The 21st century is a nefarious century, particularly in the Middle East. Much of this owes to the systemic and structural decay the region has gone through in this period. The year 2003 was where it all began with the onslaught of the Iraq War and up until now—war is what happens to be in its most stable form. With Syrian Civil War which brewed in 2011 one of the most atrocious war cycles was unleashed in the Middle East.
Today, the world outside Syria goes on and about while the Syrian world simply stands still. Yet another cyclic episode of war as expunged by each actor involved has come to the surface. This surface has multiple dimensions but all of these dimensions meet at a common juncture which is the destruction and havoc wreaked within Syria. What began as a civil war and a domestic fiasco seems now to have finally and totally gotten out of hands.
A year ago the main question which state actors posed was in terms of eradicating ISIS, Al-Nusra (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) and many of their associated groups. In fact, the eradication of these armed and highly vicious non-state actors happened to be the core reason why US, Russia and NATO states claimed to be interested in the war. The ousting of Assad and the proxy warfare was claimed to be a secondary notion by the West. Even when Russia jumped in the crisis and Iran was motivated to uproot anti-Assad powers, the West only came forth with mere postures and rhetoric. In the middle of this frazzled and multi-dimensional war, states like KSA and Israel had their strategic agendas which had much to do with geo-strategy and geopolitics with Syria. Turkey came out as a reasonably strong entity as it became one state which hawkishly guarded its interests and policies regarding the Kurds of the area. The entire process was further complicated by the formation of various alliance patterns which favored certain states.
When asked, this was how most people explained the basics of the Syrian crisis—as being a regional and international maneuvering by all possible states involved for the race to achieve supremacy whilst undermining the other powers and groups and to make sure that terrorism is curtailed and that fighting is occurring on multiple fronts with a massive exodus of the Syrian people to other parts of the world. But of course behind this basic summary, had always been a goliath of the clash of interests and hidden agendas.
Since October 2017 the influence of ISIS and other armed non-state actors has been lost and diminished within Syria and Iraq. Mosul has been recaptured, Aleppo was wiped clean and ISIS was seen to have broken down in many parts of Syria. It was being viewed that the Syrian fiasco will perhaps soon be over. As soon as people began believing that, Turkey began the Afrin Operation in January 2018 which was aimed at Kurdish hostile groups and their eradication. This operation caused more damage to the social and political fabric of Syria—or whatever was left of it. Moreover, it also fractured the idea of peace a lot more. The Eastern Ghouta strikes by the Syrian government became another devastating and gory period as it killed many civilians. It led to the belief that understanding of the crisis has always managed to get blurry.
In March 2018, Turkey, Russia, and Iran again stepped forth to talk peace and brokering peace deals all the while excluding the US and its allies. In its parallel Western States like France, UK and US began “claiming” that Assad regime has again used chemical weapons, this time in Douma in Eastern Ghouta against the civilians. The reaction by these powerful foreign states was so immense that on 14th April 2018 the three states coordinated air-strikes on three presumed chemical facilities. And while it was met with fervor by Arab states, Turkey and Israel—Iran and Russia voiced their grim concerns.
The situation in Syria one year before was exactly the same when the Trump administration launched 59 Tomahawk missiles in order to get rid of the chemical facilities. The action was somewhat the same, the reaction was the same, the states reacting were the same, the features were the same, and the end result was the same i.e. destruction. The only difference is that now the situation has become so intense that there seems to be a double Cold War situation; one is a regional cold war between KSA and Iran much of which surrounds Syria and the other war which has emanated from the Middle East is between US and Russia, the roots of which are grounded in Syria.
The Syrian Crisis is nowhere over and the Western launched attack has been viewed as one wherein they want to attain a geopolitical victory over Russia and Iran in the region via Syria. At this moment the crisis has largely become one which will ultimately decide who has the status quo is not the just Middle Eastern system but the international system as well. In a bizarre way, this crisis has managed to reverse the structure; where it used to be international order manifesting itself into the regional order—now it is the regional order spilling over into the international order. In a way, the region now faces rhapsodical chaos because Iran retaliated vehemently by claiming that it will answer this Western call very soon. This was met with a hawkish attitude by KSA and other Arab states along with Israel which has also been actively involved in striking Syria—much to the Turkish and Iranian dismay.
Moreover in 2017 both US and Russia claimed that by 2018 they will curtail their presence in Syria but after this debacle, this situation does not seem so probable. Mostly because there are many sides of the story—one of which also claims that both US and Russia have geo-economic interests regarding Syria which revolves around the formation of Iran-Iraq-Syria Energy Pipeline which is backed by Russia as it will gain more strategic advantages out of it. This scheme is then challenged by the Qatar-Turkey Energy Pipeline which is backed by the US. Therein lies all the trouble and thus these two superpowers are finding reasons via which they can stretch their stay in Syria. For the US then the ousting of Assad regime then becomes the core reason why it wants to keep itself involved in Syria and perhaps this overshadows the ousting of ISIS from the domain. This has given both foreign superpowers a reason to sojourn in Syria.
There is also the idea of curbing Iranian influence in Syria by the US-Israel-KSA troika which is evidently going to uplift their strategic position in the region. This position is going to be cumbersome for Iran and Russia because with Assad they can sustain their power in the region. Thus there is also a political battle going on which guarantees anarchy in the near future. At this moment—the major gamble is perhaps going to be for the Russians because of the dawn of Cold War II and also because Iran has other ventures to endure its position in the region. For Russia and US, the Syrian powerplay has gained a new momentum, one which is going to get more complicated and messier for the regional politics.
The mammoth of the arms order which will now be established in the Middle East is going to be highly volatile, dangerous and expensive. This synergy will thus incorporate each and every state, non-state, and entity which is a part of the crisis. In short, it will be one which will make sure that the Syrian crisis retains itself while the stakeholders sustain themselves.
In all of this one cannot but think the importance of historical events and the pattern with which they follow. Syria was once the most progressive state in the region and now it has been completely destroyed. Not a single entity is thinking about the actual peace or the population which has not just been displaced but has now been broken down. By one aspect—they neither trust their government nor the regional or foreign powers.
There are invisible threads by which Middle Eastern crisis are connected with what brews in Syria now. But there needs to be an understanding that there are certain patterns with which regional and foreign states are acting and their policies are forming. This pattern is easily found in history but if one reads these accounts—it leads to chaos and absolute destruction. From this double Cold War situation—the footsteps are traced to a larger war which might be so much more destructive that neither the Western Order nor its counterpart can emerge unfazed.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.