Allocating Roles

Arab states may offer to send troops to Syria, but will they actually do it?

By Abdel Bari Atwan

The fact that the Middle Eastern leg of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s first foreign tour since his confirmation by Congress is confined to three states – Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan – means that this trio is the mainstay of the plan the US will implement after President Donald Trump withdraws from the nuclear agreement with Iran on 12 May.

Pompeo, who comes to the State Department from the CIA, will find himself among friends in the three countries. He will not need to make much effort to rally them against Iran and involve them in the additional US sanctions to be imposed on the country. For his hosts – or at least two of them, Saudi Arabia and Israel – have been beating the war-drums against Iran and urging an early American military assault against it and its allies in the region.

At the press conference he held in Riyadh after holding talks with his Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir, Pompeo read out the American charge-list against list against Iran, the main accusations being its destabilisation of the region, support for terrorist groups and militias, arming of the Houthi ‘rebels’ in Yemen and Bashar al-Asad’s regime in Syria, and committing acts of terrorist piracy. This revived old list is likely to form the rationale for any forthcoming war – or rather, the war that is anticipated at any moment — against it.

It was noteworthy that the US secretary of state did no include Egypt on his itinerary. He knows full well that Cairo is wary, and does not want to get embroiled in US plans in Syria or send forces tasked with establishing various independent enclaves (Kurdish, tribal and Sunni) in northeastern Syria and another in the south comprising Deraa, Suweida and Quneitra. The latter would serve as a buffer zone to secure the borders with occupied Palestine and protect the occupying Israeli state as part of plans to partition Syria along ethnic and sectarian lines.

Jordan’s inclusion as the last stop on Pompeo’s itinerary was a deliberate and considered move, aimed at defining Jordan’s proposed role in two main issues: the Syrian dossier and Palestine. The latter cannot be discussed in Amman without first hearing the Israeli viewpoint, especially as the occupied Palestinian territories are about to experience an earthquake with the opening of the US embassy in occupied Jerusalem on 15 May, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) is refusing to hold any contacts with the US administration in protest at this move.

Pompeo’s talks with his Jordanian hosts will be aimed at luring Jordan – which recently hosted US-led military exercises involving 18 countries near the Syrian border – into the trap of sending its Special Forces to northeastern and southern Syria. These troops are highly capable, and the US knows they would be invaluable in any future war against Syrian, Iranian and allied militia forces – and perhaps against Turkish forces too.

Unlike the Saudis and Qataris, who welcomed the prospect of sending forces to Syria in response to US demands, the Jordanian authorities have kept their counsel. They have not so far either supported or opposed such a move, as they are well aware of the serious consequences of making a decision either way. Agreeing would mean sending troops to take part in a sectarian guerrilla war against well armed and trained Iranian-backed paramilitaries who are highly motivated and ideologically committed. Refusing would men falling out with the United States and its Gulf allies, the principal consequence of which would be a halt to financial aid at a time of acute economic difficulty.

The Gulf crisis is likely to have been discussed by Pompeo in Saudi Arabia, which leads the four-country anti-Qatar alliance, but not as a main concern. The US’ eagerness to resolve the crisis has waned, and it seems content with containing it so long as all parties are in accord with the US plan to confront Iran and willing to perform the roles allocated o them. This applies especially to the Qatari authorities, who were quick to applaud the recent US-led missile strikes on Syria and have moved closer to the American viewpoint than the Iranian one.

American plans to partition Syria stand only a limited chance of succeeding, but they are replete with dangers nonetheless and promise much additional bloodshed. This is most likely to include the blood of any Arab troops that are sent to Syria. The countries concerned are unaccustomed to wars or to receiving large numbers of returning soldiers in body-bags, especially as the mission – to fight alongside American troops to dismember a fellow Arab country – lacks any logic, conflicts with Arab and Islamic values, and therefore has little public support.

It will be no surprise if Pompeo gets back to his president laden with promises of Arab support for his schemes and pledges to take part in any cold or hot war against Iran and its allies. But it would certainly be surprising if Arab states were to fall into this new American trap without having learned from the experience of seven years of failure in that benighted country, Syra. It would mean entering into a bloody war of attrition no less serious than the one currently raging in Yemen, now into its fourth year.

One would have hoped to be able to offer unsolicited advice to the Arab states that are preparing to despatch their troops to northeastern Syria to replace US forces, or to fight under their command against their Syrian and Iraqi brethren and their Russian backers. But we know they would not listen to us or anyone else, as when they were warned against going to war in Yemen or engaging in normalization with the Israelis. The extortionist dictates of the Trump administration carry much more weight with them than any Arab or Islamic advice.

But it remains incumbent on us to alert Jordan to the perils of submitting to US demands to send forces to Syria to fight under the banner of a racist American president who hates Arabs and Muslims and is doing Israel’s biding in the region, especially while he is preparing to lead the festivities celebrating the opening of the US embassy in occupied Jerusalem and to inaugurate the launching of the so-called ‘Deal of the Century.’ The alliance fighting to foil US schemes in the region would confront these troops forcefully in order to bring all Syria’s territory back under the authority of the state, as has been done successfully in Aleppo, Eastern Ghouta and many other places.

The coming war against Iran is set to be an Israeli war par excellence, aimed at protecting Israel’s usurpation of Arab and Islamic lands and holy places. But Israel will not emerge victorious. It has failed in all its previous wars against Iran’s allies and groups backed by it — in Lebanon, Palestine and Syria – and the next war is unlikely, or so it must be hoped, to be an exception.