The prolonged and bloody civil war in Syria seems to draw less and less attention in the media as Islamic State is soon fighting and has lost its ruling in Raqqa. But the war is not over. Rather, on the contrary, it appears to have entered a much more complex phase with new groups
Rather than a civil war, this has become a war over Syria. And peace does not seem to be within reach.
With IS out of the picture, a more complex picture of the war’s many different actors begins, each involving coalitions with former enemies if it can earn their own interests in the short term. Thus, recent weeks have led to clashes between Israel, Iran, Turkey and Russia in Syria.
First and foremost, the Kurds, Iran and Turkey have all the great interests in manifesting their own presence in Syria. It has already led to fighting between Turkish troops and Iranian-supported militias in the border area up to Turkey.
Recently, a Turkish border post was attacked in Idlib province; a Turkish soldier was killed and five other hard injured. Turkey responded with rocket attacks on the militias.
De-escalation zones have become conflict zones
Although the collision was of a smaller scale and character, it is nonetheless critical because it sheds a long shadow of the adopted de-escalation plans, which have been concluded, inter alia, by Turkey and Iran by the so-called Astana agreements that deal with ceasefire ceasefire and de-militarized areas in the civil war. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been designated as guarantee for compliance with the agreement.
The collision strongly seems to imply that the countries primarily have their own interests as the highest priority in terms of securing peace in Syria
The Astana agreement includes four devaluation zones with the Idlib province as the first zone. About one million civilians live in the province, which was recently controlled by an Al Qaeda affiliated group.
The fact that both Turkey and Iran stand as guarantee for compliance with the Astana Agreement, including monitoring the establishment and hedging of the so-called de-escalation zones, makes the recent collision between Turkey and Iran all the more tragic. The collision emphasizes that the countries primarily have their own interests as the highest priority in terms of securing peace in Syria.
Busy times for Turkey in Syria
Turkey in particular has been very busy attacking Kurdish groups in both Idlib and Afrin. In Turkey, the military operation in Syria is called Operation Olive Branch. From a Turkish point of view, the term is seen as an expression of a preventive work in Syria, a way to protect Turkey against the Kurdish threat from Syria.
The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never concealed the fact that the biggest threat to Turkey comes from the Kurds in both Iraq and Syria. And with the Kurdish progress in Syria, supported and funded by the United States, Turkey is more than ever busy manifesting its own interests in the area, including preventing further Kurdish consolidation of the border area to Turkey.
The latest Turkish attacks against both Idlib and Afrin in Syria have resulted in hectic American activity. Recently, the US National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, paid an urgent visit to Turkey to try to make the country to slow down on its military activities in Syria.
This visit was preceded by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s forthcoming visit this week. The visit will be seen as another attempt to emphasize the importance of Turkey’s role in NATO and the rather precarious situation that Turkey is actively trying to fight the Kurdish group, YPG, which the United States is also actively funding and supporting.
Obviously, this is a somewhat awkward situation that can make even the most seasoned strategists somewhat uneasy.
It is doubtful whether the US Secretary of State will succeed in Turkey. President Erdogan has the habit of doing things his own way and, in particular, sticking to his foreign policy agenda in relation to both Iraq and Syria. It has previously brought him into political hotwaters with NATO and the Middle East, without causing any changes in Turkish action against the alleged Kurdish threat to Turkey’s existence.
If anyone thought warfare was just a matter of opposing parties who were fighting each other, the war in Syria is a text book example of how yesterday’s enemy could be tomorrow’s best coalition partner
Israel and Iran in Syria
But other stakeholders have also had clashes in Syria recently. Recently, Israel shot down an Iranian drone over Israeli airspace and then followed up with attacks on Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria.
If anyone thought warfare was just a matter of opposing parties who were fighting each other, the war in Syria is a text book example of how yesterday’s enemy could be tomorrow’s best coalition partner.
In other words, this is somewhat of a nightmare scenario taking place on Syrian grounds. If the tense relationship between Israel and Iran is tapered further, it will have further fatal consequences for the situation in the country, with the high risk of a so-called spill-over effect on the surrounding countries.
An additional bizarre twist in this Syrian tragedy took place recently with the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, indirectly helping the Kurdish rebel groups in their struggle against Turkish troops at the border area up to Turkey.
So, Kurdish groups that have hitherto fought against government forces have now received help from the President in the fight against Turkey. The very same country, which is considered a major player in the ongoing Astana negotiations, and which guarantees the so-called de-escalation zones in Syria.
If war was ever perceived to be merely a matter of opposing parties fighting each other, the war should in Syria is used as a school example of how yesterday’s enemy may be tomorrow’s best coalition partner, if it promotes its own agenda.
Thus, Kurdish groups that have hitherto fought President Assad’s regime have asked for Presidential help in the fight against Turkish troops in Afrin. The reason for the Kurdish request for assistance from President Assad is due to the lack of American presence in the Afrin province. Thus, there are no US troops to protect the Kurdish population against Turkish troops in the area.
This is probably a deliberate American disposition considering it would be a further bizarre situation with American troops protecting a population from attacks by a NATO partner, Turkey.
Although the president has not sent his own troops to the area, he has allowed Kurdish militias, politicians and civilians to go through their government-controlled areas. By allowing further Kurdish influx to Afrin, president Assad has provided reinforcements to the Kurds in the struggle against the Turkish presence in the area. A relationship that both President Assad and the Kurdish groups want to slow down.
In addition to allowing Kurdish militias to come through government-controlled areas, Assad has also contributed with humanitarian aid to its previously declared enemies.
Through his assistance to the Kurds, president Assad has made it possible to prolong the seven-year-old war even further. This is indeed a president who has no interest in completing the war in his country as soon as possible.
Not only does this new angle of war show the bizarre war crusade game from President Assad’s side. It also shows the Kurdish double play. Regarded as an important key player in the fight against IS and a declared enemy of Assad, supported and funded by the United States, actively asking for the Syrian president’s help in the fight against another declared enemy, Turkey.
This is a machiavellic game on a very high level.
For now, the question of a peaceful solution does not appear to be on the cards.