NORTHEAST SYRIA — As the conflict in Gaza grinds on for a second month, there is mounting worry that the violence may engulf the surrounding region. Such worries are especially acute in Iraq and Syria, where Iran-backed militias have escalated attacks against US military installations in part of a long-running effort to dislodge America from what Tehran views as its own zone of influence. Iran-backed proxies in Iraq and Syria have targeted US positions 74 times since Oct. 17. In response, the US military carried out three rounds of airstrikes in Syria and one in Iraq.
The attacks appear to have subsided after the truce between Hamas and Israel that went into effect on Nov. 24. That same day, Al-Monitor caught up with Commander in Chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazlum Kobane at a secret location in northeastern Syria. Kobane, who led the battle against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) and is counted among the Pentagon’s most trusted allies, told Al-Monitor that his people do not want their territory to become a battleground between the United States and Iran-backed Shiite militias. Kobane revealed that the Iran-backed groups had also begun to target SDF military positions.
Kobane added that the failure to bring about a just and sustainable solution to Palestinian and Kurdish issues remained the biggest source of instability in the Middle East.
Kobane stressed that Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians was unacceptable, as was Israel’s use of disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians. Israel’s strong-arm tactics, he cautioned, would likely unleash a fresh spiral of extremist violence and spur the formation of new terrorist entities that would seek to exploit Palestinian grievances. The SDF, Kobane insisted, is the most potent force against such groups, as proved by its successful battle against ISIS, which collapsed its so-called caliphate. However, ISIS cells continue to be active inside Syria, as witnessed by the growing number of attacks, particularly against the Syrian Arab Army.