The three-party Sochi summit on Syria, between Russia, Iran and Turkey has not even started and many countries have already decided the future fate of that country and have rushed to declare that terrorism in Syria has been almost completely defeated. This has led to many telephone conversations between the Russian leader and the presidents of USA and Egypt, the King of Saudi Arabia, the Prime Minister of Israel, etc.
However, if America is at least taking part in the war in Syria, what can we say about Egypt? It is true that Washington is supporting the Kurdish separatists – the SDS – against Damascus and every now and again allowing DAESH militants to flee from Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces, through the ranks of its allies, and hide in the desert. As for Israel, it has a real influence on the situation in Syria but is not participating in the political negotiations aimed at regulating the conflict in Syria. And Saudi Arabia is not taking part in the talks either in Astana or in Sochi but it is actively stirring up the situation in Syria and Lebanon, dragging Israel into a military engagement against the Iranian army and Hezbollah’s positions there.
And yet there are still a number of premature declarations that the war is Syria is almost over. Can that really bethe case? Yes, DAESH has almost been defeated in Syria. Almost. Even though it is still strong and still growling. Most of all, hundreds of militants are still driving around the Syrian desert in machine-gun-carrying cars carrying out regular attacks on Syrian army positions. Recently they even brought down a Syrian Air Force plane.
There can only be one conclusion: that DAESH is not yet defeated. But is that the only problem? Has it been the main threat to Syria’s legitimate government? No, not at all.
People are already beginning to forget that in March 2011 the Syrian Civil War was started, not by DAESH and the other terrorist groups allied to it, but by the Sunni forces opposing B. Assad’s regime, including many well-known political and military figures who had until then been ‘friends’ of Damascus. And all that happened with the support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, the U.S.A., France and England, just as Hamad bin Jassimexplained in detail to the whole world in an interview with the B.B.C. Many Syrian officers and soldiers bribed by Washington and its allies fled to Turkey where they formed the Free Syrian Army, which was trained by Turkey and the U.S.A. using funds provided by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It was they that started the war. The other militant factions including DAESH and the Al-Nusra Front only appeared a lot later.
And so the obvious question is – where are they now? Where is the anti-Assad opposition? Has it really beendefeated? Not at all. Its forces are in the de-escalation zones created in Astana and protected by the Turkish army and Russian military police. And its leaders are now living in Istanbul, Amman, Doha, Paris and many other places, and they have come to Astana and Geneva to have their say in ‘deciding the fate of Syria’. They calmly sit down at the negotiating table and continue to demand Assad’s removal. That is, they want the victors – Russia, Iran and Turkey, to oust him. And they have powerful supporters. Who they had telephone conferences with only yesterday, in Sochi.
And already certain organizations have used their media contacts to tell us that there will soon be a ‘transition period’ during which the former vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa, now under house arrest, will take over in Damascus: “Not for nothing did B. Assad himself carry out a purge of senior offices in the army and special forces, removing all those with close links to Teheran,” according to them. “Does that mean Assad understands the situation and is ready to go? It looks as if that was what he talked about with President V. Putin in his conversation on 20 November in Sochi. Has he already obtained guarantees for his safe future in exile?”
And so all talk of victory in Syria and the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is looking rather naïve. What integrity is possible if the country is split up into ‘de-escalation’ zones, and is de facto divided into sectors controlled by foreign powers? The most devastated and poorest areas are controlled by Russia and Iran. So it is possible to keep two military bases – Tartrus and Kmeimime. Moscow has already announced that the Russian forces still in Syria will leave the remaining part of the country by the end of the year. And now, it seems that those two bases are only for that ‘transition period’. As for Iran and Hezbollah’s presence in Syria: if they do not leave Syria then the coalition formed by Israel, Saudi Arabia plus a group of other countries in the Gulf Co-operation Council and their supporters, entrenched south-west of Damascus, in the suburbs of Damascus (from where they regularly fire mortars at the Russian embassy in the Syrian capital) and in the southern, American-Jordanian de-escalation zone, may, supported by the US and Israeli air forces, at any moment carry out attacks on Iranian positions in Syria and on Hezbollah in South Lebanon. Furthermore, just the other day, in a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League states, Hezbollah was classed as a terrorist organization. And Iran is being blamed for the Houthi rocket attack on an airport near Riyadh and an assassination attempt on the Saudi Crown Prince.
The situation in the East and North-East of Syria is clear: the Kurdish separatists supported by the USA have taken control of this area, which includes 2/3 of Syria’s oil reserves and 80% of the power capacity from the hydroelectric power plants built by the U.S.S.R. on the Euphrates. And Turkey has also got hold of a ‘juicy’ piece of the cake in the north-west of Syria – a kind of buffer zone inhabited by Turkmens.
By the way, before the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Said Harari resigned on November 4 in Riyadh, the U.S.A. with only a limited military presence in the east of Syria, avoided a direct military confrontation with the Lebanese Hezbollah, whose forces occupy a large part of Syria. However Washington no longer tries to hide its desire to take part in that confrontation via its regional ‘allies’, who are also eager to be involved, and is trying to bring an end to the military activities of that Lebanese Shi’ite body, either in Lebanon or in the region as a whole. It also wants, once and for all to put an end to the Iranian presence in Iraq and Yemen.
So, the U.S.A. and the Gulf Co-operation Council, instead of finally destroying DAESH and working together with the true victors in Syria, who are meeting in Sochi, prefer to make ever more beautiful speeches about the eradication of organized terrorism in Syria, while aggressively reshaping the region and the Syrian Arab Republic to further their own interests.
Alexander Orlov, Political Scientist and Expert Orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.