The liberation of Eastern Guta, which was the largest terrorist enclave at that time inside the territories controlled by the Syrian government, was the reason for such a loud adventure of the US military. And you can even understand the Americans if you try to look at the situation from their side: the fruits of many years of efforts are becoming more and more ashes, and the largest enclave, located almost in the capital of Syria, is left without much resistance by the militants.
Perhaps someone will say that the importance of Eastern Guta for the pro-American terrorist underground was not that great. Well, some mortar shelling of the center of Damascus, minor sabotage against the units of the Syrian army - is this important against the background of all the changes taking place on the Syrian fronts?
Yes, it is very important. To begin with, the perimeter control of this enclave required quite a lot of effort from the Syrian armed forces. Full-fledged units of the army and the police could not be diverted to other areas where they, of course, would be very useful. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that in addition to the internal blockade ring, the army units were forced to provide a multi-kilometer control zone, saturated with roadblocks, sentinel and patrol units, army intelligence, and so on.
In addition to the release of units and divisions of the SAR Armed Forces, the threat of a surprise attack on Damascus, which could be critical in the event of an underestimation of the militants and the success of their formations, disappeared. That is, the enemy was so close to the center of the political life of Syria that even a small tactical success would immediately acquire important strategic importance.
As an example of such actions, we can recall the January attack of militants, cutting off the base in the city of Kharasta (the transport control of the Armed Forces, the location of the armored vehicles of the government forces). As a result of this small, by conventional standards, militant operations, the Syrian army was forced to undertake a fairly large-scale counterattack in terms of the number of forces and assets involved.
Surely the plans for such attacks, even if they were distracting, were developed by Western intelligence services and were taken into account when drawing up long-term forecasts of counteraction by the Syrian army and its allies. And now, when this threat is abolished, there are almost no chances to intercept the military initiative.
Add to this the significantly improved logistics in the region, the normalization (relative, of course) of the life of the remaining population in the region, the involvement of the released resources in industrial and agricultural circulation, and so on.
No, one should not underestimate the significance of this victory. Of course, this is not Aleppo, and not Deir ez-Zor, but it is a very important step in the consistent and steady improvement of the military situation in Syria. And if you consider that he unleashes the Syrian army and becomes a prologue to the next possible (and even very likely) successful offensive, it becomes clear why the Americans and the British made so much effort to prevent such a development of events.
Well, stating the next and very important success of the Syrian army, let's try to predict how the situation can develop further. Moreover, by the middle of summer Russia will have its hands untied, and its actions on the Syrian direction can become much tougher and more dynamic.
But first try to answer some questions.
Since Russia is operating in Syria is not in absolute vacuum, for a start, we should decide on what answer we should count on in this or that case. This means that the positions of three parties, either directly involved in the conflict, or located in close proximity to the expected combat zones, are extremely interesting.
The position of the United States and its allies is very clear: they will be strongly opposed to any success of the Syrian army in the region. The only question is how far Washington can go in trying to counteract the legitimate authority of Syria in its desire to bring order and legality in its country.
As recent events have shown, Americans are now in a strange "half-position": you need to demonstrate determination and confirm the status of the hegemon, but this has to be done with an eye to a possible answer, which will certainly lead to unacceptable domestic political consequences, or even less acceptable variant of military escalation involving world nuclear powers. And while it is difficult to imagine, the scale of the provocation must be organized by the American special services so that the American response that follows is truly fatal for the Syrian army.
True, there is one option, but it is not directly linked to Syria. I think many immediately guessed: this is Donbass. Probably only there the USA can create such problems for Russia that it will have to concentrate on the Ukrainian direction and, willy-nilly, to distract from Syria. But there is one nuance: after the World Cup and the launch of the first stage of the Crimean Bridge, Moscow will certainly feel less connected in its actions in the Ukrainian direction. This means that an adequate response is possible, which the Ukrainian army is hardly able to digest without much damage to its well-being.
Therefore, let us be careful in our assessments: an attempt to play all-in can lead Americans to a serious defeat on both fronts, but inaction still more faithfully deprives them of their conquered positions in Syria, gradually reducing everything to the need for a painless evacuation of the American military from the region.
It is noteworthy, by the way, that it is not the first time when Donald Trump speaks about the imminent withdrawal of Americans from Syria. It is clear that there is a huge distance from conversations to the withdrawal of troops. It is enough to remember that Barack Obama promised to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, running for the first presidential term. They, as is known, are still there, so it is worth taking such statements with great care. But as the preparation of the American administration for the worst case scenario for Washington, this sounds quite reasonable.
Another side carefully watching the developments is Israel. His position is clear: he is extremely negative toward Iran, whose military units are involved in the conflict on the side of official Damascus. But the limits of his patience and the price he is willing to pay for eliminating the Iranian factor from the Syrian settlement are not entirely clear.
With a high degree of confidence, we can assume that Israel will calmly accept the escalation of military operations in the north and northeast of Syria. Critical to him is the southwest, where the Syrian territory is adjacent directly to the Israeli border. Now this area is controlled by a whole conglomerate of formations, including those who swore at the time to ISIS (banned in Russia). It is unlikely that this is a very good neighborhood for Israel, but it is obvious that at the moment they are not a great military threat to Tel Aviv. And the possible ISIS castling on the pro-Iranian Hezbollah near Quneitra could cause the Israelis to have an overwhelming desire to bomb something again.
Another important territorial player is Turkey. And we must admit that Ankara’s positions are very strong: Russia is not interested in the deterioration of relations with the Turks, and the United States, despite all the difficulties of recent years, is still more dissatisfied with Erdogan than Turkey itself, which absolutely suits them as the most important geopolitical partner in region. That is why the Americans are also unlikely to go to the final rupture of relations with Ankara, and the scenario in which Turkish and American units enter into direct military conflict seems almost unbelievable.
Understanding all this, Turkey behaves quite self-confidently, bargaining for concessions from the pro-Syrian coalition and frankly going against American interests in its permanent conflict with the Kurds. The result of this policy of Erdogan was the creation of a conditionally pro-Turkish de-escalation zone in the Idlib region and direct military control of Turkey over a significant part of northern Syria.
Probably, in this conflict, Turkey is the most difficult thing to unequivocally identify as an ally or enemy. And nevertheless, one should not expect more of a frank stab in the back from it, if the geopolitical positions of the parties suddenly do not change drastically. Ankara is our ally if the Syrian army attacks the Kurdish positions, our opponent is in Idlib, and the arithmetical average is the “partner” with whom we will have to agree on all issues and not always in addition to our own local interests.
It is clear that there are other players interested in a particular vector of development of the Syrian events. This, for example, the Saudis, also fearing the likely strengthening of Iranian positions in Syria. They even say that the leadership of the largest Arab monarchy is ready to stop financing the militants and invest in restoring the Syrian economy in exchange for the withdrawal of Iranian military formations from Syria. But this is still a very dubious deal: Damascus is unlikely to trade thousands of Iranian fighters for the sweet promises of the Saudis, whose price is no higher than the price of the paper on which they are written. Who doubts, remember at least how Riyadh has led Russia by the way for several years, promising us big arms contracts for refusing to supply Iran with C-300 systems and other modern weapons.
And most importantly: in any development of events on the Syrian fronts, we can not expect there Saudi divisions. On this and calm down.
So, how can events develop on the Syrian fronts, taking into account all these factors?
After the final cleansing of the suburbs of Damascus, the actions of the Syrian army will be aimed at suppressing resistance in two "boilers": the rastan and Kalamun. Less significant than Eastern Guta, they still affect the operational situation in the north-western direction. According to the data that is available at the moment, negotiations are being held with the militants, the aim of which is to peacefully release their positions and travel to the Idlib de-escalation zone, controlled (conditionally, however) by Turkey.
The likelihood that this problem will be solved in the very near future by peaceful or military means is very high. Then it will be possible to talk about the readiness of Damascus, with the support of the allies, to solve more complex tasks.
The most likely direction of the next strike will most likely be the south-west and an attack on militant positions in the area of Quneitra and Deraa. Moreover, this direction is double-edged: the positions of the Syrian troops in the Dera'a area are quite shaky, and the city can easily be cut off in the event of a serious offensive by the militants. In turn, the militants are just interested in restoring the eroded morale of their units, and the likelihood that they will take the initiative in this direction is very high.
The matter is further complicated by the fact that the militants control the border of Syria with Jordan, from where the American “humanitarian aid” flows like a broad river, the contents of which the Americans for some reason try to keep secret. According to reports, around 12 of thousands of militants have been assembled in the region, ready to attack government forces in order to create their own “autonomy” there.
On the other hand, this territory is also a “de-escalation zone”, which ties the hands of the Syrian command. Therefore, the attack of the militants may even be a convenient excuse for Damascus, but only on condition that they have time to defeat or disarm the militants in the above mentioned enclaves.
Well, the most difficult military phase may be the restoration of control over the territories controlled by the Kurds. Expect this soon is not worth it. And attempts to diplomatically solve, at least frameworkly, the issues of control of the Kurdish territories will certainly be made. But if this does not work out, a new round of conflict cannot be avoided - the Kurds have grabbed off a piece of oil that includes both the Syrian oil fields and the largest agricultural province. And without the restoration of control over these territories, the problem of post-war reconstruction of Syria will be very difficult to solve.
As for Idlib and the Turkoman territories on the border with Turkey, for the time being it does not seem like it would go towards a military solution to this issue. Almost certainly Damascus will try to negotiate with Ankara and solve the problem peacefully. But with confidence we can predict that negotiations will drag on for a long time, and the matter will come to the best control of Damascus over these provinces in a decade at best.
But in the last forecast, the author himself would be happy to be mistaken.