Another US “Red Line” Falls in Syria – This One Trump’s for Russia and Iran

Not too long ago, presidential hopeful Donald Trump accused the incumbent Barack Obama of failing to follow through on his “red line” by not hitting Assad when he used chemical weapons. Instead, the former president turned to the Russians for a deal on the Syrian chemical weapon stockpile.
In the past week, however, President Trump and his Defense Secretary James Mattis have let their first red line in Syria be trampled over in a manner that has caused even greater harm.
In the second half of May, Washington used quiet diplomacy to notify Moscow that the US had drawn a 55-kilometer line around the important Al-Tanf crossing in the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi border triangle. Two US air strikes, on May 18 and June 6, struck Syrian army and Hizballah troops when they crossed that line.
However last weekend, when a combined force of Syrian, Hizballah and pro-Iranian Shiite militia forces, under the command of Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, broke through that line to a depth of 20 kilometers, American warplanes stayed in their hangars. And urgent Israeli and Jordanian demarches about the encroaching threat to their borders, addressed to the highest levels of the Trump administration, including the defense secretary’s office, went unanswered.
By Monday night, June 13, Israeli and Jordanian government and military leaders were forced to accept that Washington had no intention at this time of mounting a challenge to the pro-Iranian forces’ successful takeover of key points on the Syrian-Iraqi border.
And when Tehran and Moscow saw the US and its Syrian garrison refraining from defending their 55-kilometer enclave, Soleimani moved fast. He sent his Syrian-Shiite army to push through to the border. They struck camp at the Syrian village of Al-Boudah to form a wedge between the second US base at Al Zukf and first one at Al Tanf, 30 kilometers to the south (see map).
On the other side of the border, pro-Iranian Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) had advanced towards the Syrian border. The two pro-Iranian forces linked up at Al-Boudah and established a new Syrian-Iraqi border crossing totally under the control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Tuesday, June 14, the US military moved its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) from Jordan into southern Syria for the first time, positioning it near the US-Coalition base at At Tanf. HIMARS, a truck-mounted system which can fire missiles as far as 300 kilometers, represents a major boost to US combat power near At Tanf.
However, as the week drew to a close, there was no US-Coalition movement for curtailing the enhanced ability of the Syrian regime and its Iranian allies to capture one-fifth of the Syrian Desert, which straddles the Syrian-Iraqi border. Those forces had circled around – without engaging in a single battle with – the US force and Syrian rebels stationed at Al Tanf.
Damascus and Tehran found a silent partner for their major strategic breakthrough in Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi. He allowed the PMU, which was integrated in the Iraqi national army last year, to move out of southern Iraq and head to the Syrian border for its role in Soleimani’s exercise. He even provided the militia with Iraqi air force cover, as he did for the first pro-Iranian force which breached the Syrian border earlier at a point north of Al-Boudah.
As a result of this debacle, the mechanism set up by the US and Russia for a cooperative effort to carve out security zones in Syria collapsed. Furthermore, Israel and Jordan realized that the Trump administration was in no position to follow through on its undertakings to support their security interests, and the accords they reached with the Russians were to be trusted even less.

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