Omer Onhon

Syria Is Boiling, Shall We Look the Other Way?

Is Assad on his way to become a respectable member of the international community? Assad has gained some ground in terms of coming back into the international community. There are many who envisage that Syria could retain its seat in the Arab League by the end of the year. UAE and Jordan have been at the forefront of building bridges with Assad. Egypt has also joined in.

On the western side, the EU is silent. The USA has stated that it will not normalize with Assad and does not encourage others to do so. But then, the US does not raise objections to initiatives by regional countries in approaching Assad. That is taken as a green light. Despite all that, Syria is nowhere close to a political solution and the situation is fragile. Assad claims victory, but more than 30 percent of Syria is outside of his control. He claims political legitimacy with 95.1 percent win in the May elections, which has been disregarded by the vast majority of the international community.

Syria is in a deep economic crisis, with almost 90 percent of the population living below the poverty line. The Syrian opposition has not disappeared and will not go away, neither in Syria nor abroad. ISIS is still present, and has operational capabilities and continues to strike. The Idlib area, with a population of around 4 million now, is under the control of Hayat Tahrir Sham (HTS). The group, designated as terrorist by the UN, and other smaller groups has around 30,000 men with all kinds of weapons.

Russia and Iran are settling all over Syria and claiming their rewards for being there in times of need.

The way the US withdrew from Afghanistan raised alarm for the US allies in the region. Kurds have feared most. Now that they have been given assurances that they will not be abandoned, they are at ease and further emboldened. The Kurds will probably aim to hang on to their autonomous status under the protection umbrella of the USA.

The Kurds also enjoy cordial relations with the Russians. We should note that Russians and Americans are in contact and even coordinate on Syria issues in general and the Kurds in particular.

Since 2011 Turkey has faced one of its most serious crises. Terror attacks, territorial and political gains of YPG, ISIS, millions of Syrian refugees have been at the forefront of challenges that Turkey continues to counter. What may happen with armed militants and civilians in Idlib in case of an all out military campaign by Assad forces and Russian allies is a major concern. Syria has become a domestic policy issue and elections are only 18 or so months away, maybe even earlier.

Turkey wants an end to the Syrian crisis, but in a way that would not undermine its security and interests. The crisis in Syria has left Turkey at odds with most of its NATO allies and created another divide with the USA. The Biden administration cares little, if any, about Turkey’s concerns. On the contrary, President Biden’s justification to the Congress to prolong the national emergency status came as a result of a “military offensive conducted by Turkey into northeast Syria, undermining the campaign to defeat ISIS”. The Biden approach encourages YPG. A few days ago, there was a mortar attack on Turkish security personnel in Azaz and a car bomb explosion in Afrin.

These attacks are on YPG and Erdogan said “we will take the necessary steps to eliminate threats emanating from Syria.” This was perceived as a signal for a new military operation.

Damascus and Moscow are not uncomfortable (to say the least) with anything that puts pressure on Turkey. The USA, Russia, Assad and YPG appear to be in the same boat here.

Some of the 6.6 million Syrians who fled their homeland have established a new life in their host countries and they will not return. The rest however, may return if and when they feel safe. Assad claimed that he wishes the refugees to return. Even though his uncle Rifaat has returned after 37 years and sends messages of joy through social media, this probably will not be the case for the millions of Syrians, many of whom are opponents.

The international community wishes to see the Syrian crisis off its agenda and many countries seem to be prepared to look the other way. After all, we have lived with so many terrible leaders, dictators in various countries, so why not live with Assad? Why don't we look at it from this perspective? Even if it doesn’t secure permanent peace.

The ideal solution lies with the full implementation of UNSC 2254 which includes all necessary elements. But the ideal solution is not necessarily possible.

Assad and his allies feel that they are the winners. They neither have the motivation nor the will to implement 2254, nor are they under pressure from the international community to do so. In any case, the present situation in and around Syria is not sustainable. Tough choices and painful compromises are needed on all sides, in order to avoid renewed armed hostilities and new tragedies.