Της Αλεξίας-Νεφέλης Δούμα , Ερευνητική ομάδα S.A.F.I.A.
Much ink has already been spilt on the unprecedented terrorist attack in Paris on November 13, 2015 in an atmosphere of endless despair. Many characterize it as the “new 9/11”. Nevertheless, they tend to defy the significant fact that that attack was launched by an acknowledged organization, Al-Qaeda, acting as a frontispiece of the Afghan state. In the present case study, the current threat is of a much larger extent and ambit, gradually conquering the globe. What one needs to conceive is that ISIS enjoys no single and specific nationality- on the contrary, it operates as an amorphous mass, a totality achieved as a result of illegal forms of collaboration and interstate crime in countless regions of the world, though serving a common purpose: the violation of security, democracy and freedom of expression. The ultimate goal of the organization is the breakdown of democratic regimes and the emergence of the Caliphate as a global superpower that will handle telecommunications, (inter) governmental and (inter) state security systems, and so on. One thing is for sure: Islam serves as the pretext for these modern bloody crusades. No religion that respects itself preaches and initiates a “holy war”; a war that is being constantly heretically interpreted- to say the least. Global co-operations frequently alter, as the international components are defined by ephemeral alliances, perhaps with classic conflicting interests, such as the US-Russia common goal opponent against ISIS. Parallel to that, other fronts hover vis-à-vis the question of military intervention of France and USA-UK in the disputed area of Raqqa, the struggle between Turkey and Russia around the management of natural resources not only on their behalf, but also in terms of ISIS, the implementation of geopolitical strategies over the area along with the future of millions of Syrians, who were accounted for either as refugees in neighboring countries, such as Lebanon, or internally displaced peoples (IDPs). The recent EU-Turkey Ankara Summit on refugees ignited hot debate over the way in which the Schengen area should be further fostered via the creation of the so-called “refugee hot-spots” within the Turkish territory.
Syria: A brief background
Syria is a country of 185,000 km2 and comprises 21.1 million inhabitants. The numbers are striking: 6 million out of the total Syrian population are refugees and 2 million are primarily located in neighboring countries (Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt), whilst the more fortunate were able to enter the EU milieu, where they came across acute and inhumane conditions during their transition through borders. The remaining 4 million are displaced and uprooted to travel to peaceful territories. At the time, most of them flee away from Syria via Cyprus or Turkey to Greece which is regarded as a transit area so as to reach their final destination (Germany, Sweden etc.).
Antonio Gutierrez, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that the situation of Syrian refugees is much more than a mere “humanitarian crisis”. It is the largest and most unprecedented outlet in the last forty years. The levels of uncertainty as to whether these refugees will be able to return to their country are augmenting. As it happened in the case of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, the demographic map of the neighboring countries altered. As far as the Syrian issue is concerned, it is considered a bone of contention -especially for the neighboring economies that cannot support the fugitives. What is more, the expenditure rates UN has undertaken lead to a large-scale economic halt for some of the organization’s members. Governments provide endless amounts of money for military equipment and scarce financial contribution to war victims.
Aleppo has been transformed into a scene of a seismic shift to the Syrian conflict highlighting a crucial question: who will fight for Syria’s Sunni Arabs?
Hospitals keep being bombarded amidst a yearly religious conflict between Syrian Sunni rebels that are often supported by Turkish forces and Gulf States, not excluding other groups such as Kurdish warriors, the YPG, and so forth, that are mostly backed up by the US.
The contested region is of strategic significance
Taking a look at the map, one is led to the inescapable conclusion that this fight is set up for the slim tranche of territory controlled by these “moderate” Sunni rebels.
In the course of time, the aforementioned situation has been altered and “gilded” with the Assad regime that has fiercely reached the south of the area. The supply routes to Aleppo were obstructed, if not completely cut off compelling the Syrian Kurds to move to the eastern part.
The US awkwardly remains a mere spectator of the developments in the region. It is facing a dilemma as it has been backing the Sunni Arabs as well as the Syrian Kurds.
The Sunni rebels for their part fear a potential Kurdish advancing, whose territorial ambitions bolster their expectations of creating a state from scratch and uniting Afrin with Kobani town. This perspective causes frustration to Turkey, as it considers the Kurds as the major threat to its integrity.
The Syrian rebels express sentiments of resistance towards the upcoming danger. When it comes to the supporters of the Syrian Kurds, the latter claim the cleansing of the region from radical minds amongst rebellious fighters.
This tiny strip of land is of uttermost significance to its contesters since it leads the role of an embankment of the opposition both against Assad and ISIS. The defeat of the two latter war fronts could permanently halt the goal of initiating a “moderate” Sunni force as an ally to ISIS. Nevertheless, it is true that moderate Sunni Arabs have not succeeded in reaching a consensus upon a common political and military plan that could reinforce their status against ISIS.
A failure of moderates?
From a solely historical approach, back in 2012 most of the opposition members struggling against Assad were Sunni rebels, laymen who fought for a more decent and respectful life. Despite the hindrance of their struggle against hindered by the government, they persevered standing firm in defence of democracy. However, they were soon “infected by the dizzy and unattainable ambitions of the Arab Spring”.
The main drawback in their organization and planning was the absence of a proper political leadership.
In this way, international supporters began to distance themselves from the aforementioned struggle. In the year that followed, the authoritarianism was still dominant in the country and even went beyond primordial rules such as the famous red line of chemical weapon use.
In the meantime, radicals began to integrate into rebel groups. At first, this was noted when it comes to Al Nusra Front, whose fighters were viewed as terrorists to the US.
The aforesaid group evolved into a collaborator of an extended rebel coalition that excelled in its liberating operations in 2014-2015, consisting of both moderate as well as more radical members, such as Al-Qaeda.
During that same period, the Islamic State which had spread across the Iraqi borders quickly usurped the power and rendered them subordinate to their brutality, becoming a great menace at an international scale, especially after the Paris attacks in November 2015 and onwards. On behalf of the American foreign policy, the US fighters estimated that the Kurds are the most effective counter-force against ISIS.
Consequently, the US attempted to train as well as equip more moderate Sunni Syrians using up half a billion dollars.
Is radicalism gaining ground? – ISIS: Where religion meets extremism
The Islamic State was established in 1999 representing the radical Sunni Islam and its intense action begins in 2004, as an offshoot of the terrorist organization “Al Qaeda” in Iraq, a ruthless terrorist organization against Shiites and later against major western capitals.
The birth of this terrorist arrangement placed chronologically after the end of the second war in Iraq and the upcoming consolidated instability in the country leading to the dissolution of historical structures. Then, six extreme Islamic organizations among which the most important was the “Al Qaeda” in Iraq consolidated their power, from which it all started. After its uprooting in 2007, some of the branches were scattered in the Middle East, joining other hardliners and from 2007 to 2008 organized and formed the arrangement we see today.
Parallel to the above were the overwhelmingly accepted blows when Sunni tribal leaders of central Iraq cooperated with US forces against ISIS. The latter revived in the context of the Syrian civil war. The idea that the IS emerged as a result of this conflict in the period 2010-2012 is well-founded, since that period faced a greater political turmoil with regards to the Arab spring the countries of Northern Africa in the pursuit of their democratization. Both the events in Tunisia and Egypt, and the amorality of NATO military intervention in Libya constituted the springboard for the development of the new strategy.
Undoubtedly, a major factor as to the reinforcement of Daesh was the military coup in Egypt in 2013 and hence the damage caused by the Assad regime in Syria. The triggering point was in 2011, with the outbreak of civil war following a peaceful protest against the totalitarian regime.
Even Al Qaeda has renounced ISIS in 2014 because of its extreme positions.
Some call them “Daesh”, others “insane god” and others simply “jihadists”. The infamous “Islamic State” is deemed as one of the bloodiest and most obscure aspects of global terrorism in the 21st century.
ISIS appears as a sect originating from the Sunni Muslim fundamentalists who distort the words of the sacred text of Islam, the Koran, proclaiming the global prevalence of the “state” via forcible means. For them, Islam must be consolidated by slaughter and subjugation of all other believers in Allah, through global expansion and domination of Jihad.
ISIS is a multifaceted scheme that is rather perplexed to analyze. The latter has shouldered the responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris, and now recently in Brussels, Baghdad and Lahore, Pakistan. It seems that ISIS possesses an extremely powerful recruitment mechanism since a significant proportion of its soldiers and supporters originate from western countries.
ISIS has developed a tremendously large and extensive indoctrination combatants system around the world, even in Western countries where there is lack of religious fundamentalism. Daesh is prone to new technologies, which are incorporated into their extremist activism as a means to propagate threat, hate speech and recorded or videotaped “infidels” undergoing execution. Unfortunately, it has been impossible to identify the exact location and their action path through technology; technological intelligence is the key to their “encrypted” criminal conduct.
The international community faces the augmenting threat of ISIS’s rather jerky movements.
Lack of global cooperation, unilateral actions and hasty announcements of (yet unprecised) “plans to attack the Islamic State” compose the western inaction towards this alarmingly expanding terroristic phenomenon. The decision of French President Francois Hollande to bomb the stronghold of the Islamic State was not sufficiently backed by the international community. While some western allies require intervention, others simply blame the US for burgeoning the Islamic State.
ISIS is based on the distortion of some primitive elements of the Islamic religion. The extremist interpretation given to them emanates from despotism trends and the worshipping of conservative religious and doctrinal traditions of the past. The latter aspire to the creation of a new caliphate that is tempted to expand itself beyond the Syrian borders and through imperialist tactics succeed in conquering the world. ISIS is a well-structured “institution” that functions like a true propagandistic state that has set the cultural supremacy of Islam as its most sacred goal. Until now it has proven significant progress in converting –apart from traditionally radical Muslims residing in the Arab world, wealthy and educated citizens of the West.
Eminent Muslim educators, theologists and Sufis condemn the aforementioned organization, since it is socially and morally immoral from a religious point of view to apply the Islamic dogma a la carte. More to that, there is already a long list of decisions condemning the organization.
ISIS creates religious contention for its own interests, that is purchase of oil and acquisition of political power and influence, thus, shifting the conventional correlations of power to the dominant forces.
ISIS will dissolve when it has accomplished its utter goal to exterminate Islam’s enemies. ISIS is a new form of terrorism and an unprecedented threat to culture (ancient temple of Palmyra, etc.).
ISIS professes a “heretic Islam.” It addresses the jihadists running the caliphate as a doctrine. The most characteristic feature of jihadists is that they renounce every form of law and legal governance, considering any ideological rival as unfaithful and thus, deserving to vanish.
The fortunate fact is that there are conflicts within the bosom of the organization that lead to its weakening at a great degree.
Pakala, the capital of the puppet regime in northern Syria, is on the verge of collapse, as the inner conflicts lead to a widespread feeling of tension and nervousness amongst its members. Their financial supplies are reported to be under significant depletion threat; the same goes for their internal cohesion and hierarchy.
The most typical example is the loss of the historic city of Palmyra and its regaining by the Free Syrian Army. Can the Islamic State be led to self-destruction? Many experts consider this a sufficient condition to lead to the dissolution of this universal threat.
So, is defeating the Islamic State possible?
It is true that a “revival dream” has long been the uniting idea amongst those adopting political Islam as a doctrine. There was always a social need of combining modernity with Muslim civilization and that was mainly expressed by middle class ordinary Muslims, who at the same time opted for disconnection from radical views as well as the creation of a millennial generation who wanted to belong to an entity that blends power, religion and modernity.
ISIS seemed to satisfy all the aforementioned criteria, with its cutting-edge technologies mixed with a high level of discipline in the areas under their control. The other element, religion, is the magnet that directly or indirectly attracts people to IS, for the group introduces itself as the guarantor for the application of God’s rule on Earth, and that the caliph is a continuation of the Prophet Muhammad’s legacy.
The truth is that the Islamic State seen both as a doctrine and a religious practise, has been an unbeatable model in the Sunni Muslim world to those seeking this blend of religion, power and modernity. Sunni and Shiite Islamists shared many similar aspirations until the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran succeeded in toppling the Shah.
Later on, it became crystal clear that the revolution was more than a mere answer to the aspirations of Shiite Islamists (rather than Sunnis); therefore, the next stop for Azzam and his comrades was Afghanistan, where they clustered as Afghan Arabs.
Following the creation of the Islamic State, one of the most cardinal strategies adopted was social engagement. The de facto, self-styled state opened its doors to jihadi foreigners, and thousands came in with their families and settled in cities under IS control; according to a UN report, more than 25,000 from over 100 nations have made it to IS territory. Some of them get married to women from tribes in the areas in order to strengthen ties and complicate any attempts to oust IS. The foreign jihadists are persona non grata in their home countries, and if IS collapses, their lives and future may be endangered on a constant basis, because of lack of safe haven.
Part of the “social and economic” strategic plan is the engagement of the tribes ruling the oil business, a fact that contributes both to asset acquisition and to the reinforcement of ties with local tribes, as well.
The dominant view is that IS operates its activities in a tacit manner rendering it very often unattainable for enemies to target it effectively. It is apparent that three years of ground and air operations, international and regional attempts to counter IS and direct media and public campaigns did not effectively harm the group. The latter now operates quite effectively –as very recently proven to the world’s great despair- in several countries and continents, with the multiple attacks in Paris, Brussels, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan being the most typical examples.
Experts claim that in order to efficiently defeat ISIS, the world must target the core of the group, something that entails untying the shroud of knots surrounding it. A counter model that will incorporate power, modernity and real respect is required in order to face the IS model of distorted Islam. IS is very dexterous in attracting people. 3 out of 4 Belgian youngsters have been converted to ISIS fatal doctrines and are now located in Syria and the Middle East.
What the world needs at the moment is concerted actions combined with well-planned military and economic steps in order to avert any further (financial and geographical) expansion of the aforementioned group. Another priority of a universal coalition should be to spot out the passageways of replenishment, predominantly oil and other material (technological) goods.
Kurdish groups remain the US main ally vis-à-vis the Islamic State in the region. Nevertheless, they are now being reported to advance their forces against the moderate Sunni rebels. It is true that ISIS has been tremendously weakened in the field where Kurdish fighters have succeeded in smiting Daesh. As to the Assad regime, it continues to flourish supported by Russian air support, trapping several anti-regime fighters within the Aleppo ruins. In that part of the country, ISIS is launching attacks so as to regain land.
Based on these conjectures, it goes without saying that the geopolitical balance has shifted, especially following the Russian intervention in the hostilities. Turkey still demonstrates a positive stance towards the moderate Syrian rebels. However, the likelihood of it intervening against America’s key ally, the Kurds, remains eminent notwithstanding the fact that both Turkey and the U.S. are NATO allies.
The aforementioned “alliance scattergram” is detrimental to the presence of the moderate Syrian Sunnis, who are –allegedly- represented by ISIS. Al-Qaeda for its part struggles so as to preserve their traditional habitats, but –very often- lacking fruitful results.
The ongoing inhumane situation
Located in the desert with a temperature of 38-42 degrees Celsius, people living in tents and containers depict only a small part of the whole situation. What about water, electricity and sewerage? It seems that infrastructure is totally improvised. Half-damaged hospitals, homeless children, massacres, burned houses. Rape is both a torture and a weapon of war used towards the approval of the military hierarchy.
Syria is experiencing a holocaust in a desperate attempt to locate signs of European humanism. How does humanity react vis-à-vis this perpetual crime? Is the so-called Western civilization the culmination of barbarism in the 21st century?
Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis through military means is more persevere than ever. Moscow has launched air strikes in Syria with very significant “collateral damage” for Turkey, with the aim of supporting Assad forces in their fight against the Islamic State.
The head of the Syrian opposition, however, rushed to declare that Russian bombers did not hit any action area of the Islamic State, but the action areas of the Free Syrian Army instead- even causing the death of dozens of civilians.
In order to provide us with answers as to the “Syrian Future” one must deeply conceive the rivalries and alliances on the field. How will the following months of the strife-torn country in the Middle East evolve?
On the one hand, Assad’s regime is fueled through Russian support. On the other hand, the Free Syrian Army, made up of many scattered opposition groups has been struggling for democracy and secularism, but is rather rendered most weakened by the bombing carried out by the oppressor against their belligerent forces. In addition to the aforementioned, two powerful Islamist groups, called Al-Nusra front, which is the offshoot of al-Qaeda in Syria, and ISIS, the Islamic State, have intervened in the conflict. These Islamist groups have been constantly fighting each other and each one is defeating the army of Assad and the opposition, the Free Syrian Army.
The civil war in Syria broke out mainly between Assad forces and the opposition. In the way, Islamist groups intermingled gradually seizing power and gaining the upper hand in Syrian matters. While the western allies were puzzled, Turkey initiated a “game of tolerance” towards the Islamists of ISIS, so as to convince the US that in case Assad is left unprosecuted, the dominance of ISIS in the region will be reinforced. The US for its part adopted this strategy, but the Russian overturned almost everything.
What led Russia to conduct air strikes in Syria?
At first, Russia refused to negotiate in a way that would lead to a consensus with regards to the Syrian issue, insisting on the rationale of leaving Assad aside and then resolving the problem. In this direction, it enjoyed political support from the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Unfortunately, the negotiations were proven unfruitful.
The aforementioned situation escalated very quickly, following the emersion of the powerful ISIS and the latter’s occupation of the Kurdish areas in northern Syria, America attempted to assist the Kurds bombing ISIS, thus resulting into the recession of ISIS from the Kurdish areas. Then the Turks decided to enter the war, bombing ISIS alongside America and Kurds in an attempt to promote their plan of creating a security zone in northern Syria, a shelter for asylum-seekers. Americans were reluctant as to their involvement once again in a Middle-East war.
Eventually, the US, albeit promising a support protective of the “insurgents”, did not achieve its initial goal. Russia was prepared to accept the resignation of Assad, but not a regime maintaining special ties with Moscow.
Russian intervention: A blessing or a curse to Syria?
Russia created some tension in the area, posing a dilemma to the US; they would fight against ISIS and invite the US to join them. Otherwise, they would split Syria, while preserving territories for their naval bases under the Assad auspices.
Undoubtedly, Russia is now anticipating a present target, ISIS. It goes without saying that the Free Syrian Army is already weakened.
Assets exclusively stem from the UN Security Council. Neither the International Coalition in the US, nor Russia are mandated by the Security Council, acting in Syria according to their interests.
At the moment, one could argue that Putin does not wish to trigger a situation in which jihadists from all over the world will travel to Syria so as to fight against Russia, as in the case of Afghanistan. Moscow offers air cover to Assad instead, in order for him to execute his military, on-shore ambitions undistracted.
The role of the Kurdish Rojava in the Syrian conflict
Although the Kurds did not receive any invitation in order to participate in the latest round of peace talks on Syria held in Geneva, it goes without saying that their role is much more than decisive. Without decisive Kurdish participation, no peace process is entitled to bear fruit. The Kurdish autonomous government in Rojava (North and Northwest Syria) is the only political and military power, apart from the Assad regime, which has managed to cope with the putative powerful “Islamic State” and organize a governance of secularism which has imposed obedience in the region. At the same time, the autonomy of Rojava attracts both international and regional powers. The increased regional role that the Syrian Kurds lead may be examined from various perspectives.
With regards to the quasi-state community of Rojava, the latter will certainly lead to a redefinition of the very nature of the Syrian state when the war ends. Regardless of Assad, the Kurds are able to establish the demand for extensive autonomy, perhaps following the example of the Iraqi Kurdistan. Despite the problematic example of Iraq, the adoption of the federation as acceptable state assembly system in the Middle East is a nightmare for neighboring countries, especially Turkey.
The secular and democratic character of the state organization in Rojava seems appealing to other ethnic and religious groups, as well. Rebel Christian Assyrian Women’s Units created the standards of female Kurdish militias (YPJ) and fight on the side of the Kurds against the Islamic State.
The rise of the political influence of Syrian Kurds could alter the internal relationship between the Kurdish leadership in Iraq. The PKK leadership, HDP in Turkey and the leadership of the Syrian Kurdistan stand in full support of this political shift of the latter.
The autonomous Rojava gradually but steadily emerges as a political, military and ideological entity not only for Turkey’s Kurds and Iran, but also signifies the above for the Arab societies in the Middle East. The rise of Syrian Kurds in the inter-Kurdish relationship is enhanced by two major developments: the weakening of the organization of Barzani in Iraqi Kurdistan and the strategic stalemate of the Kurdish in which Kurdish organizations following Erdogan’s decision to choose the brutal military crackdown in response to the electoral rise of HDP.
The rise of Kurdish influence in Syria complicates Russia’s and regional powers’ plans (Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran) for post-war dominance in the field.
Russia on its part has demonstrated a significant interest in Syria not being turned into a loose federation, but instead preserve its sovereign integrity along with the assistance of a significant part of the Ashanti / Ba’athist mechanism.
Turkey sees the autonomy of the Kurdish Rojava not only as a very dangerous model federal organization that it wishes to exorcise, but also as a growing risk of a PKK rebellion within the Rojava territory.
So, how does the stance of the great allies change in the new era?
One could argue that the only forces profiting of the aforementioned are the US and Israel. Sunni dissidents are militarily mute because of a deteriorating fragmentation policy. The only force that is operationally effective –but yet again gradually losing ground- is ISIS, the Salafist jihadists. A consultation on the other hand, on behalf of the US with Assad would put Washington on a par with Moscow and would seriously injure the American prestige. The Kurds are the ones that provide the embattled ground forces that air strikes need in order to become really effective.
Israel on its part would strengthen an independent Kurdistan in Iraq and reinforce the Kurdish autonomy in Syria, with the purpose of mitigating the Iranian control over the region. Nevertheless, experts claim that neither Washington nor Tel Aviv are willing to get militarily involved. Finally, despite American dissatisfaction with the Turkish adventurism, no US administration is ready to opt for the Kurds instead of Turkey as key allies in the Middle East.
Turkey’s external policy vis-à-vis the Kurds
It seems that Turkey has found the ultimate “alibi” so to erase Kurds from the map. From formal partner of the coalition against the jihadists (the self-styled Islamic State) it has transformed itself to a key player constantly gaining geopolitical credits under the “auspices” of NATO and the US. With a recent decision Turkey has authorized the coalition to use its air bases. The attack on Kurdish rebel camps essentially annulled the peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
In this perplexed situation one faces extreme difficulty in differentiating political and strategic interests amongst the leading players. Turkey, NATO and the US declare that they are united against the jihadist threat. Nevertheless, the YPG (Kurdistan People’s Protection Units) referring to Turkey’s recent initiatives in the Syrian front has declared that instead of attacking the positions held by the IS terrorists, the Turkish forces attacked their defensive positions. The NATO on its part has announced that there is lack of connection between the air strikes against the PKK and the recent agreement to intensify the US-Turkey cooperation against the jihadists.
What is particularly alarming in terms of geopolitical balance in the region is that PKK is conceived as a terrorist organization according to Washington, whose stance is aligned to Ankara.
Turkey has been bothered quite significantly by the victories of Kurdish rebels who gradually but steadily pave the way for the founding of the Kurdish state.
Turkey itself denies its intentions. The Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu expressed his appreciation about the air strikes unleashed by Turkey against the Islamic State; the PKK guerrillas may change the balance in Syria and Iraq.
NATO is monitoring developments very closely, whilst the US have already confirmed that they are working with the Turkish leadership for military cooperation at the Syrian front.
How will the US react in the long-term?
When it comes to the Obama administration, the former has been accused for unjustified reluctance vis-à-vis military support to Syria. During the first days of the Geneva talks, it became amply clear that the superpower is off the right track as to the way it handles the Russian intervention. The Obama administration has been characterized as “cynically de-escalating” motivating its allies to follow its stance on the matter.
The bilateral agreement between John Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov paved the way for the cessation of hostilities in the Syrian region Syria, but rather was proven to be the initial point for the extension of bombardments across the northern region. The Russian Prime Minister for his part has stated that the distinction between the very moderate ones and the not-so-moderate fighters is rather difficult.
The aforementioned attacks amounted to a clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254, passed in December, which endorses and demands “that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”
The Munich accord urges its signatories to “use their influence” so as to guarantee timely delivery of food and medical supplies to areas under starvation siege. Though the latter stage is entirely dependent of the Syrian President’s approval, who intends to disrupt all cross-border traffic to and from Turkey as well as encircle Aleppo, which constitutes the largest Syrian city prior to the war.
For its part, the US has provided YPG with support in its struggle against Daesh in the northern part of Syria –in this way overlooking the fairly good relations it maintained with the totalitarian regime.
This is definitely weakening rebel groups that rely on supply networks that the US oversees: In the south, the United States has demanded a decrease in weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the north, the Turkey-based operations are reportedly dormant.
The US seems oblivious as to the political cost its leniency and inertia may bear at an international level. The conditions pave the way for a bleak Syrian future; the Geneva talks have been postponed for late February. Obama is very unlikely to follow a different path on the issue, since there has been no official US engagement up to date. He is rather more interested in the achievement of process on a general scale avoiding running short of political capital. The Obama administration keeps on condemning its rival superpower, facing an actual dilemma against Ukraine. What is the golden means Washington ought to seek for? Ukraine is a delicate issue and the US has not been tackling it the way it should. Its policy vis-à-vis Russia is often too unfocused.
On the other side of the pond, it would be to Putin’s detriment to see this chaotic tension spread to Syria’s neighbouring countries that already host thousands of refugees, such as Jordan or Lebanon. It goes without saying that no actor wishes to see Syria end up in the hands of ISIS.
The Americans want Assad to resign and leave the country following a political solution for the establishment of peace and security in the region. Russia wishes the contrary; keeping the monarch in power and having the upper hand of the party that is an offshoot of the Shiite dogma, being controlled somehow by Iran.
On the other hand, Russia longs to have a say in the future of Syria, irrespective of whether Assad will continue to reign. Potentially, it would be satisfied assisting towards the creation of a federation comprising the state of Assad and two Islamic states, excluding jihadists, whilst prioritizing the opposition inside Syria, in this way replacing Al Qaeda and ISIS.
In view of the upcoming US elections, analysts contend that the newly elected President will be forced up to a certain degree to cooperate with Russia. Assad will remain until the negotiations for a lasting political solution are proven successful. The question is whether the suggestions of the UN envoy in Syria would approve of any solution satisfactory of the Russian interests. Some argue that albeit Assad’s potential resignation, the Alawite regime will somehow survive.
United Nations and the Great Allies: Another sign of political inertia?
Following the Paris Attacks and the Vienna talks, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, stated that the idea of air drops to locations that have yet to be reached “has become a very concrete proposal […] We are quite pleased about the fact that [humanitarian assistance] was able to reach 82,000 people”. He also expressed his faith in the implementation of the World Food Programme along with the substantial contribution of the ISSG. Yet, the glimpse of hope is overshadowed, as sporadic convoys provide only temporary relief to desperate Syrian citizens.
Despite of humanitarian aid reaching besieged areas of Syria, it is only the “beginning of the task”, according to the envoy’s Special Advisor, Jan Egeland.
The Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, joins the positions of Putin, considering that it would be a disastrous option for Syria to move on without President Assad. According to Rouhani, the priority to address ISIS leaving the existing political regime in Syria unaltered does suffice.
Tehran, moreover, has always been the most powerful ally of the Assad regime.
When it comes to Riyadh, it previously coped with debt, by equipping Islamists of ISIS and urging the fall of the Assad regime, but the attitude is puzzling in recent weeks.
Tehran still considers that Assad must resign and is now involved in talks with Russia on the effective resolution of the Syrian crisis. This may herald a change of attitude.
Turkey is a constant and faithful US ally. Davutoglu has stated that Assad cannot be part of the transition process in Syria. According to the former, Assad is the sole responsible of the crisis as a perpetrator of crimes against humanity.
Nevertheless, President Erdogan, although in the past has repeatedly stated that “Assad must go”, now maintains a stance very close to the perception of the US Pentagon, that is “Assad could remain in power during a transitional policy period that would last for a few months”.
Along with the US views comes Britain. In early September, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, endorsed the American position, “Assad can remain in the president position for a short transitional period of about six months”, adding, however, that Assad shall then be tried for war crimes.
What about terrorism-stricken France and the EU? French President Francois Hollande has made it clear that the international community needs to closely collaborate with Russia, “but they must understand that the political solution to the country cannot include Assad.”
France complies with the tougher stance against Assad, considering him the root of evil. The head of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini joins Hollande, unlike Chancellor Merkel who believes that the future of Syria must include President Assad.
The Netanyahu government shapes its attitude according to the interests of Israel mainly, not by how it affects each time the Hezbollah action in Lebanon. However, Israel’s position is delicate because the Netanyahu government has equipped small groups of rebels fighting against President Assad.
Saudi Arabia declared its determination to vanish ISIS (or the so-called “Daesh”) preparing itself to operate a military intervention on the basis of a result-oriented strategy against terrorism. It has officially announced its plan to send troops and fighter jets to a military base in Turkey. The Saudi foreign minister emphasized that the Russian intervention in Syria would not help Assad remain in power. As he has stated, “There will be no Bashar al-Assad in the future”. Some stand skeptical vis-à-vis a collaboration with Turkey, as that would be rendered problematic if Saudi Arabia includes Kurdish fighters, who have been one of the most effective anticipators against Daesh on the ground.
Despite the Russian proclamations that it is currently bombing Daesh bases, Kremlin has repeatedly claimed it is bombing “terrorists” but has been condemned by the UN and the international community for evidence it is predominantly targeting civilian areas held by anti-government rebels. Russia’s intervention is backed by Iran.
Apart from moral issues that occur as to a possible cooperation with the figure that led to such a massive destruction and to the subsequent unprecedented refugee flow, Assad remains the worst potential partner in the fight against the Islamic State. It is true that Assad’s strategic base is yet unfounded. He recruits most of his soldiers from his Alawite community- which constitutes a minority- registering just 10 percent of the population compared to a Sunni majority that takes up to 70%.
Assad rallies in an attempt to attract –often ambivalent- minority groups like Christians and Druze. He has overrelied on Alawites and thus, this conduct has brought about polarization of the Syrian population along sectarian lines by also failing to provide the regime with sufficient manpower. The Syrian monarch hopes to maintain control of the Damascus-Aleppo axis and the coastal regions in the joint purpose of maintaining the pretence of still reigning the state. Some worry that the Islamic State has become invincible especially after the consecutive terrorist attacks following November 13, 2015 in Paris, whilst several pro-government activists have been accused and arrested for expressing a critique for the totalitarian regime.
The Syrian regime backed by its allies has seized control over the said area implementing an extensive military programme, comprising perpetual and acute aerial bombardment. Their uttermost goal is to isolate cities like Daraya, as well as cut off any likely paths for humanitarian supply provision and weaken the opposition. Power generators, water pumps along with heating and communication systems have become the main targets following the destruction of entire acres of crop cultivation.
Artillery shelling, use of missiles, fortification of weapons and other means of mass destruction compose a challenge citizens and IDPs (internally displaced persons) have to cope with on a daily basis. The goal is to fully secure the area around Damascus to the southwest.
The official Syrian news agency reports that the army and armed force units have executed extended operations killing innocent units. As far as the national coalition for Syrian revolution is concerned, the UN Security Council has accused it of having committed crimes against thousands of innocent besieged citizens, including children and women. The regime forces seized control of the area connecting Daraya with other cities, thus controlling the only existing crossing, creating hindrance of communication.
Some argue that five years after the outbreak of the revolution, the totalitarian regime is recording some temporary progress due to Russian support, but foresee a brighter future as to the country’s status quo. Especially if we take into account that in Daraya had registered 250,000 citizens back in 2010 and now this number has shrunk to –merely- 12,000 (both citizens and military personnel included), it becomes crystal clear that these populations will face deteriorating conditions on the grounds that the acute hostilities continue unhindered in the region. A once wealthy, cosmopolitan state has been transformed into a targeted outcast: Syrian integrity is in tatters.