Taking Advantage of US Withdrawal, China Initiates Efforts to Increase Military Foothold in Syria

Foreign Affairs

By Arie Egozi

Tel Aviv. China is taking advantage of the US withdrawal from Syria and has begun an effort to step in alongside Russia. Israeli sources said that the possible presence of China in Syria in addition to its growing presence in the Gulf States will pose a major problem to the US.

The sources added that China shows signs that it wants to take part in the rebuilding of Syria after the long civil war but “it is obvious that the main target is to have military foothold in Syria” one source said. “The US is aware of the Chinese plan but so far has not done anything to stop it.”

Marine General Frank McKenzie, commander of the US Central Command, said on May 23 during a visit to the Gulf States that the Middle East is an area of intense competition between the great powers. “And I think that as we adjust our posture in the region, Russia and China will be looking very closely to see if a vacuum opens that they can exploit,” McKenzie according to a report in al Jazeera.

According to this report the American general also said that weapons sales would be one need Moscow and Beijing could exploit. Russia, he said, offers to sell air defence systems and other weapons to whomever it can, and China has a long-term goal to expand its economic power and ultimately establish military bases in the region.

Russia wants to make the last remaining American soldiers in Syria leave , as part of their master plan to make the country an “extension” of Russia in the middle east. Israel defence sources say that the Russians are “moving slow but with a plan.”

Russian troops have recently blocked and turned around a US military convoy in northeast Syria, the Russian military said. The US is keeping a very low profile military presence in Syria . This is based on the assumption that ISIS in Syria is very limited in its capability to operate against the US.

Israeli experts say that this assumption is wrong and the fact is that ISIS keeps operating in Syria, and planning terror attacks against “western targets”.

According to the Moscow Times, the Russian Defence Ministry’s Syria reconciliation centre said six American MRAP-type armoured vehicles drove “along an uncoordinated route and without prior notice” in the Kurdish-held Syrian province of Hasakah.

“A Russian military police patrol stopped the convoy and turned it in the opposite direction,” admiral Alexander Karpov, the reconciliation centre’s deputy head said in a statement. The Russian reconciliation centre was established in 2016 and is officially described as a peace monitoring centre aimed at accelerate peace negotiations between the fighting sides in the Syrian civil war.

The US Defence Department declined to comment on the confrontation, with spokeswoman Jessica McNulty telling Russian state-run media it “has nothing to give you on the request.”

Dr Mordechai Keidar , one of Israel’s leading experts on middle east issues, said that the Americans refrain from talking about their military force in Syria .”This force has a mission to protect some American intelligence assets in Syria.” He added that the Russians consider themselves as the “owners of Syria” and don’t want any American force in this country. “The American force in Syria may have another mission. Trump wanted to disrupt the Iranian plan to create a passage from their country to the Mediterranean. I don’t know if this is in the mission list of the US today , but that may be another reason for the American presence.”

Recently, there have been reports that Iranian militias have begun adopting a new method to protect their military arsenal, and especially missiles, in addition to protecting drugs, which are their main source of income, from any air strike, whether Israeli or otherwise.

Al-Arabiya TV reported that “Iranian forces and its affiliated militias have begun transferring large quantities of weapons to new warehouses near the al-Mayadin archaeological site in Deir a-Zor district, and storing them in canals and concrete rooms as part of a new tactic to protect them from airstrikes.

According to the channel, Iranian militias recently worked to bring in 4 trucks loaded with heavy weapons, including short- and medium-range missiles, through the illegal al-Sakakh (railway tracks) crossing near the border town of Albuqmal with Iraq, and two trucks unloaded their contents at militia depots in the Ayyash area of the western rural area of Deir a-Zour located on the Syria – Iraq border. The other two trucks continued their way towards the militia sites in the eastern rural area of a-Raqqa province, using trucks to transport vegetables and fruits to disguise their movements.

The new warehouses, in Badia (the desert in eastern Syria), were built underground of reinforced concrete, with passages connecting the warehouses of one area with the neighbouring area, to facilitate traffic. These warehouses were covered with dirt so as not to be exposed to means of observation from above.

According to the same source, Iran relies on the Iraqi Al-Hashd al-Shabi militia that supplies weapons to Syria, and the delivery process is usually carried out at the border (Syria-Iraq) or through a meeting between the Al-Hashd militia and the receiving militia at points within the Iraqi territories near the border.

-The writer is an International Roving Correspondent of the publication. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda

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