Political Observation - The Political and Military Situation in Syria

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - The Political and Military Situation in Syria

1 – The Attacks on al-Suwayda

On 25 July 2018, several villages of al-Suwayda were subjected to a flurry of raids that left more than 250 persons dead and 300 injured. As usual, Daesh were quick to claim responsibility for those operations. Although Daesh claimed having carried out those operations, it was however clear to every observer, according to the sequence of events, that the Syrian regime and Russian military intelligence had conspired and plotted to facilitate the passage of the Daesh operatives to the region of al-Suwayda.

Two months ago, the Syrian regime relocated about 1000 Daesh operatives to al-Suwayda’s eastern countryside after they had been repatriated from Yarmouk Camp and al-Hajar al-Aswad, south of the capital Damascus, where they joined several hundred operatives already stationed in those areas. Moreover, the regime seized the weapons of the residents of al-Suwaymara and al-Mutuna in Suwayda on 21 and 23 July 2018 after it had persuaded their dignitaries that it was no longer necessary to be armed after Dara had been liberated. Soon after, Daesh launched an extensive attack on the two villages in addition to the areas of al-Shabki, Tarba, Dama, al-Sharihi and al Ghita. This is why the residents of al-Suwayda have explicitly accused the regime of facilitating the entry of the Daesh operatives to their area after it had concluded its battle in the neighbouring governorate of Dara. The regime’s intelligence services had also been instrumental in sowing the seeds of terror and strife between the residents of al-Suwayda and the operatives of the Free Syrian Army in Dara in order to lure the residents into seeking the protection of the regime’s forces and joining its army. 

After the regime’s forces had succeeded in expelling the opposition factions in Dara and Quneitra with the help of Russian jetfighters and Iran-affiliated ground forces, and with the green light from America, the regime, together with the international soft power reactivated the role of Daesh in the Druze areas with the aim of driving them into the embrace of the regime and generating a public opinion from within for a self-rule for the Druze akin to other minorities such as the Kurds, Alawites and Arabs, under a federal system that Russia and UN envoy De Mistura would endeavour to establish. 

What corroborates the fact that Russia and the regime of Bashar Assad backed by America were behind the attacks of al-Suwayda with their planning and conspiring is the timing of the attack which came after Russia and the Syrian regime had demanded from the local residents of the governorate to hand over their weapons since the threat of the opposition in Dara had dissipated; the local armed groups had rejected the demands. For its part, on 26 July 2018, the largest Druze faction, Rijal al-Karama Movement, declared a general mobilisation on al-Suwayda and urged all the factions and brigades to put their differences aside and prepare for war against Daesh. 

Suwayda24 Network reported that a meeting between a senior Russian military delegation and local dignitaries with the presence of a number of Druze sheikhs had been held to discuss the outstanding issues with the Syrian regime. The spread of weapons, compulsory military service and the future of the governorate in general were among the issues discussed. The issue of classifying Rijal Al-Karama as a terrorist organisation was also raised but it was categorically rejected by the Druze sheikhs and dignitaries as they deemed the proposal embarrassing. They also rejected the proposal of encouraging the Druze youths to join the militia of the Fifth Corps.

Based on the aforementioned, it would be possible to deduce that what al-Suwayda and its countryside witnessed on Wednesday 25 July in terms of bombings and attacks at the hands of the Daesh operatives was in fact a threatening message to the residents of al-Suwayda from the Assad regime and Russia, with covert backing from America, because the Druze dignitaries had rejected the demands of the Russian delegation that visited the governorate. On the other hand, exerting pressure on the Druze youths and labelling Rijal al-Karama as a terrorist group would allow the voices from within calling for a self-rule, akin to other sects and ethnicities, grow louder. 

2 - Kurdistan – Syria

On 26 July 2018, newswires reported that a delegation of the Syrian Democratic Council, (MSD) the political wing of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which are controlled by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), had visited Damascus to explore the possibility of opening offices in the capital in addition to concluding an understanding with the regime on taking over new areas to act as a buffer zone for its forces within “Syrian Kurdistan” whose geography has far exceeded the areas inhabited by the Kurdish majority in al-Hasakah and Qamishli. Media reports have revealed that delegations of the regime had recently visited northern Syria and concluded a host of agreements with the YPG stipulating that the Syrian regime would administer the oil installations, revenues, and the dams in northeast Syria in exchange for receiving electricity and essential services. Some pro-regime newspapers reported that an agreement had been signed between the YPG and the regime stipulating the removal of all posters and symbols of the YPG in all the areas under its control, especially the posters of Abdullah Ocalan. It was also agreed during the meetings to reinstate the conscription committees in all the cities of al-Hasakah governorate and set up a host of joint checkpoints between the local Kurdish administration and the Assad regime throughout all the cities of al-Hasakah governorate. The Kurdish Protection Units would agree to join the armed forces of the regime and hand over the border crossings of Yaaroubiya and Semalka with Iraq to the east and Dirbasia and Ras al-Ein with Turkey to the north, in addition to handing over the oil and gas fields to the Syrian ministry of petroleum and mineral resources. The media sources also reported that the Kurdish Protection Units have stipulated three conditions to accept these agreements with the Assad regime, namely adopting the Kurdish language as part of the school curriculum, granting the petroleum ministry to a Kurdish personality on a permanent basis and deeming the period spent in serving the YPG by the al-Hasakah youths as part of their Syrian military service. Evidence that the negotiations have begun to bear fruit on the ground is reflected in the changes the YPG-affiliated Asayish militia introduced, as the negotiations with the Syrian regime were ongoing. The militia has changed its symbol and its name in the areas under its control in northeast Syria. Kurdish Rudaw website reported on 23 July that Asayish militia had changed its name from Asayish Rojava to Internal Security Forces and that it had begun spreading its symbol around the checkpoints under its control and its security offices.

Hence, for the time being, America has clearly changed her plan vis-à-vis the Kurdish entity in northern Syria. She has reached an agreement with the Turks after they had expelled the PKK-affiliated Kurdish units’ officials from Afrin and forced their forces to leave Manbij according to the political agreement. With Turkey’s persistence to carry out a host of military operations east of the Euphrates, America made it known to the leaders of the YPD that they had no choice but to seek the protection of the Syrian regime for the time being if they wanted to protect their entity and ease the Turkish pressure on them.

In light of these major changes in the American stance in the method she had been pursuing to maintain the Kurdish entity in northern Syria, America has instructed the newspapers under her auspices to report that the reason for the change in the stance of the Kurdish units was America’s decision to suspend her support and the regime’s preparations to launch a military attack on their areas. In fact, this narrative is simply flawed because the areas of the units are American protectorates within what is known as “viable Syria” where the oil, water and food are. Besides, this change is part of the secret agreements concluded between America and Russia.

3 – Turkey and the future of Idlib 

Reports on an imminent military attack by the Syrian regime backed by Russian jetfighters on the governorate of Idlib have been gathering momentum in recent weeks. These reports have been corroborated by the recent threats Bashar Assad had made by stating that the governorate would be a priority for his forces in the forthcoming phase. The threat has struck fear into the hearts of the local residents and evoked anxiety among the Turkish leadership. This is because any attack on Idlib would lead to killing large numbers of civilians and displacing huge numbers towards the Turkish borders.

Hence, Turkish officials were swift in issuing their warnings against this scenario since it would in their view destroy the Astana peace process. Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy stressed during the Assad onslaught on southern Syria that Turkey “never wants the scenario witnessed before in East Ghouta and North Homs, and now in southwest Syria, to be repeated in the governorate of Idlib.” As for president Erdoğan, he announced on 25 July 2018, ahead of an expected meeting between him and Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in South Africa, that he would “explore with Putin the Syrian file in detail.” He added: “I will discuss with Putin the issue of Dara anew, in addition to Idlib. Here, anything could happen any moment.” Following his meeting with Putin and before returning from Johannesburg, Erdoğan told journalists on 27 July 2018 that “any attack by the Syrian forces on Idlib would be unacceptable to Turkey.” He continued: “I asked Putin to take the necessary steps to avert the potential attacks of the regime on Idlib, which would not be acceptable to us. Any military operation in there akin to what happened in Aleppo would cause a major problem for everyone.” Turkish anxiety was increased by what Russian news agency Sputnik reported quoting a source in the Assad forces as saying that the regime had been deploying military machines in order to end the influence of the opposition in the North-Eastern countryside of Latakia and the remainder of the high hills overlooking al-Shoughour bridge in the northern Idlib countryside. Despite the aforementioned, it is unlikely for either the regime or Russia to launch a military campaign on the governorate of Idlib which is currently inhabited by four million people due to the repatriation process. The alternative would more likely be a political solution within the comprehensive settlement of the Syrian issue.

Some of the reasons proving the implausibility of a military campaign on Idlib and deeming a political solution preponderant are as follows:

1 – It would be hard for the regime, Iran and Russia to undertake any operation unless the Turkish forces withdrew and the Russo-Turkish understanding collapsed; and it is unlikely for Turkey to withdraw her troops from the governorate of Idlib as this would send the wrong message to Turkey’s opponents, states and organisations alike. Any military campaign on Idlib with the Turkish troops stationed there could lead to a major regional war; a scenario neither the regime nor Iran, Russia and America could stomach at this stage. 

2 – Turkish checkpoints play a major role in preventing the Syrian regime from advancing towards the governorate. Turkey has erected 12 military checkpoints at the dividing lines between the opposition and the regime; and according to the de-escalation agreement between the guarantor states, Turkey, Iran and Russia, the Turkish army concentrated during its deployment in Idlib on selecting the strategic points be they in respect of their proximity from the Assad troops or their geographic aspects such as height and military overlooking positions. 

In response to the repeated threats to attack the governorate of Idlib, Turkey stressed her persistence on keeping the checkpoints she had erected around the governorate. In its weekly press release, the Turkish army stated on Friday 27 July 2018 that its forces in Idlib “pursue their work to uphold peace and stability by ending the struggles in the region according to the principles agreed upon in Astana…. The checkpoints will remain in order to maintain the efficacy of the ceasefire, end the struggles, provide humanitarian aid to the needy, generate appropriate conditions for the displaced to return to their homes and establish suitable conditions to end the struggle via peaceful means.”

3 – If the battle of Idlib were to erupt, it would never be easy for the regime since the governorate houses more than 100,000 fighters from the local residents and those repatriated, in addition to the possibility of mobilising another 50, 000 from among the residents once the battle begins. Hence, the option of repatriation from Idlib, as was the case in other areas, is virtually impossible for Turkey and for the Syrian opposition who have no other choice but to fight to the bitter end. Moreover, the long open borders with Turkey and the mountains close to the coastal cities under the regime’s control represent a trump card for the Syrian opposition in Idlib. It is also worth mentioning that in line with the preparations undertaken by the opposition, four fighting groups operating in northern Syria have been drafted into the National Liberation Front which will act as the nucleus of the National Army Turkey is endeavouring to establish. What also indicates the implausibility of the military solution in Idlib is the statement of Russian chief negotiator, Alexander Lavrentyev, on 31 July 2018 in which he confirmed that any large-scale military operation in Idlib was out of the question. However, he stressed that Moscow called on the moderate Syrian opposition groups and Turkey to resolve the issue of al-Nussrah Front, currently known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), and its presence in Idlib. Turkey has been conspicuously supporting the National Liberation Front, which is expected to act as the representative for the residents of Idlib and the local groups in any future negotiations. Turkey has also been eager to succeed in merging all the fighting groups in order to establish a national army in northern Syria with the aim of regulating firearms in Idlib and ensuring that Russia, America and their surrogates, who have been threatening to launch military operations on Idlib under the guise of fighting HTS, would have no pretexts left. It is also clear that a Turkish plan has been drafted with the backing of Russia to close the file of HTS and other groups classified as terrorist organisations by America and Russia. Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have no other choice but to dissolve as far as Turkey is concerned or face the same fate as Daesh faced in the Euphrates Shield area. The presence of a Turkish plan is corroborated by the Russians’ feigned pressure they exerted on Ankara through the statements of Russian chief negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev on the need to resolve the “terrorism” issue in Idlib. The Russian intermittent statements on possible strikes against the strongholds of HTS in northern Syria are designed to allow Turkey to exert further pressure on HTS operatives and twist their arms into dissolving themselves and merging with other groups. As for Turkey’s fortification of its checkpoints in Idlib with huge concrete barriers at the main dividing lines with the areas of Bashar Assad, it forms part of her preparations for the requirements of the forthcoming phase and her endeavour to entrench her military presence as she realises that the political solution in Idlib necessitates her presence.

Finally, if the Muslims did not perceive the reality, aim and plane of the struggle, namely being a struggle between Islam and Kufr, they would neither be able to perceive the plots of the Kuffar nor would they be able to confront them. Consequently, devoid of this sound perception, they would not be able to win this existential battle. 

“Those who are bent on denying the truth are spending their riches in order to turn others away from the path of Allah; and they will go on spending them until they become intense regret for them; and then they will be overcome! And those who have denied the truth shall be gathered unto hell.” [8-36] 

22 Thil Qi’dah 1439h
4 August 2018