New military arrangements for southern Syria may include the dismantling of the al-Tanf US military base on the Syrian-Iraqi-Jordanian border in exchange for Iran and its militias to withdraw from the South. However, the dispute remains over the timetable for implementing the terms and how far back the Iran-backed groups would withdraw.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield had come up with a list of ideas over southern Syria, which he proposed to Russian, Turkish and Jordanian officials.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that his suggestion included the withdrawal of all Syrian and non-Syrian militias to a depth of 20-25 kilometers from the Jordanian border, noting that the US-Russian-Jordanian agreement barred the presence of non-Syrian forces, meaning Iranian militias, from the region.
The suggestion also said opposition fighters and their families must move to Idlib in northern Syria and hand over their heavy weapons to the Russians. Regime forces would return to the Jordanian border and state institutions would be restored in Daraa. A border crossing between Syria and Jordan would be reopened, Russian military police points would be set up and an American–Russian mechanism to control the implementation of these items would be put in place.
Satterfield included the dismantling of the al-Tanf base, which transformed into a military base protected by a 55-kilometer-wide missile system. The US demanded that this be implemented after verifying that Iran withdrew its Syrian and non-Syrian militias from the border.
Given this new US reality, direct Israeli-Russian negotiations were held to discuss arrangements for the Golan Heights and the South.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his Russian counterpart Sergei Schoigu met earlier this week and agreed to keep Iranian-backed groups away from the Damascus-Suweida axis. In return, regime forces would withdraw to three points: Tall al-Hara in the Daraa countryside, the Nassib border crossing with Jordan, and Basr al-Hariri in the Daraa countryside.
A Western official said on Saturday there are two points that will determine the fate of the deal: providing guarantees of the withdrawal of the Iranian militias and ensuring they will not return. The second point centers on the fate of the US base.
Washington will not dismantle al-Tanf base before confirming the departure of Iranian forces, according to the official. Damascus has, meanwhile, been demanding that it be dismantled before the withdrawal.
Syrian regime Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told a press conference in Damascus Saturday that US troops should leave Syria, and particularly al-Tanf, before any talks about the future of the southern region can be held.
However, Russia’s Hmeimim Air Base announced on its Facebook page that the agreement on southern Syria clearly stipulated the withdrawal of Iranian forces supporting the Syrian regime and expected its implementation within a few days.
Western diplomats, meanwhile, reported that the past few days have witnessed a "re-deployment" of Iranian groups that saw the return of militias and Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” to within a few kilometers of the border with Jordan.
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) moved from Daraa city, but remained on the northern battlefronts. The Palestinian al-Quds Force moved from the Yarmouk camp to Daraa.
On the northern front, communication intensified in recent days between Washington and Ankara, on one hand, and Ankara and Moscow, on the other, on arrangements for the cities of Tel Rifaat and Manbij in northern Syria.
Washington and Ankara continued to finalize a roadmap for Manbij under the US-led international coalition after ISIS was defeated in the area.
The draft agreement calls for the withdrawal of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) to the east of the Euphrates River, formation of US-Turkish patrols in Manbij 45 days after the signing of the agreement and forming a local administration within 60 days of signing the deal.