The Geopolitics Behind Race For Eastern Syria by Mona Alami, Al-Monitor
With the war on the Islamic State (IS) in full swing, the race for eastern Syria is on, with regional and international players jockeying for position in the desert areas stretching from north to south, in the direction of the Iraqi borders. Forces backed regionally and internationally are fighting for the precious span of desert. What are the geopolitical calculations of the various factions in that region?
The Syrian government has been progressing in recent weeks in three regions in central and eastern Syria, east of Aleppo toward the Raqqa axis, in the Deir ez-Zor region and al-Tanf, close to where the borders of Jordan, Iraq and Syria meet. At the same time, US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are gaining territory in IS’ Raqqa stronghold, while US coalition forces have clashed with pro-regime militias in the area of al-Tanf. Iran has also been pushing on the other side of the border, in the sector of Baaj in western Iraq.
Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute, told Al-Monitor, “The geopolitical importance of eastern Syria is twofold; two-thirds of Syrian oil is located in the area, which is also rich in gas resources. The region is also a pathway for Iran to Syria via Iraq, through the Sinjar-Tal Afar-Hasakah axis in the north and through the Palmyra axis in the south.” Balanche said economic calculations for the Syrian regime, besides the oil and gas, include reopening important trade routes such as the highway linking Baghdad to Damascus.
Two players have been eyeing the northeastern area of Syria around the strategic city of Raqqa. In the wake of the United States' targeting of a regime plane, the SDF clashed for the first time with Syrian army troops north of Raqqa. Also, on June 13 the SDF reported major progress around Raqqa city, recapturing several areas such as the 17th Division Army Base and the sugar factory.
Syrian government forces have also been advancing in the area…