25 May 2015
With Daesh controlling half of Syrian territory and the “Army of Conquest” consolidating its gains in the Idlib province and getting closer to regime’s bastion of Latakia, the Assad regime appears to be on the retreat. While some observers see these as serious setbacks for Damascus others draw attention to the ebb and flow pattern of the war. Equally important are the divisions emerging between the US and its regional allies. The “Army of Conquest” is a coalition of groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and a few others.
It is widely reported that the Army of Conquest is supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey following an agreement between Riyadh and Ankara to shelve their differences, at least temporarily, over Muslim Brotherhood. The Justice and Development Party (JDP) Government has been an ardent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood whereas Riyadh considers it a threat. Turkey is the most outspoken critic of Egypt’s President Sisi. Saudi Arabia generously supports him.
Insofar as Turkey is concerned all of this is a reflection an ideological approach which has dragged the country into region’s sectarian proxy wars resulting in the loss of its role as an advocate of peace and stability.
Alleged support provided to the Army of Conquest has the potential to further upset the already strained relationship with not only with the West, in particular the US but also with Russia. Turkey’s assistance to anti-Assad radical groups have for long been a matter of controversy. Ankara vehemently denies such allegations and asks for concrete evidence, documentation. But the fact that these allegations continue to circulate is enough to damage Turkey’s credibility. This, at least partly explains the delays experienced in the launching of the US-led train-and-equip program for the “moderate” Syrian opposition.
On 12 May 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and US Secretary of State Kerry held a joint press conference in Sochi. While expressing his views on Syria Mr. Lavrov said that he and Mr. Kerry “agreed that ISIL’s activities, as well as the activities of Jabhat al-Nusrah are very dangerous…”
In an interview published in Turkish daily Hurriyet on 22 May 2015, US Special Representative for Syria, Daniel Rubinstein reiterated the view that there is no military solution to the Syria conflict. He clearly stated that for Washington, Al Nusra is a terrorist organization, the Syria section of al-Qaida. He advised caution to all America’s friends in their support to the Syrian opposition.
In an article entitled “Syria’s Next Potential Crisis Could Turn the Middle East Upside Down” published in the Syria Comment on 20 May 2015, Bob Howker draws attention the possibility of a mass exodus of Alawites to Lebanon on a scale not witnessed in the region since Palestine in 1948. He suggests that the UN and Western countries should encourage and influence Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others to urge their client rebel groups to refrain from victimizing Alawite populations.
All of this shows yet again that Assad’s departure will mark neither the end of suffering in Syria nor the sectarian divisions in the Middle East.
The JDP Government has invested everything in Assad’s ouster. When that happens, it will declare the first great victory of the 21st century. It will equate Assad’s fall from power with the defeat of Nazism at the end of the Second World War. “But at what price for Turkey?” will be the question. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are far away whereas Turkey shares a 900 kilometer border with Syria…