More robust US presence in Syria could deter Iran, Russia and other threats and ensure stability, experts say
‘What happens in Syria does not stay there’
JERUSALEM, Israel – The Biden administration’s Syria policy has a laser-like focus on combating the largely defeated Islamic State terrorist movement, but some observers say it appears to be short-sighted when it comes to zooming in on the growing threat from both Iran and Russia which could lead to more instability across the Islamic heartland.
“We have had three administrations that have not prioritized Syrian stability. If you do not attend to it, it attends to you, like the main problems in the Middle East. The instability in Syria spills over to broader changes,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow and vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute.
Katulis told Fox News Digital: “The instability in Syria broke the world in the last decade. Syria broke the rules of war because [President Bashar] Assad and Russia murdered hundreds of thousands of civilians.” The Syrian civil war caused waves of migration that disrupted politics in Europe and the U.S., he noted.
“What happens in Syria does not stay there,” he said, but the U.S. mandate is limited to degrading the power of the Islamic State. “The presence we have in Syria is a Goldilocks presence, not too big, not too small, just right,” said Katulis.
There are roughly 900 U.S. troops, including Green Berets, in Syria.
For Sinam Mohamad, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council in the U.S., the presence of American troops can advance a troika of American security interests.
The Syrian Democratic Council is the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish, Arab and Assyrian/Syriac forces, as well as some smaller Armenian, Turkmen and Chechen defense units
“Terrorism is still threatening the whole world, and the Islamic State and al-Qaeda are still in northeastern and northwestern Syria,” Mohamad told Fox News Digital.
She cited three reasons an enduring American presence in Syria is needed.
“First, as long as these terrorist organizations are there, the threat to the U.S. and the whole world will continue. It is very important to end terrorism in Syria in partnership with Kurdish security forces”, she said.
Second, “if the U.S. withdraws, it will empower Iran like in Iraq.” She said American deterrence “prevents regional interference from Turkey and Iran.”
Third, “For 11 years there has been no political solution” to end the high-intensity combat. “We could wind up going back to before 2011, [when the civil war began], without any changes in the Syrian regime. This will empower the regime to control Syria without making any changes for democracy,” Mohamad said.
“We need to democratize Syria,” she said. “The U.S. will help and support us with democracy. The U.S. will be empowering our position when negotiating with the Syrian regime, empowering a democratic system based on equal gender and freedom of religion. This will give us a chance to build a unique model in the Middle East.”
U.S. CENTCOM chief Gen. Erik Kurilla recently stated that Syria is becoming the “breeding ground” for a new generation of Islamic State terrorists.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Erez D. Maisel, who served 32 years in the Israel Defense Forces and is an expert on Syria, told Fox News Digital that the country is “important because of where she is, specifically, for Europe, Israel, Russia and Iran. Who rules Syria says a lot about the Middle East.”
Maisel noted that the Kurdish areas in northern Syria “are of interest to Israel because we see a lot of common interests. We have good connections to the Kurds. They are a minority, and we are a minority.”
Kurdish forces have conducted sweeps over the last few weeks to root out Islamic State terrorists from the sprawling al-Hol refugee camp in northern Syria that lodges 55,000 residents. The American military is a keen supporter of the anti-ISIS crackdown in the camp.
“Most importantly, Syria being at the intersection between Iran and the Med, the land bridge, is critical for any improved future for the people of the Levant,” Maisel said.
“Prolonged disruption of Iranian control of this crucial line of communication is strategically important not only to Israel, but to regional stability impacting European-NATO interests. A mission that requires measured U.S. support — just enough presence to deny Iranian freedom of movement (and ISIS resurrection).”
He added, “The two important choke points into Syria are: Kurdish north (Euphrates zone of operations), basically Syrian Defense Forces controlled areas, and the tri-border area between Kingdom of Jordan, Syria and Iraq. Specifically, the U.S. CENTCOM Al Tanf Garrison.
“An important stopgap interdicting Iranian intentions to develop a supply line from Teheran, through Iraq into Syria and Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, speaking at The Jerusalem Post Conference in New York, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz presented a map showing more than 10 facilities in Masyaf, in northwestern Syria, that Iran uses to manufacture advanced missiles and other weapons for its proxies. The facilities pose a significant threat to Israel and the region, he said.
Critics of the Iran atomic accord are deeply concerned that Iran’s regime will use the sanctions relief funds to pump cash into the coffers of Assad’s regime and boost terrorism in Syria against U.S. troops.
On Wednesday, the United States Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced the U.S. had provided an additional $756 million dollars in humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria. The amount is in addition to the $800 million in humanitarian aid announced in May by the administration.
A spokesperson for the State Department declined comment for this report and referred Fox News Digital to the Pentagon.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on Middle East affairs. You can follow Benjamin Weinthal on Twitter @BenWeinthal.