Trump Taking Syria Safe-Zone Initiative That Iran Dreads

Since US President Donald Trump took the helm in Washington, the issue of a “safe zone” in Syria has come to the fore, reflecting the changes taking place in the international arena following the end of the Obama administration.

Throughout the election campaign, Trump pledged to establish safe zones in Syria to curb the refugee crisis. As soon as he was inaugurated on January 20, he ordered his secretaries of State and Defense to formulate a roadmap for the proposal within 90 days.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey expressed support for the move. Iran, Russia and Syrian President Bashar Assad vehemently opposed the initiative. However, the three-pronged front began to crumble as a result of events in Aleppo, causing Moscow to become more flexible in its view. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even raised the possibility of discussing the matter with the UN Human Rights Council and other international organizations.

From Iran’s perspective, Russia’s distancing itself by seeking to safeguard its own interests is a recipe for disaster, leaving Tehran to face the problem of keeping Assad in power alone.

Most signs indicate that Turkey has a blueprint to establish a safe zone along its southern border with Syria, with another in Syria’s Deraa Province bordering Jordan. The zone along Syria’s northern border would be 100 kilometers in length, stretching from the city of Jarabulus in the northeast and reaching Aezaz in the west.

The challenges are numerous. For a safe zone to be established, there has to be international recognition, in the form of a United Nations Security Council resolution or accord — similar to the pact that blessed an Iraqi Kurdistan safe zone in 1991 — unless the US decides to go it alone. It certainly has the power, assets and resources to do so.

In addition, a safe zone must be secured in some fashion — by banning military units, creating a no-fly zone or stronger US presence in the region, with drones, sorties and/or satellites. It will also need ground protection, to prevent penetration by suspicious elements, whether Syrian intelligence, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards or affiliated Shiite proxies.

All of this requires supervision and monitoring and much money, as the safe zone will be a full city, requiring schools and other adequate facilities.

One must admit that the scope of this disaster and the humanitarian crisis in Syria has gone well beyond neglect. Kudos to the Trump administration for brazenly taking such an initiative in relation to the victims of a war that is nearing the end of its sixth year. Iran must be prevented from putting a wrench in it.

Originally published in Algemeiner

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