Syria Digest December 14


The Syria Digest will be on hiatus during the Congressional recess and resume publication on January 11.

Syria in the Nation's Capital

NDAA: The Senate has begun the debate of the FY 2023 Defense Authorization Bill (HR 7776). The measure includes a provision requiring the Pentagon to establish a Civilian Protection Center of Excellence. Within this new structure, the Defense Department would be required to provide Congress with a description of how it has differentiated between combatants and civilians in both ground and air operations in Syria and assess allegations of civilian casualties in Syria. The House last week passed the bill by a 350 to 80 margin. 

Turkish Sanctions: Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Jim Risch, R-Idaho, recently conveyed his concerns on the potential legislative implications for Turkey if it carries out a military incursion into northern Syria. In an interview, Risch argued such a move would further destabilize Syria, derail the U.S. campaign against ISIS, and endanger the release of thousands of terrorists from detention facilities. Risch warned if U.S. forces in Syria were killed, it “would seriously jeopardize Turkey’s relationship with the US Congress.” 

Turkish-SDF Clash: The Biden administration continued to impress upon Turkey that the U.S. does not want to see any military operations in northwest Syria. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said, "We don't want to see military operations conducted in northwest Syria that are going to put civilians at greater risk than they already are, put in peril our troops and our personnel in Syria, or our counter ISIS (Islamic State) mission." Later it was reported that CIA director Bill Burns sent a strongly worded message to his Turkish counterpart opposing recent Turkish artillery strikes. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., endorsed this action stating that it was an important warning. 

Syria at the UN and Abroad

UN Report: The Associated Press reported that United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres submitted a report to the United Nations Security Council warning the humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening to the extent that if aid deliveries from Turkey aren’t renewed next month millions of Syrians may not survive the winter. The report noted deliveries across conflict lines within Syria cannot substitute for “the size or scope of the massive cross-border United Nations operation.”

Hezbollah Funding: Earlier this week, a report by Iran International revealed that London-based Lloyds Marine Insurance Company warned that the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah illegally send gold from Venezuela to Iran to finance the terrorist activities of Iranian-backed militias in Lebanon. Lloyds added that flights from Caracas to Tehran via Mahan Air are being used as an illicit channel to ship gold to pay for Iranian oil. 

Russian-Turkish Talks: Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin led a high-level delegation to Ankara last week to meet with his Turkish counterpart to address Turkish threats to launch a ground attack in Syria. Another issue of contention between the countries, said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, is Russia's failure to advance talks regarding reforms of Syria’s constitution.

Syria on the Ground

Turkey-SDF Warning: The U.S. and Russia have a short window of time to avert a Turkish military operation against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). A Turkish official notified Al Jazeera that both countries were given a two weeks deadline to get the SDF to withdraw from Manbij, Tal Rifaat, and Kobani. Turkey made clear that this deadline will not be extended. In response, the U.S. has proposed restructuring the SDF and giving a more prominent role to the Arab forces in administering the three towns that Turkey demanded the SDF withdraw. However, Turkey responded that SDF control of oil facilities had to end before considering any American proposals. 

U.S. Raid in Eastern Syria: U.S. forces over the weekend carried out an attack in eastern Syria against ISIS. According to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), a successful helicopter raid was conducted on December 11 that resulted in the deaths of two ISIS members, including Anas, an ISIS Syria Province Official who was involved in the group’s facilitation of operations in eastern Syria. CENTCOM would not provide specifics on where the raid occurred, but extensive planning went into it. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the village of Al-Zor in eastern Deir Ezzor province as the target area.

Israeli Airstrike: Israeli planes struck a radar system in the Tel al-Qalib area near Suwayda. Following the incident, Israeli planes dropped threatening pamphlets in the Quneitra area of southwestern Syria, warning Syrian soldiers to stop cooperating with Hezbollah. These events occurred just after recent reporting of Syria and Iran deploying new air defense systems around Damascus, including jamming and early warning systems to prevent Israeli airstrikes in the area.


It is Time to Rethink How We Deliver Aid in Syria”: Al Jazeera posted an op-ed from Sansom Milton that offers policy recommendations that reform how global assistance would be provided to northwest Syria. 

What’s At Stake if Turkey Invades Syria, Again”: Megan Stewert with the Middle East Institute argues a Turkish land attack against the Syrian Democratic Forces will do little but exacerbate an already devastating conflict and crisis in Syria.  

The Forgotten War: What Russia Could Win From the Reignited Conflict in Syria”: Stefan Wolff writes in The Conversation how Russia could benefit from a Turkish military campaign in northern Syria.