The summer of 2023 brought not only the intensification of hostilities in the Ukrainian direction - in the Middle East, forces also began to move at some key points. For us, of course, today it is quite difficult to switch our attention to seemingly third-party contradictions, but the problem is that we, one way or another, have already been involved in them before.
And if Sudan or Libya are secondary directions for us, Central Africa is rather an optional direction for the time being, then Syria is the node where we have taken and still take direct participation at the state level. Issues related to Syria are largely tied to Russian-Turkish relations, relations with Arab countries, and Iran.
In a recent article Syrian protests and US strategy in Lebanon the problems of Syrian protests were considered in the context of the US policy of establishing control over “grassroots” financial flows.
It is carried out within the framework of the strategy of separating the Syrian and Iranian financial system from the possibilities of dollar replenishment from Lebanon and Iraq. But, firstly, the general strategy of Washington is not limited to this, and secondly, other players in the region have their own vision of the future and their own projects.
It is now again necessary to consider the current problems in the Middle East “as a whole”, the confrontation, after a certain pause, has again reached the level of competition of projects and concepts. Again, throughout the region, problems like gears cling to each other with teeth. Those players who can use this mechanism properly will receive a strategic advantage.
The trend towards a general normalization of relations in the region only partly coincides with the new US strategy. For example, the synergy of the efforts of regional players in the Syrian direction is not included in this strategy at all.
Having taken an active position in Syria this summer, the United States decided in this way to stop the consequences of normalization along the Iran-Saudi Arabia line, where, partly in response to concessions on Yemen, Riyadh, albeit without much desire, was supposed to help withdraw the tribal confederations of the Syrian Trans-Euphrates region from under the direct control of pro-American formations, at the same time not preventing Damascus from conducting targeted operations in Idlib.
Thus, the ground was created for the subsequent integration of southeastern Syria with the rest of the country. There was no talk about the specifics of such integration, and so far there is no talk - a base must be created that can already be developed and built up within the same League of Arab States.
Trans-Euphrates is oil-bearing fields - the basis of the well-being of Syria. By world standards, black gold reserves there are less than one percent, but specifically for Syria, this is a real economic basis.
Today, these oil fields, as well as the infrastructure for production and processing, are controlled by a kind of conglomerate of the forces of the SDF (Kurdish, Assyrian and Arab formations of the so-called "Northern Syria Federation"), militias of local tribal unions, eight of which, like Baggara and Shammar , are large, and armed groups that are in many ways outright gangs under a common umbrella brand - "Kasad detachments".
If the SDF (the so-called "Syrian Democratic Forces") are formations officially recognized by the US and the EU, which are allocated equipment, weapons, special equipment. funds, training and informational support is provided, then Kasad is completely frank "Ushkuyniki of Trans-Euphrates". This is a hodgepodge of armed individuals of all kinds. If the SDF controls the north more, then the Kasadans control the territories from Rakka and south along the left bank of the river. The Euphrates, which includes oil fields and southern passages to Iraq.
Kasad is outright smuggling and just banditry, on the basis of which they have constant friction with the SDF and local tribal communities, and periodically clashes. This is being resolved through various councils and meetings, but the problem does not go away. Kidnappings for ransom, restrictions on the passage of caravans, price gouging are normal practices.
In Syria, they are simply considered a terrorist formation without any "equivocals" (although this is more a network of different cells), and this is not far from the truth, since some of these forces are often simply former members of local ISIS cells (banned in the Russian Federation), at one time they even controlled the infamous Al-Khol base, where the remnants of this former "black international" are still kept. Covering all this (and there is no other way to call it) the US military contingent, which is stationed at military bases and oil refineries, and the overall political leadership on the ground is based on the consensus of the military councils of the tribes and the SDF.
Traditionally, the Arabs blame the SDF for helping these formations, they nod in the direction of the local Arabs. For obvious reasons, there are no “saints” among the former or the latter; in the conditions of that “international oil trade” it cannot be any other way. The SDF constantly puts forward theses about the Arabs feeding local ISIS cells; the Arabs point to the chaos that is already happening among the armed groups that fly the official flags. The origins of the problem are ways of selling and making money from the sale of oil, petroleum products, tools and equipment, weapons, as well as substances that are not very beneficial to health.
At the end of August, periodic skirmishes common for this area led to an almost full-fledged uprising of part of the Arab tribal communities of Zaevfratya, which surpassed even the clashes in 2019 in strength. Moreover, in the same areas - settlements around Mayadin and Deir es-Zor. In 2019, the locals who came out to protest were partly dispersed, partly shot, the infrastructure was destroyed and burned. They looked for (and found) dissatisfied people in other provinces to the north. In general, not all local Arabs are ready to give recruits to these formations, which is another reason for dissatisfaction, in addition to infringement of financial interests.
However, now things have come to the point that the heavy artillery weapons that the SDF has at its disposal (up to the Grad MLRS) have already been used, since the uprising has not only swept the southern villages, but also led to the expulsion of these Kasad forces and officials from SDF from cities.
The list of settlements from which the SDF and Kasad detachments were squeezed out is already several dozen, including the town of Baguz, which at one time became famous, where at one time they surrounded, finished off and eventually captured the remnants of ISIS along with family members (then moving the survivors to Al -Hol). In the same part of geography is located. the village of Hisham, known for the unsuccessful campaign of Wagner PMC and Syrian formations across the Euphrates.
It all started with the dismissal and detention of the leader of the Military Council of Deir es-Zor, A. Abu Khawla (Ahmed Habil), by the SDF and Kasadovites. The military council is just for the most part a local tribal militia. Then there was a series of ultimatums from tribal elders, the ultimatums eventually escalated into hostilities, which today, in fact, take place around the main oil fields and oil production facilities, including the “Omar fields” known even in Russia. Almost all local communities in the south have announced a call for volunteers, the SDF, in turn, is blocking roads and bringing in reinforcements from Manbij and Raqqa.
The Americans increased the military contingent in the summer, but the problem is that the entire political structure that is built in this region, in fact, is based on the legitimacy of such military and civilian Councils. These are, in essence, conglomerates of self-governing communities. It is clear that there is also an analogue of the power vertical, and a very peculiar and ideological one at that (the so-called “TEV-DEM system, which is mistakenly called “Kurdish”), but formally the basis of territorial administration is local councils: city, town, district. And today it is the local councils that have rebelled.
If official Syrian troops or pro-Iranian formations were directly involved there, it would be easier for the United States to stop the problem by force, but the fact of the matter is that the uprising is taking place within the framework of a built-in system. But now, from the same system, there are calls for American forces to gradually gather "out."
Friction between the ideologized elite of the so-called. "Federations of Northern Syria" and Arab tribal confederations occurred constantly. The ideas of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, on the one hand, are completely free of any national Kurdish narratives; the current PKK and its civilian version PYD (PYD) is an international association where the Kurds are simply represented in greater numbers due to the territory in which this movement lives, as well as historical reasons related to traditional anti-Turkish policies.
But in reality, it is precisely the forces and politicians who previously defended the Kurdish national identity in front of official Damascus, over the years, squeezed out of the region, as they say, "to the ends" to Iraqi Kurdistan and the EU. Moreover, they were squeezed out very harshly, through political purges. Some features of this political model can be found in the April material on Military Review Last pillars of the Syrian war.
Why has the balance in the Trans-Euphrates region been maintained under the US umbrella for almost five years since the end of the “hot phase” of the Syrian campaign in terms of access to official Damascus on the Euphrates and the south-eastern border, but now it has been so sharply disrupted? After all, the activity of all players there has decreased.
Here it is appropriate to quote a paragraph from the author’s past work:
“Saudi Arabia may stop supporting the tribes that sit in the oil fields on the left bank of the Euphrates River. Saudi Arabia should change its position, taking into account the fact that today all former opponents are going towards normalization with Damascus, and the cards are being turned over. If the tribal sheikhs decide that they have enough guarantees and benefits, and the Arabians are the guarantor, then the Americans in Syria have no room for maneuver at all, and the Workers Party loses its sources of income. The reconfiguration in the south will inevitably cause a backlash in the Arab settlements.”
In Russia, assessments often overlook the fact that the Arab Middle East is a kind of intertwining cells of tribal confederations - they are often scattered across the region in “spots” that reflect very old migration processes. One community can live in Iraq, and in Saudi Arabia, in Syria, Jordan. In Yemen, each of them still has its own "historical base".
The factor of such interaction should not be overestimated and made decisive in everything, but in such threshold processes as those that are taking place today on the left bank of the river. Euphrates, they have a very significant weight. After all, it is necessary to conduct trade business in the conditions of the specifics of the local monetary system based on close partners in countries like Saudi Arabia. Approaches on the shores of the Persian Gulf have changed - it was reflected on the Euphrates.
On September 2, another tribal confederation, Jabbur, opposed the SDF, and its leader Nawaf al-Muslat stated:
“The Arabs in Al Jazeera are not ISIS or gangsters. They did not attract foreign fighters and did not carry out foreign programs.”
"This is not a war against our Kurdish brothers, and we have strong ties to Kurdish tribes through religion, neighborhood and blood."
He called the actions carried out by the SDF just an outright war, which
"is no longer waged against an individual or council, but rather against the entire Arab tribal component."
(source: Al Mayadeen)
Al-Jazeera is the common name for the territories of the northern province (governorate) of Syria, Al-Hasakah. The conflict is rapidly moving north from the southern towns of the deserted Deir es-Zor.
It is very characteristic that N. Al-Muslat clearly distances himself from the SDF, foreign influence programs (USA), emphasizes the pan-Arab narrative (and he is the leader of not only the local community, but the entire Jabbur confederation in the Middle East), emphasizes the difference between national Kurdish interests and political systems of Northern Syria.
He also mentions that the situation cannot be tolerated further, since the violations of the Self-Defense Forces in the eastern regions have gone beyond the personal dispute with Ahmed Al-Habil and the Military Council in Deir Ezzor, and also explicitly states that the SDF bases are in Sinjar and Qandil Mountains, that is, these are the bases of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, and the SDF officially distances itself from the PKK.
This is the most acute crisis in the Trans-Euphrates region in recent times, and it is not surprising that Turkey immediately reacted and opened border crossings, supporting its proxy formations from the so-called. Syrian national (free) army, which immediately became more active in the Manbij area.
Russia has so far supported the operations of B. Assad’s forces in Idlib, and partially stopped the activity of pro-Turkish formations in the area of the same Manbij, which, apparently, was connected with the second part of the program of H. Fidan’s visit to Russia, in addition to the grain initiative.
Intervene directly in the situation for the river. Neither official Damascus nor Moscow is in a hurry to reach the Euphrates yet, which is partly logical - direct intervention so far would only violate the Arab consensus, which is always very shaky. On the other hand, it would be very short-sighted not to take advantage of such a chance, and it would be nice to transfer the Arabs from the left bank of the river through certain channels. Euphrates additional funds, as well as intensify all diplomatic channels to work with these tribal confederations in the Middle East as a whole. This will help the Iranian efforts. This must be done, since interception of the initiative here is traditionally possible on the part of special forces. services of Qatar, which in such moments acts synergistically with Turkish interests. Directly addressing Riyadh here is also not possible, since the normalization trend is going directly between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The situation in the Trans-Euphrates shows, along with troubled nodes in Lebanon, financial problems and protests in central Syria, that the kaleidoscope has turned and the political pattern in the region has begun to change. That is, the players’ new strategies have started working.
For the United States, this is a serious stone in their idea of dividing the region into two clusters: someone else's - "Iranian" and their own - "Indo-Arabian", but for other players, especially Syria, there are good chances to create a base for the return of much-needed raw materials territories . Having won one round in terms of financial restrictions on opponents in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, the United States runs the risk of greatly “sinking” already in terms of supporting the Arabs of the Trans-Euphrates region.