Written by Maj. Gen. (R) Khalid Marshoud exclusively for SouthFront.
The southern Syrian border region is considered to be of security importance to Jordan and Israel in light of its profanation by cross-border Islamic and Shiite organizations and forces due to the protracted civil war and the lack of state control. This causes threat to Jordan and Israeli, which led to reach an agreement signed by Jordan, the USA and Russia in 2017 to establish de – escalation zone that Russia pledged to support a cease fire and security in south-western parts of Syria .
Jordan is intimidated of armed organizations breakthrough and incursions into the Jordanian borders in addition to the danger of the Iranian presence on its northern borders. Consequently, the formation of the so-called Shiite Crescent leads to a geostrategic shift in the region and reinforcement of its regional hegemony by establishing a secured land bridge connecting Tehran with the Mediterranean Sea through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This prompted Jordan to create with the USA support a decontaminated stripe – free from ISIS and Shiite militias. It extends from Quneitra in the west to Al-Tanf in the east, and it is equipped with an electronic security system.
Jordan has realized the importance of the Russian role to enhance the security in southern Syria and decided to cooperate its efforts with Moscow under the Jordanian-American-Russian agreement in 2017, obtaining Russian guarantees to prevent the spread of Shiite armed organizations; a joint security operations room was established for this purpose .
In July 2018, the Syrian regime forces with Russian support and US approval controlled the South, successfully preventing all forms of conflict through agreement with the people under Russian guarantees to grant them a form of decentralized administration. But in May 2020, the regime revoked his pledges and deployed forces pursued by Shiite militias in order to bring back the control over Daraa and prevent another uprising. This also led to fulfill Iranian desire to obtain the same security and strategic interests that the Russians granted to the Turks in northern Syria; to obtain means to counteract US-Israeli escalation, and to strengthen its nuclear negotiating position.
As a result of the Russian failure to implement the terms of the 2017 agreement with Jordan and the United States, the Shiite militias remained present in southern Syria with the 4th Division of the regime’s army, as well as the increased number of arrests and assassinations among the Revolutionaries. Daraa province became the epicenter of a Russian-Iranian conflict. Russia sought to expel the Fourth Division from the province and reinforce the influence of its “proxy”, the Fifth Corps, but they failed, and the protracted conflict caused destabilization in the region, increased the number of assassinations, as well as boosted drug and weapons trafficking.
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The Iranians object to the Russian position and accuse it of colluding with Israel and connivance of its military operations against Iranian sites and militias in southern Syria.
To this end, with the intention of creating mechanism to distance the Iranian militias 60 km from the Jordanian and Israeli borders, as stated in the agreement with the Russians, Ahmed Odeh, commander of the 8th Brigade of the Fifth Corps, visited the Jordanian capital, accompanied by a Russian delegation at the end of November 2020.
The position and intentions of the new US administration on Syria is not clear, but it seems that Biden seeks better relations with Iran through reviving the nuclear agreement and better cooperation with Russia, Iran and Turkey towards the settlement of the Syrian crisis, ensuring Gulf funding for the reconstruction of Syria and the overthrow of the Assad regime through a political process, ensuring Israeli security.
Israel has its own interests and objectives that it seeks to achieve through influencing the management of the Syrian conflict: limiting Iranian influence in Syria. The aim is to prevent the transfer of weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah through Syria, which represents a vital threat to Israeli security in the future. Tel Aviv undermines the legitimacy of Syrian rights on the occupied Golan Heights and gains international support through the American recognition, Israel prefers not to be a direct player to achieve these interests as long as regional and international alternatives are available that would fulfill this on its behalf.
In the long term, Israel seeks to create a Syrian weak system of governance in form of a moderate, decentralized government with autonomous regions based on ethnicity or religion and does not pose any threat to Israeli interests. Within the current situation, it prefers the persistence of the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites as long as it is not going to be a real threat.
However, in recent times, due to the increasing security chaos and the presence of numerous players with contradictory interests, it tends to intervene by force in an attempt to change the geopolitical reality.
The complexities of the Syrian crisis and its regional expansion, the spread of terrorist and extremist outposts, the overlaps of the interests of regional and global powers and the supremacy of the Israeli interest present the great Jordanian project, which America believes with Israeli approval, is able to create new balances in the region and play a positive role in countering security threats and achieving stability in southern Syria.
In 2015 there was an opportunity for Jordan to gain control over southern Syria with American support and regional approval in light of the weakness of the Assad regime; to create a safe zone. But as a result of Jordanian fears and uncertainty they hold back.
After normalization of its relations with Israel in September 2020, the UAE began to play a direct role in the Syrian issue in coordination with Israel, aiming to achieve a new equation to confront Turkey in the north by supporting the Kurdish separatism and establishing a military entity in the south disregarding Russian influence. They are led by Ahmed Al-Awdat, commander of the Eighth Brigade, and Abu Zureik, commander of the Revolutionary Army, and seek to ensure the achievement of the common Emirati-Israeli interests in any future political settlement.
This trend will be strengthened in case of the Saudi-Israeli rapprochement, with the participation of the United States and Jordan, and in coordination with Russia, seeking to create a reality that leads to stability in Syria without Iran. If Russia abandons its desire to manage the security arrangements in southern Syria alone in exchange of guaranteeing its interests by reconciling the various factions and integrating them into The Fifth Corps, this could lead to establishing of an autonomy project in the South that would serve Russian interests, meet the requirements of Israeli and Jordanian security, and gain American contentment.
Southern Syria will remain a hotbed of regional and international instability due to the gelatinous security situation, Russia’s failure to fulfill the terms of the 2017 Amman Agreement, and the multiplicity of actors who seek to clarify their outcomes to achieve their objectives.
The center of gravity in the issue of southern Syria is Israeli security. Tel Aviv does not allow the presence of an Iranian or a Salafist organization close to its northeastern borders, despite its unwillingness to be directly involved in the Syrian issue except for the military operations against threatening targets, and preventing the use of Syrian territory to launch attacks on Israel.
Jordanian and Israeli security are connected due to the geopolitical consensus on the Iranian threat.
Israel fears the Biden administration’s attitude that may grant Iran free hand in Syria in exchange for the renewal of the nuclear deal. Israel does not have sufficient means to influence the outcomes of the Syrian issue, therefore it seeks indirect influence through the United States, Jordan and Russia, and to invest and employ the interests of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in countering Iranian and Turkish influence.
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