Submitted by George Callaghan…
Perhaps Syria’s nine years of agony is finally drawing to a close. After almost a decade of bloodshed hundreds of thousands have been slain. Hundreds of thousands more are maimed for life. At least 10% of the population has fled the country. Many of these will not choose to return. Those who have emigrated are often the youngest and the most educated. The brain drain has been particularly acute.
ISIS is on the backfoot. The Al Nusra Front, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Free Syria Army and various Kurdish nationalists have also been pushed back. The battle is far from finished. But there is inexorable impetus behind the Syrian Army.
This war has been won by Iranian ground forces and the Russian Air Force. Do not expect to hear NATO countries paying tribute to Iran or Russia for rescuing Europe from ISIS hordes. Iran is now rightly preoccupied about the serious possibility that the United States and its allies may launch an unprovoked attack on Iran. If the Iranian Revolutionary Guard pulls back from Syria to defend the Iranian homeland then ISIS may spring up where it had once been stamped down.
Turkey is occupying a small section of northern Syria. This is against the wishes of Damascus. It is hard to remember that 10 years ago relations between Ankara and Damascus were very warm.
In 2015 Turkey was accused by Russia of abetting ISIS. The Turks shot down a Russian military aircraft. They two countries were at daggers drawn. Curiously, that accusation that the Turks were backing ISIS has not been repeated for a few years. All of a sudden the Turkish and Russian governments became bosom buddies.
Iran has helped defeat ISIS not just by fighting in Iraq and Iran. ISIS was armed and funded by Saudi Arabia. Leaked Saudi Arabian governmental documents revealed how the government there had arranged for volunteers to go and join ISIS. Iran has also helped to vanquish ISIS by backing the Houthi insurrectionists in Yemen. I take no view on the Yemeni Civil War. The Saudi Arabians are very keen to support the Sunni majority government in Yemen. Riyadh accepts that it has basically lost the battle in Al Shams. What keeps Mohammad Bin Salman up at night is the prospect of a pro-Iranian regime in Yemen. That is because Yemen is geographically contiguous with Saudi whereas Syria is not. The Saudi Arabian Air Force has pounded Houthi positions in Yemen and slain thousands of civilians into the bargain. Saudi has also cut off food supplies to rebel held areas causing many to starve. This tactic is as old as war itself and it used in Syria too. Because of the Yemen Conflict the Saudis are de-emphasising Syria.
Though the Russians and Iranians have been allies against ISIS their interests diverge. Iran wishes to defend its land and ensure it has the maximum sway in the rest of the region. It feels duty bound to help its Shia co-religionists in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. The Russians would like to extend their regional sway. They also want to be a counterweight to Uncle Sam.
What sort of Syria will emerge when the dust finally settles? Much of the country is a heap of rubble. The country was never wealthy. Now it will be economically knocked back for decades. It has run up war debts to Russia and China that it can never possibly repay.
The Ba’athists never ever want to run the risk of this happening again. In a sense they will not have to worry. Their foes will perceive that revolt pays no dividends. So many enemies of the Ba’athists will be dead or in exile far away.
Moscow will want to protect its foothold. It has expended several billion dollars in propping up President Assad. It has also spent a lot of political capital in doing so. Further, hundreds of Russians have laid down their lives to keep President Assad in office. The Russian Federation will want to keep it military bases in Syria permanently and even extend them. Fulsome diplomatic backing from Syria is the least Moscow can expect.
The Russian Government will conclude that wholeheartedly backing an ally pays off. In 2011 Russia voted for the UN Security Council Resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya to prevent Gaddafi’s forces massacring civilians. NATO countries interpreted that very ‘creatively’ and effectively functioned as the insurgents’ air force. Moscow has learnt the lesson that it must not vote for such resolutions and not to trust Western protestations of seeking to uphold human rights.
The Iranians would like to see Syria leaning their way. Both governments are anti-US. They are both anti-Zionist. Syria is in no fit state to take on Israel. As Syria has been wrecked by almost a decade of war the last thing it needs is another one. Syria will not be helping Iran against the United States.
The Turks want to extirpate the Kurdish nationalists in Syria. The Kurdish forces are made up of Sunni Muslims almost to a man. However, they are opposed to ISIS and the Al Nusra Front. The Kurdish nationalists have teamed up with their confreres in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish Government does not like this one jot. This has the makings of a very viable Kurdish state. Perhaps a fifth of Turkey is ethnically and linguistically Kurdish. President Erdogan is a chauvinistic nationalist. His desire to smash the Kurds will upset Washington DC. The Kurds enjoy a decent relationship with other regional players. There is a danger that the Kurdish nationalists will conclude that as no one else will help them they shall be obliged to make common cause with ISIS.
Chemical weapons have been used on multiple occasions in their internecine war. These ghastly and illegal weapons have slain several thousand civilians at least. Whoever has used them has gotten away with it. The United States, France and the UK have carried out attacks on Syrian Armed Forces positions in retaliation for chemical weapons attacks. The Syrian Government vigorously protested its innocence. The UN voted to investigate the use of these chemical weapons. Russia vetoed the part where the UN would attribute blame. I wonder why? Moscow accused the United Kingdom of carrying out some of these bestial chemical attacks on the civil population. That is despite the UK not having had any troops in Syria since 1945. Nor has the United Kingdom used chemical weapons for about 100 years. Oddly this accusation by Moscow has not been repeated by them often.
The United States may well be pulling out of Syria. Again, that means even more work for Russia and Iran.
The conflict will not come to a definite end just as it did not have a definite starting point. The level of violence might be a little lower next year and a little lower the year after that. Gradually normality will slowly return. Some of jihadists might move on to pastures new such as Libya.
It looks as though we shall return to status quo ante. Dr Bashir Al Assad is president and there is no sign of him going anywhere. His government will be even more vigilant on expressions of dissent or of excessive religiosity.
There has been no gain for Western countries in intervening. Syria has not become more like a Western nation. Western lands have even less say in Syria now than they did 10 years ago. Neither the Ba’athists nor ISIS want to follow a Western model. Occidental intervention has proved to be an error of the first magnitude. Further, it is unpardonable folly.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.