Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Mali have been hotbeds of conflict for years on end. In each of these conflicts, the West is involved, either directly or indirectly by means of NATO or UN missions. In this Clingendael Spectator series on Western interventions, the current status and the future of the conflicts will be analysed. Second stop: Syria, where the Turkish invasion that started on 9 October is only the latest illustration of the fact that the Syrian civil war has featured one foreign intervention after another. This article provides an assessment of the tactical military success and the broader strategic effects of eight sets of intervention.
Russia is now in charge of a multi-front war. It will need to manage relations between multiple local actors very carefully.
The latest upheaval in northeastern Syria caused by Turkey’s invasion, and the division of the Syrian plunder among Turkey, the Assad regime, and Russia, presents Iran with new avenues for building up attack capabilities and further destabilizing the region.
As tensions escalate between the United States and Iran in the Middle East, Russia is engaged in covert and overt cooperation with Iran in ways that undermine U.S. national security interests. This analysis of commercial satellite imagery at Tiyas Airbase in Syria indicates the scope and proximity of Russian and Iranian military ties. If Washington wants to contain Tehran and prevent further Iranian expansion, U.S. policymakers will need to increase pressure on Moscow to curb Tehran’s activites in countries like Syria.
The de-militarized zone (DMZ) agreement reached by Russia and Turkey in Sochi on September 17—intentended to stabilize the “Greater Idlib” region of northwest Syria (which includes all of Idlib governorate and parts of northern Hama, eastern Latakia, and western Aleppo governorates)—has been tested recently by the activities of the most prominent militant Salafist organization in Syria. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS-Organization to Liberate the Levant)—which includes a large part of the former Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda Jabhat al-Nusra (JN-Victory Front)—continues to conduct attacks against the Assad government, despite the Sochi agreement (Horrya [Idlib], December 15; Okaz[Riyadh], November 2). The continued military activities of HTS in the Idlib DMZ has created tensions between Russia and Turkey; led to a large mobilization of Assad government forces on the periphery of the zone; and resulted in significant kinetic activity by the Syrian military inside the DMZ since September (ETANA, December 10; al-Monitor, December 5; Enab Baladi [Idlib], December 2).
It is a truism that all conflicts must end, but they don’t necessarily end fast or conclusively. While announcing an end to the Syrian civil war is grossly premature, it nevertheless has become clear over the past year that the conflict has started to wind down, owing to the military commitments of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, and largely on the Assad regime’s terms. When and how it will end depends on either decisive victory or a negotiated truce and subsequent political transition. But whether whatever peace is achieved will endure will be determined in part by the extent of post-war reconstruction. And so the question arises: who should do it, and on what conditions?
In less than two weeks, Syrian fighters downed a Russian jet, Kurdish fighters downed a Turkish helicopter above Afrin and the Iranians downed two Israeli jets. So now what?
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.