▷ Sabbatical is over: Middle East, always in force

By Atilio Molteni Ambassador

Those who imagined, inside or outside the United States, the possibility of availing themselves of the notion of a sabbatical year in the Middle East, forgot that the great powers do not exercise their role when they feel like it. As soon as France, the United Kingdom and Germany sent the Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, a proposal to synchronize clocks to resuscitate and correct the nuclear plan with Iran (known as the PAIC), they all understood that the siesta was over and it was time to propose ideas to Tehran and watch, with their guard up, how things are coming.

In addition to this, the seismograph indicated other events, such as the missile attack on the Erbil airport in the Kurdish area of ​​northern Iraq, against the forces of the US-led coalition facing the Islamic Emirate (IS), starring the February 15 by pro-Iranian Shiite militias.

In turn, in Yemen, the Houthis, sponsored by Iran, launched an offensive despite Washington’s policy change regarding Saudi Arabia’s actions in that country and a new approach to its relations with Rihad. The new administration also confirmed that it must adopt a new policy in relation to Syria, a country that has great regional, strategic and humanitarian significance.

The civil war started there a decade ago and was due to President Bashar al-Assad’s decision to end popular protests, sparked by the process that was too optimistically called the “Arab Spring” and by ethnic, communal and religious problems. that characterize Syria, at a high cost to its people who suffered countless violations of human rights, when the regime faced it with an iron fist.

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During these ten years, it was not possible to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict, nor a military one, due to the fact that an important external intervention was added to the local crisis. The initial policy of the United States and Europe consisted of trying to get al-Assad to leave power and entrust it to a Transitional Government, for which they applied sanctions aimed at isolating his Government.

However, this objective failed as it failed to modify the policies of the Syrian dictator and because of the cooperation he received from Iran and Russia (since September 2015), so that the conflict was aggravated by the intervention of his forces and then by Turkey, and by the actions of transnational terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and the Islamic Emirate (IS), while the United States and Israel acted against the latter.

The military actions caused more than 500,000 victims and countless material damages. The current population of Syria is 17 million, of which one third are internally displaced, 6 out of ten of these people are below the poverty line, while 5.5 million refugees are in various Middle States. East, the most significant group being the 3.06 million who are in Turkey, while one million refugees are in Europe.

However, al-Assad’s forces currently control two-thirds of the territory, including the eight most important cities, while the rest are dominated by other actors. This deployment of the Syrian Government only covers 15% of its borders. Lebanon is run by Hezbollah, Iraq is run by Iraqi Shiite militias, and the northwest is partly occupied by Turkish forces and partly by autonomous Syrian Kurdish militias.

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Originally, Ankara was reluctant to intervene directly in Syria, but with the consolidation of al-Assad and the Russian intervention, in August 2016 Turkish President Recep Erdogan ordered different offensives beyond the border, to create a security zone with the aim of preventing jihadist forces or troops linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers its great internal enemy, from infiltrating its territory. In parallel, it tried to prevent the entry of more refugees and the unification of the autonomous Syrian Kurdish cantons of Damascus.

In October 2019, a Turkish military action coincided with the withdrawal of most of the United States special troops operating in the region, by decision of Donald Trump, where they had had the efficient support of the Kurdish militias, which They played a very positive role in combating the forces of the Islamic State (IS) while refraining from attacking Syrians.

Likewise, Turkey is present in the province of Irbil, the only one where there is still a significant jihadist rebel movement against al-Assad, especially the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, linked to Al-Qaeda. In a mirror maneuver, Russia and Syria also did not sit idly by. They agreed with the Turkish Government on the proposal to jointly patrol various sectors of said province and two highways of great strategic value, which legitimized their presence in the area, at the expense of creating an extremely dangerous situation due to the contiguous deployment of their forces, originating repeated incidents.

In turn, Syria, Russia and Turkey are guarantors of the so-called “Astana Talks”, which began four years ago (they have already had 15 meetings), between the Government of Damascus and some unrepresentative sectors of the opposition, but they have never had the relevance of the so-called Geneva platform. which was a consequence of resolution 2254 (2015) of the UN Security Council, which established a plan to achieve a ceasefire and a peace process, but which left multiple problems unresolved, the negotiation of which is currently entrusted to the envoy of the UN, the Norwegian diplomat Geir Petersen.

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Despite the time that has elapsed and the change in the military situation in the area, this resolution constitutes the best instrument aimed at ensuring the territorial integrity of Syria, through a political process that includes the participation of the broadest spectrum of the opposition seeking a change of position. its constitutional bases, but currently Russia, Iran and Turkey are the arbiters of the existing situation, which is why Washington needs to integrate its actions in relation to Damascus with the rest of its regional and multilateral politics.

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