Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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What Aleppo’s fall means for the region

By : Osama Al-Sharif

The long battle for the eastern sector of Aleppo is virtually over. We all know its eventual outcome. It will take a few more days and perhaps weeks for the Syrian forces and their allies to overcome the rest of the embattled neighbourhoods, or what is left of them. There will be more carnage, as shell-shocked civilians attempt to flee towards safer zones. Some will make it while others will not. The casualty count includes children, women and elderly in what is already the biggest wholesale systematic destruction of an urban centre in the post-World War II era.

The extent of the humanitarian catastrophe has been exhaustively described, and denounced, by diplomats, journalists and organisations alike. It is an understatement to say that the world had done nothing to stop the massacre. From a strategic point of view the fall of Aleppo’s eastern sector will mark a major turning point in the six-year-old Syrian crisis. It translates into the biggest defeat of the multifarious Syrian rebel groups and their equally diverse backers. By the same token, it will be the most important military achievement by the regime and its allies. While US and European leaders insist that the outcome will not end the Syrian crisis and that a political solution remains the only plausible path forward, in reality the fall of Aleppo will embolden President Bashar Assad’s position and will make it harder, if not impossible, for intermediaries to bring together representatives of the Syrian opposition and the regime to discuss apolitical roadmap. It is fair to say that the principles agreed upon in Geneva I and what followed have now become defunct. While the Syrian rebels insist that they will not hand over what remains of the shrinking territory they still hold, it is logical to conclude that as the siege tightens, they will have to accept a Russian offer to abandon the city.

All the talk about a last minute attempt by the US to provide a list that identifies so-called moderate rebel groups will only delay the inevitable. For Russia and Damascus, all who remain in Aleppo are extremists with direct links to terrorist groups. If they will be allowed to leave  that offer may no longer be valid in a few days  they will join other rebels who had been deported to Idlib. It is in that rebellious governorate that the regime hopes to deliver a final and lethal blow to the rebellion.

The fall of Aleppo may not spell the end of the Syrian revolt, as the regime is yet to extend its authority over much of the countryside, especially in the north, centre and east, but the military challenge will be much less daunting. By that time a new American president will have been sworn in, ushering anew approach to Syria and other regional issues. Donald Trump’s take on Syria will be straightforward: To join forces with anyone who is willing to crush Daesh and other radical Islamist groups. That includes Russia, Turkey and even the Damascus regime. The subject of Assad’s removal will cease to become a priority or even a demand. That will be the price for a reset in Moscow-Washington ties. With most of Europe engulfed in a populist tide, President Vladimir Putin will find more sympathetic listeners to his views on Syria and others.

His nationalist agenda already intersects with the slogans of European far-right parties. Aleppo may become a major milestone in the region’s shifting alliances. It signals an ongoing US pivot from a region that has been under its patronage for decades. Trump is being viewed largely as an isolationist, although his top Cabinet includes hardliners with an interventionist agenda. Equally, America’s retraction from the region will coincide with Russia’s resurgence as a key regional player, building alliances with countries such as Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Iraq.

Iran, which has invested money and manpower in defending the Syrian regime, will emerge as a winner as well as it bolsters its Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus-Beirut axis. From now on, Assad will become a mere tool implementing Iran’s sectarian agenda  one that is deliberately and vehemently anti-Sunni. Iran’s militias have levelled Sunni towns in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq and now vow to march into Syria as well. What Iran’s permanent military presence in Syria means for Israel remains to be seen.

It could spur a necessary pact between Israel and some moderate Sunni countries. Despite the animosity between Ankara and Damascus, the two may find themselves fighting for the same cause  Crushing Syria’s Kurdish hopes for autonomy and independence. That part of the miasmic Syrian quagmire will open a new battlefront  one that will extend for a long period of time and may metastasise into the rest of the region. From early on, Syria’s popular uprising had turned into a costly proxy war, one that culminated in the seminal battle for Aleppo. Its fall will be a much bigger event than what most of the world would want to believe. It will trigger a wave that will deliver a new geopolitical structure of regional and local alliances and will create a new set of key players. As the dust settles, a new arena of foes and friends will be emerging.

‘Courtesy Arab News’



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