(FOJ note) You can actively follow hourly news, comments and articles on the Twitter link posted above.The Newsroom will continue as always, but the Twitter link provides quick hot-button alerts.
WEEK OF MAY14 THROUGH MAY 20
US, UK, Jordanian Forces Enter Southern Syria
May 15….(DEBKA) US special forces, together with British and Jordanian elite troops, moved into southern Syria late Sunday, May 14. They were acting to counter the Syrian-Iranian scheme to nullify the American plan for posting Jordanian forces in southeastern Syria, which timed for the days before US President Donald Trump’s trip to the Middle East.
The US-led armored force with British and Jordanian units
crossed from northern Jordan through the Tanf Border-Crossing between the
Hashemite Kingdom, Iraq and Syria, and took up positions capable
of consolidating their control of the main road between Palmyra and Baghdad.
Some of their moves were coordinated with Israel.
debkafile’s military sources explain that Damascus and Tehran acted to pre-empt the US-Jordanian-Israeli military operations along the Israeli and Jordanian borders with Syria, lest they lead to the carving out of US-controlled security zones in southern Syria.
Our military sources add that Moscow too eyes the new US-led military movements with mistrust, in view of its potential impact on the Russian plan for four ceasefire zones in Syria, in cooperation with Iranian and Turkish forces. The Russians are accordingly feeding Tehran and Damascus intelligence on the US-led movements.
On Sunday, too, the Israeli Defense Forces launched a large-scale military exercise in the Galilee and Golan regions close to its borders with Syria and Lebanon. The war game may well run over its final date in order to keep a substantial military force poised on along Israel’s northern borders, in case of attempts to disrupt the Trump visits to Saudi Arabia and Israel from May 22 to May 24.
Other military movements in the region this week were taken by the Iraqi army and Iraqi Shiite militias under the command of Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers. Iran continued to pour additional troops into Damascus through the Baghdad-Damascus highway, on the one hand, while, on the other, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi offered Washington two of his army’s divisions, which would be sent into Syria to support US military operations in the southeast. For the time being, the Trump administration’s plans for an offensive against the Islamic State appear to have been put on a back burner.
WEEK OF APRIL 30 THROUGH MAY 7
Putin & Trump Discuss Iranians on Israel’s Border
May 3….(DEBKA) Israel was seriously dismayed Wednesday, May 3, when first reports reached Jerusalem about the telephone conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Tuesday, during which Trump agreed to consider Putin’s plan for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, in place of the American security zones proposal. The Russian president’s plan includes the posting of Iranian military officers as co-monitors for those zones, one of which is to be located on the Syrian-Israeli border. President Trump described the conversation as “Very good.” The four “de-escalation zones” proposed would be situated at:
1. The northwestern province of Idlib up to the Turkish border;
2. The central Syrian province of Homs (where also the Al-Shariat air base hit by US Tomahawks last month is located);
3. The East Ghouta suburb of Damascus (including also a big military airfield);
4. The Southern region along Syria’s borders with Jordan and Syria.
The Russian president explained that the “guarantor countries” Russia, Turkey and Iran, would appoint the monitors for the de-escalation zones. debkafile’s military and intelligence sources report that Israel was deeply concerned to discover that President Trump had nodded to Putin going forward with his plan, despite Iran’s active involvement. He was even ready to send a US official for the first time to the fourth round of the Syrian peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Astana Wednesday, although this process is jointly sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Stuart Jones, acting assistant Secretary of State, was sent to attend the meeting in the Kazakh capital as an observer, thereby elevating the former American representation from ambassador. This development caused Israeli disquiet on a number of grounds:
a) The Iranian monitors for the new zones will sit directly opposite the Israeli border. Notice has gone out to Washington and Moscow that the Israeli government will on no account countenance an Iran military presence along its border.
b) Israel also eyes with mistrust the possible deployment of Russian and Turkish offices along its border with Syria.
c) Declaring eastern Damascus a protected zone would obstruct Israel aerial operations for keeping Iranian air shipments of advanced weapons via Syria out of Hizballah’s hands. Iran would be able to renew its shipments under full protection.
d) There were also some misgivings in Israel about the way National Security
Adviser H.R. McMaster characterized President Trump’s approach to foreign
policy, shortly before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White
House on Wednesday.
The trouble is that Middle East issues, such as the Syrian conflict and Israeli security, demand patience and rather more than a businessman’s results-oriented approach, else they may lead to such potentially disastrous consequences as an Iranian military presence that is far too near and dangerous for Israel to countenance.
May 3….(Jerusalem Post) The United States is launching a new diplomatic effort to reach a comprehensive peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, hosting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. Reminding Abbas he had signed the 1993 Oslo Accord in Washington, the first diplomatic framework for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Trump said that he was impressed by the ability of Israeli and Palestinian security forces to work together, and expressed hope that he could finally broker the toughest deal of them all. "We're going to start a process," Trump said from the Roosevelt Room, "which hopefully will lead to peace."
Abbas said he looked forward to working with Trump in order to "come to that deal, to that historical agreement to bring about peace." But he laid out familiar terms that have become increasingly unpalatable for Israelis: A sovereign state with its capital in east Jerusalem, and its borders based on lines dating back before the 1967 war. Trump hosted Abbas privately in the Oval Office before the two men opened the meeting to their staffs. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and senior advisor Jared Kushner were in attendance.
President Trump; has consulted with several leaders from the Arab world in recent weeks, hoping that a regional approach will increase his odds of success in rebooting the Middle East peace process. When he hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February, Trump emphasized