Saudi Arabia Warns of Continuation of Assad Regime’s Brutal Crimes

Saudi

Geneva – Saudi Arabia stressed that the suffering of the Syrian people is continuing because of the Assad regime’s brutal crimes and violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

The kingdom stressed that the “international community should take all necessary measures to halt these massacres.”

The Kingdom’s stance was voiced in a speech delivered on Monday by Riyadh’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva Dr. Abdullah al-Wasel at a debate held by the International Committee on Investigations in Syria, an affiliate of the International Human Rights Council.

Wasel gave an account on the latest string of violations, citing the use of Sarin and Chlorine gases in opposition-held areas, killing and injuring diozens of innocents, most of them children and women.

He expressed the Kingdom’s sorrow to see that most victims were innocent civilians, according to a report issued by the international committee investigating the armed conflict in Syria.

Wasel called for creating the supportive environment for the political process, under the patronage of the United Nations, to reach a comprehensive agreement based on Geneva principles and UN Security Council resolution No. 2254 to achieve the aspirations of the Syrian people in building a new future for their country.

Idlib Truce Dominates Astana Talks

Moscow, Beirut- The Syrian regime and opposition delegations held on Thursday bilateral meetings in Astana with representatives of the de-escalation zones sponsors and United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.

The sixth round of talks is expected to lead to an agreement on a safe zone in rebel-held Idlib province that is located in northern Syria.

Turkey will present on Friday its proposal on the de-escalation zone in Idlib, opposition sources said. Yasser Farhan, head of legal committee in the delegation, told Asharq Al-Awsat that there are still disagreements between the opposition on one side and the regime and backers on the other side.

He reiterated the opposition’s request in implementing a ceasefire in all regions, releasing detainees and preparing adequate conditions for the success of the Geneva negotiations.

Reliable sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that differences mainly lie on the issue of detainees and the force that will be sent to police the zone covering Idlib. The opposition rejects the participation of Turkey, Russia and Iran in the force, especially Tehran, which it sees as a main party in the crimes committed in Syria.

The opposition met on Thursday David Satterfield, the US acting assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, and representatives of France, UK, Turkey as well as de Mistura and his team.

Participating sources stated that Washington’s representative affirmed that the Syrian regime can’t achieve victory unless provided with an international cover, which is unlikely to happen. Representatives of France and UK also expressed their rejection to any role for Assad in the future of Syria.

Russia’s Ambassador to Syria Alexander Kinshchak hoped that the Astana meeting be conclusive on the establishment of de-escalation zones in Syria.

Putin Depends on Analysis, Not Hope

Putin

The United States now aims to reduce Iranian influence in the Levant (Sham)- wrote former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford in an exclusive column to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat. American media reports still say that Washington hopes Russia will compel Iran to evacuate its forces from Syria. One informed American journalist said this was an important part of the strategy the Americans explained to an Israeli military/intelligence delegation visiting Washington August 17.

Israeli Prime Minister Natanyahu took a military/intelligence delegation on August 23 to see Putin in Russia to convince Russia to use its influence to push Iranian forces out of Syria eventually. Natanyahu even threatened to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s palace if Iranian forces stay in Syria.

Moscow answered directly. On August 30 Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who is not famous for being subtle, told reporters that Israel should not attack Iranian forces in Syria. He also said that cooperation between Iran and Syria that does not violate international law is not subject to question

To make Russian policy extremely clear, the Russian ambassador in Tel Aviv on August 23 told Israeli television that while Russia would like all foreign forces out of Syria, including Iranian forces, but the priority “at this stage” is to support the Syrian Government and fight terrorists. The Russian ambassador to the United Nations on August 23 also said that Iran plays a “constructive role” in Syria.

Iran’s “constructive role,” in addition to helping Assad, is helping Russia reduce American influence in Syria and the Middle East. For seventy years Russia has resented the American encirclement of Russia with bases and alliances. Helping Washington reduce Iranian influence now is not consistent with the true Russian goal which is about decreasing American influence in the region.

Russia has a new airbase in Syria near Homs and an expanded naval base in Tartous. It has long-term agreements with Damascus to keep these bases. Moscow speaks with more authority about Syria, Libya and even perhaps mediation in the Gulf. Iranian-mobilized militias fighting for Assad indirectly helped Russia achieve this strategic advance.

Russia would have to risk its interests to confront Iran in Syria. Russia and Iran both compete and cooperate in regions like the Caucuses and Central Asia. What does it gain to increase Iranian hostility in those regions? And Russia is beginning to profit commercially from Iran. It has deals to build nuclear plants in Bushehr and develop an Iranian gasfield; it sells arms like missiles and helicopters to Iran and equipment for infrastructure such as railroads. Trade between Russia and Iran increased to almost $2 billion in 2016.

Russia will not, therefore, just turn around and confront Iran because Washington and Tel Aviv make a request without any sweet compensation. Lavrov on August 30 said that Russia sees no intention in the region to attack Israel now; for Russia, there is space to accommodate Iran in Syria. The Russians have sent a few military police to southwestern Syria to ensure respect for the ceasefire there and to keep “non-Syrian” fighters away from the Israeli and Jordanian borders. In July the Russians, Americans and Jordanians agreed in principle that non-Syrian forces should stay 20 miles back from the Jordanian border. In August, the Russians changed and suggested instead 10 miles, and in some locations only about 5 miles.

Now the Israelis, Americans and Jordanians hope that Russia will honor its word about compelling Iran to respect even the smaller separation distance and avoid the Syrian opposition-controlled zones. The small opposition-controlled zones, however, pose a dangerous question to Damascus: how can Baathist rule be one hundred percent legitimate if some freely elected councils manage local affairs and ignore Damascus? Assad and Iranian general Qassim Suleimani know how to wait patiently for tactical advantage.

The Russians have said that their military police are not fighting units so what will they do when Syrian and Iranian forces drive past them to attack the opposition towns in the southwestern “de-escalation zone”? Unless Russia’s air forces attack the Syrian and Iranian forces it cannot stop them.

It is important to note that Russia has never done this in the “de-escalation zone” violations in Aleppo in 2016 and in eastern Ghouta and northern Homs in 2017. It is especially important to remember that Russia always defends the principle that sovereign governments legally may take any military action inside their own borders.

Assad and Suleimani may ruin the Russian plan for decentralization and a fast peace deal in Syria. But when Putin faces the Iranian damage to this Russian plan for Syria, he will be thinking not just about Quneitra and Daraa and Ain Terma or local councils or international law, but also about Russian business and factories and workers, and Azerbaijan and Tajikistan and Kyrgzstan and also the constant rivalry with America. Putin will be analyzing, not hoping.

Nasrallah: I Met Assad over ISIS Evacuation to Syria

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters during a religious procession to mark Ashura in Beirut's suburbs

Beirut- Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on Thursday he had traveled to Damascus to meet head of Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad to request the evacuation of ISIS militants from their enclave on the Syrian-Lebanese borders.

“I personally met with President Bashar al-Assad… I went to him in Damascus,” Nasrallah said in a speech in Baalbek addressed to hundreds of his supporters, whom he urged to celebrate what he called the “Second Liberation.”

The evacuation convoy left the border area late on Monday to take about 600 ISIS militants and their family members to a territory the group controls in eastern Syria.

In his speech on the battle of Arsal, in which the party fought against Al-Nusra Front,the Hezbollah leader outlined some details of the deal that led to the deportation of ISIS militants.

“The time of defeats has ended… thanks to the equation of the homeland, the people and the resistance,” he stated.

Nasrallah stressed that Lebanon’s eastern borders were now under the control of the Lebanese Army, warning that any sanctions against the party and its supporters would be reflected on the Lebanese economy, calling for facing international pressure in the spirit of cooperation.

“Terrorism has taken control of our northern and eastern borders, and the army has prevented the transformation of the northern border and its villages into a haven for terrorists,” he said.

“On the eastern border, the terrorists took control, and their threat was stronger on Lebanon, as they sought to establish an emirate extending from the north to the sea. The Lebanese disagreed on this, despite the clarity of the enemy,” he continued.

“The Lebanese had three choices: either not to intervene, or to be positive, in the sense of facilitating their [ISIS] expansion. The third option was confrontation, which was supported by the majority of people, including Hezbollah,” Nasrallah said.

Prospects and Challenges of Russian-Iranian Cooperation in Syria

Associate at the Russia and Eurasia programme of Chatham House and senior lecturer at the European University at St.Petersburg

Russian military engagement in the Syrian conflict had the direct impact on Moscow’s relations with the Middle Eastern countries. The main interest of political analysts is drawn to the development of the interaction between Tehran and Moscow in Syria. Officially, the Iranian authorities supported Putin’s decision to deploy Russian air forces at the Khmeimim airbase. The majority of the Iranian politicians praised Moscow efforts aimed at the support of the Syrian regime whereas the main media outlets of the Islamic Republic covered the activities of the Russian army in Syria completely in the line with the Russian propaganda approaches. Nevertheless, the international expert community is far from being unanimous regarding the nature of the Russian-Iranian dialogue on Syria. Some experts believe that the rift in Russian-Iranian dialogue is inevitable.

Indeed, the hidden discussion on the necessity to cooperate with Russia in Syria exists in Iran. Moreover, there are even some Iranian policymakers and analysts who cautiously question the rationale behind Tehran’s military involvement in Syria itself. Nevertheless, these questions are raised within a certain (not very large) group of the Iranian political elite without reaching the national level of discussion. Moreover, these intra-Iranian debates have little chances to bring changes in the diplomatic course of the country without the blessing of the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, who takes final decisions on all sensitive political questions. And, during his meeting with Putin in November 2015, Khamenei gave the green light for the Iranian cooperation with Russia on Syria.

The Supreme Leader’s decision was largely supported by the moderate conservatives who dominate the political life of the country. Thus, immediately after Putin’s trip to Tehran the advisor on the international affairs to the Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayati (who is deeply involved in the Iranian diplomacy on Syria) formulated the official point of view on Russian-Iranian cooperation that became widely accepted in the Iranian political establishment. He argued that the Iranian authorities are determined to have “continuous and long-lasting cooperation with Russia” on Syria. The geostrategic factor seriously favored for strengthening the Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria. For Tehran, the beginning of the Moscow’s military involvement in the Syrian affairs finally gave the Iranian authorities what they had been looking for the last decade: a solid political and military base for the development of bilateral relations.

The need to develop active cooperation between the two countries in Syria is also determined by the situation on the battleground. Iran was the first to supply the Syrian regime with arms, financial means and “volunteers” while Russia initially tried to limit its involvement into the crisis by the diplomatic support provided to Assad. Yet, by 2015, Iranian resources were substantially exhausted. Moreover, it became obvious that these resources were not enough to save Assad. By that moment, Tehran was also deeply involved not only in the Syrian war but in the Iraqi and Yemeni conflicts. Consequently, the Iranian government was compelled to juggle its limited human and material resources between these three countries. The beginning of the Russian direct military involvement in Syria considerably eased the burden lying on Iran’s shoulders by radically changing the balance of power in favor of Damascus.

Both Russia and Iran are extremely interested in saving the government institutions in Syria. Yet, each of the sides had its own motifs for this. Russia was largely driven by its security concerns, confrontation with the West and Putin’s plans to reestablish Russia as an influential world power. For Tehran, its struggle for Syria is believed to be a part of the greater strategy designed by the Supreme Leader and his team whose final goal is to secure the right of the Islamic republic to the regional supremacy. The Iranian conservatives even formulated the concept of the “chain of defense” that comprise of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. According to this theory, each of these countries represents the “front line” of the Iranian defenses against the international and regional opponents of the Islamic republic that strive to undermine its influence in the Middle East. Consequently the weakening of the Iranian presence in any of these four states can have global negative consequences for Tehran’s geostrategic plans. Such vision of Syria inevitably makes the survival of the pro-Iranian Assad regime an existential issue for Tehran and, thus, puts the Islamic republic together with Russia in the camp of international forces interested in the survival of the Syrian state.

Yet, both Russia and Iran are very pragmatic about their cooperation in Syria. This also helps their dialogue. Neither Moscow not Tehran has any illusions about the ultimate goals of its partner and how different they are. This was openly stated by Khamenei’s advisor Ali Velayati in 2015. When characterizing the level of cooperation between Russia and Iran in Syria he argued that “each country pursues its own benefits [by supporting Assad], [but] Russia cannot protect its interests in the Middle East and the region alone”. In other words, Russia and Iran came to an understanding that in order to secure their interests in Syria they need to cooperate. Consequently, Moscow and Tehran formed a marriage of convenience where each partner tries to reach its own goals with the help of the other.

And, yet, it is too early to speak about the emergence of the full fledged Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria. So far, military coordination between the two countries has been patchy. Neither is in a hurry to create joint command structures. Their coordination is occasional, and in most cases, the sides simply prefer to take parallel paths to the same destination. The current format of the Russian-Iranian cooperation in Syria based on the principle of the marriage of convenience also prevents the dialogue between the two countries from evolving into the strategic alliance. In order to achieve the current primary goal – to save the Syrian government from falling – the countries agreed to temporary ignore the differences in their approaches towards the settlement of those issues that, at present, are of the secondary importance. However, this only means that the discussion of these questions (such as the future of Assad or Iran’s plans to use the territory of Syria to continue supporting the Hizbollah in Lebanon) is just temporary postponed.

Finally, not the last role in limiting the capacities of the Russian-Iranian dialogue on Syria is played by the factor of the third countries. Russia carefully watches that its cooperation on Syria would not harm the development of their relations with other regional powers. Thus, by allying with Tehran, Moscow would most likely harm relations with its ‘silent partner’ in the Middle East – Israel – whose position on the annexation of Crimea, on Western sanctions against Russia and on Russian air forces in Syria corresponds to Russian interests.

What’s next?

Russia and Iran will remain interested in cooperation on Syria. Yet, it is still difficult to see this relations transforming into a full-fledged alliance. Although the drivers that bring Moscow and Tehran together are strong, the destiny of Russian-Iranian “marriage of convenience” depends on a number of factors. All in all, Russia and Iran were forced to become partners in Syria under the influence of existing circumstances. Consequently, their interaction is limited. Given the differences in motives of Russian and Iranian involvement in the Syrian quagmire and concerns existing both in Tehran and Moscow that the forming of a full-fledged alliance can harm their relations with third countries, it is possible to conclude that Russian-Iranian dialogue has already reach the maximum of its potential.

Syrian Opposition Discusses in Riyadh Assad’s Fate

Beirut, Riyadh- A series of rescheduled meetings among the Syrian warring parties launched on Monday.

The meetings were postponed as the Russian-sponsored representatives failed to arrive on time to the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

The tripartite bringing together the Syrian High Negotiations Committee, the Cairo-backed delegation and representatives supported by Moscow will tackle the Syrian crisis, especially the future of Syrian regime head Bashar al Assad.

After producing a uniform Syrian opposition delegation, the group will then participate at the upcoming Geneva talks.

Syrian opposition sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that a compromise may be proposed, which is that Assad will remain in power for a period of six months before holding presidential elections.

In context, the HNC spokesman Salem al-Musalla said that the meetings will end by naming opposition representatives that would be sent to the Geneva negotiations.

“Until now, the dispute between us and Moscow-backed platform over the fate of Assad is still unresolved, but we are counting on a change in the Russian position,” opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Moscow-backed delegation had before refused to partake in the Riyadh meetings, but later changed its objections. A change in Russia’s stance is believed to be the reason behind the delegation.

The HNC refused for Assad to remain in power even if for a transitional phase. More so, Cairo expressed its objection to Assad or the regime playing any part in Syria’s future.

On the other hand, Qadri Jamil, heading the Moscow-backed delegation suggested keeping Assad in power and appointing five deputies. The proposal found no approval among opposition forces.

Salim al-Musallat, in a statement to Asharq Al-Awsat, reaffirmed that the HNC rejects Assad or the old regime playing any part in Syria’s future, or the transitional period.

Musallat says that the difference among opposition representatives is over the timing of Assad’s departure, whether it would take place at the beginning or at the end of the interim government.

On the other hand, Al-Aridi said that the HNC is acting responsibly and opening the door to all other parties in order to bring views closer and form a single delegation while safeguarding principles of the revolution and persistence.

Russia Tries to Change Narrative On Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press)

“Going forward” This is the phrase that the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have both used in connection with the Syrian conflict now well into its seventh year.

In his 126-minutes long meeting with Donald Trump in Hamburg last Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Washington and Moscow “work together” to arrive at a common analysis of the Syrian crisis and the ways to end it.

But what does moving forward mean?

The first step, according to Lavrov, is the installation and consolidation of a ceasefire in a portion of southern Syria. However, such a scheme can hardly be regarded as “moving forward” if only because in the past two years more than 30 local ceasefires have been negotiated and, at times, broken, in various parts of the war-torn country. The core of the Syrian problem is a stalemate at political level, not the reconfiguration of local battlefields.

“The Trump-Putin meeting set up a robust and comprehensive framework for cooperation on Syria and solving other regional issues,” says Maria Dubovskova who heads the Middle East Studies Club in Moscow.

“But this requires regional cooperation and coordination from concerned parties, Turkey and Saudi Arabia particularly.”

Interestingly, she makes no mention of Iran, which implies that the “framework” offered by Putin to Trump was a quiet marginalization of the Islamic Republic, something that is supposed to make the Americans rise to the bait.

The reference to “other regional issues” is also interesting because it is designed to banalize the Syrian conflict as one of while claiming a role for Russia in other fields where she is not part of the game.

“Putin is trying to put the whole issue on a different trajectory,” says Tim Connell a researcher on Mideast for several oil companies.

“He wants to narrow down the whole thing to one of local ceasefires and, perhaps later, the creation of the so-called ‘de-escalation’ zones. The French call this the tactic of drowning the fish.”

All this means that the root-cause of the conflict, the rejection of the Assad dictatorship by a significant, if not an overwhelming majority of Syrians, is pushed aside.

In that connection, Moscow is harping on two themes. The first is that the major powers should prevent a systemic collapse that would turn Syria into another failed state in a non-governed territory.

However, that is precisely what has already happened. President Bashar al-Assad’s administration has ceased to exist as a functioning government. The recent 5-hour long incursion by Assad into Homs and Hama with an equally brief sortie in Lattakia had the opposite effect by highlighting the limits of his presence.

In any case, none of the major opposition groups and powers involved in Syria seeks the destruction of the country’s bureaucracy and armed forces. All they demand is that a small clique which has usurped power for decades be pushed aside to make way for a transition towards a truly representative government.

In fact, a scheme, secretly negotiated through track-2 diplomacy in 2013 envisaged the installation of a transition government under one of Assad’s vice presidents in the context of a broader strategy aimed at forging a new constriction and electing a new government.

Variations on the same scheme provided the backbone of efforts by three successive UN special representatives and the framework for the so-called Geneva Accords. The scheme had a slim chance of success at a time that Russia had not become heavily involved while a good chunk of Assad’s entourage were ready to make deals in exchange for retaining a share of power.

According to a senior Lebanese politician involved in the Track-2 talks, the scheme hit a wall when President Barak Obama, for reasons still unknown, sidelined his own top advisers and declared his notorious “ Assad must go!” slogan accompanied by his equally curious “red lines”.

In other words a credible framework that would prevent systemic collapse in Syria already exists.

Rather than “moving forward” away from it, perhaps we need to move backwards to revive it.

Lavrorv’s claim that the “Assad must go” demand is the chief cause of the deadly impasse is disingenuous to say the least.

The claim has been echoed by France’s new President Emmanuel Macron who seems to have bought into part of the Russian narrative after two meetings with Putin.

“If he says that Assad must stay in the negotiations until an alternative is found, this is what the Geneva Accords have already proposed,” says Michel Kilo, a leading Syrian intellectual in exile in Paris. “Assad will go after that alternative is constituted.”

Thus, the problem is not the opposition’s “Assad must go” demand but Russia and Iran’s irrational “Assad must never go” litany.

“The Syrian crisis is about only one thing,” says Nasser Zamani, an Iranian researcher on Mideast.

“It is this: how does Syria close the chapter of the Assad dynasty and enter into a new era? Unless that question is answered the blood-letting shall continue.”

For the time being, however, Moscow appears determined to divert attention from that core issue.

At the Hamburg meeting, Putin even evoked “cooperation” in rebuilding Syria, presumably with Assad still cantoned in his enclave in Damascus.

Another claim spread by Moscow and Iran is that, at the moment, there is no alternative to Assad.

That claim has also been echoed by Macron who seems to have ignored his experience of giving France an alternative government almost out of nothing in just one year.

Kilo believes that the alternative to Assad could and should come out of the Syrian civil society. A transition authority would lead Syria towards democracy.

“There are hundreds of thousands of Syrians abroad,” in this diaspora there are professors, researchers, academics who are all over the world. They could provide the framework to enable Syria to rebuild itself and, perhaps, in time, even lead the Arab world towards progress. But that, once again, means that Assad should go.”

In any case, the major democracies have already granted de facto recognition to the Syrian High Committee for Negotiations as a legitimate voice of the Syrian people.

In an interview with the French weekly Obs, Kilo also argues that even if there is no alternative to Assad he must go because he is a “criminal.”

“Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin didn’t have alternatives,” Kilo says. However, they had to be stopped.”

A leader should be judged by the links he has with his own people. However, Assad has lost that link.

According to analysts, the various “diplomatic initiatives” launched by Russia, including meetings in Astana, Kazakhstan and Geneva are unlikely to provide a way to end the conflict as long as Assad’s fate is not put at top of the agenda.

US, Russia Reach Ceasefire Deal for Southwest Syria

The United States and Russia have reached a ceasefire deal in southwestern Syria, one of the combat zones in a six-year-old civil war, despite continued differences on the fate of Bashar Assad.

US Secretary of State Rex Tilerson said it showed the United States and Russia were able to work together in Syria and that they would continue to do so.

“We had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence, once we defeat ISIS,” he said.

Tillerson said they would also “work together towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people”.

But said that by and large the objectives of the United States and Russia in Syria “are exactly the same.”

But Washington and Moscow have long been at odds over Syria. The United States has often called for the removal of Assad.

Jordan’s Petra news agency said the ceasefire would go into effect as of Sunday.

Tillerson has said the United States was prepared to discuss joint efforts with Russia to stabilize Syria, including no-fly zones, ceasefire observers and coordinated deliveries of humanitarian assistance.

Tillerson was present at a meeting in Hamburg between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The United States and Russia held secret talks on creating a “de-escalation zone” in southern Syria, Western diplomats and regional officials said in early June.

The proposed zone was in Daraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, they said.

Syrian forces in recent months escalated their strikes in the southwestern city of Daraa in a campaign to reach the border with Jordan and wrest full control of the city.

They said on Monday they would suspend combat operations in southern Syria, but rebels said the military had violated the ceasefire by striking areas under their control.

Separately, Russia, Turkey and Iran failed in talks on Wednesday to finalize an agreement on creating four de-escalation zones in Syria after Ankara raised objections.

The failure was seen as a setback for Moscow, the main architect of the plan, as it seeks to take the lead in global efforts to settle the Syrian war. The United States is only an observer in the so-called Astana process.

Israeli Major-General: Syrian War Delays Conflict with ‘Hezbollah’

Israel

Jerusalem- Israel would use all its strength from the start in any new war with the Lebanese “Hezbollah”, chief of the Israeli air force Major-General Amir Eshel said on Wednesday, sending a firm warning a decade after their last conflict.

He noted that the Syrian war is delaying the conflict with “Hezbollah”.

At the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv, Eshel said qualitative and quantitative improvements in the air force since the 2006 Lebanon war meant it could carry out in just two or three days the same number of bombings it mounted in those 34 days of fighting.

“If war breaks out in the north, we have to open with all our strength from the start,” he said, pointing to the likelihood of international pressure for a quick ceasefire before Israel can achieve all its strategic goals.

Israeli politicians and generals have spoken often of an intention to hit hard in Lebanon if war breaks out, in an apparent bid to deter Hezbollah. Eshel said in 2014 that another conflict could see Israeli attacks 15 times more devastating for Lebanon than in 2006.

But at the conference, Eshel noted that “many elements busy achieving their goals” in Syria’s civil war were interested in preventing any fresh hostilities in Lebanon, where Israel says Hezbollah has built up an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets.

Since early in the six-year-old Syria war, Hezbollah’s energies have been focused on propping up regime president Bashar al-Assad in alliance with Iran and Russia, throwing thousands of its fighters into battle against Syrian rebels.

Assad Allies Threaten to Hit US Forces in Syria

Beirut- Allies of Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad and Iran on Wednesday released vociferous statements, threatening to target US military bases in Syria.

The anger comes following an attack staged by US forces against pro-regime fighters near the Tanf border crossing in southeastern Syria.

The statement from the “allies of Syria” said attacks on US forces could be carried out with “different missile and military systems, in the light of the deployment of American forces in the region”.

The threats mark an escalation of tensions between the US and the Syrian regime and its backers over control of Syria’s southeastern frontier with Iraq, where Washington has been training Syrian rebels at a base inside Syrian territory as part of its campaign against the terror group ISIS.

It said that the silence of “the allies of Syria” thus far was “an exercise in self-restraint” to allow for “other solutions”.

“This will not last if America goes further, and crosses the red lines,” it added.

In an apparent message to show the capabilities of Damascus-backer Iran, Hezbollah aired what it said was footage taken undetected by an Iranian unmanned aircraft of a US drone flying over southeastern Syria.

The area is seen as crucial to Assad’s Iranian allies and could open an overland supply route from Tehran to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon – the “Shi’ite crescent” of Iranian influence that is a major concern to US-allies in the region.

Battlefield developments taking place in the Yarmouk area, situated in rural western Daraa region, showed that international efforts are completely invested in dislodging extremists and ISIS terrorists based in southern Syria and clear their presence near the Jordanian border.

A statement published by ISIS revealed that warplanes of the US-led international coalition bombarded the ISIS headquarters in Yarmouk, killing four elite leaders and 12 other members.

Furthermore, information indicated that the coalition air strikes targeted the building of the group’s self-styled legal court, located in al-Shagara town, west of Daraa city.