The Elephant in Syria’s Halls

In discussing the geopolitical climate of the war in Syria, the overwhelming majority of analysts and journalists tend to focus on the points of rapprochement between the different parties involved. However, focusing solely on the positives will lead to an ultimate bias, in which criticism is viewed as an attack, facts slowly become opinions and analysis turns into defeatism.

Benefits shape alliances.

Some groups (i.e. the West, Turkey and Gulf countries) came together with the goal of systematically destroying Syria. Others, such as the Syrian Army first and foremost, and its allies (i.e. Hezbollah and Iran) united forces and strategies in order to combat terrorism. Russia joining the Syrian Army and its allies evidently denotes that Moscow sees a strong ally in Syria.

In his latest article, journalist Sami Kleib outlines yet again the gains of Iran’s involvement: “Iran benefited from the resistance of the Syrian Army and the army’s alliance with Hezbollah”, writes the author. He continues: “the interest between Damascus and Teheran is mutual”. Indeed, one of the most important benefits of Iran was the new nuclear agreement, and the lift of the sanctions. In addition, “Iran became a partner in the fight against terrorism, and in finding peaceful solutions to wars in the Arab World”.

Concerning Russia, the benefits of its direct immersion in the Syrian war (since September 2015) have been extensively covered: from the Latakia base and its importance, to the historical relations between Damascus and Moscow – all point out to strategic points of accord between the countries.

But what about the points of disaccord?

One source of conflict between Syria/Iran/Hezbollah and Russia is Israel. Unsurprisingly, for aforementioned reasons, this specific source of conflict is frequently under-reported and under-analyzed in the Western mainstream media, but also in alternative media outlets. Conversely, in the Arab media in general, and the Levantine one in particular, the analysis of this divergence and its implication for the Levant are extensive.

Journalist Kleib, in the same article mentioned above, writes:

Israeli war minister Moshe Yaalon openly stated that Israel and Moscow have agreed on allowing Israel to air strike Hezbollah in Syria. In short, it was summed up by: “we agreed not to bother them and them not bothering us” («اتفقنا ألا نزعجهم ولا يزعجونا»).

This statement was made during Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin in Moscow on September 21, 2015, 10 days before the first Russian airstrikes on terrorist targets in Homs (September 30, 2015). One of the most recent Israeli violation of Syrian sovereignty seems to have the greatest implication. Indeed, three months after the first Russian airstrikes, Samir Kuntar was killed in Damascus (December 20, 2015). Even though some attributed the attack to a mortar fired by terrorists, and while the Zionist entity did not deny it, Hezbollah confirmed it was an Israeli airstrike that, in fact, killed Kuntar. Russia cannot be wronged for not retaliating. In fact, expecting Russia to retaliate against Israel is an emotive reaction as this is strategically absurd.

However, the concern arises when two and two are put together so to speak: the timing of Israel’s statement, the start of Russian airstrikes against terrorists, the Israeli strikes on Damascus. This concern is exacerbated by Israeli president Rivlin’s visit to Moscow, during which he met with Putin two days (on March 16, 2016) after Moscow’s announcement withdrawal from Syria (announced March 14, 2016).

To quote Rivlin:

We want Iran and Hezbollah not to emerge strengthened from this entire process. Everybody agrees that the Islamic State organization is a danger to the entire world, but Shiite Iranian fundamentalist Islam is for us just as dangerous.

What comes after?

The interests of the factions involved do seem too conflicting. How will those interests converge? How will they diverge? What are the implications of Syrian Kurds’ recent declaration of a ‘federal region’ on Syria’s integrity? Will this declaration reinforce or diminish Russia’s support for Syrian Kurds?

As with each US election, the nearer to the election time, the worst the situation becomes. What will this year’s election bring the Levant?

Sami Kleib’s article:

The Elephant in Syria’s Halls