Ominous developments in East Syria have drawn the United States and Russia into closer proximity increasing the likelihood of a violent confrontation. The Trump administration has embarked on a dangerous plan to defeat the terrorist militia, ISIS, in Raqqa. But recent comments by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggest that Washington's long-term strategy may conflict with Moscow's goal of restoring Syria's sovereign borders. Something's got to give. Either Russia ceases its clearing operations in east Syria or Washington agrees to withdraw its US-backed forces when the battle is over. If neither side gives ground, there's going to be a collision between the two nuclear-armed adversaries.
On Wednesday, the US airlifted hundreds of mainly-Kurdish fighters to an area behind ISIS lines where they were dropped near the town of al-Tabqa. The troops -- who are part of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces or SDF -- were accompanied by an undisclosed number of US Marines serving as advisers. Ostensibly, the deployment was intended to encircle ISIS positions and retake the area around the strategic Tabqa Dam. But the operation had the added effect of blocking the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) from advancing along the main road towards Raqqa, the so called Capital of ISIS. While the blocking move might have been coincidental, there's a strong possibility that Washington is in the opening phase of a broader strategy to splinter the war-torn country and prevent the reemergence of a united secular Syria.
According to Almasdar News:
"'The Coalition supported the offensive with air movement and logistical support, precision airstrikes, Apache helicopters in close air support, Marine artillery, and special operations advice and assistance to SDF leadership,' the US-led coalition said in a statement." (AMN News)
In a matter of weeks, Washington's approach to the war in Syria has changed dramatically. While the US has reportedly ended its support for the Sunni militias that have torn the country apart and killed over 400,000 people, the US has increased its aid to the SDF that is making impressive territorial gains across the eastern corridor. The ultimate goal for the SDF fighters is an autonomous Kurdish homeland carved out of West Iraq and East Syria, while US objectives focus primarily on the breakup of the Syrian state, the removal of the elected government, the control over critical pipelines routes, and the redrawing of national borders to better serve the interests of the US and Israel.
The idea of breaking up Syria is not new. The plan first appeared in an article by Oded Yinon in 1982 titled "A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties." Yinon believed that -- for Israel to survive -- it must become an imperial regional power that "must effect the division of the whole area into small states by the dissolution of all existing Arab states." (Israel Shahak)
The most recent adaptation of Yinon's plan was articulated by Brookings Institute analyst Michael O'Hanlon in a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled "A Trump Strategy to End Syria's Nightmare." In the article, O' Hanlon states bluntly:
"To achieve peace, Syria will need self-governance within a number of autonomous zones. One option is a confederal system by which the whole country is divided into such zones. A less desirable but minimally acceptable alternative could be several autonomous zones within an otherwise still-centralized state -- similar to how Iraqi Kurdistan has functioned for a quarter-century...
"Security in the Sunni Arab and Kurdish autonomous zones would be provided by local police and perhaps paramilitary forces raised, trained and equipped with the direct support of the international community." ("A Trump Strategy to End Syria's Nightmare," Wall Street Journal)
In an earlier piece, O'Hanlon referred to his scheme as "Deconstructing Syria" a plan that "would produce autonomous zones that would never again have to face the prospect of rule by either Assad or ISIL."
Many of the details in O'Hanlon's piece are identical to those in Trump's plan which was announced by Secretary of State Tillerson just last week. The Brookings strategy appears to be the script from which the administration is operating.
In his presentation, Tillerson announced that US troops would not leave Iraq after the siege of Mosul was concluded, which has led many to speculate that the same policy will be used in Syria. Here's an excerpt from an article at the WSWS that explains this point:
"US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared Washington's intention to keep troops deployed more or less indefinitely in the territories now occupied by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in remarks delivered at the beginning of a two-day meeting of the US-organized anti-ISIS coalition in Washington.
"'The military power of the coalition will remain where this fraudulent caliphate has existed in order to set the conditions for a full recovery from the tyranny of ISIS,' he told an audience that included Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. He gave no indication of when, if ever, US troops could be withdrawn from a war zone extending across Iraq and Syria, where there has been fighting of greater or lesser intensity throughout the 14 years since the US first invaded Iraq." ("Tillerson pledges long-term US military role in Iraq and Syria," World Socialist web Site)