Syrian government consolidates control

Syrian security forces raising the government flag

On 22 July 2018 hundreds of members of the ‘White Helmets’ opposition group and their families were evacuated from the south-west of Syria by the Israeli military. This followed guarantees from Britain, Germany and Canada, that they would grant them asylum. A month earlier, Donald Trump’s administration had made it clear to US-supported rebel groups that it would not provide military intervention to support them in their war against the government of Bashar Assad – effectively an instruction to surrender. The Syrian army, with support from Russia, has been rapidly retaking the last rebel-held territory in the south, close to the border of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Hundreds have been bussed to the last rebel stronghold of the Idlib province, in the north-east on the border with Turkey. For now, at least, the overthrow of the Syrian government is no longer high on the agenda of the US, Britain and France. Toby Harbertson reports.

The south-west of Syria has long been a stronghold of rebel forces, with the possibility of transferring fighters, weapons, and other supplies, over three national borders (Jordan, Israel and Lebanon). The opposition movement to the Syrian government began in Deraa city seven years ago, at the time of the ‘Arab Spring’, and very quickly armed groups became predominant. Support for the opposition in Syria from the western imperialists began long before 2011. The imperialist backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) quickly splintered into a dizzying array of different rebel groups, most backed by different regional powers, and many with links to jihadism. The Islamic State (IS) and the Al Qaeda-linked Jabhat Al Nusra (later Jabhat Fatah Al Sham) gradually became the dominant rebel forces, forcing an intervention against IS by an imperialist coalition in the east of the country.

Over a long and bloody war, the Syrian army, backed by Russia, Hezbollah and Iran, gained the upper hand in the main populated areas, and over the last two years has begun consolidating its victory. The US and other imperialists have been unwilling to effectively challenge the power of Russia in the region, despite some limited direct military interventions. They have come to the realisation that their strategy has failed for now.

When the Syrian army began a campaign to retake Deraa and Quneitra provinces in the middle of June 2018, the US message to the remaining FSA fighters was ‘you should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us’. Deraa city was under the full control of the government by 13 July.

On 20 July, rebel fighters ceded control of the Syrian Golan, on the border of Israeli-occupied territory. Under the deal which was agreed, opposition supporters who did not take part in the fighting were allowed free passage to Idlib province. Tens of thousands who had fled the violence in the south-west were refused entry to Jordan and Israel. Israel is concerned about the demographic consequences of allowing more Arabs into its ‘Jewish state’. However, under pressure from Britain, the US and Canada, Israel allowed an evacuation of 422 members of the White Helmets and their families through Israel into Jordan, on the understanding that many of these would be given asylum in Britain, Germany, Canada and elsewhere.

The White Helmets are an opposition propaganda group founded by ex-MI5 officer James Le Mesurier, and receive funding from the British and US governments. Canada has promised asylum to up to 50 White Helmets, and family members totalling 250, and Germany is to host a total of 37. Having done their best to achieve the objectives of western imperialism, the White Helmets are being welcomed across the imperialist borders. For most Syrian refugees, asylum in Europe or North America is a distant dream.  

Once the last pockets of the south-west are under government control, the border between Syria and the Israel-occupied Golan is likely to remain tense. Syria has accused Israel of air strikes within its territory on four occasions in July, and Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet in disputed circumstances on 24 July.

Whether the Syrian army will now turn its attention to retaking Idlib province – an operation likely to cause a massive flow of refugees into Turkey, and likely to spark Turkish military involvement – remains to be seen. Much of Syria can now start to rebuild its shattered economy and society. The regime-change plans of the US, Britain, France and their regional allies may be fading, but the devastating consequences of their quest for strategic domination remain the everyday reality for millions.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 265 August/September 2018


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