Articles > > UNRELIABLE ALLIES

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-01-05
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

Damascus really cannot rely on its two major allies as it prepares to confront Turkey's most extensive battlefield and political 'involvement' in the Syrian crisis at the start of 2019.

Moscow and Tehran both have their own calculations and interests with Ankara that go beyond Syria's geography and have to do with the region as a whole and the international arena. Neither will jeopardize their economic, trade, and oil relations with a country of Turkey's size, especially at this particular point in time when both are being subjected to a broad spectrum of American sanctions and their relations with Washington have hit rock bottom. And both states will do their best to block the path before the American tactic that seeks to bring Ankara back to the American lap.

On the other hand, neither country will allow Damascus, as it draws nearer to the last phases of its eight-year long crisis, to be left as easy prey to Turkey's calculations and 'sensitivities' regarding the Syrian North, especially since both countries are fully aware that Turkey's aims go way beyond its resolve to 'combat terrorism,' seeking to create a 'vital space' for its regional influence at the political, security, and economic levels. This would enable it to play the role of the guarantor that prevents the establishment of a Kurdish entity both now and in the future, and allow it to be forcefully present at the negotiating and decision-making table regarding Syria's future, the nature of its new political regime, and the forces that will constitute it.

An attempt will soon be made to mend the internal relations between the parties to the trio that guarantees the Astana track after they were somewhat shaken by Trump's decision to withdraw from Syria. Moscow and Tehran will try to restrain Turkey's drive as much as possible. They will exploit the confusion and uncertainty that characterize the American position after the decision to withdraw so as to stir Ankara's fears again. And they will try to convince the Turkish president that the best way to guarantee that no independent Kurdish state would be established and that the Kurdish YPG (People's Protection Units) and SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) will not remain in the areas they control is for the Syrian army to return and redeploy along the entire borders with Turkey.

This, however, will not be enough to convince their Turkish partner to drop its efforts to create its vital space in the Syrian North – even though the two countries may be able to check and contain these efforts to some degree. Nor will it be enough to convince this 'partner' to transform that area into a security cordon controlled by lackey Syrian militias affiliated with Ankara, turning it into a safe zone that large numbers of Syrian refugees in Turkey can return to. In fact, this would be acceptable to Moscow and Tehran, provided it that is enveloped with phrases that stress the three parties' commitment to Syria's unity, sovereignty, and independence.

Meanwhile, despite its express determination to extend its authority to all Syrian territories, Damascus is not about to transform the current spat with its partners into a crack in the wall of this alliance that has emerged 'victorious' from the eight-years long war. It will resort to gradual and phased steps to achieve its longer-term aims. And, in doing so, it will benefit from two developments:

- First, the lowered ceiling of the Kurdish movement's aspirations to regain control of the Rojava area under the cover of reconciliations and settlements, after its disillusionment as a result of Trump's decision (or Tweet) concerning withdrawal from Syria.

- Second, the 'pilgrimage to Damascus' season inaugurated by a number of Arab capitals that have long been extremely hostile to the Syrian regime and that are well known for and in agreement over their opposition to the Turkish project in the region, as well as their known hostility to the Iranian project. This will strengthen Syria's position if the new year were to witnesses revived relations between Damascus and each of Cairo and Riyadh– something that is no longer to be excluded, if not likely.

Moreover, Damascus's standing with its allies will improve the more Turkey continues to procrastinate about implementing and fulfilling the Sochi understandings regarding Idlib. After all, the Nusra's recent return to the forefront of events – indeed its success in expanding and strengthening the areas under its control and influence in Aleppo's Western countryside before the Turkish forces and their observation points' very eyes and ears – is likely to sound more than one alarm bell in Moscow and Tehran.

It will remind them of the need to proceed with their war on the Nusra and its allied jihadi groups, with or without Turkey.