Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A Syrian entanglement

A tangled web of global interests has descended on Syria, making it impossible to predict the outcome of an increasingly complex conflict, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Russian military intervention in Syria is now well underway. The crisis is no longer about the conflict between a repressive regime and a people wanting freedom, but about the international rivalry for a toehold in the country and a piece of the national cake.

No ground troops have been deployed in Syria by any of the rivals, at least not officially. But everyone from Russia to Iran has sent experts and funds to back pro- or anti-regime outfits.

The Turks are exerting substantial influence over the political opposition to the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, especially the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF). Some Arab countries are backing anti-regime militia.

The US is training vetted fighters, but otherwise is straddling the fence. There are also the international terrorists who have been flocking to Syria to enrol in the Islamic State (IS) group or like-minded outfits.

In the skies, it is a different story, as the air forces of NATO, Turkey, Russia and a few Arab countries have been crisscrossing above Syria, claiming to be teaching IS a lesson that the latter does not seem to be learning.

Everyone is suspicious of everyone else, and yet everyone goes on talking. The Russians talk to the Americans and influential Arab countries about what needs to be done. Turkey listens to the US and Europe. Iran is making deals with the Americans. And all of them have their own agendas and their favourite groups in need of backing.

Russia claims to be trying to stamp out terror, vigorously asserting that it is in Syria to bolster the regime. Europe and the US are not convinced, seeing that Russia is expanding its naval base in Tartus, grabbing gas development contracts in Syrian territorial waters, and blocking the passage of Qatari and Iranian gas pipelines to Europe.

Even the Iranians are perplexed, fearing that the Russians are going to stab them in the back or at least bite into their portion of the cake. Turkey, casting a wary eye on Russia, is wondering why it is not being properly consulted.

“What you see in Syria is a tangled web of global interests,” says Fawwaz Tallo, a prominent opposition figure.

“The Russians are blocking the Turks from creating a safe haven in the north, while keeping the teetering regime alive. The Iranians are adamantly opposed to Arab or Turkish intervention, but are sending their mercenaries across the country. The Americans and Europeans are more interested in protecting the Kurdish secessionists than helping out the Syrian opposition. The regime has been welcoming the Russians with open arms, but cannot stand the idea of a US intervention.”

Fayez Sara, another opposition figure, is worried that the Russian intervention may lead to further military escalation in Syria. “The Russian intervention has altered the political and military balance, paving the way for the entry of new forces into the military conflict,” he said.

A third opposition figure, Sayeed Moqbel, sees the Russian intervention as the continuation of a trend that started much earlier. “It is odd to see people railing against what they term the ‘Russian occupation’. Syria is not just occupied — it is fair game and has been violated by all in a fate much worse than simply occupation,” Moqbel said.

No one seems to have come up with the right words to explain the increasingly baffling situation in Syria. Some groups in Russia have even termed the intervention in Syria by their military a “holy war” against the fanatics of IS and like-minded groups.

Ironically, IS still seems to be thriving, even after the Russians entered the fray. According to Sara, the Al-Assad regime is not the only one benefitting from the Russian intervention.

“The parties that are benefitting most from the Russian intervention are the Al-Assad regime, followed by the extremists, chief among which is IS,” Sara said.

A crisis that has wrecked a key Arab country, sending millions into exile at home or abroad, killing hundreds of thousands, and putting the lives of many more at risk, is still nowhere near a solution.

The NATO air campaign has done nothing to lessen the suffering of the Syrian people. Arab support for anti-Al-Assad groups has backfired terribly, and the political opposition, huddled in foreign exile, seems unable to find a way out.

No one can predict the outcome of Russia’s intervention in Syria. But the one thing that is clear, at least in the minds of those in the Syrian opposition, is that far from protecting the Syrian people, Moscow, with its military activities, is only thinking of itself.

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