The U.S. and Saudi Arabia, along with five other Persian Gulf Arab states, announced a coordinated series of sanctions against three money transfer companies plus individuals in Turkey and Syria as well as an Afghan charity. All these people and organizations were part of a network that moved cash around for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). All will be monitored and there may be prosecutions.
The U.S. led TFTC (Terrorist Financing Targeting Center) and key members Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) detected and identified the components of the ISIL financial network and are now cooperating on destroying that network and detecting and going after replacement networks. TFTC has been around since 2017 when it was established as a joint American-Saudi effort to detect and take down terrorist financial networks, especially those used by ISIL and Iran.
There are still a lot of individual Arabs, including some very wealthy ones, who support Islamic terrorism and some even support Iran. But the majority of Gulf Arabs are hostile to ISIL and Iran and TFTC uses American knowledge and influence over the international banking system along with the Gulf Arab knowledge and role in local or international Moslem banking systems to detect and go over ISIL and Iranian cash movements. For a long time, a weakness of Western efforts to disrupt financial networks used by Islamic terrorists was the inability to obtain detailed information about this separate Islamic banking system that had been around for centuries and had few links with the current Western dominated international banking system. It was known that billions of dollars a year seemingly disappeared into this ancient Islamic money transfer system and ended up elsewhere, often to finance Islamic terrorist operations. Before TFTC Western investigators could do some damage to the this less formal banking system and came to realize that the “center” of this system was in the Persian Gulf, where oil-rich Arab states, plus non-Arab Iran generated a lot of the cash for both traditional and Islamic banking systems and provided major transfer points between the two. The Arabs are mainly concerned with disrupting Iranian cash movements but everyone can agree on hurting ISIL finances because ISIL is literally at war with all Moslems and non-Moslems.
ISIL got a lot (over $100 million) of cash out of their collapsing Syrian-Iraq Islamic State by 2017. Access to that cash is a major reason why ISIL is still so active. Remove a lot of the cash for a long time and ISIL activity will diminish as well. Currently most remaining ISIL activity is in rural areas of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. How effective the recent TFTC action is will make itself manifest In Syria and Iraq by the end of the year.
Turkey seems to be at war with everyone, officially or unofficially. The reality is that Turkey has some priorities in this area. Turkey wants to avoid war with Israel yet portrays Israel an “enemy of Islam” and tried to ignore the fact that Russia and Israel have long been friends and that relationship continues. Turkey and Russia agree with Israel when it comes to Iran in Syria. Turkey would prefer that Iran go home. Many Iranians and Syrians openly agree with Russia and Turkey on this point. The Iranian government responds with “Israeli airstrikes are killing people in Syria.” Syrians note that most of the dead are Iranians or mercenaries (Arabs or Afghans) on the Iranian payroll. The Iranian government deliberately keeps as few Iranians as possible in Syrian bases likely to be hit. Iranians getting killed in Syria, even if they are IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) Iranians, is very unpopular back in Iran.
Syrians just don’t like all these Syrians who are working for Iran or Turkey as mercenaries and getting killed by whoever. Similar situation with Russia and Turkey. Both nations keep as few of their own troops in Syria as possible. Russia and Turkey both have the majority of voters back home hostile to their soldiers getting killed in Syria. Russia uses a lot of Russian military contractors; whose deaths are less of an issue in Russia. The Turks, as they have done for centuries, use Arab mercenaries to fight other Arabs. There are lots of Turkish troops in Syria providing support, and ensuring that Turkish mercs do what they are paid for.
Turkey and Syria are also angry at Russia over the poor performance of Russian air defense systems. The Syrians frequently claim to have intercepted Israeli air-launched, often from inside Lebanon or Israel, missiles but the reality is that few of the Israeli missiles fail to hit their targets. Commercial satellite photos are available to determine damage and there is always a lot of it. Iran and Syria complain that the formidable Russian air defense system in Syria is not used to stop the Israelis. The Russians don’t want a fight with the Israelis, if only because the Israelis might publicly demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems. These systems are a major export item for Russia and the Israelis could reduce those export sales with demonstrations of how Israelis get past the Russian air defenses.
Russia and Turkey are actually fighting each other in Libya, where Turkey recently (late 2019) intervened on the side of the UN backed government there. That government is weak and backs Islamic rule, which is why it was about to be eliminated by the Russian backed Libyan government and its more capable army. This force was backed by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Turkey intervened in return for a signed agreement giving Russia the right to drill for oil in disputed waters between Libya and Turkey. In Syria Russian airstrikes have killed Turkish troops while the Turks have killed Syrian troops. Turkey, Russia and Iran continue to pretend they are all friends and allies of Syria but the reality is different and becoming more visible and violent.
There are still tensions between Turkey and Russia. For example Russia has refused to explain why they have been sending daily air patrols along the Turkish border for over a week. The Russian jets stay inside Syria but if those jets are equipped for aerial recon they could be taking detailed photos of any Turkish forces on both sides of the border.
July 15, 2020: In the northwest (Idlib province) Russian airstrikes supported Syrian ground forces attacking Islamic terror groups in Idlib province that were believed responsible for a failed attack on the main Russian Hmeimim airbase, which is not far from Idlib province. Syrian forces used artillery against Islamic terrorist bases identified Russian aerial reconnaissance.
Since the February over 7,000 Turkish military vehicles (trucks, tanks and other armored vehicles) have been seen entering Syria. At least 11,000 Turkish troops have also moved into Syria (northern Idlib and adjacent Aleppo province) along with at least as many Syrian Arab mercenaries. These forces are meant to be used against Idlib Islamic terrorists as well as Kurdish forces east of Aleppo province.
July 14, 2020: In the north (Idlib province) a roadside bomb on the M4 highway was used against a joint Russian-Turk patrol. Three Russians and several Turks were wounded. The bomb was apparently planted by Islamic terrorists in the half of Idlib province still controlled by Islamic terrorists. Syria controls about half of Idlib and Turkey occupies much of northernmost Idlib. Most of the Islamic terrorists left in Idlib have nowhere they can escape to and most are willing to fight to the death and take as many of their enemies with them.
July 12, 2020: Syria is not getting along with its patrons Russia and Iran. This tension does not express itself violently but there have been confrontations. Iran has been hiring Syrian militiamen by offering higher pay. While Iran is having financial problems, Syria is in even worse shape. Syria still cooperates with Iran. For example, Syria, with Russian help, discovered that three senior intel officers (two generals and a colonel) were selling information to a foreign power (apparently the CIA). Some of this intel was apparently used to track the movements of IRGC general (and Quds Force commander) Qassem Soleimani just before he was killed by an American Hellfire missile attack in January 2020. Soleimani was also in charge of the Iranian military buildup in Syria and Iraq. Iran has declared the death of Soleimani a “crime against humanity” and is seeking international cooperation to arrest senior American civilian and military personnel involved with killing Soleimani. This allows the Syrians to score some points with the Iranians by agreeing with this effort to avenge Soleimani.
July 11, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) an airstrike, apparently Israeli, hit a convoy of Iranian mercenaries in Syrian Army uniforms. At least 35 men were killed including two officers. Deir Ezzor is now a key link in a land route from Iran, via Iraq to Lebanon. Deir Ezzor is also where Iran bases most of its mercenaries.
In the west ( Latakia province) Islamic terror groups based in neighboring Idlib province once more tried to carry attacks on the Russian Hmeimim airbase using explosive armed UAVs. The attack failed. This airbase was built by Russia in 2015 near the port city of Latakia, which is 85 kilometers north of the main port of Tartus and 50 kilometers from the Turkish border. Part of the Tartus port has become a long-term foreign base for Russia, along with Hmeimim. As long as the rebels are active in Idlib they will try attacking the Russian bases.
July 10, 2020: Russia and China both vetoed UN efforts to extend aid shipments to Islamic terrorist held Idlib province in northwest Syria via Turkey. Russia, Syria and Iran want the Islamic terror groups in Idlib destroyed. Turkey opposes this because many of those Islamic terrorists as well as civilians seen by Syria as supporters (and subject to punishment or death) will seek asylum in Turkey. Russia is willing to allow aid to come in via Syria but that would enable the Syrians to manipulate aid deliveries to favored factions and make it easier for Syria to shut down all rebel/Islamic terrorist activity in Idlib. Russia already got the Idlib aid coming in via Iraq and Jordan halted. Shutting down the aid via Turkey means air groups have to deal with the Syrian government, which is considered an outlaw operation and guilty of war crimes. Russia believes if it becomes the most useful foreign supporter of the Assad government Russia will have a reliable foothold in the Middle East for a long time. That only happens if Russia can work things out with Turkey and maintain their traditional good relations with Israel.
The UN is not pleased with this Russian strategy and reported that people in refugee camps are dying from a lack of food and medicine. The UN refuses to give detailed data on losses. Syria prefers that pro-rebel civilians leave the country. The Shia Assads are suspicious of any non-Shia Syrian civilians. These potential enemies than prove their loyalty in various ways. For example, in the northeast (Hasaka province) Arab residents of the Kurd dominated province can prove their loyalty to the Assads by staging demonstrations against American patrols or convoys in the areas like Tell Tamer near the Turkish border. In the last week these civilians have cooperated with Syrian troops to block two American convoys. The U.S. has about a dozen small bases in Hasaka province. There are a growing number of Syrian troops in Hasaka as the Assads negotiate a peace deal with the SDF (Kurdish led rebels) and some autonomy for Syrian Kurds. As usual the Kurds are not as united as they should be. There have always been factions within the Syrian Kurdish community and now Russia, Syria and the Americans are all trying to sort out which Kurds they can trust the most.
Sporadic fighting continues in southern Idlib where Syrian troops and rebels confront each other. Russian UAVs continually patrol the front line and are occasionally shot down. Russian artillery and airstrikes are used when Syrian forces are trying to advance, or to disrupt another Islamic terrorist effort to launch rockets or armed UAVs at nearby Russian bases near the Mediterranean coast.
July 9, 2020: In the east (Homs province) ISIL forces and Syrian security (army and militia) forces clashed. This fighting produced over a hundred casualties and over 40 dead, most of them Islamic terrorists. ISIL raids continue to threaten traffic on the main road that goes to the Euphrates River Valley and Deir Ezzor province. This is all in the Badia Desert area., which extends into nearby Jordan and is thinly populated by Sunni Arabs who are inclined to tolerate or support ISIL as long as ISIL attacks were directed at military targets and not local civilians. The main job of the security forces is to keep the main road open. This vital route passes through Homs province from the Euphrates to more populated (and pro-government) areas to the west. ISIL has grown weaker in their Badia Desert refuge because of constant clashes with Syrian troops and airstrikes by Russian and Syrian aircraft.
July 8, 2020: Iran signed a deal with Syria to upgrade Syrian air defense capabilities. Iran has not got access to the latest air defense tech and this deal appears to be an effort to test new Iranian air defense gear in Syria and make improvements based on the results. Syria is desperate to obtain air defense capabilities that can stop Israeli airstrikes. Older Russian weapons (S-200 and S-300) are all that Syria has and not very effective at all. Russia refuses to use its S-400 system, used to defend Russian bases in western Syria, for fear of discovering that Israel can defeat the S-400 as well.
July 6, 2020: In the southwest, outside Damascus, an Israeli airstrike destroyed several trucks that were carrying Iranian rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
July 4, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) near the Iraq border and the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq, Russian troops took control of a Syrian oilfield by surrounding it with combat vehicles and demanding that the Syrian security force leave. The Syrians did so and the Russians later brought in their own Syrian mercenaries to guard the oilfield.
July 3, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) American airstrikes hit Iranian mercenary bases near the town of Mayadeen. Most of these bases had been abandoned and it those that were still occupied there were some casualties. American airstrikes in this area are usually retaliation for Iranian-sponsored attacks on Americans in Iraq.
July 1, 2020: At the Italian port of Naples police discovered 14 tons of amphetamine pills (captagon) hidden in a cargo container. It was initially assumed the drugs were manufactured by ISIL in Syria. Further investigation showed that ISIL had long since been driven out of the captagon manufacturing business. ISIL had been replaced by the Assad clan, which controlled most of the illegal drug production in Syria for decades before ISIL came along. The seized captagon was worth over a billion dollars at the retail level but the loss of this shipment, unless it had been bought in Syria by a middleman, would cost the Assads several million dollars at least.
June 29, 2020: In the northwest (Idlib province) there are growing incidents of violence between HTS (Hayat Tahrir al Sham) group and smaller Islamic terror groups that refuse to obey. HTS was once an al Qaeda supporter but renounced its al Qaeda connection in 2016. At the time this was seen as a political move to make HTS more acceptable to the Turks. Back then HTS was already a coalition of coalitions and many of the factions still did not trust each other. The major fear is that another faction, or even HTS leadership, has made a better deal with Turkey which, so the story goes, wants to control HTS as a sort of Sunni Hezbollah and use it to drive Shia Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah out of Syria. Many HTS leaders do have a history of working with the Turks. Russia and Syria have reason to believe the Turks are actually supporting some of the HTS factions in Idlib. The Turks do support “moderate” Islamic terror groups but refuse to outright admit it. This policy is unpopular with Israel and Western nations as well as Syria, Iran and Russia. Many Turks also oppose any pro-terrorist policy but the current Turkish government is controlled by an Islamic party that favors “cooperation” with some Islamic terror groups to protect Turks from the more rabid Islamic terrorists. Syria used to play that game and it did not work out well. It rarely does but for many shortsighted politicians it is still an attractive option. Since 2016 HTS has frequently had to crack down on uncooperative Islamic terrorist factions in Idlib. This is difficult and not completely successful. HTS wants to do this without triggering a major armed resistance. In the last few years, the worst resistance has been a few bombings. This is a favorite tactic for Islamic terror groups who are feuding. That and assassination of each other’s leaders.
June 28, 2020: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) two airstrikes, apparently Israeli, hit Iranian targets near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Structures and vehicles were damaged or destroyed and about ten Iranians or Iranian mercenaries. In the aftermath of these two attacks Iran ordered the remaining troops in the camps bombed to temporarily leave their camps and move to the countryside, dispersed into small groups living in the open.
June 19, 2020: A 57E6 missile, fired from a Russian Pantsir air defense vehicle in Syria, landed largely intact in the Israeli Golan Heights. Syria has over two dozen Pantsir vehicles and says this missile had been fired at an incoming Israeli cruise missile. The 76 kg (167 pound) 57E6 missile is supposed to self-destruct, using its 20 kg warhead, if no target is found. The one that fell in Israel was seen being examined, apparently disarmed, for further examination. Pantsir has been an embarrassing failure in Syria and Libya although Russia revealed a new version of Pantsir at the end of June.
June 12, 2020: Samir al Atrash, a well-known Syrian HTS (local Islamic terrorist alliance) leader was killed in Libya near Sirte, while serving with the Turkish Syrian Arab mercenary force. Atrash was apparently leading some kind of reconnaissance operation.
June 11, 2020: In southwest Syria (Damascus) an Israeli airstrike destroyed an Iranian facility, killing four Iranians and three Syrians. Several warehouses and other buildings were destroyed.