Commentary

Syrian Civil War Grinds On

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Views from the Region

Fighting continues in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, where rebels are struggling to break a siege by government forces. As the world watches the growing humanitarian crisis in horror, many regional dailies have been reflecting on the dynamics of the conflict, especially on the growing number of external actors that are involved. Some lament the lack of collective international action to put an end to the suffering of civilians, while others examine the reasons for the Syrian regime’s ability to survive in power after so much bloodshed. There are also those who, perhaps counter-intuitively and for mostly narrow national interests, prefer the status quo to a resolution of the civil war. Meanwhile, Syrian refugees continue to be subjected to xenophobic attacks in their host countries.

Reflecting on Russia’s involvement in northwestern Syria, Gulf News’s Fadi Esber, believes that U.S.-Russian-Turkish cooperation might be enough to turn the tide against the Islamists: “Russia put its full military might behind its allies in Damascus, and the Syrian Army was able to encircle opposition forces in the eastern parts of Aleppo. The United States agreed to plan for military cooperation and intelligence sharing with Russia in Syria, after refusing to do so for months on end. Turkey’s Erdogan, having survived a botched coup attempt, seems to be making a critical U-turn on Syria that might lead to dramatic shifts on the battlefield....If a Russian-American entente emerges in Syria, followed by a serious Turkish-Russian rapprochement, the Islamist factions dominating northwestern Syria will be vulnerable to an unmitigated military defeat within the coming weeks. Such developments might soon bring about a serious political effort that might see the Syrian government and opposition back on the negotiating table and perhaps reaching the long-awaited middle solution.”

In an op-ed written for Asharq Alawsat, Tariq Alhomayed characterizes the humanitarian disaster in Aleppo as an “international farce,” which must be brought to an end immediately: “The United Nations, America and the west are witnesses to this farce. While Assad’s regime continues to besiege Aleppo with the support of Russia, the U.S. Secretary of State makes statements that do not make sense. Washington wants to distance itself from the Syrian crisis!...This is despite the fact that the Russians continue to kill innocent Syrians and Assad continues to use barrel bombs, attack hospitals and use toxic gasses. It is for this reason that we call the situation a farce. There will be serious consequences in the region and the west, and this waterfall of blood will sink everyone and increase sectarian hatred and terrorism.... it is now necessary to start finding practical solutions in order to attain political goals.”

The seemingly intractable violence in Syria makes it hard to imagine the state emerging from the civil war in one piece, but Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, writing for Arab News, cautions those who think that the future of Syria lies in breaking it up along sectarian and tribal lines: “Can Syrian President Bashar Assad establish an Alawite state?...Russian military activity in Syria is mostly in Latakia and the coastal area extending to Tartus in the south. This area is viewed as a possible project for an Alawite state in case the regime collapses or the Syrian state disintegrates....The concept of dividing Syria is not as easy as some think, as most governments oppose it given the dangerous repercussions for regional countries. And previous divisions have proven that they increase the region’s problems, rather than put an end to them....Assad is aware that there’s no place to go to if he leaves his castle in Damascus. This is why he rejects all the suggestions calling on him to step down and give up governance. To stay in power, he scarified 250,000 people and displaced more than 12 million.

Syria is not the only country that is in danger of fracturing. The Jerusalem Post editorial staff argues that the Israeli government ought to support an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, adding that the presence of such a statelet would be beneficial to Israel’s interests in the region: “There are many reasons Israel should foster ties and cooperation with the Kurds, including support of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq when Kurds decide to take the next step toward statehood. First, the Kurds and Israel have common enemies....Working with the Kurds is also part of the ‘peripheral strategy,’ begun by David Ben-Gurion, in which Israel seeks out diverse allies in the region. The creation of a Kurdish-ruled autonomous region in Iraq is part of a larger phenomenon of the rise of sub-state groups in the region....Creation of another non-Arab autonomous area in the Middle East would help preserve the lives and rights of minority groups. It would also make Israel’s situation less anomalous.... But fostering ties with the Kurds not only serves Israeli interests, it is a rare opportunity for moral clarity. Supporting Kurdish national self-determination is to choose good over evil.”

The National’s Michael Young comments on how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been able to survive as long as he has, speculating that, like Qadhafi before him, Assad’s ability to manipulate the West is ultimately the key to maintaining power: “Though he has committed terrible crimes against his own population, Mr. Al Assad is today regarded by a wary West as a valuable barrier against ISIL.... The Syrian regime has exploited this to the fullest, reopening intelligence contacts with western countries, allegedly to help them identify ISIL members at home. Doubtless, the Syrians have behaved with their counterparts much the same way as Qaddafi did … Give me what I want and I may give you what you want, if it serves my purpose. … If the Al Assad regime wins, and the signs are that it will at least eventually prevail in the western half of the country, this will represent a key moment in the region and even beyond. It will show that leaders can butcher their own people to remain in power, and that western countries will accept this if they feel that they have to. In other words, if the West refuses to defend its own liberal humanitarian values, no one else will, and the international order will be altered as a consequence.”

The Jerusalem Post’s Efraim Inbar cynically calls for maintaining the status quo, arguing that removing the Islamic State from the region might be worse for the West than letting the chaos continue: “On its own, IS is capable of only limited damage. A weak IS is, counterintuitively, preferable to a destroyed IS. IS is a magnet for radicalized Muslims in countries throughout the world. …If IS is fully defeated, more of these people are likely to come home and cause trouble. If IS loses control over its territory, the energies that went into protecting and governing a state will be directed toward organizing more terrorist attacks beyond its borders. The collapse of IS will produce a terrorist diaspora that might further radicalize Muslim immigrants in the West....The West yearns for stability, and holds out a naive hope that the military defeat of IS will be instrumental in reaching that goal. But stability is not a value in and of itself. It is desirable only if it serves our interests. The defeat of IS would encourage Iranian hegemony in the region, buttress Russia’s role, and prolong Assad’s tyranny. Tehran, Moscow, and Damascus do not share our democratic values and have little inclination to help America and the West.”

Meanwhile, while such grand geopolitical strategies are being considered, the Saudi Gazette reports that Syrian refugees in Turkey and elsewhere continue to be subject to xenophobia, which require an immediate response on the part of the host countries: “The Syrian conflict has resulted in an influx of about 3 million refugees into Turkey, fueling xenophobia toward Syrians. After a youth was recently attacked with a knife and his cellphone allegedly seized by a Syrian in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa, protesters gathered on July 10 against the presence of Syrians....Tensions between locals and Syrian refugees in big cities here first sparked in 2014 in the southeastern province of Gaziantep, where a Syrian was attacked by Turks following a traffic accident. Quickly thereafter, a Turkish landlord was killed by his Syrian tenant in Gaziantep, leading to an exodus of refugees from there....With the latest discussions about prospective citizenship to Syrian refugees without addressing concerns, Turks are beginning to see them as a cultural, economic, social and political threat....in order to overcome rising xenophobia against Syrian refugees, there is a need for public diplomacy, and the authorities should accurately inform Turkish citizens about why the country is hosting so many refugees, and why they need help.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.