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This is the fifth of our monthly Q&A videos. The questions were collected via a special post on the SouthFront Patreon account.
The first question comes from Hamza Tahiri: What is the current overall situation in Syria?, and can we take what Hezbollah leader said about invading northern Israel seriously? I mean is it even possible? with one nation having almost exclusive control of air and sea.
Answer: As we’ve noted in several of our videos, after the defeat of ISIS, the Syrian conflict entered into a low intensity phase. Nonetheless, this does not mean that the conflict is anyway near its end.
The northeastern part of the county as well as a chunk near al-Tanf is controlled by the US-led coalition and its proxies. Through its influence on the Kurdish elites, Washington successfully put an end to any kind of constructive negotiations between the Damascus leadership and the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF and its leaders put their shirts on the US military presence in the country and is not likely to make any steps towards the real normalization of the relations with the Assad government without a direct order from Washington as long as US troops are deployed in Syria. The US sees the SDF as its main tool of influence on the ground in Syria and is endorsing the Kurdish separatism. At the same time, the Trump administration demonstrated that it is not going to throw large sums of money into the SDF-proclaimed pseudo-autonomy. Notable projects to restore infrastructure of northeastern Syria are not expected under the SDF control. The humanitarian crisis is especially deep in coalition-affiliated camps for families of ISIS members and displaced persons.
In comparison, the Damascus government, with help from Russia, Iran and even China, is undertaking large-scale efforts to restore key infrastructure objects, including energy, medical, education facilities and roads, despite the large-scale sanctions imposed by the US-led bloc.
The northwestern part of Syria is occupied by Turkey and its proxies. Under the Turkish control, the area of Afrin and the northern countryside of Aleppo have been turned into a hub of organized crime. This as well as a radical ideology of most of Turkish-backed ‘moderate groups’ are among the main destabilizing factors. The ideological similarity of Turkish-backed ‘moderates’ with al-Qaeda and thus, ISIS, also plays a role.
The inability of Ankara to establish a proper discipline among its proxies allows Kurdish rebels affiliated with the People’s Protection Units and the Kurdistan Workers Party to carry out successful attacks in Afrin. These attacks have so far resulted in dozens casualties among the Turkish Army and pro-Turkish armed groups.
Another point of instability is the Idlib de-escalation zone, which, despite the Astana agreements and establishment of the supposed demilitarized zone and observation posts, is mostly controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) and affiliated organizations. The National Front for Liberation, a coalition of militant groups crated with help of Turkey, openly cooperates with the terrorists and even participated in recent clashes with the Syrian Army on the side of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.
It remains unlikely that the so-called moderate opposition will be separated from the “terrorists” in the Idlib zone without a wide-scale military operation against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and its allies. Ankara is in a fierce opposition to such an operation because it sees it as a threat to own influence in this part of Syria and is not interested in the further strengthening of the Assad government.
The ISIS threat remains on the table despite the fall of its self-proclaimed Caliphate. ISIS cells are active on the eastern bank of the Euphrates, within the SDF-held area, in the Idlid de-escalation zone and in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert.
As to the open conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, it is unlikely that it will broke out in the nearest future. Nonetheless, it may start in the event of a bigger regional escalation, for example as a result of the open military confrontation between Iran and the US. Another important factor is the total Israeli dominance in the air and naval power over Hezbollah.
The second question is from i: If the USA attacks Iran, how will this affect life for Americans living in India and the UAE? I ask because I have family there
Answer: In the current conditions, an open military confrontation between the US and Iran is an unlikely scenario. Nonetheless, the both sides exploit the concept of the external enemy for own political purposes and employ various measures in the ongoing geopolitical confrontation. The Trump administration turned the Iranian question into one of the central parts of its political agenda. Inside the US, it allows Washington to increase military-industrial complex spending even further. In terms of foreign policy, it gives the US an additional justification to continue its hard-core anti-Iranian and pro-Israeli policy as well as to boost its military and diplomatic presence in the Middle East. Iran uses the situation to expand own influence on Shia armed groups and movements across the Greater Middle East.
The conflict in Yemen is an important hot point in the ongoing confrontation. The Saudi invasion in the country caused a wide-scale humanitarian crisis and thousands of civilian casualties. Nonetheless, the Saudi-led coalition has failed to achieve a military victory in the confrontation with Ansar Allah (the Houthis). Ansar Allah retaliatory strikes on infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the UAE became a major problem for the coalition. Most of the attacks were aimed at targets in Saudi Arabia, but the UAE was also targeted. Recently, the UAE made a decision to decrease its military presence in Yemen. Therefore, it became even a less likely target for Ansar Allah attacks.
In the event of further escalation of the regional situation, it is conceivable that groups allied with Iran, including Ansar Allah, could attack US forces or infrastructure objects. However, in the current situation, it does not seems that the UAE or India will be in the list.
In general, the confrontational US policy turned the Middle East into a gunpowder barrel that may explode at any moment. Nonetheless, the US seems to be unable to carry out a successful open military action against Iran without notable consequences and thus losses for itself or its key allies, like Israel. The limitations of the US capabilities are clear for US regional allies like the UAE or Qatar, that had demonstrated this by their restrained response to the tanker incidents in the Persian Gulf.
The third question comes from ABfield: Where are the new, additional 2,000 US soldiers being sent to in the Middle East?
Answer: This is an interesting question. The US revealed that they will be deployed in the CENTCOM area of responsibilities, but provided little details regarding the operation. Nonetheless, according to reports, these troops are primarily intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR); force protection; and engineers. Therefore, most likely they will be deployed in US facilities across the Persian Gulf region, including the US Air Base in Qatar.
The fourth question is from Steven Howard: What is the political situation in Moldova, especially given the threats that have been reportedly made against the President and his family?
Answer: Moldova has been in the state of a constant political crisis since the election in February. The core of this crisis is the struggle between the previously ruling Democratic Party of Moldova controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniucand and the coalition of the ACUM and the Socialist Party of President Igor Dodon.
Over the past years, Plahotniuc and his faction have been selling off the country’s resources and driving the revenue from the European Union under the cover of the liberal rhetoric. As a result Moldova’s economy has sharply depreciated causing hardship for people and caused a series of political and corruption crises that undermined the influence of Plahotniuc’s party. This resulted in a major failure in the recent parliament election. Using the existing influence and corruption schemes, the Plahotniuc-led bloc attempted to prevent the ACUM and the Socialist Party from forming the government and seize the power, but it failed to do so. One of the reasons was the lack of support from the EU, which found liberal rhetoric not enough to invest in the Plahotniuc political and corruption games and further.
Plahotniuc fled Moldova on June 15. According to reports in local media, he is now hiding in London from possible charges in multiple corruption cases and organized crime. Even US Ambassador in Moldova Dereck J. Hogan stressed that the US will extradite Plahotniuc if it receives a properly motivated request.
Additionally, the Russian Interior Ministry accuses Plahotniuc of being part of an international group that specialized in trafficking large quantities of Moroccan hashish to Russia and other nearby countries, as well as illegally removed over 37 billion rubles from Russia.
The attitude of the EU and the US towards its allied Moldovan oligarch demonstrate that with his cynical actions beyond any norms of morality he had passed all red lines. His criminal activities put the US administration and its allies among the European bureaucrats in a complicated position. So, if he’s really behind threats to Moldova’s President, this will aggravate his situation even further. In the coming two weeks, we are planning to release a more detailed overview on the developments in Moldova.
The fifth question is from S.cor: What domestic dangers will the US face at home over 2019 and 2020, and how will power blocks play into said circumstances?
Answer: As we can realize the question is about the forthcoming presidential election, which is set to take place in 2029, and the problem of expanding divisions within society over ethnic, religious and ideological differences. For example, the self-described ‘liberals’ have launched a campaign to revise the American history and the role of personality in it. At the first stage, this campaign targeted generals of the South during the American Civil War. This situation is further complicated by a growing gap between the elites and ordinary US citizens, problems with the healthcare, pension coverage, veterans’ reintegration into the social life, illegal migration and other issues.
If your question is about this situation and how it may lead to the destabilization of the US in 2019 or 2020, our answer is that this is unlikely. These issues have not reached a critical mass after which the situation would develop by its own logic. Currently, the US political elites have all needed instruments and employ them to control social tensions.
These are all the questions, which we received in June. On Patreon you will find a post where you can ask your questions for the July Q&A video.
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