09 January 2020

Syria- 50 years of dictatorship. And counting

Laurenţiu Sfinteş

In 2019, Damascus went through a recovery process after the war economy period, such measures being more important than the necessity to reintegrate in state’s infrastructure the few territories which were left outside regime’s control. 2020 seems quite predictable, as the few external factors to determine events’ directions will, most likely, met continuity and anti-Kurdish aggressiveness- Turkey, continuity and support for Damascus- Russia, continuity and moderation in military personnel’s withdrawal from country’s East- the US.

Image source: Mediafax

Syria- dynastic semi centenary, 20 years of Bashar and 50 of Assad

More than 60% of the territory and 80% of the Syrian people were, in 2019, controlled by the Damascus government, but these favorable circumstances were not observed also in military reconquest operations- except for some case, with limited objective- for what’s outside its authority.

The Damascus regime needed this quite time to try to fix part of the critical and living infrastructure to reopen some of their economic units, to get back the power of Syrian lira. Its efforts were partially achieved, as Russia, Iran and some other states’ support was not enough.

From this point of view, in 2020, their revalidation need will get doubled, from an economic perspective, to support state’s structure, but also from a political-military one, to reintegrate North-West, North and East of the country in regimes’ institutional architecture. This provisional state period can continue.

A favorable situation makes Damascus’s main sponsor, Russia, take the lead role in the region, after the US took a few steps back with the role it signed for in the post “Arab Spring 2011” conflict. Also favorable are the recent developments which are decreasing Turkey’s will to exile president Assad, as Ankara is more concerned with removing from the border the Syrian Kurds, the naïve founders of an autonomous entity supported by few, however disapproved by many, even all the neighbors having their own Kurdish communities.

Damascus’s success premises are, in fact, quite big, still they pose a weakness: they still need, in order to be materialized, the political, diplomatic and military support from all the “Astana process” states, Russia, Turkey and Iran. And each of these states have a veto right on how the territories which are now outside its control will get back under Damascus sovereignty.

 In 2020, Bashar Al-Assad will celebrate 20 years since taking power. Would not it be nice for the regime to give its leader the national reintegration gift? In 2020, Hafez al-Assad will also celebrate 50 years since taking power. The Assad dynasty will celebrate 50 years of leading Syria. More beautiful, more pledging.

Authoritarian regimes in the region are using this type of symbolistic to strengthen their authority, to mobilize the masses, to commit in relevant international political and diplomatic actions.

Eight years of war, one of peace?

Having a superior military position and possibly a political and diplomatic one, the Damascus regime’s possible actions in 2020 are:

  • politically- regime’s revalidation on the international plan, firstly by restarting the diplomatic relations and contacts with Arab states and organizations, consolidating the state internally. Then, they will use various negotiation platform, like “Astana format”, “Genève process” to make the espousal more acceptable.

In Genève, meetings the Syrian Constitutional Committee have already started, a structure that will hardly work, having 50 members representing each part (regime, opposition, civilian society), but which will use Damascus to prove that they embrace the reconciliation the international community wants.

In the “Astana format” they will particularly solve the military challenges, but everyone knows, since Stalin, that where military problems are solved, the political ones have an easier entry. The other way around is harder.

  • economically- country’s reconstruction, starting with the living and transport infrastructure, to reconnect the Syrian villages, which were controlled by the opposition during the conflict, is a priority for the comeback of central administration in regions controlled, until recently, by the opposition.

The process also wants to create living conditions for refugees’ comeback, particularly those from Turkey, where there is no language and culture empathy with local population.

Turkish authorities’ plan to relocate them in Kurdish territories will not last due to the great number of refugees, mostly coming from other villages of the country, better situated economically.

Most likely, Syria, the Damascus regime, will get used to the idea that part of the refugees, dislocated in Jordan and Lebanon, will not get back, and the country will start over with less inhabitants. This is an idea already presented by a series of regime’s representatives, who are accusing those who left of lack of loyalty and patriotism, stating that, due to this exodus, the Syrian nation is actually getting purified.

And when Turkey will be able to organize the transfer of an important number of Syrian refugees back to Syria, there may also emerge few hundreds of thousands from Idlib, where the regime tries to get control by using what they know best: air and artillery strikes, leading to destructions and human dislocations.

  • militarily- the regime will try, again, to take control over Idlib, now having a cause- provided by the US special forces after killing the ISIS leader- which is a terrorist existence in the area.

Most likely, the operations will target specific territories to be then used as bridgehead in the enclave and extended.

Also most likely, the area firstly visited by the Syrian armed forces will be the one located in South-West of the village, wherefrom they are usually executing drone and artillery attacks over Russian air military base from Latakia. Russia’s interest in removing this threat could ease regime’s military offensive.

The military operation can also be developed this winter, to take advantage of rebels’ supply cut through the Kurdish territory, now commonly patrolled by military troops provided by the regime, Russia, Turkey and the US. If in other fields the Islamic rebels can rely on Ankara in terms of electric infrastructure, fuel, water supply, the dependency on the national system continued to exist.

As for Turkey, it is using the control over local opposition militias rather as a tender, the uppermost interest being to provide security from areas inhabited by Kurds.

They will only have to identify a favorable situation to leave Syrian opponents from Idlib on their own. So that the Americans can stop being the only ones that flake out on their partners.

For other areas outside its territory- the Afrin sectors and North of Alep- Turkey, North-East of Syria- the Kurdish groups but also mixed forces, Turkish, Russian and American, the Al Tanf “pocket” from the border with Jordan and Irak- the Syrian opposition and US forces- the regime will have to wait for ”Astana format” or the US Administration decisions and then try to recover them, because the military force will not be enough;

  • diplomatically- Turkey’s offensive in North Syria created an unexpected pan-Arab solidarization - considering the “Arab Spring” context- of the Arab states and the Damascus regime.

Having Egypt’s support, Syria will firstly take back its position in the Arab League and reestablish diplomatic relations with states which disputed Assad’s regime legitimacy.

Indeed, the process is not reversible, but circumstances are favoring Syria’s comeback from the political and diplomatic ostracism area it has been in for a long time.

Another noteworthy element of the diplomatic plan will be represented by Damascus regime’s efforts to be internationally recognized as Syria’s unique and legitimate representative, by isolating different formats temporarily occupied by internal or external Syrian opposition. Inside the Arab states communities, the issue is almost solved and they are also reestablishing relations with some European states.

There will also be some collateral loses within this process, among them the humanitarian aid received form international organizations, particularly directed towards areas outside the regime. With Russia’s help and, sometimes, China’s, who used the veto right in UN’s Security Council, the aid was already blocked and, most likely, it will stay this way in 2020 as well.

The conflict in Syria still has some internal and external resources to continue, despite international efforts and Damascus’s regime efforts to control the last enclaves owned by the opposition.

 US’s options, in 2020, in terms of the military presence in the region will depend on the presidential electoral campaign, meanwhile Russia came to Syria to stay. So far, for 49 years.

Syrian presidential elections are scheduled for 2021, but the Syrian Constitutional Committee success could lead to an earlier organization, to allow President Assad to run for a new mandate in the exact year he celebrates his times as president.

A quite unacceptable perspective when the “Syrian Spring” revolt started, in Daraa’, 2011.

Translated by Andreea Soare