At the end of 2017, millions around the world celebrated the near defeat of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) by the Syrian Arab Army and its allies as heralding the end of the genocidal U.S.-led war against Syria. It certainly was a turning point in the war, but many feared that the imperialist powers and their allies couldn’t afford to lose the linchpin of their strategy to destabilize West Asia.
At that time obvious dangers still remained, including thousands of U.S. soldiers occupying parts of Syria, a Turkish presence in northern Aleppo, pockets of other contra groups, and ceaseless Israeli aggression. Developments in 2018 have proved these fears well founded, with a new shift, imposed by escalations on the part of the imperialists, taking place.
On Jan. 19 Turkey announced Operation Olive Branch, expanding its invasion of Syria from northern Aleppo into Afrin using mercenaries and contras backed by auxiliary support from the Turkish army and airforce. Turkey’s stated goal is to destroy the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who they claim pose an existential threat to Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Olive Branch may encompass all of northern Syria. “From Manbij, we will continue our struggle up to the border with Iraq, until no terrorist is left.” (trtworld.com, Jan. 26)
Many analysts insist that this brings Turkey into direct conflict with its NATO ally the United States. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the U.S. didn’t coordinate this aggression with Turkey, and the U.S. has done nothing to put real pressure on Turkey. It appears the U.S. was simply using the SDF to keep former Daesh land out of Syrian hands. Now that Daesh is marginalized and the rest of the contra groups are on the ropes, the U.S. is handing the SDF over to Turkey so that more contras can flood into Syria.
Turkey was a primary supporter of Daesh and likely still fulfills that role. Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad rejected the concept that Turkey’s role has changed in an official statement. “The brutal Turkish aggression on the Syrian town of Afrin cannot be separated from the Turkish regime’s policy from the first day of Syria’s crisis, which was essentially built on supporting terrorism and terrorist organizations, whatever their names.” (presstv.com, Jan. 21)
Where the oil is
U.S.-led coalition jets bombed pro-government forces near Deir ez-Zor in Eastern Syria on Feb. 7. Reports vary widely on the number of casualties, from a few dozen to hundreds. Corporate media openly bragged about claims that Russian private military contractors were killed in this attack, but according to Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova it was not hundreds but just five Russian nationals. (24-my.info, Feb. 15)
The U.S. was quick to blame Russia and Syria for deaths caused by the bombardment, claiming that the SDF was being attacked and the U.S. was acting in self-defense. (cnn.com, Feb. 8) Even if the SDF were under direct threat by Syrian forces, the U.S. has no right to strike Syrian soldiers. In fact, according to international law the U.S. has no right to be in Syria. Suspiciously this attack occurred in the same region where U.S. airstrikes on the besieged Syrian Arab Army killed over 100 soldiers and laid the basis for a Daesh offensive in 2016, which exposed the U.S. role as the de facto airforce of Daesh. (foxnews.com, Sept. 17, 2016)
The attack by coalition jets on Feb. 7 near Deir ez-Zor marks the most serious direct aggression against Syria by the U.S. since Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched at Syrian airfields last April. In this most recent aggression, the U.S. used the SDF, which it is allowing Turkey to attack in Afrin, as a hollow pretext for the massacre.
This part of Syria holds most of its oil resources. The Pentagon’s willingness to maintain an aggressive occupation of this area exposes part of the reason the U.S. is in Syria in the first place. The Russian Foreign Ministry, often reluctant to level accusations, could not help but point this out in the aftermath of the airstrikes. “The true aim of the illegal presence of American forces on Syrian territory is not the fight against the Islamic State,” but the “capture and retention of economic assets.” (nytimes.com, Feb. 8)
Israeli jet shot down
In a completely unprecedented move, Syria shot down an Israeli military jet targeting its territory on Feb. 7. Israel has violated Syrian airspace throughout the entire war, bombing wherever it pleases without military retaliation. It has also directly supported contra groups from the occupied Golan Heights in southern Syria. This is the first time Syria has shot down an Israeli jet since the 1982 war on Lebanon. In doing so, Syria has exposed Israeli vulnerability.
One of Syria’s most important allies, the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah, declared the downing of the Israeli jet the “start of a new strategic phase.” (english.almanar.com, Feb. 10) This defensive action by the Syrian state must also be put in the context of increased Israeli aggression toward Lebanon. Israel has been building fortifications inside south Lebanon and has been challenging Lebanese airspace on a routine basis.
Hezbollah has grown exponentially more powerful in the years since Israel suffered defeat at its hands in 2006. While Israel may feel it must confront Hezbollah sooner rather than later to prevent Hezbollah from becoming too strong to defeat, Israel is extremely timid in confronting this challenge to its occupation of Arab lands. Syria’s willingness to challenge Israeli air superiority at this decisive moment poses huge risks to Israel’s plans in the Levant.
Syria fights imperialist escalation
Despite these escalations, Syria and its allies are continuing to push for liberation and the territorial integrity of Syria. Syria sent 2,000 volunteer soldiers from the National Defense Forces (NDF) militia into Afrin on Feb. 19 to fight Turkey alongside the SDF. As the convoy of volunteers entered Afrin it was immediately shelled by Turkey. (english.alarabiya.net, Feb. 20)
Subsequent convoys into Afrin have also been shelled following the deployment of the pro-government NDF. (reuters.com, Feb. 23) Turkey’s president has promised to lay siege to Afrin: “Preparations in the field take some time. In the coming days we will lay siege to Afrin city. It’s very important that everywhere we go remains secure.” (rt.com, Feb. 20)
In the midst of confrontation between Syria and Turkey, the U.S. led the charge against Syria with claims that the Syrian government was creating a humanitarian disaster in the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta.
The offensive in eastern Ghouta led by the Syrian government is an effort to stabilize the area around Syria’s capital. Death squad groups use Ghouta as a base for attacks against Damascus, killing hundreds of civilians with indiscriminate shelling. Jaish al-Islam, the biggest contra group in the region, has been holding hundreds of thousands of civilians hostage for a number of years.
The U.S. is using this offensive to distract the corporate media from U.S. abandonment of the SDF in Afrin and Syria’s stepping up to defend it. The diplomatic pressure on Syria also consistently serves as an attempt to justify imperialist occupation.
The imperialists are in a massive struggle to shift the correlation of forces back in their favor. The war against Syria is potentially in its most dangerous phase, with powers that once fought only through proxies now increasing their direct aggression against Syria and its allies.