Iran, Syria, Hizballah Battle to Kill Two New Security Zones Plans

Two new security and ceasefire zone plans are afloat over Syria, proposed by Russia and the US to stem the warfare now its sixth year, while a third entity is fighting to stall both.
One of those plans, the Houran Document, is of unacknowledged parentage, but its content betrays experimental feelers by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel.
The second plan was openly fathered by Moscow.
On Monday, May 1, during a preparatory session of the Astana peace summit in Ankara, Russia presented all 15 opposition groups, including the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, with a paper proposing four “de-escalation” or “reduced tensions” zones in Syria. It was combined with a recommendation to create a joint working group – which too would represent rebel groups – to prepare an war plan for driving the Islamic State and the Nusra Front out of those zones.
This document was leaked before its presentation at the fourth round of the Astana conference which opened Tuesday in the Kazakh capital.
The Russian proposal aims to de-escalate the violence between the Syrian rebel groups and Bashar Assad’s regime, by drawing “safety lines along all the borders” of these “reduced tension zones” and appointing officers of the “guarantor countries” to monitor the cessation of hostilities.
The zones proposed are in Idlib in the northwest up to the Turkish border; Homs in central Syria (including the Al-Sharyat airbase attacked by US Tomahawks); the East Ghouta suburb of Damascus (where the military airfield is located); and the entire South up to the Syrian borders with Jordan and Israel.
The Hourani and the Russian documents have one factor in common: Both were rejected out of hand by Damascus and Tehran.
The Houran Document had, moreover, the deleterious effect of triggering a new joint offensive by Syria, Hizballah and Shiite militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers for a pre-emptive grab of the Syrian borderlands abutting on Jordan and Israel.
Their targeted area ranges from the town of Daraa up to the trilateral border junction and their destination is Quneitra on Israel’s Golan border.
This joint force has been on the move for some days, advancing on two axes:
1. The eastern route from Daraa has brought them up to Inkhil, which lies 30km southeast of Quneitra. To remove obstacles in their path, their officers have been negotiating a deal for the local militias to lay down their arms and grant them right of passage.
2. The segment following the northwestern route through the Syrian Hermon and the village of Hader has come as far as Naba al-Fawwar, which is 13km from Quneitra. They are negotiating the same deal with resident militias.
DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources report that this force was sent on its way after Al Qods chief Gen. Qassem Soleimani, supreme commander of Iranian forces in the Middle East, for the goal of killing the Houran Document before it is born.
He explained to his bosses in Tehran that its underlying purpose was to shut off southern Syria as a “security zone” and place it under the rule of Syrian rebel groups aligned with Israeli intelligence, under US, Jordanian and Israeli air cover.
That zone would be awarded similar status to the autonomy the Americans were planning to extend to the Kurdish enclaves in northeastern Syria, Soleimani said. Eventually, after the Americans and Kurds moved southeast and extinguished the ISIS presence, the two pro-American enclaves would link up and form a barrier down the full length of the Syrian-Iraqi border.
That barrier would bury Iran’s hopes of coming out of the Syrian war with a land bridge to Damascus and the Mediterranean via Iraq.
The triple Syrian-Hizballah-Iranian force’s push towards Golan is designed to pre-empt this plan – while also planting a presence on the Israeli border.
The Assad regime’s stake in this effort was laid out under the heading “The assault plan in South Syria won’t pass” by its mouthpiece the Al-Watan daily on April 25.
Damascus was determined to defeat the scheme for, “… breaking the Syrian south away from the nation in order to establish an Israeli security belt there under different headlines; … now that Jordan’s role has been revealed under this vicious plan that is supposed to be implemented through an Israeli, Jordanian, terrorist partnership and an American leadership, through the use of the Military Operations Command room in Jordan…“
As for Moscow’s role in this move, our military sources report that the Russian air force has held its fire after conducting a single supportive strike at the start of the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah offensive: SU-35 bombers struck Syrian rebels pouring in from Jordan and taking over parts of Daraa.
Since then, the Russians have stayed out of it, in respect of their own interests and plans. The three forces moving on Quneitra would only disrupt Moscow’s ceasefire zones program while there is still hope of bringing it to fruition.
That was certainly a central theme of Vladimir Putin’s phone conversation with Donald Trump Tuesday, May 2. He clearly sees cooperation with the US as a way of advancing his plan in one form or another. “A ceasefire is the first priority and cooperation with Washington is critical,” The Russian president said after the conversation.
However, the next day, our sources learned that the conversation ended without agreement, due to the Iranian stumbling block. Putin proposed adding Iran to the guarantor countries monitoring the “de-escalation zones’ in the face of Trump’s persistent demand for Iran’s removal from Syria, along with its proxies. The Russian leader’s new plan for Syria was seen in Washington and Jerusalem as a ploy to gain Iran’s presence through the back door.
The question now is how critical is cooperation with Washington for Putin when it comes to the crunch.
Until now, Putin had two compelling reasons for withholding air support from his allies:: a) He decided not to annoy Washington and therefore ordered his military to keep its distance from areas in which the Trump administration claims influence and an interest in Syria. The South is one of those areas. b) He has no wish to strain ties with Saudi Arabia, Israel or Jordan at this point in the Syrian crisis.

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