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SYRIA: What Was the Future of War? The Objectives of the Actors.

The recent attack by Britain, France, and the United States against SAA’s military positions on the ground in Syria under the pretext of using chemical weapons seems to set up the end of a period of millions dead and millions of refugees.

Capturing the large area in the north and east of Damascus including Ghouta by the Government forces marks the end of the possibility of a military intervention by the opposition forces, by three ‘great’ states. The consequences of this development are evident as the area of Kalamoun (40km NE of the capital) was handed over to the government forces while in the south of Damascus the siege is underway of the Babiyah region, Al-Hazar & Yarmouk held by opposition and ISIS.

The military successes of Assad’s forces (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, etc.) have created conditions in which the largest urban centers in the country, the coastal region and the vast majority of the lands extending westwards the Euphrates River laid under full control of Government. Apart from their control, there are the lands around the city of Daraa in the south of the country, on the border with Jordan and Israel, the region of Rastan, Idlib and the Turkish-controlled areas of Afrin and Al-Bab in the north, as well as the eastern regions of the Euphrates where they are controlled by the SDF [iv] and the U.S. forces with the Kurdish element playing the dominant role.

The factor that differentiates the new situation is that the opposition forces are no longer able to stand alone in the political, military and political-diplomatic-economic fields. Without the support of the super-systemic actors (that are Turkey, USA, France, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Qatar, etc.), neither the FSA [v], HTS [vi] nor SDF representatives could have a powerful reason as the local association of all the opposing forces has now been overthrown. Also, it is characteristic that the areas controlled by the opposition forces now are borderless and without major urban centers [vii ]. The more so, with the exception of SDF-controlled land-rich energy fields located east of DeirEzzor all other regions are virtually unable to establish viable state entities. The continuing population flow from the evacuated areas creates additional infrastructure and organizational problems [viii] while there are few cases of armed conflicts between opposing groups [ix].

Military defeats, fragmentation, conflicting positions and the lack of basic infrastructure are evidence that we are in the face of the end of numerous attempts to overthrow Assad.

Unfortunately, in this new phase, violence will not be absent. Now we will not have to deal with proxy wars, but instead, we will have a direct involvement of the protagonists themselves.

Let us try to investigate the objectives of the actors

– Israel essentially demands the withdrawal of all the Iranian troops, the Shiite militias and Hezbollah from Syria, the eradicating of their bases and the creation of a ‘neutral zone’ [xi] along its borders [xii].

– Saudi Arabia strengthens efforts to limit Iran’s influence on the Islamic populations of the Middle East and its military power by all means [xiii].

– The United States has officially declared the decision to leave the region [xiv], but after destroying all the ISIS forces which lastly intensified its activity in the eastern regions of the Euphrates and along the Syrian-Iraqi border. At the same time, they support SDF’s effort to set up an autonomous entity in northeastern Syria under their protection (in fact read: to drive a wedge and to split Syria).

– A willing candidate for this role is France also, which has openly expressed its intention to actively participate both in the elimination of ISIS and in the protection of the areas that are under control of SDF [xvii].

– Following the occupation of Afrin Turkey aims to prevent the creation of an Iraqi-Kurdish entity along Turkish-Syrian borders and asks the US to terminate their support of Kurds and especially YPG in the areas of their interest [xviii]. It seems this is the most important factor in the controversy between the sides and the occasion for Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia.

– Iran probably wishes to renew the nuclear agreement [xix] and seeks to consolidate its presence in Syria as well as controlling the corridor from its territories to the Mediterranean coasts and Lebanon where it’s allied Hezbollah is based. The state tries to prevent the encirclement of the hostile actors, and to maintain good relations with Qatar, and to strengthen the role in the region against Saudi Arabia.

– Backed Assad Russia has two large bases on the Mediterranean coast and seeks to play a valuable role in solving Kurdish problem. Joining with Iran will help Russia in maintaining the control over the land route from Iran to the Mediterranean, which is also part of the famous Silk Road. The Russian policy is aimed at creating a federated [xx] single state of Syria strongly opposed to the prospect of secession or de facto independence of the U.S.-controlled areas [xxi]. The state has been always responding to Israel’s demands on creating a 60-70 km zone along its borders free of Iranian or Shiite troops [xxii].

With regard to the Kurdish, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria, they strongly react to the prospect of establishing a Kurdish state, as it means partitioning their territories despite Israel and the US[xxiii] which are very positive in such a perspective [xxiv].

Finally, the prospect of ISIS’ re-emergence in the border areas of Iraq and Syria has led to the creation of a joint center of operations between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Russia based in Baghdad so that to co-manage the threat, and they have already made their first operations indeed[xxv].

Peace or endless war?

The recent assault of the ’alliance of the three’ (US, France, UK) against Syrian facilities seems to deepen a gap between the opposing forces. However, future conciliation is possible in which the carrot and stick will be a tool for other parties or for “friends” of the process. Power correlations are the ones that will determine the course of developments.

Syria, therefore, has no limits to prolong the conflict. There are enough tragic consequences, deads, millions of refugees and massive disasters.

Courtesy to: Fanis Papakostidis, translation: S. Mangal.

[i]       Ξημερώματα της 14ης Απριλίου 2018

[ii]      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria/syrian-rebels-withdraw-from-enclave-northeast-of-damascus-idUSKBN1HS06D

[iii]     https://hellasjournal.com/2018/04/o-syriakos-stratos-archise-ton-vomvardismo-thylaka-tzichantiston-notia-tis-damaskou/

[iv]    Syrian Demopcratic Forces

[v]     Free Syrian Army

[vi]    Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham που υποστηρίζεται από την Σ.Αραβία

[vii]   Αξίζει την προσοχή του αναγνώστη η εστίαση στις περίφημες reconciliation agreements. Δείτε χαρακτηριστικά εδώ: http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/46864/RSCAS_MED_RR_2017_01.pdf?sequence=1 και εδώ: https://sana.sy/en/?tag=reconciliation-agreement

[viii]  Ενδιαφέροντα στοιχεία εδώ: https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/19/trapped-desperation-syrias-displaced-civilians

και εδώ: https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/04/1006521

[ix]    Για μια γενική εικόνα εδώ: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inter-rebel_conflict_during_the_Syrian_Civil_War

[x]     https://www.worldatlas.com/webimage/countrys/asia/lgcolor/sycolor.htm

[xi]    https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-assad-s-army-solidifies-control-while-violating-accord-with-israel-1.5976991

[xii]   https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-22/israel-wants-russia-and-u-s-to-know-it-can-wreck-syria-deal

[xiii]  https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/947674/Syria-news-Saudi-Arabia-Donald-Trump-USA-Arab-Army-Iran-Russia-Israel-Assad

[xiv]  https://www.reuters.com/video/2018/03/30/trump-says-us-forces-will-leave-syria-ve?videoId=413302602

[xv]   https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/31/politics/us-withdraw-syria-trump/index.html

[xvi]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/even-as-trump-urges-syria-exit-the-military-says-its-not-finished-with-isis/2018/04/06/e18daf08-3906-11e8-acd5-35eac230e514_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1b1ec88bfc93

[xvii] http://www.middleeasteye.net/usa-france-mattis-special-ops-forces-syria

[xviii]        http://www.dw.com/en/turkey-offensive-against-kurds-in-syria-will-continue/av-43043649

[xix]  https://en.annahar.com/article/795373-as-trump-and-macron-meet-irans-rouhani-warns-on-nuke-deal

[xx]   https://en.insidesyriamc.com/2017/01/30/full-text-new-syrian-draft-constitution-in-english/

[xxi]  https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2017-12-13/putins-plan-syria

[xxii] https://www.timesofisrael.com/russia-said-to-reject-israel-plea-to-keep-iranians-60-km-from-golan-frontier/

[xxiii] http://www.naftemporiki.gr/story/1276219/to-israil-uper-aneksartitou-kratous-kourdon

[xxiv] https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2017/09/27/why-the-u-s-should-support-kurdish-independence/2/

[xxv] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/iraq-fighter-jets-strike-isil-targets-syria-180419125454310.html

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