By: Rami G Khouri
Russia, Iran and Turkey will determine the future of Syria
As the dust settles from the Franco-Anglo-American missile attacks against Syrian targets, we find once again that narrow military action in one corner of that ravaged country may have little impact on the wider political and security picture.
The current geopolitics of the Syrian conflict is more complex and intractable than ever before because it is no longer a single issue with two clear protagonists who can be engaged in a political negotiation to end the war.
The dynamics of the military attack, in fact, clarify the intricate diplomatic dynamics that we can expect to see in the months and years ahead. The attacks on narrowly defined Syrian targets were planned carefully to avoid hitting any Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah targets, as well as Turkish assets on the ground.
The importance of these four actors – as has been proven for a few years now – is that they are all prepared to engage directly in warfare inside Syria, even if pursuing different reasons. By contrast, the United States, other Western powers and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which have assisted rebel forces against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have indicated that they are not prepared for prolonged direct combat inside Syria.
So, as the world continues to seek diplomatic progress towards ending the war, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Hezbollah will continue to dominate the situation on the ground. Meanwhile, the role of the West in the future of the Middle East remains in transition to an unclear destination.
A new mandate for Syria
The last two years of Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah military operations on the ground have achieved effective victory over various armed groups opposing the Assad regime. Two critical issues, however, remain.
One is the fate of the northeastern regions where Syrian Kurds now enjoy some self-rule but face opposition from both the Syrian and Turkish governments. The other is what happens to the tens of thousands of rebel fighters that belong to a mixed bag of Islamist and secular groups, now mostly encircled in a few areas in the northwest and south of the country.
Once those two issues are clarified, the pressing question of the future of Syria will have to be tackled. The Sochi and Ankara meetings between the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran are an important sign that Syria today is experiencing many of the same dynamics that it did 100 years ago.
At that time, British and French colonial officials shaped its existence as a new state in a new regional order that mainly suited their interests, with Turkish, Russian, American, Zionist and other players entering the fray when they could.
That external actors are once again shaping Syria’s future without taking into consideration the will of the Syrian people means that we are likely to see a repeat of the inherent weaknesses it suffered a century ago. A country that is created or reconfigured mainly according to the wishes of foreign powers, and does not allow its own people a role in decision-making, will find it difficult to achieve full sovereignty or stability.
States managed perpetually by a very small powerful elite almost certainly suffer the consequent abuse of power, corruption, development imbalances, social injustices and a sense of helplessness which triggered the Arab uprisings in 2011 and ultimately sparked the Syrian civil war.
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