Russia Woos the World with New Plan on Syria

Caught between the hope of securing a lasting foothold in the Middle East and the fear of inheriting an impossible situation, Russia is trying to re-gauge its Syrian policy with possible support from the Trump administration in Washington.

The key feature of Russia’s evolving new strategy is an attempt at changing the narrative on Syria from one depicting a civil war to one presented as a humanitarian emergency that deserves massive international aid.

Western analysts say the new narrative has the merit of pushing aside thorny issues such as the future of President Bashar al-Assad and power-sharing in a future government.

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Trump’s Syria Ceasefire Lets Bashar Assad Off the Hook

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest on Sunday, following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

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Syria: Boris Johnson urges action over nerve gas attack

Boris Johnson has urged action against the Syrian regime after a watchdog ruled an attack that killed more than 90 people used sarin nerve gas.

The foreign secretary said he had “no doubt” President’s Bashar al-Assad’s government was behind April’s atrocity.

Russia blocked a UK-backed move at the United Nations to condemn the attack.

Mr Johnson is now appealing to world leaders to “unite behind the need to hold those responsible to account” by imposing further sanctions.

He was speaking after The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a town in Northern Syria held by rebel forces fighting the regime, on 4 April, could only be “determined as the use of sarin, as a chemical weapon”.

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No, Assad’s Survival Isn’t a Good Thing

Misguided voices in Israel and elsewhere argue that a strong Syrian president with firm control over the state is a vital interest for Israel. This amazing conclusion was drawn from the long quiet period along the Golan Heights border during the strong dictatorship of the Assad family.

The notion that it is preferable to have strong enemies is strange. Common sense tells us that weak enemies are preferable because they can do less damage. Violent conflict is about exacting pain from the other side. States are more dangerous than militias and terrorist groups. A weak Syria can cause less pain than a strong Syria.

A Syria embroiled in civil war has much less energy and means to hurt Israel than a strong Syria. A dysfunctional Syrian state torn by civil war is not a result of Israeli machinations, but a positive strategic development from an Israeli point of view. What is left of the Syrian army is busy protecting the regime and trying to expand the territory it holds. It is not capable of challenging the IDF in a conventional war, and it will take years for it to build a serious military machine.

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Aleppo After the Fall

Robert F. Worth reports from Aleppo, a city in ruins. Speaking with residents about the current state of existence, Worth also examines the social and political seeds of the Syrian War, now in its sixth year. The war has been supported by a cast of foreign sponsors on both sides. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah have backed the Assad regime, which dropped bombs and chemical weapons on its own citizens, while Saudi Arabia and Turkey have aided the rebels attempting to overthrow Assad. With Aleppo firmly back into the hands of the Assad regime, Syrians and exiled expats are starting to wonder whether backing Assad is their best chance at ending the war so they can begin to rebuild their lives.

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Radical Iran-led Axis Confronted with U.S. Deterrence for First Time

The conflict in Syria has long ceased being a civil war, becoming instead a clash between coalitions and blocs that divide the entire Middle East.

The Iranian-led axis is the most dangerous and highly armed bloc fighting in Syria. Bashar al-Assad’s regime is not an independent actor, but rather, a component of this wider axis. In many respects, Assad is a junior member of the Iranian coalition set up to fight for him.

Russia joined the Iranian axis in 2015, acting for its own reasons as the pro-Assad coalition’s air force, helping to preserve the Syrian regime.

This coalition enabled the Assad regime to conduct mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Sunnis from Syria, while also using unconventional weapons against civilians in an effort to terrorize rebel organizations into submission.

Feeling confident by its growing control of Syria, Iran also uses its regional coalition to arm, finance, and deploy Shi’ite jihadist agents all over the Middle East, and to attack those who stand in the way of Iranian domination.

The Iranian-led axis has been able to spread violence, terrorism, and Islamic militancy without facing repercussions.

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The Syria Catastrophe

The Syrian war is at once incomprehensibly byzantine and very simple. It is complex in the number of countries involved, in the shifting and fragile internal alliances and resentments of the groups constituting the rebellion, in the threads of national interest that circle back and consume themselves like a snake eating its own tail. To take just one example: after a decade of friendly relations with Syria, Turkey turned on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and decided to work toward his downfall, and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that his country would “support the Syrian people in every way until they get rid of the bloody dictator and his gang.” Since then, Turkey has served as a staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), but it has also been repeatedly accused of funneling funds and arms to ISIS, which regularly attacks FSA bases and beheads the soldiers it captures. Turkey has provided military aid to the effort to combat ISIS, but it also devotes energy and resources to fighting Kurdish nationalists, who have been more effective in fighting ISIS than any other group to date. In November 2016, Erdoğan reiterated his determination to unseat Assad, saying Turkish forces had entered Syria in August 2016 for no other reason than to remove Assad from power. One day later, he retracted his statement and claimed Turkey’s military campaign in Syria had been designed solely to defeat ISIS, the terrorist group whose operations Turkey had at least tacitly and perhaps actively supported. Turkey is now working closely with Russia, which has done more than any other country to prevent Erdoğan from realizing his goal of bringing down Assad. Turkey is just one of at least nine countries involved in the conflict.

The simple part of the war is that it is a human, social, and environmental disaster that equals some of the 20th century’s worst conflicts. Around half a million have died, with another two million wounded, in a country whose prewar population amounted to just more than twenty million. Since the conflict’s beginning, in 2011, Syrian life expectancy has dropped by more than twenty years, from roughly 79 to 56. More than half of the country’s population has been forced to leave their homes, including some six million internally displaced and nearly five million refugees. Their movements have in turn contributed to political upheaval across Europe and North America, with right-wing nationalists campaigning against the supposedly dangerous influx of refugees. The use of torture against political enemies and captured soldiers has been widespread, especially on the part of the Assad regime. Many refugees cite their female family members’ dramatically increased risk of being raped as a major reason for leaving. In addition, a country with a strong national identity and a tradition of religious tolerance — including for a dozen Christian denominations and esoteric sects like the Druze — has been transformed into a place of bitter sectarian violence. Much of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on Earth and one of the region’s architectural and cultural jewels, has been reduced to rubble. As regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian ground troops, made their final, decisive assault on the rebellion’s dwindling territory there in December 2016, many residents found themselves trapped and began to tweet out their good-byes. In one such video, an old man rocked back and forth in the middle of a bombed-out street, pushing his hands away from his face as he called out, “We are starving. There is nothing.”

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