It seems like everyone has been trying to exact a pound of flesh in Syria during the long civil war that has lasted nine years. With the Islamic State making inroads into establishing a caliphate in the power vacuum as well as rebels trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad, the entire situation has gotten murkier.
Syria’s government was on the precipice of failing, even with the help of its long-time ally Russia. The United States moved troops into the country, uninvited, to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and to counter the Islamic State. In October, some of these troops conducted a historic operation that killed the leader of ISIS. The Iranians moved troops in and raised, trained, equipped and led militias. The Turkish military moved in after the humanitarian crisis became too much for them to handle with nearly four million refugees flooding their territory. And then there is Israel.
The Israelis made it clear that they will not tolerate any Iranian bases on their border. And with the Iranians setting up shop close to the Golan Heights, Israel has conducted numerous airstrikes on both Iranian-led militias, training sites, weapons depots, and Syrian air defense units that have fired on their aircraft.
The above situation is an eclectic mix that lately has shown signs of exploding into chaos. And the civilians, caught in the middle, are the ones who are paying the price.
The Russians are growing increasingly incensed at the other players, who they say are impeding the legitimate government from restoring control over its country.
Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Turkey is “disregarding its commitments” to a ceasefire deal they signed with Russia that is designed to ease tensions between the Syrian military and opposition groups in northwestern Idlib province, the last area of the country under the control of rebels and jihadist factions. Syrian artillery, however, smashed into Turkish positions killing a dozen Turkish soldiers. The Turks responded with massive retaliatory strikes killing scores of government troops.
Alexander Yefimov, the Russian Ambassador to Syria, denounced Israel for its continued airstrikes in Syria, including the most recent which killed more than 20 Syrian and Iranian military officials.
“The Israeli raids are, of course, provocative and very dangerous for the situation in Syria,” Yefimov said in an interview. “The [Israeli] missiles are falling not only in the areas bordering Israel but also reaching areas deep in Syria, in the eastern part of the country and even in residential areas in Damascus. It is regrettable that civilians become victims of these raids.”
Yefimov repeated an accusation from the Russian Defense Ministry that the IDF pilots overflying Syrian airspace are shadowing civilian airliners and using them as cover. “A flagrant incident occurred during the Israeli attack on the night of February 6, when a plane carrying about 172 passengers came under Syrian air defense fire during the response. It is good that they were able to redirect [the plane] to the Hmeimim Airbase at the appropriate time.”
He continued: “In addition to the clear violation of Syrian sovereignty and the real threat to the lives of innocent people, all of this increases the possibility of conflict over Syria and runs counter to efforts to achieve stability and a political settlement.”
Russian claims that the Israelis used a spy plane as a shield, and were thus at fault for Syrian air defense units shooting down a Russian aircraft resulting in the death of the 15 onboard. Israeli military officials flatly denied that allegation that they had used the spy plane as a shield — many defense experts also cast doubts on that as well.
The Russians accused the United States of supporting terrorism: In a statement, they said that the advancing Syrian army units in Idlib and parts of Aleppo province seized material left behind by “terrorist organizations, including Western-made equipment and weapons, which attests to the continued support of terrorists from abroad.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry jumped on board with Moscow’s statement releasing a statement of its own saying that “the presence of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Syria is at the invitation of and agreement with [the Syrian] government with the aim of combating the U.S.- and Israel-backed terrorism.”
The Russians also claimed to have mediated a ceasefire between American coalition troops and Syrian militia units after a short firefight in a village outside of Qamishli near the Turkish border. The Russians claimed that the Americans deviated from their patrol route and Syrian militias and civilians blocked their way. Gunfire erupted and one Syrian was killed with two others wounded.
“Further escalation of the conflict was prevented thanks only to the efforts of Russian servicemen who arrived at the scene,” the Defense Ministry said in a press release.