Competing interests in Syria

Military historian Martin van Creveld’s guest analyst considers the current situation in Syria from four different perspectives and arrives at some surprising conclusions:

The situation around Russia in Syria is up for debate. No doubt, Russia would like to lead a reconstruction effort in Syria, in harmony with all relevant partners, including the UN, the EU, the USA, China, India, Turkey, Iran, Israel, the Sunni Arab states including the Golf Council Countries (GCC-states), Egypt and Morocco. However, many of the parties on the list of wished-for partners are strongly hostile to each other, and it might therefore perhaps not be possible for Russia to make all these ends come together, or to cut through the proverbial “Gordian Knot”. If Russia cannot create a reconstruction for all of Syria, which is what Russia wants most of all, then Russia will have to think about a “second option” for Russia’s future presence in Syria.

What might be a “second option” for Russia in Syria?

It would not make sense at any rate for Russia to leave Syria completely. After all, Russia has spent a lot of blood and treasure to achieve the stabilization now achieved, it does not want a resurgence of Sunni extremism by groups like ISIS and similar, and it has strategic interests in Syria, including an air base and a naval base.

However, as a “second option”, if the preferred cooperation for reconstruction of all of Syria should not be achievable, would be for Russia to concentrate and reduce her presence to a part of Syria. Russia can entrench itself in north-west Syria, creating its own zone of exclusive Russian military control and administration together with Syrian forces which are sympathetic to Russia as well as to Syria’s current government. Such a “Russian” zone could consist of a square of Syria consisting of Latakia, Tartus, Homs, and Ma’arat-Al-Numan.

The area mentioned above is already mainly controlled by Russia (incl. Russia-friendly units). Good. The area contains the air and naval bases pivotal for Russian military power. Good. The area will enable Russia to keep naval and air supplies possible from outside. Good. The area is strategically located to enable Russia to reenter all other parts of Syria, north, east and south. Good. The region mentioned contains a great deal of Syria’s population, including many of the Alawites, of which a large part support the existing Syrian government under President Bashar Al-Assad. Russia can thus expect to achieve social stability, without having to allocate a lot of military resources to constantly handle large-scale hostile actions inside this zone. The area holds a great part of Syria’s economic and reconstruction-potential. Good. The ports are open for imports of food, medicine, and raw materials—and being the only ports of Syria, they even control import-export of goods to the rest of Syria. Excellent. The ports will facilitate a reconstructed economy in this area. Great.

I don’t think Russia is going to be overly concerned about reconstruction. Their priority will remain stopping the neocon-inspired imperialist offensives around the world. My take on Israel is that a re-elected and newly empowered Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to prioritize the annexations of the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank and try to dial down the conflict in Syria in the meantime. In light of the failure to unseat Assad or establish ISIS as a proxy army to replace the US military in the Middle East, further securing the Golan Heights and seeking diplomatic approval for its annexation is probably the primary Israeli objective concerning Syria.

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