Articles > > IN NEED OF AN ARENA

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2018-12-01
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

The influential parties in the Syrian crisis still appear to be in need of an arena set apart for waging their ongoing proxy wars against each other.

An accord between them seems to be out of reach, but a direct clash between them seems extremely unlikely, and indeed downright forbidden. Consequently, there is no alternative but to find an arena where it is possible to continue playing the game that has been ongoing for seven years, and to do so by the same rules.

If we were to review the map of regional and international deployment and influence in and over Syria, it would be clear that Idlib is the sole remaining area qualified for resuming the 'proxy war' game as the need requires and as the crisis intensifies. The other arenas appear to have been set aside for political solutions whose main features remain unclear.

Northeast of the Euphrates are the areas of direct American presence, bolstering the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Units). Here, any attempt by Syria or its allies to approach these areas militarily would entail a direct clash with the U.S. army. And this is a Russian red line.

The areas of [Ankara's] Euphrates Shield and Olive Branch operations in al-Bab and 'Afrin are teeming with Turkish soldiers and armored vehicles. Any attack on these areas would entail a direct clash with the Turkish army. And that is a joint Russian/Iranian red line due to the tangible improvement in relations between Tehran and Ankara on the one hand and Moscow and Ankara on the other, and because all three countries are partners in sponsoring the Astana track, and due to each side's growing need for the other two.

Thus Idlib is the remaining arena for testing and displaying power. It is here, and here in particular, that we find the pretexts and excuses (and reasons) that enable the various parties to resume their mutual arm-twisting and muscle-flexing. The presence of clearly terrorist forces and international fighters provides Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran with sufficient cause for attacking Idlib every now and then. The Sochi (Erdogan/Putin) understandings justify the Turks' direct and indirect intervention. And the chemical weapons 'bogeyman' is ever ready to lure the U.S./NATO into military strikes against Syrian targets. Because of this, Idlib and its environs are the most likely areas for this 'bogeyman' to raise its head again.

Many parties – especially those opposed to the Syrian regime – have no intention of leaving the Idlib arena in favor of a prolonged calm and arrangements for a final settlement. There are prerequisites that must be satisfied before accepting that Idlib requires a final resolution of its predicament that would bring it back to the Syrian state's lap. These include an accord on the shape of a final resolution of the Syrian crisis, as well as the need to determine the fate of the Iranian presence in Syria. And in light of all this, it is difficult to predict a solution for and in Idlib.

Of course, Idlib is not the only arena for collision or the last card that the parties are playing or brandishing. The issue of the Syrian refugees' return to their homes has clearly joined the bazaar of international and regional haggling and barter deals. There is also the 'Syria reconstruction' file, where the number of players appears to be greater than expected. But despite this, Idlib is not losing its 'value' or function as an arena for a resumed raw conflict between the various parties, a battle of wills among them, and the resumption of their proxy wars.

A few days ago, it appeared that Idlib was heading down the path towards exploding and being exploded. The regime's forces struck at the positions of hardline factions after the latter used chlorine gas to strike at neighborhoods in Aleppo. It appeared as if the Sochi understandings over Idlib had collapsed. But it later transpired that these understandings were teetering on the edge without falling – as the [pro-Hezbollah] Lebanese al-Akhbar put it. And both Moscow and Ankara still need these understandings, which have been supported by numerous international capitals.

There will be no all-out war in Idlib, just as it will have no final peace or one achieved by bargaining over it. Rather, Idlib is a candidate for serving as 'the last point of contact' between the various knights of the Syrian war by proxy.

And so it will remain until further notice.