This article was published in Ahval News on April 20, 2018.
After the U.S.-led missile attack in Syria
U.S. President Donald Trump fulfilled his promise on April 14 by sending “nice and new and ‘smart’ missiles” to Syria to destroy chemical weapons facilities.
We will see whether this operation will put an end to the clashes taking place in Syria for more than seven years or re-ignite, in a different form, the clashes that were dying away.
So far the main fights were going on between the U.S.-led coalition and Islamic State (ISIS), and between Syrian government forces and all sorts of opposition. The Syrian Kurds constitute a separate case because of the nature of their fight.
The fight between the U.S.-led coalition and ISIS had come to an end by ousting the ISIS from its de facto capital Raqqa. There are still pockets of resistance held by ISIS, but it cannot carry out effective attacks from these isolated places. However dormant cells may survive in the conservative Sunni communities elsewhere in Syria and Iraq and even perhaps in Turkey. The fight against it will not be in the form of a pitched battle any longer, but a long-term process that will involve persuading the adherents of the movement that theirs is not the right path. Therefore, no more missiles will be needed.
The fight between Syrian government forces and various opposition factions was unfolding to the detriment of the latter. With the fall of Douma, the entire Eastern Ghouta had come under the government control. There are still pockets of resistance in various regions of Syria, but bigger concentrations of opposition fighters may now be considered eliminated.
As a curious coincidence, the missile attack from the United States, Britain and France came exactly at a time when the regime was going to have a freer hand to deal with the remaining opposition factions. This coincidence brings up the thought that, from now on, the sides to the clashes will be the Syrian government, Russia and Iran on the one hand, the United States, Britain and France on the other.
This will change the entire feature of the Syrian crisis. It will become a different type of a proxy war. The clashes will not take place in the territories of the warring sides, but on Syrian soil. In other words, the biggest loser will again be the Syrian people. The most important consequence of it will be a stronger implantation of Russia in Syria, because it was already a sine qua no in Syria, now it will become more so.
The same theory is valid for the emergence of Iran as a country that will need Syria more than ever. The other consequence will be further strengthening of Syrian President Bashar Assad because an important portion of the Syrian population considers the latest missile attack a conspiracy against their country. Therefore, they may further coalesce around Assad.
The Kurdish question is a separate chapter in the Syrian crisis. The Kurds have been receiving U.S. political and military support and training. However, they were not fighting the regime forces. They came one step closer to the regime when the United States did not do anything to prevent Turkey carrying out a military operation in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.
Furthermore, Turkey is trying to persuade the United States to expel Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the town of Manbij. If the United States decides to fulfil Turkey’s demands, the Kurds may move further away from Washington and closer to the Syrian regime, because the long-term interests of the Kurdish cause require they have to reach an accommodation with the Syrian regime. At that time the United States may not be as important player in Syria as it is now.
The aftermath of the April 14 missile attack will be shaped in light of these three paradigms and many other less important ones. In the fluid environment of Syria, it is difficult to foretell in which direction the situation may evolve. All options are open. They may lead to a complete thawing between the regime and the opposition, and among the foreign actors, but the risk of everything becoming more complicated is higher.