground lately with the help of Iranian proxies forcing Russia to reconsider its stringent position on a political transition in Syria.
“The rapid changes in President Trump’s core team with an increasing number of hawks reflecting the dominance of the US Military Industrial Complex can only mean that the next conflict is on the horizon sooner than later”
A conflict in Lebanon, an overstretched Hezbollah and a consequently vulnerable Assad regime fighting on multiple fronts with Turkey, Syrian Rebels and SDF could subsequently make Iran amenable to more concessions once the US decides to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. A pull out from Iran Nuclear Deal could hurt the US standing on its international commitments; yet a war on Lebanon and Syria could achieve more in disrupting and dismantling the major Iranian proxy networks in the region and with it imperil its much touted Shia Crescent. The tough US-Israeli action on Iranian proxies could also be a signal to North Korea to agree to the US terms showing that America under the Trump Administration won’t shy away from military options. Thus the Trump Administration could back the Israeli option of a war in Lebanon to weaken Iran and force its hand to renegotiate the Nuclear Deal rather than engage in a direct war with Iran that could spiral out in a global war and end up being America’s next Vietnam.
In a rare democratic exercise in Middle East when Lebanon is gearing up for its first national election on May 6, first time since 2009. The coming months could prove to be pivotal for the Middle East with a prospective conflict on Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Syria depending on the reactions of other geopolitical players like Russia, China and the EU. A war in the Middle East will further push up the Crude Oil prices benefiting Saudi Arabia, Russia and even the US who is now a prime producers and exporter.
Things are going in sync with the desires of the Neo-Cons who framed the Axis of Evil Policy of the Bush Administration in the year 2000 which the Trump Administration is carrying forward. The point is further proved by Thursday night announcement of Trump to replace national security adviser HR McMaster by John Bolton, the hawkish former US ambassador to the United Nations. The rapid changes in President Trump’s core team with an increasing number of hawks reflecting the dominance of the US Military Industrial Complex can only mean that the next conflict is on the horizon sooner than later.
- ISIS rebuilding as Turkish push into Afrin pulls forces from anti-terror fight, US says https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/19/politics/syria-afrin-us-turkey-kurds/index.html
- US forces reportedly killed more than 100 Russian mercenaries inside Syria https://www.vox.com/world/2018/2/13/17008446/us-troops-syria-russia-mercenaries-killed
- Updated JCPOA-Iran Policy: Guidance for Posts http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/5/1607/1605/FINALFORMAT.pdf
- Negotiators think it’s a long shot to satisfy Trump on Iran deal https://www.axios.com/negotiators-think-its-a-long-shot-to-satisfy-trump-on-iran-deal-1521546709-0487cfdd-129a-4429-a204-faf06e1812eb.html
- Top general says IDF gearing up for war in 2018 https://www.timesofisrael.com/top-general-says-idf-gearing-up-for-war-in-2018/
- U.S. and IDF troops, in major joint drill, simulating battle on 3 fronts http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Juniper-Cobra-begins-with-US-and-IDF-troops-simulating-missile-attacks-544598
- Lindsey Graham: Israeli Leaders Warned Me of War With Hezbollah in Lebanon https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/lindsey-graham-israeli-leaders-warned-me-of-imminent-war-in-lebanon-1.5865814
- Lebanese PM says army to deploy along Israeli border https://www.timesofisrael.com/lebanese-pm-says-army-to-deploy-along-israeli-border/
- Leaked Secret Israeli Cable Confirms Israeli-Saudi Coordination To Provoke War https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-11-07/leaked-secret-israeli-cable-confirms-israeli-saudi-coordination-lebanon
- Germany at odds with US on condemning Hezbollah in Iran talks http://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/03/20/germany-at-odds-with-us-on-condemning-hezbollah-in-iran-talks.html
- Trump replaces H.R. McMaster as national security adviser with John Bolton https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/22/politics/trump-replace-national-security-adviser-mcmaster-bolton/index.html