Thousands of Syrians return to Idlib after Turkey-Russia deal


More than 50,000 displaced Syrians have returned to Idlib province since Turkey and Russia signed an agreement to create a 15-20 kilometre demilitarised zone in the area.

Over the past few years, tens of thousands of Syrians have been forced to leave their homes in the northwestern province as a result of Syrian regime President Bashar Al-Assad’s attacks, heading towards the border areas with Turkey.

Some of the returnees had not seen their homes for years, many have already begun the process of reconstructing their houses.

Returnee, Abdul Karim Hamsho, who returned to the town of Al-Hbeit in Idlib’s southern countryside said: “The agreement has paved the way for their return.” He is helping his neighbours rebuild their homes.

Hamsho expressed hope for the return of security and stability.

“Our home has been destroyed by the Assad regime bombing, but we are back in the village, we have removed the rubble, and the neighbours are helping us to return to normal life,” returnee Abu Mohammed said. “This is our land and we will stay here forever.”

What Russia’s upgrade of Syria’s air defences means for Israel

IT WAS “a chain of tragic circumstances” that led to the downing of a Russian spy plane by Syria on September 17th, said Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president. With those words, Mr Putin seemed to accept the episode as an accident and absolve Israel of any blame. Israeli jets had earlier carried out air strikes on Syria’s territory and appeared to be the intended target of its air defences. But, as the days passed, Russia grew more belligerent. Its generals claimed that Israeli jets used the Russian plane as a shield (Israel has denied this). Then, on September 24th, Russia announced plans to supply the Syrians with advanced S-300 air-defence batteries, signalling a shift in its regional strategy.

Since Russia intervened in Syria’s civil war on the side of Bashar al-Assad, the country’s dictator, in 2015, it has sought to avoid clashes with Israel. In the past 18 months Israel has carried out more than 200 air strikes on Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria. A “deconfliction” hot-line connecting Israel’s air force headquarters in Tel Aviv with Russia’s operations centre at Khmeimim, in western Syria, has prevented mishaps in the air. The military procedures were backed by a tacit agreement between Mr Putin and Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. Israel would not hamper Russia’s campaign to save Mr Assad, and Russia would not prevent Israel from attacking Iranian targets in Syria.

Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, said the S-300 would be transferred to the Syrian army within two weeks. Some analysts doubt that will happen. Under pressure from America and Israel, Russia took nine years to send a promised S-300 to Iran. It may see the threat of the transfer as a way to pressure Israel to limit its intervention in Syria.

Russia has sought a balance between Israel and its foes in the Middle East. Mr Putin was the first Russian leader to make an official visit to Israel (twice) and Mr Netanyahu stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Putin at a Russian military parade this year. But the friendship did not stop Russia inviting Hamas to Moscow, helping Iran with its nuclear programme or arming Syria.

As Russia has become increasingly isolated from the West, the importance of Israel as a source of technology and political support has grown. The Kremlin has been careful to limit anti-Israeli rhetoric in its denunciations of the West. After the downing of its plane in Syria, Russia struck the tone of betrayed trust and regret; Russia did everything to help and accommodate Israel, but was repaid with treachery, its commentators implied. Mr Netanyahu has made two calls to Mr Putin and sent his air force chief to Moscow, but the Kremlin might be looking for more favours from Israel to defuse the situation.

US Pulls Patriot Missiles From Middle East as Focus Shifts to China, Russia

The relocation of the systems out of the Middle East, which hasn’t been previously disclosed, is one of the most tangible signs of the Pentagon’s new focus on threats from Russia and China and away from the long-running conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Two Patriot missile systems will be redeployed from Kuwait, and one each from Jordan and Bahrain, officials said. Patriots are mobile missile systems capable of shooting down missiles and planes.


Suchkov speaks about Russia’s Middle Eastern strategy

Maxim Suchkov, a senior fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, spoke at the University on Tuesday about Russia’s actions and future plans for Syria and its policy for the Middle East as a whole.

Suchkov, who is also editor of Al-Monitor’s Russia and Mideast coverage, began with an introduction to Russia’s Syrian intervention. In Russian foreign policy circles, the Arab Spring, which began in the early 2010s, was seen as a repeat of the “color revolutions” which occurred in Czechoslovakia, Ukraine, and Georgia, and were aimed at democratization.

According to Suchkov, revolutions in the Middle East would be disastrous from the Russian standpoint because they see no defined “good” actors in the Middle East, simply choices between bad and worse.

“Russia sees an opportunity to fill space in the Middle East, not to become the new sheriff, but to provide overseas balance.”

World War 3: US transfers missiles from Middle East to focus on CHINA and Russia

The realignment step marks a shift of focus away from long-lasting conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

US Central Command would not comment on the news.

Spokesman for the command in Tampa, Florida, Captain Bill Urban, said: “US Central Command is strongly committed to working with our allies and partners to promote and provide regional security and stability.

“US Forces remain postured to conduct operations throughout the region and to respond to any contingency.

“Due to operational security concerns, we’re not going to discuss the movement of specific capabilities into and out of the US Central Command area of responsibility.”

Donald Trump ramped up its rhetoric against threats posed by Iran.

Turkey-Russia Idlib Agreement: A Lesson for the US

The Russia-Turkey deal may provide a lesson for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It shows that a country’s goals can be achieved, and conflict avoided, as long as military force is a clear option and a country stands by its allies. In this case, Russia and Turkey both were committed to their allies and refused to see them defeated or lose face in a potential battle.

Over the past decade, the Middle East has undergone unprecedented turmoil, characterized by the breakdown of states and the rise of extremist groups. This reached a peak in 2014 when the Islamic State took over wide swaths of Syria and Iraq, an area the size of Pennsylvania with a population of around 10 million. U.S. policy in the region has lacked clarity and U.S. allies see Washington as frequently changing course. For example, under the Obama administration the United States timidly backed the Syrian rebels, only to eventually withdraw most support under President Trump.

The lecture, entitled “Russia in Syria: Opportunism or Strategy for the Long Game?”, was cosponsored by the Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies; the Program in Near Eastern Studies; and the Institute for the Transregional Study of Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. It was held at 4:30 p.m. in the Louis A. Simpson International Building.