Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1390, (19 - 25 April 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Negotiating by fire

Syria has become a free-for-all for foreign powers

 Negotiating by fire
Negotiating by fire

After the US military strikes ordered by US President Donald Trump on 14 April, supported by France and the UK, Russia has understood it is not the main or only player in Syria, writes Bassel Oudat.

Although Moscow has used its veto power at the UN Security Council 12 times to block any resolution that could end the war in Syria, this was not enough on this occasion as the US circumvented the Security Council, demonstrating that Syria is not a monopoly for any one power.

None of those meddling in the Syrian crisis have accomplished outright success over the past seven years, and none have achieved their goals. Political initiatives proposed since the Geneva I Declaration in 2012 have failed to resolve the conflict, despite dozens of proposals being put forward.

Each player has rejected the military solution and insisted that a political course is the way forward, but each has been tempted to act otherwise. Force is the form of interaction most familiar to local, regional and international players.

Each tries to procrastinate until there is an opportunity for a comprehensive settlement in its favour. Interests clash, and meanwhile the Syrian people continue to pay the price with their blood, seeing dreams of freedom and democracy recede ever further.

Over the past seven years, the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has refused genuinely to negotiate with the opposition except with guns. It has allowed deep Iranian and Russian involvement in its military, security and political affairs to guarantee the continuous supply of fighters and weapons.

It believes that support from Moscow and Tehran will be enough to keep it in power, and meanwhile it has cost Syria two million lives, destroyed the country’s infrastructure, and accrued material losses of more than $600 billion.

Iran does not want the conflict to end if the outcome is not in its favour. Keeping the Syrian regime in place is a means and not an end, with the more important goal being to emerge as a power capable of manipulating the region and prosecuting Iranian aspirations under the guise of religion.

Tehran has sent Shiite mercenaries from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into Syria, along with weapons to the regime, apparently coming to believe that Syria is Iran’s 35th province.

Russia has reasserted itself in the Mediterranean and in the heart of the Middle East through its support for the Syrian regime. It wants to recover its international influence through the Syrian crisis, having attempted to play to all sides in the beginning while pretending to be working towards security and stability in the region.

Since Russia’s direct military intervention in Syria in late 2015, Moscow has committed war crimes, used mercenaries, cleared opposition areas without clear military gains and staged conferences at Astana and elsewhere in a bid to remove the Syrian crisis from under the UN umbrella.

Turkey has decided that fighting the Kurdish militias is its main goal, dealing with them through force and firepower. It has risked losing its long-standing alliance with Washington through its campaigns against the Kurds, using the Syrian opposition as a means towards this end.

The US has quietly established 12 military bases in Syria and has aimed to show Russia that there are other players on the ground that are capable of taking action and upsetting the balance of power.

Washington has not pursued a political solution, leaving any proposals to move forward on auto-pilot and be derailed by other players. It has stood on the sidelines and has not intervened except to send messages to its competitors.

The Arab countries that intervened in Syria have become embroiled in the quagmire. They supported the armed opposition and militarised the revolution and contributed to undermining the political opposition.

Their position has fluctuated depending on their ties with the US, the West and Russia. They have assisted in the Islamisation of the revolution and fought against Iran in Syria, their attempts at using force and money to prosecute their ambitions having now largely failed. 

The Syrian opposition has made serious mistakes that have caused it to lose the revolution. Ideological radicalism, corruption, cronyism, narrow interests, miscalculated alliances and relying on foreign powers have all led to losses domestically and abroad, disfiguring the opposition on the political scene.

All the players are bickering in Syria. Russia forgets that it has lost the support of the Syrian people, threatened its relations with the Western countries, and lost hundreds of combatants, bringing itself to the edge of a Syrian swamp that could become another Afghanistan.

Turkey has been living out a fantasy of Ottoman power, forgetting that the social fractures in Syria will take years to heal. It has sacrificed its relations with the West and wasted its relations with the Arab countries that are worth more than transient relationships with Russia and Iran.

Iran believes its Shiite Crescent is nearly complete and is willing to send fighters abroad in order to complete it. It refuses to acknowledge dialogue or negotiations, placing its bets on blind faith as a way of conquering all. It has created a hostile environment in the region and has spread distrust over its intentions. It has worsened its people’s economic conditions and spread resentment and sectarianism.

Perhaps only the US, with Israel behind it, can look on contentedly. Washington has been reaping the rewards of others’ delusions, using force intermittently to serve its interests, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict has been meant to mobilise international action against Russia.

Changing the balance of power on the ground in Syria will need more than firepower. Changing the behaviour of Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime needs understanding, not guns, and pressure on sensitive issues mostly under US control.

The actions of authoritarian regimes such as those in Syria, Russia and Iran are difficult to predict, especially since their alliances are tactical ones that will not endure. These countries’ domestic and economic conditions cannot withstand extended confrontations, and the majority of their peoples reject their intervention in Syria. 

If the use of force by the US is necessary to end the Syrian conflict, the US must brandish the biggest stick and not be satisfied with political theatre.

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