Syria Ceasefire - Pizza, Vodka Secrets Coming Out


By Israel Shamir


The recent Syria agreement signed in Geneva by Kerry and Lavrov (probably it
will be remembered as “Pizza and Vodka deal”, as the journalists have been
served these delicacies by the negotiating teams during the time they had to
wait for the results) beside the points disclosed by the foreign ministers
included five documents. The US insisted on keeping the content secret,
despite Russian insistence to make them known. Here is what we learned about
the contents of the secret documents and the negotiation process from our
usually reliable Arab and Israeli sources.

The secret documents describe what should happen in Syria after the
cease-fire will come into effect. The first day of cease-fire is called Day
D. The Russians wanted it to begin at noon, while the Americans preferred
sunset on Monday September 12, 2016. The American view prevailed. After
first two days, at D+2, if cease-fire holds, the Russians and the Americans
will extend it for a longer time. This actually happened on September 14, in
a telephone conversation between Lavrov and Kerry. They extended it for
another 48 hours. If it will hold for a week, hopefully the sides will
extend it indefinitely and proceed to the next stage.

The sides will go into delineation of territories controlled by ISIL, Nusra
and the moderates. Then ISIL and Nusra will be bombed to smithereens by the
Russian and American Air Forces, while the moderates will be left in peace.
The delineation, or the separation of sheep from goats is an old Russian
demand that the Americans never fulfilled. Now, at least, they promised to
do it. While ISIL could be “delineated”, Nusra is the strongest fighting
opposition force in Syria, and it is connected with almost all other rebel
groups. Without Nusra, the rest of rebels have little chance.

That is why a biggish rebel group called Ahrar al Sham insisted on extending
the cease fire over Nusra-held ground, and refused to join the Cessation of
Hostilities regime. Other rebel groups are also much distressed over Nusra’s

Not only rebels; the Pentagon and Israelis also want to keep Nusra as their
strongest force against Damascus. Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defence
actively participated in preparation of the document by trying to block it
or derail it altogether. Like the Israelis, Carter wants more war in Syria.
He is one of the strongest anti-Russian voices in the Obama administration,
and he would be very happy to humiliate Russia in Syria.

During the negotiations in Geneva, Kerry called the Pentagon and the White
House every few minutes. The negotiators could not proceed with even the
smallest amendments without approval by Carter or Obama. And Carter tried to
improve upon the preliminary agreement of Obama and Putin concluded in
Hangzhou. Eventually the last word was that of the US president and (with
great difficulty) the agreement has been signed, but the feeling is that the
Pentagon is unhappy with it and won’t regret it if the agreement fails.
Carter even made his displeasure known as soon as the deal was signed.

A Kerry-Carter agreement would be a good thing; perhaps the State Department
and the DoD can also agree to a cessation of hostilities, the negotiators
joked. The Pentagon is in cahoots with the rebels and tries to curry favour
with them, said Lavrov. This remark was connected with the previous stage of
the negotiations, with the nasty surprise served by Michael Ratney. The US
Syrian envoy threw open the door to the diplomatic kitchen where the
Americans and the Russians had cooked a secret deal. Our negotiations
“aren’t based on trust”, said the polite envoy; he accused the Russians and
their Damascus allies of acting “in bad faith”, and stressed that “The
United States has not begun to coordinate with Russia in Syria, militarily
or otherwise, whatever the Russians say”.

The Russians were properly annoyed. It is bad enough to see your
confidential deliberations made known to every Tom, Dick and Abdul; it is
worse to be accused of bad faith and to hear about lack of trust. The worst
was the misrepresentation of the Russian positions. Ratney claimed Russians
will enforce the no-fly zone for the government air force all over Syria;
they will end the siege of Aleppo. Bashar Assad was stunned. The
Riyadh-based opposition added insult to injury demanding “regime change” and
“Assad must go”, while the US presented this particular opposition group as
the legitimate representative of Syrian people.

Ratney demanded a “complete cessation of military operations”, withdrawal of
government’s vehicles and heavy weapons, opening of Aleppo and then
“stopping the regime planes from flying”. He wanted to keep Aleppo
accessible not only for humanitarian aid, but for weapons as well. The
Russians insisted on Syrian government checkposts on the road to Aleppo;
Carter and Ratney were against it.

We can tell you that according to the signed agreement the Russian point of
view prevailed. The traffic to Aleppo by Castello Road will be monitored and
checked. The humanitarian loads will be checked at the point of loading into
the trucks and sealed. More checkpoints on the road will check that the
seals aren’t broken until the trucks unload their stuff at the UN warehouses
in Aleppo. The idea is to prevent arms being delivered in the humanitarian
convoys, as it happened many times with deliveries from Turkey.

The checks will be done by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and later by a UN
agency. The civilian, humanitarian and commercial traffic will be able to
roll to and fro Castello Road freely, subject to checks. The rebels and the
government forces will not snatch each other’s territories, will not improve
their positions in the designated areas.

The Pentagon demanded a no-fly zone for the Syrian air force all over Syria,
but by the agreement, the Syrian air force will stop flying battle missions
only over designated areas. The Russians say this condition will not
undermine their strength, as the Syrian military aviation is anyway a
negligible force in comparison with the Russian Air Space Force, and the
Russians will keep flying. They proved this point on September 14, as they
bombed away a rebel force that took positions threatening Palmyra.

Any Syrians including armed rebel fighters can leave Aleppo by Castello Road
freely to any destination whatsoever. This is an important point. If they
want to fight, let them get out of the city. If they are tired of war and
want to go home, let them. This was the Russian view as well, while Pentagon
insisted to keep the armed and fighting groups in Aleppo. It is not clear
what will happen with non-Syrian fighters; perhaps they will be able to get
out after laying down their weapons.

After one week of no hostilities, the Americans and the Russians will set up
the JIC, the Joint Implementation Center, where they will share information
and jointly fly missions against ISIL and Nusra.

And in a short while, the political process will resume, under auspices of
Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy in Syria. This is no less problematic than
the military part.

The sides hold very different views: the US and its allies apparently prefer
to carve Syria into a few statelets: a Sunni statelet, a radical Sunni
statelet, a Kurdish statelet, and the rump-Syria containing the Alawite and
Christian territories with the Russian bases. On the other hand, Damascus
and Moscow prefer to keep Syria united.

Whatever is the outcome, fate of Aleppo, the second biggest city of Syria,
is paramount. Some limited successes of the Syrian army and its Russian and
Iranian allies in Aleppo (they cut supply routes to the rebel-held part of
the city) already had caused quite a crisis in the Russian-American
relations. The liberal interventionists felt fresh air in their sails and
published touching pictures of suffering civilians calling for Western
intervention “to save people of Aleppo”. The harsh word “ultimatum” hovered
in the air, while the US administration tried to make a new record of
brinkmanship. The Damascus government hoped to liberate Aleppo and
consolidate the territories under its control, while the Americans wanted to
keep at least half of Aleppo in the hands of the rebels to prevent Assad’s

The turning point was the Obama and Putin discussion in Hangzhou. The
meeting had been tense. The leaders exchanged a stare of death, much
photoshopped. The Washington Post said Obama gave Russia an ultimatum, make
or break proposal; Russians fumed, especially as the meeting has been
preceded and followed by two rounds of additional “sanctions”, on September
1st and September 6th.
Despite these problems, the agreement was reached. What next? After the
cessation of hostilities will be established, there should be negotiations
between the Government and Opposition in Syria, but the US and its allies
would like to keep the government of Bashar Assad out of negotiations. They
actually prefer to limit negotiations to the different groups of rebels, as
they say, President Bashar Assad had lost his legitimacy, he said. The
Russians disagree. They say: the government representatives sit in the UN,
there are ambassadors and embassies in Damascus. You may dislike Assad, but
that does not make him illegitimate, said Lavrov to Kerry.

Now the arrangements of the cease fire are not proceeding smoothly. The UN
personnel supposed to man checkposts should get visas; Damascus does not
want to give visas to the British: they could be spies, they say. They agree
to Indians, or other neutrals. The UN and the Red Crescent waited for
assurances of their safety from the government and the rebels, and
apparently none were forthcoming. The rebels are reluctant to move away from
their positions, and the government troops were waiting for them to move.
But the general level of violence has been greatly reduced.

The chances for success or failure are more or less even. Nusra keeps a low
profile in the North, but they instigate other groups to refuse the cease
fire. Pentagon is not keen to share information with the Russians. And the
Russians can’t make peace alone. On the other side, the Syrians are very
tired of war, and they are happy to have even a lull in violence. The next
few days will show whether this agreement will lead to peace, or will it
being used for the sides to consolidate and improve their positions for the
next outbreak of fighting, as it happened in February.

Meanwhile the government forces have a new (or rather old) enemy: Israel.
Israelis support Nusra forces in the vicinity of the armistice line between
Syria and Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. As Nusra fought against the
government army, some shells flew over and fell on the Golan territory. The
Israelis used it as a pretext to attack Syrian army. The Syrians said they
downed two Israeli planes, a fighter and a drone, by their old reliable
Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles. Israelis deny that with unusual
vehemence. It seems that an Israeli drone has been downed, while a jet, even
if it was hit, succeeded in returning home.

 The Syrian government gave a lot of publicity to this encounter in order to
stress that the rebels fight on Israeli side against their Arab brothers.
But friendship between Nusra and the Jews is hardly a secret: pictures
showing Israelis helping Nusra fighters appeared in the Arab and Israeli
media. And this assistance is not limited to medical help: Israelis are
determined to keep the Syrian army farther away from its borders.




On the 49th Parallel          

                 Thé Mulindwas Communication Group
"With Yoweri Museveni, Ssabassajja and Dr. Kiiza Besigye, Uganda is in
                    Kuungana Mulindwa Mawasiliano Kikundi
"Pamoja na Yoweri Museveni, Ssabassajja na Dk. Kiiza Besigye, Uganda ni
katika machafuko" 





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