New Age Islam Edit Bureau
23 January 2018
Only Palestinian Refugees Will Suffer If UNRWA Funding Is Stopped
By Chris Doyle
How Qatar Has Planted Mines of Extremism
By Mamdouh Almuhaini
Revelations Uncover Bitter Truths About Hezbollah’s Dirty Money
By Jonathan Schanzer
Washington Chooses Syria As Its Battleground
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Road Ahead Full of Danger as New Front Opens In Syria
By Yasar Yakis
Egypt Must Find a Balance between Principles and Pragmatism
By Mohammed Nosseir
American Options In Syria: Time for John Kerry’s ‘Plan B?’
By Shehab Al-Makahleh
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
22 January 2018
The alarming rise in numbers of both refugees and displaced people in the Middle East is one of the most terrifying features of the recent conflicts that have scarred the region. When Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and other refugees try to fathom their futures in the haze of war, many grimace at the fate of their Palestinian counterparts. For 2018 will see the 70th anniversary of their plight and a third of the five million UN-registered Palestinian refugees still live in 58 refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Palestinian refugee rights have all but been cast aside at Israel’s insistence, as if seeking to return to their homes is a crime. But now even the sticking plaster that is the UN agency that is responsible for them is under serious threat.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) faces the most severe funding crisis in its 70-year history, one that will have a devastating impact on these refugees, but will also send out a grim warning to others.
This arises because UNRWA’s leading donor, the US, decided to punish the Palestinian leadership for daring to condemn President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The story of the cuts in US funding started with a question from an anti-Palestinian, anti-UNRWA journalist to Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador at the UN. Asked if the US would cut funding to UNRWA, she replied: “The President has basically said he doesn’t want to give any additional funding, or stop funding, until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table… As of now, they’re not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We’re not giving the aid. We’re going to make sure that they come to the table.”
President Trump issued two supportive tweets on Jan. 2. He wrote: “With the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”
This precipitated a massive debate in the White House itself. Haley sought a complete cessation of funding and only the interventions of key players such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prevented this. Trump wavered between the two sides.
This shocked UNRWA. When Commissioner General Pierre Kraehenbuehl visited the US in November, the organization was widely praised at the White House, including by Jason Greenblatt, the president’s envoy, for its reforms and performance.
The US administration was desperate to make the Palestinian leadership pay, and UNRWA was brought up at the wrong place and at the wrong time. It has no role in pushing forward peace talks and the only victims will be stateless refugees.
Another segment of the anti-Palestinian crowd argues that UNRWA’s mandate should be terminated; a position also put forward by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Their fond hope is that, if Palestinian refugees were to be put under the mandate of the UNHCR instead of UNRWA, this would annul the Palestinian right of return. Israeli apologists also believe, quite wrongly, that under the UNHCR refugee rights would not be passed on to subsequent generations, as happens with Palestinian refugees. Both agencies believe that the voluntary return of refugees to their country of origin is best practise and a long-term solution.
To bash the UN and the Palestinians in one go excites the loyal Trump partisans and neatly reinforces the president’s reputation as someone on a collision course with the international establishment. Yet the underlying rationale may be different.
President Trump will jump at any opportunity to cut overseas funding as an article of faith. It is all about the “America first” agenda. For him and his supporter base, dollars spent abroad are wasted, and they have little desire to remain the world’s leading overseas aid funder. Trump has proposed cutting US foreign aid by more than 30 percent, including 20 percent cuts to aid to refugees. However, as ever, there is no discussion about cutting the $3 billion annual aid to Israel — a first-world economy that certainly does not need it. His attitude to peace in the Middle East was summed up in one tweet in December: “After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!”
This is stunningly counterproductive. UNRWA provides for 80 percent of Gaza’s population. It has a proud record of delivering first-class health and education services, including teaching children about international law and human rights. In addition, these cuts undermine a major Trump ambition of combating extremism. What will happen to the 500,000 Palestinian children in the 677 UNRWA schools if funding disappears? In Gaza, refugee children may well be taught at Hamas-run schools, surely not something the US would wish to see. Extremists will find plenty of raw recruits.
More effective use of aid is a must, but cutting assistance to those most in need for political reasons and with a blithe disregard to international obligations heralds not just an isolationist US administration but an uncaring one too. It is such decisions that sadly diminish and undercut the US reputation on the world stage.
By Mamdouh AlMuhaini
The largest mine planted in the Arab culture is the mine of extremism which should have been removed from the beginning by solidifying the spirit of tolerance and societal co-existence and strengthening critical approaches within the education system. This mine remained latent and it finally exploded in 1967 following the defeat at the Six-Day War.
Historians believe that the date of defeat marks the beginning of reviving the spirit of extremism which was latent during the liberal phase in the first half of the past century. Extremism made its comeback with a new spirit that’s adopted few political theories and modern technologies which tools were more destructive. During that phase, terrorist organizations and political Islam and extremist groups prospered. When the nationalist project was defeated, these groups presented themselves as an appropriate alternative that provides a solution by going back to the past and going back to the Middle Ages and inquisition courts even if via suicide bombings and beheadings. The defeat was pictured as a godly punishment, and these groups presented themselves as the ones with the solutions to all problems of the world and the hereafter.
These terrorist organizations could not find a place in society as governments pursued them and imprisoned their commanders. They were thus fragmented so they had to gather in failed countries in areas where weak governments have no control, such as in Sudan, Yemen and Afghanistan. Extremist groups failed at defeating countries; however, they ideologically succeeded in spreading their teachings and extremist ideas among millions. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood controls educational systems in several Arab countries that are socially and ideologically distant from the groups’ culture and secret branches.
This mistake, which was intentional sometimes, happened. However, the entire culture was poisoned and there is plenty of evidence to that. The value of real education that’s based on experiments and proof declined. Liars were marketed as experts in “scientific miracles.” People thus became naïve while intellectuals stayed back. They made everyone suspicious about creative men such as authors, poets, artists and thinkers and replaced them with extremists and blood-lust figures and preachers who rather resembled clowns. The market of intolerance thus became open. Satellite television channels helped spread extremist ideas, especially in the absence of moderate and enlightening voices. Moderate figures were accused of infidelity and heresy and some of them were killed like Farag Fouda who was shot dead in front of his office.
An intolerant culture thus dominated people’s minds. Meanwhile, governments faced several crises that obstructed their work as they had to fight back every time an essential modernizing project was announced. Civilized measures were thus rejected by extremists who are willing to incite people whose minds they influenced. Some governments had to back down on several projects due to extremists’ pressures and in the end their work and development were obstructed. Therefore, they focused on modernizing machine and equipment and not on developing minds. The culture of extremism was thus left alone without being looked into or criticized or replaced.
Since extremism was not addressed, terrorism found a fertile soil to grow among everyone, even among teenagers. Terrorists easily recruited people from different communities from Kandahar until Mosul. All they had to do was just enter these areas and recruit people. These groups could also easily and quickly recruit people via Twitter and WhatsApp. Extremism resulted in emotional isolation and ideological decline. Meanwhile, western countries and the US advanced. It’s like we live in two separate worlds now!
As a result, it was not possible to integrate in western culture due to the radical difference in values and ideas. Youths born in the West would not feel like they belong to this world so they’d return to it to avenge and blow up its markets and airports. Jihadi John is only one example of men who cautiously dealt with the West because they are ideologically isolated from it due to extremist and violent ideas.
This is a quick and short analysis of the path of extremism during the past decades. Imagine if we can go back in time and change few things, like remove the mines of extremism instead of leaving them until they spread like cancer. If this happened, we would have been living in a different world. We would have produced tolerant societies that look towards the future and not back to the past and that suffocate extremists instead of turning them into stars who send their own children to their death. We are now paying for this mistake. However, this is not the end as today, and for the first time in decades, we have a chance to remove these mines and alter their path for good.
A Real War
Saudi Arabia is launching a real war against extremism in the kingdom. Extremists’ voices have been greatly weakened. It’s also pursuing terrorist groups outside the kingdom, crushing them and eliminating their cells. When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made the historic statement about combating extremist thoughts once and for all, analysts were following up on the brave measures which the Saudi state took to strengthen the culture of tolerance and moderation and eliminate voices that incite people and call for chaos. We quickly saw results. Extremists who were celebrities followed by millions became insignificant. Their role and influence diminished after circumstances which helped them nurture declined. The UAE is fighting extremism as well. It never received preachers of extremism and violence. The same applies to Egypt.
For the first time ever, a strong front that seeks to end extremism and terrorism, both on the domestic and foreign levels, has been established to enter a new era that we long stood at its gates. It’s illogical for these countries to remove these mines while Qatar is planting them on a larger scale by supporting extremist and armed groups and inciters. Doha is the major party behind planting extremism and terrorism. The boycott decision is a historical decision because it will eliminate the root of the problem and help us enter a new civilized phase. Without eliminating this problem, we’d be committing the same mistake again and history will repeat itself.
Revelations Uncover Bitter Truths about Hezbollah’s Dirty Money
The Trump Administration and Democrats in the American Congress can’t agree on much these days. We’ve got a government shutdown in Washington to prove it. But there is at least one area where both Democrats and the President have a meeting of the minds: combating Hezbollah.
In recent years, Congress has passed new sanctions measures that provide the United States government with powerful financial tools to target Hezbollah. And now the Department of Justice has created a new Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team (reviving a task force that was marginalized during the Obama Administration) to target Hezbollah. In short, none of Hezbollah’s global assets are safe. Nor are the bankers who enable its global business – not in Lebanon or anywhere else.
The Hezbollah International Financing Prevent Act of 2015, passed overwhelmingly by a bipartisan Congress, targets Hezbollah’s global narcotics empire, its media properties including the al-Manar television station, as well as other illicit activities that fund the terror group worldwide. The law’s most important feature: it empowers the Administration to target foreign banks that do business with entities that facilitate Hezbollah’s activities and to cut them off from the US financial system.
The second law is the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017, which is making its way through Congress with equally strong bipartisan support. It strengthens the 2015 law by imposing mandatory sanctions for Hezbollah-related fundraising and recruitment activities. It also requires sanctions on foreign states, agencies and instrumentalities that knowingly supported Hezbollah. The law also calls for more extensive reporting on financial transactions with the terror group.
And this month, the US launched a new task force to examine Hezbollah’s extensive drug-trafficking and money-laundering operations after an investigative report in Politico revealed that the Obama administration deliberately weakened “Project Cassandra”, a campaign led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), to help preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The Politico revelations have drawn the focus in Washington to Hezbollah’s external operations in Latin America and globally. But the US government is equally concerned with Hezbollah’s operations inside Lebanon.
In 2011, it was clear that Lebanese banks could play an outsized role in Hezbollah finance. The Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) in 2013 paid a $102 million settlement when confronted with overwhelming evidence that it used the US banking system to launder Hezbollah’s drug-trafficking profits through West Africa and back to Lebanon.
Falling Prey To Hezbollah?
The concerns of Hezbollah contagion have only increased. Hezbollah maintains a tight grip on Lebanon’s political system, and its influence only continues to grow. At the same time, the terror group controls swathes of territory in the Bekaa Valley, Southern Lebanon and the Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh. Are the banks there subject to the regulations of the Lebanese Central Bank or to Hezbollah’s growing influence? Indeed, it seems improbable that LCB was the only bank to fall prey to Hezbollah.
The meetings we have had with Lebanon’s bankers suggest that they are not prepared to tackle the problem in a proactive way. They insist that the banks are fully compliant with international standards and that Hezbollah has not exploited the system. But at the same time, the bankers readily cede that when the US Treasury approaches them with evidence of Hezbollah infiltration, they must take action to expunge the accounts or face cutoff from the US-led global financial system.
But the Lebanese bankers and regulators are not being proactive. They respond to problems when they are forced to. But they are not scouring their accounts, looking for Hezbollah’s dirty money.
The Lebanese banking sector must have a zero-tolerance policy for terror financing, money laundering and other financial crimes. The bankers and regulators have little choice but to actively fight the problem if they want to ensure the country’s place in the global financial system.
In the days and weeks ahead, Lebanon’s bankers and regulators should expect to hear from US officials about taking steps to inoculate the system from Hezbollah infiltration. This includes larger banks like Fransabank, Banque Libano-Française, BSL Bank, and First National Bank. But it may include some of the smaller banks, too.
The American effort to combat Hezbollah’s global financing is ramping up. And it’s not just the revival of “Project Cassandra” to target the group’s activities in the Southern Hemisphere. The terror group’s banking activities, especially in Lebanon, are now a top concern.
Washington Chooses Syria as Its Battleground
Despite widespread criticism of the US administration’s current policy in the Middle East, we feel obliged to admit that it is more upfront and committed than the policies of its predecessor. It has chosen Syria as a center for testing its new strategy in fighting Daesh, Russia and Iran, but we don’t know yet whether or not it will manage to reach the end of the path it has planned and recently announced.
After the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the only US foreign policy left was fighting terrorism. This policy became a reaction to the 9/11 attacks, with the US fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. This lasted for a decade-and-a-half.
Today, in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and on the Korean Peninsula to a lesser extent, we see confrontations between Washington and Moscow. This conflict between the Russia and US brings back to mind the old Cold War.
This was highlighted last week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his speech about his country’s new strategy, which primarily relies on fighting rival powers — mainly Russia, as well as China to a lesser extent.
Under the Trump administration, Washington’s policy has differed in the Middle East in general, and in Syria and Iraq in particular. It has decided to confront Russia’s and Iran’s presence, in addition to fighting Daesh. The US has chosen Syria as its battleground, despite its complicated situation, which resulted from the wide array of powers involved in the crisis there.
Washington’s adoption of an upfront policy for the first time is likely to produce new problems that did not exist before, including that the US will expect its allies to support its policy and restore old alliances. Moreover, stances toward the Syrian crisis will be classified and, later on, applied to major regional issues like dealing with Iran.
Turkey, which is a NATO member and historically a US ally, was trying to use the crisis for its own benefit, until the battle for Afrin brought it in to confrontation with Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime. Thus, Turkey — as well as the rest of the region — will find that its options are narrowing by the day. Will this lead it to ally itself to Washington or Moscow in Syria?
The US has abandoned last year’s policy of cooperating with Russia in Syria, and adopted a new policy based on confronting Russia through regional agents and allies. However, Moscow had preceded Washington in adopting such a policy by using Iran and its Lebanese, Iraqi, and other militias to fight on the ground.
On the other hand, the US is using Kurdish-Syrian militias on the ground, along with remnants of the Free Syrian Army east of the Euphrates. The new US approach is based on thwarting the Russian-Iranian project in Syria, and foiling Daesh’s attempts to return after its defeat in Raqqa.
Fortunately for us in the region, policymakers in Washington have finally realized the danger associated with the dramatic transformations in Syria; and they are also against what Iran is doing in Iraq. Even if matters do not escalate to a military confrontation, the adoption of a policy of hostility is enough to raise the cost of war for the Iranian regime and make it unlikely it will control the region.
Turkey has launched its long-awaited military operation — dubbed “Olive Branch” — in the Syrian province of Afrin. There was much talk of this operation for months, but recent controversial statements may have accelerated the process or have served as a justification for Turkey to go ahead at once.
It started with a statement by the US-led anti-Daesh coalition that a 30,000-strong “Border Security Force” was to be set up in the northeast of Syria. A decision of this nature requires the unanimous agreement of the members of the coalition, or at least their consensus. Setting up an army in the territory of another country has no justification in international law.
Wisdom prevailed a few days’ later and the US stepped back from this untenable decision. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described his administration’s move as “misportrayed” and “misdescribed,” and said: “Some people misspoke.” What is more, Tillerson made this statement immediately after he met in Vancouver his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Turkey rightly drew pride from having persuaded the US to change its position.
Tillerson further explained that the US intention was to train local forces in the fight against Daesh. In a bid to gain the hearts of Turkish leaders, he said the US owed Turkey an explanation. However, Ankara remained unimpressed by this conciliatory rhetoric.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan capitalized on the US lurching from one position to another, thinking that the atmosphere was suitable for launching the military operation. This does not mean that, without this misstep, the operation would not have been launched.
The operation started, as usual, with air attacks to soften the targets. This will be followed by the advance of fighters from the Free Syrian Army, trained and supported by Turkey, and later by the Turkish army, when it becomes necessary. That will definitely become necessary sooner or later, especially when the operation expands to Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates.
Clearing Afrin of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters may not be as easy as in the earlier operation code-named “Euphrates Shield.” The seizure of Al-Bab alone cost Turkey the lives of about 70 soldiers. The rugged topography of Afrin and better-equipped Kurdish soldiers may pose a more serious threat for the Turkish army, but this will be a war between the second-biggest army in NATO and a group of fighters, no matter how dedicated they may be to their cause. Turkey seems to have decided to pay the price. The coinciding of this operation with the run-up to the crucial 2019 elections will make Turkey more determined for a victory.
The name of the operation, “Olive Branch,” is reminiscent of Turkey’s ultimate intention to come to terms with Kurds, but it is uncertain whether middle ground can be found.
A more serious situation may arise if the Turkish army does not bog down in Afrin and expands the operation to Manbij and to the east of the Euphrates. Confrontation between Turkey and the US armies may become unavoidable. This has risks for both sides. It does not mean that Turkey will defeat the American army, but there are risks of a large number of casualties. Subordinate-level US officers have stated several times that, if the US-trained Kurds are attacked, the US army will protect them. Washington may try to protect the Kurds, not because of these promises but because of their longer-term policy goals.
Russia opposed the US decision to set up a Border Security Force, but it is also a traditional supporter of the Kurdish cause. The US affirmed it has no forces in Afrin — but Russia has. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied news that appeared in the Turkish media, saying: “Russia will not withdraw its soldiers from Afrin.” If the Russian soldiers are hit by accident or through the conspiracy of third countries, the nascent Turkish-Russian cooperation will go back to square one.
Turkey’s cooperation with Iran in Syria is limited to certain tactical issues. Turkey announced that, after clearing Afrin from the “YPG terrorists,” it would hand over the administration to the Free Syrian Army, like it did in Jarabulus. Iran may not support this plan and this will be yet another headache for Turkey.
There seems to be many risky turns in the road ahead, but Erdogan is a person who can take risks. Whichever side emerges as a winner, a new front is now open in Syria and all stakeholders will try to get their plunder from this new war.
Egypt Must Find A Balance Between Principles And Pragmatism
The Egyptian state believes that abiding by a number of firm political principles that serve the state’s interests is all that is needed when it comes to the conduct of foreign affairs; apparently not realizing that a functioning mechanism is required to achieve progress in the application of these principles. Egypt’s main regional concern is the activity of political Islamists. Nations that share the same concern and that are aware of this threat are good friends of the Egyptian state, whereas countries which are somewhat laid-back concerning this issue are considered enemies.
Sadly, Egypt’s relations with most countries in our region are either cold or deteriorating significantly. There is no doubt that the entire region is going through many complex challenges; however, Egypt, as a regional leader, may not be expending the right efforts in addressing these challenges. We Egyptians often want the entire world to fully comply with our perspective, and when this isn’t the case we cease our political efforts until other countries adhere to our political position.
The Egyptian state has been dealing with a number of regional conflicts through a single principle, backed by a clearly static attitude. The state does not want to engage in any dialogue with other nations unless they endorse our foreign policy outlines upfront. We tend to position our principles in black and white boxes and we expect other nations to make bold decisions, choosing one box or the other. What we truly lack is a dynamic approach that could help us to tackle our political disputes better.
Egypt is not interested in building genuine alliances that entail precise political obligations. We want to establish an understanding regarding a few issues on which we are willing to cooperate, while distancing ourselves from other nations concerning issues on which their views don’t match ours exactly. Additionally, we are culturally a sluggish state that tends to stick to its old-fashioned ideas and attitudes, always aiming to explain its static perspective (which lacks any kind of political compromise) to the entire world.
The Egyptian state wants to put political Islamists out of power, period. Yet it does not propose a concrete approach towards creating better alternatives. Whereas we would like the nations in our region to duplicate Egypt’s recent political path, with its pros and cons, these nations prefer to deal with their political Islamist challenges using different methods that better suit their respective political realities — a matter that we refuse to accept.
Egypt’s regional political leverage has been diminishing due to our political stance and disengagement. “This is how we do business,” is a phrase that summarizes the Egyptian political proposition on many diverse occasions. More than any conflict in views, it is our political attitude that leads other nations to distance themselves from Egyptian politics. Meanwhile, our neighbors in the region have adopted a very progressive approach in order to resolve their challenges in ways that have surprised the entire world.
One of former President Hosni Mubarak’s clear political advantages was his ability to develop solid and functioning relations with almost all regional and Western nations. Mubarak and his foreign affairs team were quite talented in building strong bonds with Arab leaders, which gave them a clear political edge at the time. This kind of political conduct is sorely missed in Egypt today; we need to work on regaining it.
Egypt has a clear and firm position on many of the political conflicts in our region, but this is not enough; we need to further engage in most of these conflicts because we have the capacity to contribute to their resolution. Our worthy principles must be backed by a pragmatic approach and functioning leadership. This can be realized through the development of a number of initiatives aimed at assisting other nations in resolving their challenges. We won’t necessarily succeed in every battle — but at least we will express our practical political realism and solidarity.
It is apparent that Washington has various stances on Syria during the coming period. The first is that its foreign policy is still vague, it has targeted the Syrian army many times. The second trend is the role-play that Russia and Iran master when it comes to the Syrian crisis. This would put US strategy in a severe regional impasse if it does not take effective measures to maintain the momentum pertaining to its intervention.
The third trend is that Washington will tend to activate cooperation with Moscow in the Syrian issue with the aim of establishing a mechanism to manage the crisis between the two parties in order to ensure a certain distribution of quotas and influence between them. The fourth trend refers to Washington's formulation of a strategy based on three stages: First, the elimination of ISIS or "neutralization" of its threat. Second, stabilizing Syria’s border security and undermining Iranian influence through sharing power with Russia. Third, a quiet transition of government.
Last week, Syrian government issued a statement condemning US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s speech at Stanford and the Hoover Institution on January 18 that Washington aims to keep its troops in Syria long after their fight against ISIS to ensure that neither Iran nor Syrian President Bashar al-Assad take over areas that have been newly liberated with American military support.
Tillerson’s speech reflects US interest in non-stop involvement in Syria even if the terrorist organisations are crushed. This has driven the Syrian government to issue a statement denouncing the American interest and their will to keep their troops for unlimited time.
“The US military presence on the Syrian territory is illegal and violates international law and national sovereignty of Syria and aims to protect ISIS,” read a Syrian Foreign Ministry statement.
Tillerson said: “We have five key goals in Syria. They are: ensuring that ISIS and al-Qaeda never re-emerge; supporting the UN-led political process; diminishing Iran’s influence; making sure the country is free of weapons of mass destruction and helping refugees to return after years of civil war.”
Are these interests in line with the signals aired by John Brennan, former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, when he said in 2016 that he had been not optimistic about the future of Syria remaining one country, noting that such rare public acknowledgement by a senior US official that Syria may not survive a several years of civil war in its current state.
Brennan’s speech was at that time at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado when he elucidated that he does not know whether or not Syria would be put back together again as there has been so much blood spilled, pointing out that he was not sure that he would see a unified Syria in his lifetime.
Furthermore, former US Secretary of State John Kerry had previously expressed similar fears, saying he would move towards "Plan B" that could involve a partition of Syria if a ceasefire did not materialize in advance of peace talks.
The de-escalation agreements reached last summer have allowed Iran to be outside the borders of the buffer zone. They have also give the Iranians access to al-Suwayda and increased their presence in the vicinity of the capital Damascus to secure the alternative land line.
Russia has also gained from the deal by getting what it sought for which helped decrease the tension and risk that its forces would face at certain fronts, mainly in country sides of Homs and Ghouta. This has helped to strengthen the line of defense of its forces Tartous to protect its military bases in Syria.
Turkey, through its new operation in Afrin, has aimed to impose a fait accompli on the Americans by coordinating with the Russians who withdrew their troops from the area targeted by Turkish army and by allowing them to use the airspace of Syria. The Turkish-Russian-Iranian coordination has benefited them and served them better through the de-escalation zones while the US has lost and this has been realized later on, prompting the American government to keep up with the status quo in Syria to turn the military balance.
Syria is a complex problem and the American plan to have their eternal base in this country would not suit Washington in the long run. Since the US has begun its military action in Syria to counter ISIS, which controlled a large area in Syria and Iraq in 2014, Washington has not reached a decisive decision what would the status of Syria be after the end of war.
David Satterfield, a senior State Department official, told the Senate a few days ago that despite this remarkable and outstanding progress to counter terrorism, ISIS and al-Qaeda are still a serious threat. The American administration said it wanted to avoid what previous President Barack Obama committed of grave mistakes when he took a decision to pull out the US troops from Iraq, leaving a vacuum that was filled by terrorists and Iran.
It looks like the Americans do not want to give Iranians access to the Mediterranean from Tehran and prevent Turkey from having connections with Iraq and Syria.