Wednesday, May 16, 2018, 15:55 (GMT+7)
A chance for peace in Syria?

The Syrian civil war has lasted for more than 7 years but shown no signs for peace and stability. When the Self-Proclaimed Islamic State (IS) was defeated in Syria, it was thought that peace came to the people of this country. However, it has not come true as Syria continues to become the centre of the competition for influence between major powers. Is there a chance for peace in Syria?

A look back at the conflict

It is believed that due to Syria’s geostrategic position, the conflict in this Middle East country has yet to be solved since 2011. The seas of the Mediterranean under Syria’s sovereignty possess rich natural resources, particularly large oil reserves. Syria’s coast might be the ideal place for building large naval bases which would take control of a large area in the Mediterranean Sea. Politically, Syria is an important ally of both Russia and Iran which are severely targeted by the U.S. and the West; therefore, it becomes the focus of the geopolitical, geostrategic competition among major powers both inside and outside the region. Starting from a wave of political violence (March 15th, 2011) under the impact of the “Arab Spring”, the civil war between the Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and the “opposition” backed by Washington and its allied countries inside and outside the region has put Syria into “internecine” warfare and relentless violence and instability.

The geopolitical competition in Syria takes place on both regional and global scales. Regionally, it is the competition between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey as one side and the Islamic Republic of Iran as the other. While Iran is an ally of Damascus’ Government and always supports Syria’s territorial integrity, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey share the goal of overthrowing President Bashar al-Assad and inducing Syria to take their sides. Globally, it is the competition between the U.S. and several Western countries and Russia supported by Iran and Syria’s Government. For both regional and global levels of this competition, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar naturally become the allies of Washington as they all share the goal of controlling the whole gas pipeline through Syria. Also, the U.S. wishes to control most of the oil and gas reserves in the Eurasia in an effort to push Russia out of the Middle East and its European traditional markets. Meanwhile, Russia could not stay still when Syria, its ally, is seriously divided, and its two military bases, namely Latakia and Tartus, founded by the Soviet Union, used to maintain Russia’s influence in the Middle East, are under threat. It is Syria’s geostrategic position and each side’s interests that make this Middle East country a long-running battlefield.

Intentions by external forces

Since 2011, the U.S. and the West have used the so-called “opposition” as a pretext to conduct a “proxy war” in a bid to topple President Bashar al-Assad and establish a new regime backed by Washington. The “oppositional forces” supported by the U.S., the West, and their allied countries in the region consist of various components and to some extent, the two terrorist organizations, namely Al-Qaeda and IS. Therefore, in spite of the fact that the U.S. decided to establish an international coalition against the IS in August 2014 and carried out air strikes in Iraq and Syria, under the pretext of “fighting the IS”, the US-led coalition destroyed Syria’s economic infrastructure and military facilities, thereby creating favourable conditions for the “opposition” to take the initiative on the battleground, control more and more territories of Syria and threaten President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

            Syrian chemical centre hit by the US missiles on April 14th, 2018          (photo: Reuters)

In early 2018, with the support of Russia and Iran, Syria defeated the IS. When they could not employ the pretext of fighting terrorism for their illegal military presence in Syria, on April 14th, 2018, the US, UK, France coalition accused Syria’s army of “using chemical weapons to slaughter the people” and gave themselves the authority to launch military attacks without convincing evidences. That seriously violated international law as according to Moscow’s proposal in 2013, Damascus’ Government eliminated all its chemical weapons under the close supervision of the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the U.S. as well, which provided the basis for the UN’s Security Council to pass the Resolution 2118. Consequently, any military intervention in Syria for the reason of chemical weapons must be made only after the UN’s investigation. The Coalition’s recent military operations against Syria have pushed the conflict in this Middle East country to the highest level of escalation ever recorded, which has been detrimental to the recently-initiated peace process.

As for Russia, since demonstrations against Damascus’ Government broke out, Moscow has resolutely defended international law, the UN’s Charter, and Syria’s right to settle its internal affairs. Obviously, while Moscow defends Syria’s national sovereignty, it protects its interests in this country. In mid September 2015, the extremist “oppositional forces”, including the IS, controlled most of Syria’s territory and threatened Damascus’ Government. To save Syria, on September 30th, 2015, under the Resolution by the UN’s Council on fighting the IS and at Syrian Government’s request, Russian President Putin decided to establish an anti-terrorism coalition including Russia, Iraq, Iran and Syrian Government’s Army. Since then, the Russia-led coalition has defeated the IS in Syria’s territory, protected the country’s national sovereignty and President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and regained most of Syria’s territory.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Syria’s neighbour, always wishes to divide this country into buffer zones under the control of Ankara. To do so, Turkey has devoted resources to supporting, training and equipping the Syrian “opposition”, including the “Free Syrian Army”. To fight the IS, regardless of the objection of Damascus’ Government, Ankara directly deployed its troops to Syria. It is worth noting that, while deploying its troops to Syria to fight the IS, Turkey also fought Kurdistan armed forces which it considers as “terrorists”. Moreover, on January 20th, 2018, Turkey conducted an Operation called “Olive Branch” against the Kurdistan armed forces in Afrin, Syria, causing concern against the backdrop of a deadlock over Syrian crisis. In fact, Turkey is attempting to prevent the Kurds from establishing an “autonomous kingdom in Syria” as it will inspire the Kurds in Turkey to do the same thing.

Furthermore, Iran and Israel play an important role in the Syrian conflict. Iran, one of the closest allies of  President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, provided weapons, funds and military intelligence for Syrian Government’s Army and the forces supporting President Bashar al-Assad. Iran’s engagement in this conflict has helped this country create an image as the “protector” of the Shiites who make up the vast majority of the Islamists in Iran, and of the Shiites in Syria who are the targets of Sunni rebellious and terrorist groups. Iran’s presence in Syria is maintained via Shiite armed groups which are now taking control of Western Syria. Tehran wishes to establish a smooth transportation corridor across Iraq and Syria for the sake of continuous supply for the Hezbollah in Libya to pressurize Israel. On the contrary, Israel has launched air strikes against the Hezbollah and Iran’s military bases in Syria since the conflict occurred. Israel engages in the conflict in Syria as it hopes to prevent Iran from extending its influence in this Middle East country.

As far as Syria is concerned, with the support of Russia and Iran, its Army has gained numerous military victories against the “opposition” and hoped to soon restore peace, stability and territorial integrity. However, according to military experts, it is hard for parties to accept President Bashar al-Assad as their supreme leader after things have happened in the last 7 years. Besides, since the conflict broke out, Syria’s Government has only paid regard to handling the Sunnis; therefore, the Kurds in Syria have quickly consolidated their political organizations and built independent armed forces with the US support.

A chance for peace in Syria?

After Syria defeated the IS, peace was thought to be made in Syria, but it was impossible when the US, UK, France Coalition launched air strikes against this country. Washington even boldly announced that it would maintain military presence in Syria until Damascus “gave up its chemical weapons”. That is only an excuse for the US military presence in a bid to keep the geopolitical competition with Russia when Moscow’s role and influence in the Middle East are increasingly extended. However, the US military presence in Syria is illegal as it is not allowed by Syria’s Government. It is possible that there will be attacks on the US military bases as legitimate responses to air strikes staged by the U.S. and its allies against Syria on April 14th, 2018. And it is possible to lead to a military confrontation between the US and Russia. To avoid that dangerous scenario, Washington suggested that the member states of the “Arab NATO”, which was founded after the US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the Middle East, would deploy their troops to Syria to give place to the US troops under the scenario of “Arabizing the war in Syria” with a view to separating Russia from regional countries. Therefore, according to experts, the Coalition’s military operation against Syria was just an “overture” to a possible large-scale military confrontation between the coalition, including the US, NATO, Arab NATO, and Russia in the Middle East.

Given the extremely complicated situation at present, Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres said that the basic, long-term solution to the Syrian conflict could be a political one, but it would not be easy at all. For their own interests, parties in this Middle East could hardly achieve a consensus. As a result, a chance for peace in Syria is still “out of their reach”.

Sr. Col. Le The Mau, Sr. Col. Hoang Manh Du, MA

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