The Reconfiguration of the New Syria

"The new Syria that is currently reshaping will be the breaking point that will give rise to the new Middle East." Prof. Giancarlo Elia Valori discusses the current and future moves of key regional players. Opinion

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a news conference at the Pentagon (Photo: AP)

Whatever happens, the new Syria that is currently reshaping will be the breaking point that will give rise to the new Middle East, from which the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China and even the United States will no longer be excluded or marginalized.

Those who currently think of a repetition of the Cold War on the banks of the Euphrates are badly mistaken.

Russia does not want a US expulsion from the Middle East, but only a reduction of its status and rank. The same holds true for China, which already has its troops in Syria training particular groups of Assad’s Syrian Arab Army. Meanwhile, Xie Xiaoyan is touring most of the Arab world involved in the Syrian conflict to propose China as a local and regional problem solver.

Furthermore, the Chinese regime has already infiltrated some units specialized in counter-guerrilla warfare in Syria, designed to combat and eliminate the jihadists of Chinese origin in that region.

Putin wants all the "rights of way" in the Greater Syria. He also wants to be the central mediator and broker there, and later let China set in, also for the future reconstruction.

However, he is also thinking about a secondary inclusion of the United States and, above all, about the Russian central goal, namely to preserve the unity of its territory and the Alawite regime.

On December 5 last, the Pentagon spokesman announced that the United States would "remain in Syria until needed to support its partners and prevent the return of terrorists."

Moreover, it is worth recalling that the United States believes that Russia’s and Assad’s participation in the liberation of the Syrian territory was fully secondary.

In other words, the United States still wants to reshape the Syrian territory and to cantonize it according to religious and ethnic fault lines – sometimes even imaginative – and hence dominate a wide and essential area with little money and with the control of the various militias.

Indeed, we saw what happened in the Balkans.

It will be on this new mainly political clash that the destinies of Syria and the territorial part of the Greater Middle East will be played out.

These are the geopolitical borders between the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean that will be the bridge-territory of many important future political phenomena: the Iranian expansion in the middle of Asia, in its Shi'ite areas; the connection between the Gulf and the Mediterranean as the axis for the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative; the strategic link between Russia and Egypt and, in the future, its presence in the bases of Haftar's "Operation Dignity" in Libya.

All this is currently emerging in Syria.

Let us also analyze some other data: the US forces, with their 15 allies and their other 4,000 commandos stationed in Northern Syria, are deployed between the Kurdish areas to control and possibly destroy the axis being created from Teheran to Raqqa and from the ancient "capital" of the Caliphate towards Beirut, namely the Hezbollah headquarters.

A "Shi'ite continuity" that the United States considers the "number one enemy" in the region.

Furthermore, even Turkey will never accept a presence of the Iranian Republic in Syria, but meanwhile, it is "clearing" the area of Afrin – the starting point of its future internal expansion in the region – from the YPG Kurds. 

Another hypothesis to explain the phenomenon of the US-Kurdish positioning: the United States wants to create a line closing the Iran-Lebanon-Syria axis to any possibility of a Shi'ite attack on Israel.

Hence, indirectly, the United States wants to favor the Israeli-Saudi agreement.

Israel, however, knows that – in spite of everything – the Saudi economy has not yet recovered and that a very fragile national economy can never afford and withstand a long war. Furthermore, Israel is well aware that an agreement with Russia can stop a possible Iranian attack usefully and credibly.

Nor will Israel ever accept a stabilization of any Iranian military unit on the Syrian territory. According to Israel, the abovementioned Teheran-Raqqa-Beirut line can become a fast transport line for the approximately 100,000 missiles available to the "Party of God."

But now, probably, the Iranian global strategy in Syria may appear to be dangerous for both Russia and Syria itself.

Mohammad Bagheri, the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, has announced that Iran wants to build a naval base in Syria. A clear danger for Russia: its recently-expanded Tartus base in the Mediterranean is thus brought under control by an allied, albeit foreign, power.

Moreover, now that Bashar al-Assad's regime has strengthened and stabilized itself, Iran shows it has some other interest in addition to the usual bilateral relationship.

Nor has Iran ever liked the Astana talks designed to put an end to the conflict in Syria and make the United States return to the region, obviously not as primus inter pares, but as a partner of a multipolar project. Russia also wants to force the United States to be multipolar: it is like obliging Donald J. Trump to wear a pink ballerina tutu.

Nor can Russia hope to finance – on its own – the cost of reconstruction, which is today optimistically estimated at around 250 billion US dollars – perhaps not even with the help of China that certainly has much money, but has no intention to put it all in one basket.

Finally, Russia does no longer want to crucify itself in Syria. Quite the reverse. If I remember correctly, the only Sufi Islamic mystic who had himself crucified – although in Baghdad, in 922 AD – was the mystic poet Al-Hallaj.

He was passionately studied by Louis Massignon, who redesigned the Middle East at the time of the Sykes-Picot Treaty and also created the Alawite dominion and supremacy in the French-speaking Syria, probably believing he could find something of Al-Hallaj in the Islamic practice of that sect.

Hence, Putin wants to have a clear field to protect his Tartus base, which will become the axis of Russia’s future maritime expansion in the Mediterranean. Nor does he want to have the Iranian base standing in his way to make all the military carriers of the NATO Navies reach the Syrian sea, alerted by the Iranian ones.

The Iranian Navy would first enter the Mediterranean and then control the sea in front of Lebanon. Later it would naturally turn to Israel and then it would begin to create threats against the various Sunni coastal countries.

Another hypothesis circulating in the groups close to Khamenei is that Iran could build another base – probably a submarine one – between Cyprus and some Dodecanese islands.

The four players, namely Russia, Turkey, Israel, and Egypt, like none of these two options.

Moreover, in Syria, Iran supported Bashar al-Assad's regime in many ways: the obligation imposed on Hezbollah to make 9,200 Pasdaran get in on the action, right away in 2012; the weapons supplied to two local Shi'ite groups, especially to the Kata'ib al Imam Ali group; the recruitment of Shi'ite volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan, who were to create the Fatemiyon and the Zaynabiyun brigades, with the volunteers’ salaries ranging from 1000 US dollars per month up to 5,000.

Iran had set the following goals for its intervention in Syria: (a) the elimination of ISIS; (b) the return to the status quo ante; and (c) the preservation of its institutions, which would have certainly not withstood a Sunni victory in the neighboring friendly country. It achieved those goals.

Currently, nobody can or probably want to oust Assad from power.

It was – at the beginning – the unifying myth of the Turkish Caliphate Sunnism, the elimination of Assad when Erdogan railed against him and called for his hanging, although without ever naming him explicitly.

Everyone except Russia has entertained the idea of destabilizing Syria. From this viewpoint, everyone except Russia has lost.

The United States was ridiculous when it urged to oust Bashar from power without even establishing a platform or developing an election project.

There is also the possibility that some US groups placed inside the "political-military system" still think about an all-out attack against Assad and his clan. However, what should they have to do at a later stage?

The Italian politician, Giancarlo Pajetta, comes to mind when, after having "occupied" the Prefecture of Milan following the attack on Togliatti, he phoned him to tell what he had done. Togliatti then replied calmly: "Well, what will you do now?"

All of a sudden, Trump has also ended a CIA program designed to train terrorist groups with the sole aim of killing Assad. A bad repetition of the ridiculous list of stratagems to kill Fidel Castro.

The only concrete policy in the region is the one of the United States which now continues to support the Kurds who fought the "Caliphate" with their traditional military organizations and conquered a quarter of its territory.

The United States will do so until it thinks about a new war on that territory to support Saudi Arabia or Israel.

In fact, another future problem will be to control the Turkish tensions on the Kurdish presence in Syria – another concrete objective to split Syria up which, sooner or later, will be used and pursued.

Now, Turkey is thinking about the Kurds and is no longer interested in the internal power in Syria.

Moreover, the same great political-military operation made by Russia – with the ceasefire between the "rebels" and the government forces on all fronts, including that of Idlib still largely in Al Nusra’s hands – enabled Syria and Iran to focus on fighting the "Islamic State" in the South. A perfect move.

Later, after the return of the Russian soldiers operating in Syria, while the Russian Aerospace Forces and many Special Forces return, the Russian contractors will remain on the ground to protect the pipelines, even though the Russian law forbids a federal citizen to set up a "private war" group.

It will be the classic substitution typical of contemporary warfare: the "regular" soldiers leave, and the contractors arrive.

Now, the negotiations for Syria’s reconstruction begin, and we will follow them with particular interest.

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