A Syrian Cordon Sanitaire: Is Israel huffing & puffing, or is it serious ? Alastair Crooke


Israel has backtracked on the Amman ‘ceasefire’ agreement negotiated by the US, Russia and Jordan. The latter established the outline for a de-escalation zone in south-west Syria. From the outset, this accord was all about Israel, and its Jordanian junior partner.  Initially, Israel said ‘yes’, (and participated in some of the discussions), but earlier this week the Israeli PM had a change of mind. Israel now says that the ceasefire (which has been holding up well) is a very bad deal for Israel – and that none of its security demands were met. Ben Caspit, a senior Israeli commentator, quotes a source familiar with the matter: “This is not just some disagreement. This is a real clash, pitting Israel against Russia and the United States. It reflects Israel's conspicuous disappointment with the way that the Americans let Putin outmaneuver them, leading to the sellout of Israeli interests in the Golan Heights and Lebanon versus the Shiite axis.”  

The reverse is true: in fact the Amman negotiators’ intent from the outset had been to halt the Syrian army and its partner forces – on a roll, taking back swathes of its sovereign territory, as insurgent forces melted away – from getting too close to the Golan armistice line.  American negotiators at the talks were plain enough: the US had only two objectives in the talks – to protect Israel, and to defeat ISIS.  And these aims were fully reflected in the provisional agreement that froze the conflict, and imposed a "no foreign fighters” cordon of 20 kms on the Syrian side of the Golan armistice line and the Syrian-Jordanian border (that would exclude Iranian, Lebanese and Iraqi militia) for a defined period of time. Furthermore, this entire zone would be monitored and enforced by Russian police forces. 

On the face of it, the US negotiators did the job that they had set out to do. So, why is Israel backtracking, and escalating – post hoc – its demands ?  It now says that it will not tolerate a permament Iranian or Hizbullah presence in Syria – at all. The former head of the Israeli NSC has said explicity that Israel may use military force to halt any bases being established.  

Plainly, Netanyahu is disappointed and angry. His hopes for a Saudi-led, “Sunni" coalition that would confront, contain and roll-back Iranian influence – have imploded with the mess that constitutes the present intra-GCC fratricide. Equally, his hopes for a logistics corridor and buffer – running along the north of the Syrian-Iraqi border and extending to the Euphrates river – collapsed when the Iraqi government, angered by President Trump’s launch of an explicit anti-Shi’a alliance in Riyadh (when he bundled PMU militia and Hizbullah as principal actors in the terrorist problem), tipped the balance.  The Iraqi government gave the PMU the green light to open the Iraqi-Syrian border from both sides. 

I would guess that Netanyahu scents that Israel’s part in the Syrian conflict is inching towards an endgame – and that the future no longer portends a weak Syria, riven with Israeli-friendly jihadi forces, balkanising the territory, as expected. But rather, a Syria fully connected with Hizballah, Iran, and now, with an increasingly pro-active, if inchoate, Iraqi PMU constellation. 

Is Israel, in its frustration, then thinking to impose its own buffer zone, as it did in southern Lebanon?  At a guess, probably ‘no’. The lesson of southern Lebanon is still too raw to contemplate a ‘physical’ buffer zone. An Israeli troop presence in southern Syria would be an open invitation to guerrilla action, in order to repulse the invaders.  The threats from the Israeli PM, more likely, are an attempt to change the Syria ‘rules of the game’ – to broaden Israel’s military license to act unilaterally and without accountability, in the SW zone of Syria in support of their Israel-friendly jihadis around Quneitra. In practice, this has already begun – albeit under the pretext of Israel responding to cross-border ‘stray fire’. 

Possibly, Israel now presumes that the US Administration has lost patience with the regime-change agenda for Damascus (given the collapse of the Saudi-led GCC front).  Washington prefers a quick public victory over ISIS in Raqa’a – and then largely to wash its hands of Syria. US eyes are moving-on — Trump has just decided to scrap the ‘covert’ CIA to arm “moderate” Syrian “rebels”. 

So PM Netanyahu probably is trying to salvage what he can of his anti-Iran campaign. On Tuesday, the White House issued a statement pushing Congress to authorise new ‘temporary' intermediate staging facilities in Iraq and Syria ‘as a part of the US-led campaign against the Islamic State’ (details on existing US bases have just been released by Turkey). But, as Corri Zoli, director of research at Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism told Al-Monitor.


“It looks to me like what they’re trying to do is get a little more maneuverability to create some infrastructure for deepening the fight beyond Raqqa and Syria … It’s kind of an attempt to create a lily-pad structure in the Levant to go after [IS] and their entrepreneurial efforts to start miniature caliphates in the region.” Defense Secretary James Mattis, Zoli added, “is thinking a couple steps ahead. He wants to win the peace, stabilize the region and militarily pressure Iran. If he can do it with logistics all the better.”  (CF emphasis added). 

So Netanyahu, playing the ‘angry-mad routine,’ may be more about pressuring the US Administration to implement a substitute plan of a lily-pad ‘wedge’ of US ‘temporary facilities’ ranging down from northern Syria into Iraq, designed to sever Iranian contiguity with Syria. In brief,  Netanyahu feigns anger about the shortcomings of the SW Syria ceasefire plan precisely in order to press for an American quid pro quo of lily-pad containment of Iran. But if this is not the case, and Israel does intend to push-back at Iranian and Hizbullah military bases in a wider arc than the Golan armistice line, President Trump has a headache. He might find he is dealing with missiles flying from southern Lebanon into Israel. 

Finally, although it is widely understood that Mattis may have inherited strong opinions about Iran from his own particular experience in Iraq during his military service there, his present responsibilities require a broader view.  Simply stated, regional stability – America’s stated interest – is contingent on Iranian good offices being forthcoming, whether Mattis cares for it, or not.  

Israel’s former head of NSC, Yaakov Amidror, is surely right in pointing out so bluntly (most likely with official sanction) that Israel interests diverge from those of America: “At the end of the day it is our responsibility, not the responsibility of the Americans, or the Russians, to guarantee ourselves, and we will take all the measures that are needed for that,” he said. Explaining how the Americans and Russians — with whom Israel has good ties and a dialogue — agreed to a deal that could allow for a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, Amidror said that the Russian strategic goal in the cease-fire was to ensure that Assad's regime remains, and the American strategic goal was to destroy Islamic State. Israel, he said, needs to “take care of its strategic goal,” which he defined as “keeping Iran and Syria from building launching pads in Syria.” Amidror said that that while Israel obviously wants to see the killing in Syria end, “the price can't be having Iran and Hezbollah on our borders.” He said that Israel has both diplomatic and military options to keep this from happening, and said “both options should be used.”  

Mattis might care to sup with Bibi Netanyahu with a very ‘long spoon’ .  

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23 Responses to A Syrian Cordon Sanitaire: Is Israel huffing & puffing, or is it serious ? Alastair Crooke

  1. b says:

    Not to drift in economic determinism and draw Pat’s wrath on me but the involvement of certain figures here might be important.
    The Israeli/U.S. energy company Genie has been drilling in the occupied Golan and found significant amounts of oil and gas. There is likely more on the now Jihadi occupied side.
    Genie’s “strategic advisory committee” includes: Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Jacob Rothschild, Rupert Murdoch, R. James Woolsey, Jr., Lawrence Summers and Bill Richardson.
    That is a lot of U.S. lobbying power involved here that could influence any decision.

  2. turcopolier says:

    I visited the South Lebanon enclave when it was under Israeli and SLA occupation. I crossed the “good fence” with Brigadier Dani Rothschild, then in charge north of the border and swanned around looking at the situation with him. the Israelis lost men up there and you remember that it was the political revolt of the “grandmothers” that caused the Israelis to withdraw and allow the SLA to collapse. I agree that Israel will not want to position the IDf forward of their present positions on the height of land in the Golan. what they want is for the US to cripple SAG efforts to regain its territory. New subject: The Israeli meisterstuck in stragey in Syria is IMO going to result in an array of greatly strengthened opponents in the SAA, Hizbullah, the Palestinians (Liwa al-Quds), etc. Clausewitz observed that a tradition of victory creates strong armies, and they are winning. pl

  3. DH says:

    From AC’s second link:
    “Macron said after his meeting with Netanyahu that France is ready to lead a diplomatic move to address the threat posed by Hezbollah’s weapons in south Lebanon.”
    I’m glad France is on the case helping soothe Baby. Macron also said that anti-Zionism is the new anti-Semitism

  4. Babak Makkinejad says:

    What is the potential revenue of such a field per year at USD 50 per barrel?
    Assuming half a million barrels of recoverable oil per day, at USD 25 per barrel of production cost – this would be roughly about USD 4.5 billion a year.
    I remain unpersuaded.

  5. Eliot says:

    Col. Lang,
    It reminds me of Br’er Rabbit and the Tar Baby. The Israelis just can’t help themselves.
    – Eliot

  6. r whitman says:

    The gossip around the “awl biddness” is that these finds are in the wishful thinking category.

  7. aleksandar says:

    Macron is plenly stupid.There are jews that are anti-zionist and stick to the Bible.

  8. turcopolier says:

    The cessation of the covert CIA program does not apply to the SDF/YPG forces in the north. This is where the US provided armored vehicles are going. Up there the SDF/YPG face the prospect of fighting attacks by the Turkish Armed Forces and their FSA unicorn allies. Ultimately they may also have to fight the SAA when they get to the point of trying to re-integrate the north into the country/ pl

  9. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    The Turkish disclosure of the positions and strength of “covert” US bases on the open press was probably meant to send a message. Another “message” was the decision by the tayyipist regime to buy S400 systems from Russia. I am not sure these are just Turkish messages. Some consider the recent izzie statements a counter message in the same conversation. I do not see a clean endgame here. I would appreciate your ideas on how this is going to end.
    Ishmael Zechariah

  10. Christopher Fay says:

    Reads like the board of Theranos; this reads like a list of Super Insider delegates to vote for Hillary. This will come with a big price tag for Americans

  11. Christopher Fay says:

    Reading this report it’s costing Americans at least $500 million a year and they’re no where near starting drilling yet.

  12. Charles Michael says:

    Macron is trying to enter the Big League:inviting Putin, then Trump, then Bibi, while proposing Merkel to build up a UE Defense, a Euro parliament, and so on.
    It is not stupid, but largely words of of the mouth; France has not the means and is not in position.
    Same time reducing the army budget of 850 millions €, this leading to a crisis and the resignation of the top Commander in cheif (CEMA) general De Villiers. Incidently according to the Anotolu leaks there are 75 French SF with the YPG.
    About Kurds and their many fraction and contradicting interests and expectation:
    Caroline Galacteros is a Colonel de réserve
    Sorry it is in French

  13. confusedponderer says:

    “The Turkish disclosure of the positions and strength of “covert” US bases on the open press was probably meant to send a message.”
    LIkely, and that is just my hunch, the turks bought the S400 because it is for one a good misssile with good radars, and then, there is the likely situation that probably nobody in NATO and the US trusts the turks enough to want to sell them Patriots (and for MEADS the turks don’t have enough money).
    I don’t see much of a turkish plan but rather just Erdogan spontaneously playing his personal games. IMO it isn’t so much of a message but a side effect of trying, as a new form of communication, to piss into the wind only to then wonder why, suddenly, one stinks like a loot.
    The turks have just outdone their usual personal games by recently arresting some 10+ amnesty international folks, led by a german ‘because they have’, so turk says, ‘sympathised with terrorists’. Ah yes, and that we get to hear as a complaint from Turkey, an IS supporter and IS oil buyer? How interesting.
    And no matter that the various turkish accusations against somebody, anybody, cannot be proved. Proof or logic are no longer necessary in turkey as soon as someone feels like arresting or having to meet arrest quotas.
    To top that jokery once again the turks have recently sent yet another name lists of various industry folks (from BASF, Daimler Benz and the like) to germany, demanding that germany arrests those named for something, anything, and then extradites them to … turkey.
    Why? Well, what about harassment? Well, this oh-so-turkish-desired arrest spree isn’t going to happen. In fact there is a greater risk of german officials laughing themselves to death over the pathetic ‘folks who Erdogan really wants to see arrested and deported’ lists by coming regularly from turkey.
    And that said, if there is no proof for any deeds then that is only underlining the especially vile and callous character of the accused – they are not just evil but so cunning and evil as to operate very secretly – say, probably by telekinesis. The bit about telekinesis sounds ridiculous? Well, it is ridiculous. But then, it is seen as a ‘real news’ ‘real reality’ in turkey. So sad.
    It becomes absurdly comical with the wise guy who saw vile enemy telekinesis and Germany’s airliner Lufthansa at their vile work at the gezi park protests last year. That man was, surprise, promoted and is now … Erdogan’s chief advisor. Brilliant. So then Sultan Erdogan is being advised by a loon whon believes in telekinis conspiracies? I daresay that in about every place but Turkey the advisor would have been sent to a quiet asylm to quietly calm down. Alas.
    Germany, however late, as a result of all such turkish jokery is removing german troops from NATO ally turkey because the turks do no longer play by NATO alliance ways. Turkey has also played games of not allowing german parliamentarians to visit german soldiers in turkey (where they aid turkey), in a rather dumb variety of retaliation (and a dumb way to say ‘thank you’) against Europe and germany.
    Germany ministries are as a result of such turkish games warning business from dealing with turkey because of arbitrary acts by police and security forces, and because there is a good chance that the turks will not meet the obligations of their contracts – i.e. Erdogan is doing a hell of a job driving his country over the cliff.
    So far, he has gotten away with a lot of jokery (top of the jokery was IMO the murder of the Russian ambassador by a IS-ish murderous turkish cop – and it just ‘happened’, without any official support or planning – seriously? – In any way, it is something Russia won’t forget and for what they will make Sultan Erdogan pay eventually).
    However drunk the participants are, parties don’t go on forever. There is a limit to what one can just sit out and eventually there will be a bill to pay. If you drink, say, a box of beer or two there is a price – likely you’ll get a headache.
    Erdogan is weak atm, and in light of his pathetic 51% vote for constitional change (and that despite his massive, crude and insulting propaganda activities in germany and the netherlands – without that agitation he’d have not gotten the votes he needed, and even so he just got 51%) and the late protests all over turkey.
    IMO the weaker he becomes the more agressive and destructive he’ll become. As I said, don’t expect an endgame, in the apparent absence of plans, there likely is no turkish plan for such a thing.

  14. Jony Kanuck says:

    I don’t have a lot of insight into Turkish politics & I’m not up to speed on the ‘Army with a country’ latest. But a mythical ‘shia crescent’ that included Turkey & Russia is the stuff of nightmares for the ‘Washington consensus’. I’ll bet there is an argument going on in the White House about how much to offer the Turks. I think the Euros will offer ascention to the European Community. Let the bidding commence!

  15. Thomas says:

    “There are jews that are anti-zionist and stick to the Bible.”
    Which makes them aware that Zionism is Idolatry that the Lord God warned their ancient ancestors about.

  16. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Turkey was almost certainly promised many things by other members of her alliance that did not come true. The West did not deliver on what had been promised – I surmised.
    Next was the attempted Coup d’Etat last summer, with lukewarm condemnation of it early during that attempt – followed by explicit accusations of Western (read American) complicity in that effort.
    Erdogan is not an irrational oriental despot.
    Your last sentence could be reformulated thus:
    “The weaker the West becomes, the more aggressive and destructive it will become.”
    For one only needs to look at Ukraine, Libya and Syria to conclude that one cannot conduct business with these gentlemen.

  17. Fred says:

    “LIkely, and that is just my hunch, the turks bought the S400 because …”
    Given the conflict in Syria it is also a great tool for a false flag attack. Though the utility of one of those now approaches zero.

  18. Ishmael Zechariah says:

    Confused ponderer,
    There are several issues:
    1-I was commenting about the Eurasian Great Game being played in the Middle East. Irrespective of whether tayyip, or others in Turkey, has a plan or not, there are many payers in the game with quite orthogonal end-of-the-game plans. I was asking Colonel Lang’s perspective on whether there could be an optimal solution where the number of innocents killed could be minimized. I am not sure to what you were responding.
    2-The last time Turkey tried to buy non-Nato missile systems, NATO and the Borg put a stop to it through pressure. See, please,
    That the tayyip regime is now moving in another non-Nato direction is a signal, at least to those who keep such issues in perspective.
    3-In terms of game playing the Europeans, led by the Germans, are in no position to lecture anyone. If one looks at tayyip’s rise to power, one can make a clear case that he was brought to power by the West. In the decades before tayyip, when secular Turks pointed to the dangers of supporting islamists to Europeans, we got lectures about democracy. Germany was one of the countries that supported islamists ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metin_Kaplan ). Separatist kurds, left wing murderers and similar charm-school graduates also received support under the “democracy” rubric in Europa ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fehriye_Erdal ). The current “democratization” of Libya, the response of Europa to the Donbass- NovoRussia crisis, your participation in Syria-all illustrate this point. Is it possible that the scorpions hatched and reared in Western incubators are also stinging the West? Is schadenfreude justified?
    Overall I am quite pleased that tayyip and Merkel are at loggerheads. I consider her a craven, detestable Borg stooge of the same kidney as Tony Blair. What I think of tayyip has been evident in my posts here. However, I am glad that he is telling Germany to fxxk off. FYI, I,and those who think like me, do not, and did not wish to join the EU, nor do we want a single German “soldier” on Turkish soil, nor, for that matter, a single German politician, a single German SJW, or a German “tourist”. All ‘human rights’ and “democratic organizations” of the West are Borg constructs. They can all go fxxk themselves.
    Ishmael Zechariah-a dissident, deplorable, secular Turk.

  19. alaric says:

    So what might the Israelis do to “ensure Iran does not win?” What should we expect? Putting pressure on the US to do its bidding is a given but what else might they do?

  20. uncle tungsten says:

    IZ, wow I loved that, and thank you. tayyip is like the actor that fails to realise the curtain has closed and keeps prattling on while his Russian ‘supporters’ clap politely in support. Tragic little prick.

  21. Rodney says:

    Ya know, if the US gave me 8 million dollars a day I could become a legitimate country too. I’d even take some of that 8 million dollars a day and send it back to the congress men and women to make myself look more legitimate.

  22. kodlu says:

    Very well put, and to the point. Europe always wanted to clip the Turkish military’s wings, weaken secular and modern forces, and impose their ideal of full democracy, which eventually brought “mild islamists” of Tayyip’s ilk to power. They most probably always wanted a weakened and divided Turkey and a separate Kurdistan.

  23. Babak Makkinejad says:

    AKP represents real people who cannot just be ignored – however misguided one might think them to be.
    That is why I think the domestic politics of Both Turkey and Iran is so complicated; ther is no conceptual doctrine of the Middle Ground; “my way or high way” rules the roost.

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