‘Normally US president elects sit on their hands awaiting their formal inauguration before beginning their administration’s tasks. Not so President Elect Trump. Typical of an outsider when it comes to the unwritten rules of the ‘political game’. Trump has the Constitutional authority to act immediately if he wishes, and that is exactly what he is doing. With the Syrian civil war entering its strategic end phase’ both Trump and his newly minted National Security Advisor General Mike Flynn want to make their mark in Syria, to seize the initiative and be a ‘key player’ in the post Syrian civil war wash-up.
Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is already in close touch with the Head of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, as well as President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Just a week after Trump’s election he dispatched his most trusted lieutenant , his son, to engage with the Russian Foreign Minister to set the stage for a direct engagement with the Russians over Syria. The initially covert discussions between Flynn and his Russian counterparts are preparing the ground for a combined assault on the Islamic State’s bastions in Iraq and Syria shortly after Trump moves into the White House. The plan of operation would also involve the regular armies of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Persian Gulf nations.
Israel’s role in the secret initiative began to surface in the new Golan border arrangements on 21st. November with Israel, Jordan and Syria in covert discussions in Jordan for the stabilization of their borders in southern Syria, especially the re-establishment of the UNDOF buffer Zone on the Eastern approaches to the Golan Heights.
Trump’s de-facto administration in Washington and Russian President Putin are in the picture, as are the United Arab Emirates . Missing are the Saudis, and the Qatari who have been playing their usual duplicitous games on both sides of the conflict.
Although still at a preliminary stage, the talks have produced their first tangible result: A vanguard of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has arrived on the Syrian side of the Golan. It has taken up position at its former Fawwar Camp base 4km east of Quneitra, which it evacuated during the Syrian fighting. The main body of the force, around 1,000 UN soldiers and 70 observers, is expected soon, to take up the task of reconstituting the former demilitarized zone that separated Israel and Syria under the 1974 armistice agreement.
Th UNDOF Demilitarised Zone runs for 80km along the Mt.Hermon foothills up to the Lebanese border in the north and down to the Israel-Syrian-Jordanian tri-border region in Syria’s south and then up to the Jordanian border. In the 25km long so called ‘Golan strip’, is currently between between 500 metres and 10 Km deep. Traditionally The Syrian army and the IDF limited troop numbers and weapon types allowed in this area to reduce the incidence of accidental clashes. This strip will return to Syrian government authority under UNDOF control, with the Israeli-Syrian border crossing point reopened in the Quneitra area, under the joint supervision of UN, Israeli and Syrian army officers.
Radical Syrian rebel forces in southern Syria, mainly the Khalid bin Walid Army, under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, have sworn allegiance to ISIS and remain an irritant in the region. They are now cut off from their logistic support and are faced with a ‘fight to the last man’ scenario, and that will probably be the outcome.
Israel has compelling interest in restoring the DMZ below the Golan with Syria as it leaves no room for a jihadist military presence opposite Israeli Golan and Galilee. Over the last few months Iranian surrogate forces and their Lebanese proxy, Hizballah, were pushing for a new combined Lebanese/ Syrian Front to backstop terrorist attacks into Northern Israel. Stabilising UNDOF in the Southern Syrian approaches to Mt. Hermon and the Golan, leaves Hizballah scant territory in Lebanon in which to operate, as the Druze home territory also restricts Hezbollah’s tactical footprint. Israel can easily counter and neutralise Hezbollah within this new truncated AO.
A valuable ‘combat indicator’ to the covert diplomatic talks ongoing came from the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad in an interview he gave on Nov. 16 to Portuguese media. Assad said: “If –if – he [Trump] fights the terrorists, it is clear that we will be a natural ally, together with the Russians, Iranians and many other countries who want to defeat the terrorists.” It appears that Assad is gaining confidence that he will prevail in the Syrian Civil War , especially if there is Russian / US co-operation under the Trump administration, and he doesn’t want to be too beholden to the Iranians, and on the ‘wrong side of history’.
The parties with varying degrees of involvement in the restoration of the UN-controlled DMZ on the Golan border are, therefore, the incoming Trump US administration, Moscow, Damascus, Amman, Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem all have ‘skin in the game’ . For the first time in a generation the strategic balance in the region is once more in flux, engendered by the finish of the Syrian Civil War.