A statement released by the Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah warns the United States to cease striking forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad when they violate deconfliction zones, warning their “self-restraint” will not last if America “crosses the red lines.”
The use of the term “red line” is a reference to President Barack Obama’s failed attempt to convince Assad to cease using chemical weapons on civilians in 2012.
“America knows well that the blood of the sons of Syria, the Syrian Arab Army, and its allies is not cheap, and the capacity to strike their positions in Syria, and their surroundings, is available when circumstances will it,” the statement reads, according to Reuters. It specified missile attacks as potential retribution for strikes on Syrian army allies. The “self-restraint” of these allies, the statement warned, “will not last if America goes further, and crosses the red lines.”
Reuters notes that the statement did not specify who these “allies” were, though the delivery of the statement through a Hezbollah media outlet suggests Shiite militias comprise most of this coalition. Hezbollah has participated significantly in the Syrian civil war on behalf of Assad. According to statements by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot Wednesday, up to 25 percent of Hezbollah’s jihadists have died in both Syria and Iraq, nearly 2,000 jihadists.
The Hezbollah statement did not cite Iran or Russia, Assad’s two main international allies, as part of the coalition in question.
On Tuesday, American coalition forces bombed Shiite militia positions in al-Tanf, a southeastern desert region of Syria near both the Iraqi and Jordanian borders. U.S. forces previously conducted a similar attack on May 18 for the same reason – Syrian government forces and allies had engaged in hostilities within the agreed-upon deconfliction zone.
“Despite previous warnings, pro-regime forces entered the agreed-upon de-confliction zone with a tank, artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, armed technical vehicles and more than 60 soldiers posing a threat to Coalition and partner forces based at the Al Tanf Garrison,” U.S. Central Command explained, adding that it issued “several” warnings before attacking. The Pentagon had previously referred to their presence in the region as “unacceptable and threatening.
Assad’s state media outlet SANA published a story condemning the United States for the attack Tuesday, citing an anonymous “military source” who said, “this aggression confirms once again that the coalition’s support for terrorism at a time when the Syrian Arab Army and its allies make daily progress in fighting ISIS terrorist organization.”
Assad’s coalition, which includes Russian and Iranian military elements, has focused on attacking urban centers with minimal Islamic State presence, most prominently the city of Aleppo. The Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), a composite militia consisting of Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, and Christian Assyrian forces, dismissed the Syrian military’s claim they had done anything to halt the growth of ISIS during an announcement of the launch of the battle for Raqqa, the ISIS “capital.”
“If regime forces had been able to launch an operation for Raqqa they would have done it. Neither the regime forces nor the Russians have moved one inch on that front,” SDF spokesman Talal Silo said. Iran’s state-run PressTV claimed shortly following that remark that Assad forces had entered Raqqa province far from Raqqa city and “retaken two villages” from ISIS.
The Pentagon issued a further statement on the al-Tanf incident Wednesday:
Pentagon: US-led coalition "remains ready to defend themselves if pro-regime forces refuse to vacate the de-confliction zone," spox says
— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) June 7, 2017
While al-Tanf has no significant civilian population, it is located on a key road connecting Baghdad and Damascus and is home to a military garrison the American forces are using to train anti-ISIS fighters, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Multiple warring parties in Syria have agreed to treat the area as a “deconfliction zone” outside of the scope of the civil war.