Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1265, (8 - 14 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

The unending regional war

Russian military intervention in Syria, even if coordinated with Washington, poses the risk of turning fast into a superpower confrontation that would doom the region, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

At the 70th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, 28 September 2015 was a memorable day. It marked the opening of the general debate that would last until 6 October, and where the American, Russian, French, Chinese and Egyptian presidents delivered remarks on their respective points of views concerning the state of the world.

US President Barack Obama said he would not hesitate to use his country’s military power to protect American interests, meanwhile promising to work with international and regional powers in seeking a solution to the Syrian crises. As for Mr Vladimir Putin, the strongman of the Russian Federation, he promised to fight terrorism and called for a grand coalition to carry out this mission. The Chinese president talked about the stability necessary in the international system to promote world peace and prosperity. When it came to France and its position on the deplorable and catastrophic situation in Syria, the French president left no doubt that Paris still lacks imagination as to how to put an end to the miseries of the Syrians. President Hollande ruled out any role for the Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, in any agreed-upon transition to democracy in Syria. As far as Egypt is concerned, its president defended the territorial integrity of Syria and vowed to fight both extremism and terrorist groups.

Prior to this date of 28 September, it was understood that both the Americans and the Russians had agreed in principle on future Russian airstrikes against the Islamic State, or Daesh, in Syria, and that their respective militaries would conduct mil-mil talks to avoid the interference of each other’s air force while conducting airstrikes in Syria. The Americans made it clear that they would not oppose Russia using force in Syria as long as this force would be used solely against Daesh, and not for the sake of propping up the Syrian government. This position flew in the face of a previous statement by Mr John Kerry, the US secretary of state, in which he expressed willingness to see President Al-Assad stay in power for a certain period of time in the transition period as stipulated in the Geneva Communique of 30 June 2012. That was a departure from earlier US positions that insisted on Al-Assad leaving power at the outset of such a transition.

The Russians started flying sorties against Daesh positions 48 hours after President Putin appearing before the General Assembly and after his summit with his US counterpart in New York City the same day. The Duma, the Russian parliament, approved the deployment of Russian forces in Syria. General Andrei Kartapolov, a high-ranking general in the Russian general staff, announced 3 October that the Russian airforce conducted more than 60 missions on more than 50 targets belonging to Daesh from Wednesday, 30 September, the day Moscow decided to project its military power in the heart of the Arab world. It was unprecedented. It is also unprecedented since World War II ended that both the United States and Russia coordinate military operations. Never before has Russia intervened militarily anywhere in the Arab world.

On Friday, 2 October, President Obama reiterated that cooperating with Moscow in the search for a solution to the Syrian crises is still possible as long as Russia stops considering President Al-Assad as a shield against Daesh, and concedes that regime change in Syria is necessary. On both points, the Russian position would be “No, thank you.” I guess such an answer is not a surprise for the US administration and I tend to believe that the administration of President Obama has been windowdressing its retreat in the Syrian crisis and leaving the driver’s seat to the Russians to defeat Daesh on the ground  something that the United States would never do, whether under the Obama administration, or the next one after the US presidential elections next year.

Are the two superpowers cooperating together or confronting each other in Syria, and by definition in the Middle East?

They are in the two modes. It is incumbent on their leaders to walk a fine line in the region lest they lose control of events, and find themselves locked in a quagmire made by the shortsightedness of almost every international and regional power that got involved in Syria during the last four and a half years. All of them should heed the lessons in Iraq and Libya. Otherwise, unending armed conflict in the Middle East will erupt that would only benefit the terrorists they claim to fight. Today, no one would dare predict a new dawn in the Middle East while the false promises of the fictitious Arab Spring have turned to mayhem.

The writer is a former assistant to the foreign minister.

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