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Iran

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

Turkey’s Safe Zone in Northern Syria and International Law

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: Mere hours before Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visits with his Russian counterpart in Sochi, his government clarified the purpose of its invasion of Northern Syrian. The Turkish government frames its intervention as partly humanitarian, partly security missions. Considering that Erdoğan has called for such a “safe zone” as early as 2015, the political purpose of the “safe zone” can hardly be ignored. More significantly, the legal status of the proposed “safe zone” must be assessed. In this brief note, I examine the Turkish claims and weigh them against legal standards. Continue reading

The U.S. is planning “an attack on Iran”, a real Groundhog Day event

The U.S. is planning “an attack on Iran”, a real Groundhog Day event

More than 22 years ago, an attack in Saudi Arabia was blamed on Iran, and the media, then, said the US is preparing to attack Iran. Now, another attack in Saudi Arabia is blamed on Iran and the US is said to be preparing to Attack Iran. And guest what, at that time too, Afghanistan was at war, and Iran was trying to bring peace to that country. Little has changed in quarter century.

For those with short memory and those who were not alive 22 years ago, we offer this unedited news report from 1997.

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From Reuters, Sat Jan 25 12:38:30 1997
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 1997 15:21:38 PST
Subject: Senior cleric says Iran defence power unquestioned

TEHRAN (Reuter) – A senior Iranian cleric said Friday Iran had become a military power commanding fear in the region and even the United States knew that the country could defend itself.

“This country has become a military power. Our power has reached such a level that others fear it and America constantly expresses concern over it,” Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a mass Friday prayer sermon broadcast on Tehran radio.

“Of course they (U.S.) say a lot of rubbish and charge us with a lot of things but they see that there is a military power here that can defend itself. And that is all we are saying also,” said Jannati, a member of the powerful Guardian Council.

His remarks came a day after Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Tehran would “powerfully respond to any possible U.S. military measures and reveal to the world the real
power of Iran.”

Iranian officials have reacted strongly to Western media reports linking Tehran to a June bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. airmen, saying the reports indicated Washington was preparing an attack on the Islamic republic.

Iran has not been officially linked to the truck bomb attack and the country has denied involvement. Diplomats have said the United States may strike at Iran if it is convinced that Tehran played a role in the attack.

Iran, the Gulf’s non-Arab power, has repeatedly denied U.S. charges that its military is a threat to the oil-rich region’s Arab states, saying its armed forces are purely defensive.

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From Reuters
Date: Sat, 25 Jan 1997 13:12:01 PST
Subject: Afghan talks open in Tehran without Taleban

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuter) – A conference to secure peace between warring factions in Afghanistan began in Tehran Saturday without the participation of the Islamic Taleban militia.
“We regret that not all Afghan groups participated,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati said in his opening speech.

The conference is the latest Iranian initiative for peace in neighboring Afghanistan where the Taleban, who drove out President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government in September, has made major military gains in the past week.

Rabbani, ousted Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and former President Sibghatullah Mojadedi arrived in Tehran earlier this week for the talks.  Taleban said Friday the militia had not received any formal invitation for the talks.

“Even if we get an invitation, we will not participate in this conference because Iran is not neutral, it favors one side,” Mullah Abddul Jalil, the Taleban’s acting deputy foreign
minister told a Pakistan-based news service.

Iran, which recognizes Rabbani’s government, has often criticized the Sunni Muslim Taleban for giving Islam a bad name.

Iranian media have blasted the Taleban as being set up by Pakistan and backed by Washington. Pakistan denies the charge. A leader of the Taleban militia said Saturday that opposition groups must accept it as the country’s government as a condition for peace talks. Attempts by the United Nations and Pakistan have failed to reconcile the Taleban and Rabbani’s government. No country has formally recognized the Taleban government.

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

Can Iran Close the Strait of Hormuz?

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Since the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran Deal and re-imposed and imposed sanctions on Iran, Iranian leaders indicated that they will close the Strait of Hormuz if they are unable to sell their oil. In the last few months, a number of incidents had occurred with the potential for impacting the flow of oil through the Strait. On Thursday, Iranian authorities said that they shot down a US spy drone over its airspace. Hours later, US military confirmed the downing of the drone, with two corrections: The model of the drone and the location of drone when it was shot down. The former fact (or non-fact) is irrelevant legally, the latter is important. US military said that the drone was shot down while flying in international space.

 

 

 

Both sides agree that the incident took place in the Strait of Hormuz. If the shooting down of the drone took place in the narrowest area, US claim that its drone was flying in international waters would be false because, at that point, there is no international space. The space is either under Iranian sovereignty or Omani sovereignty

It is likely, therefore, that the incident took place on either sides of the Strait, in which case, there are international waters and sovereign waters belonging to Iran, Oman, and UAE. In this case, US and Iran will be under pressure to produce evidence about the whereabouts of the drone at the moment it was shot down. The evidence can be in the form of GPS records, satellite tracks, and/or location of the debris of the downed drone.

Given these escalations, it is also important to understand the legal regimes that govern passage through narrow waterways in general and the Strait in particular.

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US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

by David Cortright*

Many are worried about the risk of war with Iran after the Trump administration leaked discussions of a troop deployment in response to claimed threats to U.S. warships in the region.
And in recent days, the rhetoric has only gotten more heated, with President Donald Trump saying a war would be “the official end of Iran.” Iranian officials responded in kind.
But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting a war with Iran for decades – an economic war fought via sanctions that has intensified over the past year and has already been devastating to innocent civilians in the country.

Not only that, it’s also undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only re-imposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran. Continue reading

Trump’s reflexive impulse to reach for superlatives will doom his Iran sanctions regime

Trump’s reflexive impulse to reach for superlatives will doom his Iran sanctions regime

Trump’s inclination to invoke superlatives to demean persons he does not like and to praise himself or persons he likes is well documented. Almost all his short and long statements would include some superlatives.
His tweet announcing the start of the Iran sanctions is no exception.

The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!

Logically, if these are “the most biting sanctions ever imposed”, how can they be even more so in November? Logical consistency aside, let’s assume that this round of sanctions is “very biting” and the next round will make them “the most biting” sanctions ever. The stated goal of the administration is to reduce Iran’s energy export (oil and gas) to zero. Of course, reducing the sales of something the Iranian government depends on to zero will be unprecedented, and will deserve the superlative descriptor should it be achieved. However, we already know that that will not happen because three of the top energy buyers, China, India, and Turkey have stated publicly that the sanctions are outside the UNSC and as such they are unilateral, they were imposed in contravention to a deal endorsed by the UNSC and signed by the P5+1, and they encroach on national sovereignty of other nations, and as such these states will not abide by the new and re-instated US sanctions. In other words, they will continue to purchase Iranian oil and natural gas, not to do Iran a favor, but to protect their own national interests.

As to sanctions related to other services and products (auto parts, banking, and gold, etc…), that, too, may not achieve the sated goals. In fact, it may backfire.


On the day the first round of sanctions took effect, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini, after having spoken to Iranian officials, said the following: 


“We are encouraging small and medium enterprises in particular to increase business with and in Iran as part of something that for us is a security priority.”

This is very important. Aware that US secondary sanctions (sanctioning companies that deal with Iran) would discourage large companies with complex and large operations in the US from doing business with Iran, EU leaders are willing to offer added incentives to small and midsize companies to do business with and in Iran. This means that smaller companies that do not have no economic ties to the US or have no significant operations and investments in the US would be encouraged (through economic, financial, and legal incentives) to do business in and with Iran. Moreover, the EU leaders also threatened EU companies with sanctions if they abandon deals with Iran.

Should these sanctions last longer than the current term of the US president, the EU measure could offer larger companies the loophole they need to evade US sanctions. They could sell their interests and investments in Iran to these companies, or they could spinoff some operational divisions to avoid EU sanctions. 

Iran does not seem to have any interest in the US market or in US companies. Their priorities is to remain connected to the global market. The EU legal and economic measures such as increasing small companies (and privately held ones) to do business with Iran will allow the latter to remain connected to the global market, which would allow them to focus on their more reliable partners like China, Russia, India, and the Koreas. 


As Harley-Davidson, Inc. reminded us when it announced it was moving some production out of the US and into the EU to sidestep paying high tariff, large business companies have a responsibility to their shareholders not to politicians. They are, by nature, multi-national. In other words, they will seek profit wherever they can find it and move all or some of their operations to any country that would maximize their profit. 


In this particular dispute, it would seem that the world community’s interest in global security (limiting nuclear proliferation) favors upholding the Iranian deal. Given its track record thus far, this administration is motivated, in part, by undoing the legacy of its predecessor. That is not a basis for building and preserving international alliances and credibility. None of the signatories to the deal said that the Iran Deal was perfect, as are all other negotiated multilateral deals. Some Iranian leaders, too, were not happy with some of the terms of the deal. But this US administration is victim of its own quest for superlative goals. That may be a good business strategy. But it is not a practical political strategy. 


In the end, the all-or-nothing approach to Iran may lead to the only logical result: nothing. Because in politics, the domain of compromise, the quest for superlatives is a liability, not an asset.

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Ref. Iran Deal

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Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

Turkey is now alone, thanks to its erratic alliances

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

This map, produced by pro-gov. Syrian group, hints
to Syria’s claim over most of Hatay province, could explain
the strategy for dealing with Idlib.
There are historical and political reasons for Turkey’s determination to prevent the formation of an autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Syria. However, Turkey’s government might be nervous not just because of the Kurdish separatist aspirations, but also because of its long territorial dispute with the Syrian government, which considers most of Hatay province (Iskenderun) Syrian territory. Looking at the military strategy the Syria government has put in place since the start of its military campaign to regain lost territory, it would appear that the Syrian government wants to address its sovereignty claim over Iskenderun in the context of this armed conflict, in which Turkey has been deeply involved politically and militarily. Turkey, on the other hand, given its erratic decisions related to the Syrian crisis and given its fickle alliances, finds itself alone, abandoned by old allies, Saudi Arabia and the US, and untrusted by its new one, Russia and Iran.

 
First, Turkey’s government knows that a sovereign and united Kurdistan with access to international waters is a formidable one. A landlocked Kurdistan will depend on the goodwill of its neighbors to have access to international markets and to the global community in general. But a Kurdistan stretching from the Iraqi-Iranian border in the east to the Mediterranean in the west is viable, strong, and rich. Turkey, more than all its neighbors is threatened by this prospect for many obvious reasons. That is why Turkey feels the need to act now before a political solution for the Syrian crisis, which might result in the creation of a semi-autonomous region in northern Syria, is reached. 
 
Second, it must be noted that Hatay province is inhabited by diverse ethnic and religious groups, but Arabs and Alevis are a majority in its population of nearly 1.5 million people. The region, therefore, despite being under Turkish control, is strongly pro-Syrian government and throughout the Syrian crisis period, many of its people demonstrated in support of the Syrian government.
 
Third, nearly 500,000 Syrians were displaced by the violence in Aleppo and Idlib provinces and these displaced people settled in Hatay province. Moreover, the province borders the very volatile Idlib province that has been a relocation destination for all armed groups who chose not to enter into “reconciliation” agreements with the Syrian government. Idlib is controlled primarily by the powerful Islamist factions supported by Turkey and Qatar, mainly Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS; formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). 
 
Most recently, a number of factions defected from Ahrar al-Sham to join HTS making it the largest Islamist armed group in northern Syria. Parts of Idlib has been designated by the agreement (sponsored by Turkey, Russia, and Iran) as reduced violence zone. However, Russia has insisted all along that all de-escalation zones must exclude terrorist organization and, in the case of Idlib, given its proximity and connection to Turkey, Russia asked Turkey to dissolve or liquidate HTS. Turkey failed to do so, choosing instead to prioritize fighting Kurdish armed groups over fighting HTS and its affiliates. That development initiated a series of other events leading to the current situation. 
 
First, the Syrian government and its allies determined that Turkey has failed to deal with terrorist organizations in Idlib. The government, aided with Russian air force and allied troops, launched a multi-front offensive from the eastern regions under its control and appears to be moving westward. Today, the Syrian government announced full control of Abu Duhu airbase, a large strategic military facility, nearly 16 km2 at the intersection of three key provinces—Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo, that can be used to launch future operations deeper into all three provinces. 
 
Turkey moved troops to some points in Syria and began a military campaign against the Kurds in Afrin. Meanwhile, the US shifted its support to Kurds from assistance to defeat ISIS to training and equipping a permanent military force that it called border control units, which angered the Turkish government and raised some questions about the legality of US presence in Syria without clear UNSC or government authorization. 
 
The Syrian government’s long term strategy is now revealed by its actions on the ground. It appears to involve military campaign to clear internal regions and relocate the diehard armed groups to Idlib with the intent to ultimately force them into Hatay province. Once there, they will be Turkey’s problem to deal with them on its own or enter into an agreement with the Syrian government to settle the border dispute and accommodate the people living therein. That is an impressive long-term strategy, unlike Turkey’s, involving trusted, reliable regional and international allies. 
 
Turkey on the other hand, did not seem to have had a long-term strategy. That fact can be deduced from its erratic alliances. First it joined the anti-Assad coalition led by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and several EU states. Then it joined the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US. Finally, it turned to Russia and Iran. But in the end, and with its Afrin operation, Turkey finds itself alone. Turkey, now, must deal with the ramifications of a crisis that it helped create but failed to control its outcome. Syria, on the other hand, may end up regaining control over disputed border territory or use it to settle its undesirables and all foreign fighters who came to support them. A Hatay province under Turkish control but full of diehard zealots will continue to be a threat to Turkish security and stability–in fact, more so than the imagined or real Kurdish threat.

 
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated. For more information, please visit: http://www.ahmedsouaiaia.com

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A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

A Kurdish referendum, now, is counterproductive

There is no doubt that the Kurdish people, like any other ethnic and linguistic community of their size, have a legitimate claim to self-determination. The Kurdish people in all five countries where they have a sizable population and in the diaspora, are more than 35 million people. Were they able to form a nation of their own right after the end of the colonial era, their country would have been the third most populous country in the region. But the powers to be did not allow that to happen. Their claim to nationhood still stands as a legitimate one.

However, the timing of the referendum, the lack of preparation for it in terms of diplomatic support, and the special circumstances of the region all made this decision a very poor one. It may have been motivated by personal impulses than by the urgency to secure the rights of the Kurdish people.
  
Masoud Barzani, the main proponent of the referendum, is an echo from Saddam’s era. His term in office ended years ago yet he persists to hold power. The regional government has had serious economic challenges and without Turkey’s eagerness to buy energy directly from the regional government, bypassing the central Iraqi government, the Kurdish economy would have collapsed two years ago. 
Since ISIS took over large swaths of land in Iraq and Syria in 2014, Kurdish fighters, with the help of anti-ISIS coalitions, pushed back ISIS only to claim the cleared territory as their own. This alone diminishes from the appeal of self-determination claim that the Kurds have asserted because it makes them appear as an aggressive expansionist regime that is willing to take advantage of the dire situation in Iraq and Syria.

The expansion, is bad public relation statement and shortsighted. Evidently, the newly acquired territories bring with it non-Kurdish populations, Arab, Turkmen, Persian, Armenian, etc. who will be made minorities dominated by a government that privileges and prioritizes Kurdish nationalism—creating new fault lines for protracted conflicts.
Kurdish political leaders ought to learn from the case of South Sudan. Prior to the division of Sudan, the conflict was made to appear as a conflict between the Muslim north and the Christian south, the Arab north and the African south. Since independence, the civil war in South Sudan became worse and the economic conditions of the landlocked territory became dire. Similarly, a landlocked Kurdistan in northern Iraq will make life for Kurds in the other four countries harder, and the potential civil war within Kurdistan in Iraq will increase. Turkey, by virtue of being home to the largest number of Kurds in the region will choke the Kurdish enclave and treat its own Kurdish population with even more hostility.
It is one thing to be supportive of disempowered communities and stand by any people who seek a life where they can live with dignity and respect. But Masoud Barzani used the Kurdish dream for self-determination to make a reckless decision that will, without doubt, make life for all Kurds harder and their fight for a better life even more costly. He failed to win the support of a single influential nation and made it harder for NGO’s and activists to continue their support of the Kurdish people. It is unfortunate that one man, whose term in office has run long ago, has risked the dream of so all, the Kurds, including those outside Iraq.

Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? Consider the reaction on the ground in Syria

Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? Consider the reaction on the ground in Syria

Analysis: Was Astana Meeting on Syria a Success? 
Leader of the new faction created by Nusra: Abu Jabir al-Sheikh
In past, when the U.S. administration and the Russian government attempted to solve the Syrian crisis, their efforts collapsed because they failed to reach an agreement on identifying and separating terrorist groups from non-terrorist groups, or groups that are willing to negotiate a political settlement from those who don’t. Then, after a single meeting held in Astana, which was convened by Russia, Turkey, and Iran, armed groups in northern Syria appear to be separating themselves along those lines. If that process continues, the Astana meeting would have achieved what many meetings have failed to do.

Even before the end of the Astana meeting, which was attended by representatives of about ten armed groups in Syria, the powerful group formerly known as al-Nusra, launched a preemptive war against the groups that took part in the meeting. Nusra accused them of signing on a deal that will isolate Nusra and label it as a terrorist organization, which will allow forces of the various coalitions operating in Syria to attack it. 
Seeking protections from Nusra, smaller armed groups quickly moved to join stronger Islamist groups. According to Ahrar al-Sham, on Thursday alone, six rebel factions, including Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, joined its ranks.

Ahrar al-Sham, which presents itself as a mainstream Sunni Islamist group, sided with the FSA groups and said Nusra had rejected mediation attempts. It said that any attack on its new members will be tantamount to a “declaration of war.”

The groups that joined Ahrar al-Sham are: Alwiyat Suqur al-Sham, Fastaqim kama unmirt, Jaysh al-Islam–Idlib branch, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, and al-Jabha al-Shamiya–west Aleppo branch.

Ahrar al-Sham is considered a terrorist group by Moscow and did not attend the Russian-backed Astana meeting. But it said it would support FSA factions that took part if they secured a favorable outcome for the opposition.
    

These steps taken by Ahrar al-Sham created an internal crisis for the group. A number of its leading figures resigned and there were reports that some factions within the group left and joined Nusra. 
On Friday, and underscoring the titanic shift that took place after the Astana meeting and other developments around the world, Nusra, which had changed its name to Jabhat Fath al-Sham, announced that it is dissolving itself and merging with four other armed groups to form a new faction calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. This new coalition consists of Nour Eddine Zenki Movement, Liwa al-Haq, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, and Jaysh al-Sunna. They called on other armed groups to join them.
These events are extraordinary. Some have criticized the Syrian government for accepting settlements with armed groups and allowing their fighters to move to Idlib. It seems that Assad’s government has had a long term strategy after all. With the infighting that is going to start soon that now new alliances are formed among the rebels, his forces may not have to fight these armed groups. They will battle each other to near extinction, given their propensity to see an enemy in every one who disagrees with them. The Syrian government will then move in and retake the province form the exhausted survivors without major losses.


UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views

UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comments anger the rulers of Saudi Arabia, forcing Downing Street to distance itself from his views


When the British government is forced to choose between factual truth and political imperatives, it chose politics

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated a fact almost universally known by now. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is fomenting sectarian war in the region. Saudi officials were angered by the comments and Saudi media accused British media of having an Iranian bias when reporting his comments.

Saudi rulers’ unhappiness with UK media is not specific to this particular instance. They are threatened by the rise in news stories portraying the Saudi military campaign in Yemen in a negative light. BBC had several programs that put the blame for the horrific conditions of children in Yemen on Saudi Arabia. Moreover, UK media in general is highlighting the hypocrisy of UK government, which criticizes Saudi War in Yemen, but keeps selling weapons that enable the rulers of the kingdom to conduct its destructive war in Yemen.

In its attempt to manage this crisis, especially that UK premiere was a guest during the GCC summit in Bahrain, Downing Street was forced to release a statement distancing itself from Johnson’s views.

Johnson’s comment is just one in many negative statements made by Western leaders, in the last two years, accusing Saudi Arabia of spreading an extremist interpretation of Islam

and supporting terrorist groups around the world. Outgoing U.S. president, Barack Obama made the case against Saudi Arabia in a 90-page long article summarizing his views in The Atlantic. Last summer, German intelligence officials also accused Saudi Arabia of building Islamic centers in the West that promote Wahhabism. The incoming U.S. administration will likely take a harsh stance against Saudi Arabian leaders as well.

In short the Saudi rulers must reform their political and religious institutions to be able to live in peace with their neighbors or risk crippling isolation.

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War

Syria’s protest movement that gave birth to a World War


The peaceful protest movement that started in Syria in 2011 was transformed by foreign governments’ involvement into a civil war fueled by sectarian and ethnic dreams. Now, we can see that Syria is no longer ground for a civil or proxy war, it is scene of a world war. There are two sides in this conflict. Although each side prefers to frame its identify in appealing descriptors like Friends Of Syria, Anti-Terror Coalition, Preservers Of Legitimacy, and Pro-International Law and Order Nations, the two sides are fixated on one man: Bashar al-Assad. From the moment some Syrians began protesting, the US-Saudi coalition jumped on the opportunity and planned to oust Assad no matter the cost. The Russian-Iranian coalition did not want that to happen no matter the cost. Every other claim about Assad’s regime abuse of human rights, forcing a wave of refugees, denying his people democracy, committing war crimes, being authoritarian, and  lacking legitimacy are nice sounding slogans needed to disguise the real agenda. After all, any one of these nations that is directly involved in this crisis is guilty of the same offenses: they all have a record of human rights abuses, ill treatment of refugees, subversion of democracy, war crimes, and authoritarian behavior. Some of these governments never held even sham elections to test their actual legitimacy. Now, each side is undertaking military action to support its side achieve the one goal: remove/strengthen Bashar al-Assad. 

Russia’s direct military involvement should not surprise anyone: Russia’s leaders have been preparing for it for years. Now, parties of this international conflict are well known. On one side, we have the so-called Friends-Of-Syria or Anti-ISIL nations that supported, trained, and equipped the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which metamorphosed after 2012 into ISIL, al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Fath, thuwar Suria, and other smaller armed groups. On the other side, we have nations that declared their support for nations’ sovereignty, Preservers-Of-Legitimacy (POL), as they want to be called. 

Over time, the coalition of FOS shrunk from nearly 100 nations in 2011, to merely seven nations today: UK, US, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. On Friday Oct. 2, these countries released a joint statement, saying that Russian strikes would “only fuel more extremism.”  But they did not explain why Russian strikes would fuel extremism but strikes carried out by FOS would not. 

In my estimation, Russia’s direct military involvement only escalated the proxy war into an open world war, which has emerged when the FOS began their strikes without UNSC authorization. Russia is now activating its own coalition, POL, which consists of Russia, Syria, Iran, and Iraq. This coalition of nations that are willing to take military action in Syria and Iraq are politically backed by BRICS nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. While only three out of the seven FOS coalition are actually dropping bombs in Syria, four out of the eight POL nations are indeed in the battle fields. The BRICKS nations provide the political cover for POL’s military intervention in Syria (and soon Iraq).

Who will have the upper hand in Syria? The coalition with more reliable military presence on the ground is likely to achieve more of its goals. Given the difficulties faced by FOS in identifying appropriate “moderate” rebel groups who would fight both the Syrian government’s forces and ISIL, POL appears to have an advantage since the Syrian government and its allies actually have a formidable presence on the ground that can clear and hold territory.

The idea that there is a strong “moderate” FSA group that can defeat ISIL and/or the government forces is not supported by facts. Training and equipping rebel groups, whose loyalty cannot be ascertained will only prologue the war. The only paths we can see for FOS to match POL’s potential for success are: (1) send their own ground troops into Syria or (2) re-brand some terror groups, like al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jaysh al-Islam as moderate rebels, and use them on the ground. These two options, however, have significant security and political costs for FOS. Can FOS nations continue to ask Russia to restrict its strikes to ISIL without legitimizing other groups that are just as genocidal in their ideology and practices as ISIL? Are the leaders of FOS nations prepared to say that al-Nusra, the actual affiliate of al-Qaeda, is a good terror group while ISIL, which had created al-Nusra in the first place, is a bad terror group?

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
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