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.
The popular wisdom with respect to Syria was that once ISIS had been defeated, a Russian-brokered, UN-authorised political solution would be the start point for ultimately resolving the Syrian situation. But this has always assumed that Moscow has sufficient leverage to control events threatening its vital national interests.
Several developments took place in the Arab World last week, reflecting the danger behind misreading both regional and international changes. That has been especially the case in Syria and Lebanon, where local players have been confused in reading the situations and positioning themselves… from Sochi to Beirut!
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.