Syrian regime hopes to advance to al-Tanf area at the Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi borders, where US-allied forces have been training Syrian militias, Al Monitor said on Monday.
In recent months, the area of the so-called Syrian-Jordanian-Iraqi triangle has seen fighting, negotiations, armistice, the breakup of old coalitions and the propping up of new ones.
Over the past few weeks, the Russian media have given this area much attention, mainly due to repeated statements by Syrian authorities that an invasion of the southern regions of Syria in Daraa province is being prepared from Jordanian territory as part of a US-devised plan and that Damascus will regard this as an act of aggression .
In Russia, some hard-line observers have been interpreting this development primarily through the lens of seeing Western conspiracies and the need for a more robust support of President Bashar al-Assad. One trigger was the seventh annual Eager Lion military exercises, which took place May 7-18 in Jordan with the support of the US Army and involved 20 countries. A second trigger was a Lebanese newspaper report about the scale of a future “occupation” under which the “aggressors” would allegedly move to the Syrian city of al-Bukamal (near Qaim, Iraq) as well as occupy Daraa and Quneitra to include them in the Jordanian zone of influence and, if lucky, Suwayda, with Druze enclaves.
The scale of this alleged occupation plan would exceed that of the Turkey-led Operation Euphrates Shield. Amman eventually denied the rumors of any invasion.
Damascus' statements seem to have a strong propaganda element. Syria's overall purpose seems to be to neutralize opposition successes in the fight against ISIS in eastern Qalamoun and to launch an offensive in the west in Deir ez-Zor (on the Euphrates between al-Bukamal and Raqqa) using army forces, the National Defense Forces (NDF) and Shiite militia to split the rebels in both eastern Qalamoun and around the Jordanian border. The regime hopes to advance to al-Tanf area, where US-allied forces have been training Syrian militias. Al-Tanf is on the Iraqi border, not far from Jordan .
The fact is that for all intents and purposes, British, Americans and Jordanians troops into Syria (both to the north and to the south) took place a long time ago. At al-Tanf, coalition instructors and units of the special operations forces are acting together with the opposition and formed a buffer zone about 10-15 kilometers deep into Syrian territory, near the border with Jordan where American and British special forces are operating.
Damascus used the idea of the existence of the forces of the Western coalition in Jordan and presented drone-taken pictures in which regime armored vehicles were shown 43 miles from the Syrian border in a move separating the opposition in eastern Qalamoun and al-Tanf region and advancing toward Deir ez-Zor along the Damascus-Baghdad highway.
Pro-government media promote this action by saying that the Syrians need to develop trade relations with Iraq. However, it is difficult to imagine that any trade relations are possible in the medium term when ISIS militants constantly organize attacks all over Iraq, including Anbar province, on the other side of the border from al-Tanf. There also is a rebel grouping in al-Tanf area that operates in conjunction with the US and British special forces, as well as the large, 75,000-strong al-Rukban refugee camp in northeastern Jordan near the borders with Iraq and Syria.
In addition, an airfield may be operational soon in the Jordanian province of Mafraq, near the Syrian border, apparently for the operation of American or Jordanian helicopters that would support opposition activities in Deir ez-Zor province .
It is clear that Syrian forces are unlikely to give away control over such a critical neighborhood at the junction of Jordan and Iraq. Yet advancing toward al-Bukamal with a stretched-out group of forces that can easily be attacked by either opposition rebels or IS fighters makes it very difficult .
Pro-government formations will likely try to unite with those in Palmyra, and, accordingly, conduct operations against the opposition in eastern Qalamoun. While this would violate the truce, the regime forces will have an excuse, since this opposition enclave was not technically included from the very beginning in the “security zones” of the memorandum signed in Astana, Kazakhstan.
In this case, Damascus and Iran could once again resort to calling the insurgents “al-Qaeda-associated terrorists.” At the same time, creating a “Shiite corridor” from Syria to Iraq might not only derail US-Russia talks but also trigger a counter-response from the Gulf states.