Western countries making adjustments to their vision of Syrian crisis solution
24 July 2017. PenzaNews. The truce in the Syrian Arab Republic, which was agreed during the negotiations between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, became one of the central topics discussed by world analysts.
According to a number of experts and politicians, the ceasefire agreement could be an important step on the way to resolving the Syrian crisis. For example, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the first meeting of the two presidents constructive, noting that the agreement on Syria was the first success.
“This is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria,” Rex Tillerson said.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel opposes the cease-fire agreement, which, in his view, would allow Iran to increase its military presence in the country.
“Israel opposes the ceasefire agreement in the south of Syria reached by the US and Russia because it perpetuates the Iranian presence in the country,” he said after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
In turn, the leader of France noted that the removal of Bashar Assad from power is not an obligatory condition for any further initiatives on Syria.
“We shouldn’t say that it is necessary to change any leader. We did this in Iraq, in Libya. In five or ten years we woke up in much worse conditions,” he said at a press conference following the G20 Summit.
At a meeting with US President Emmanuel Macron also drew attention to France's new position on the Syrian issue.
“We have changed the French doctrine with regard to Syria, our fundamental task now is to eradicate terrorist groups, no matter what they are,” he said and added that the contact group, which will outline a roadmap for the post-war future of Syria must include – among others – Bashar Assad’s representative.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that the current truce in Syria became possible thanks to the contacts of the United States and Russia.
Commenting on the situation, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings University and author of several publications for The National Interest magazine positively assessed the work of the US and Russia leaders in an attempt to establish a ceasefire in Syria.
“A system of ceasefires is much more realistic than the Geneva process, especially since in my view neither Assad nor Putin was serious about the latter, and the Syrian opposition was disorganized and weak, and Washington placed too much faith in a process that never had a realistic chance,” he told PenzaNews.
However, from his point of view, the ultimate goal will not be reached soon.
“But we are a long way from where we need to be because a ceasefire needs to lead somewhere to be durable and no one has agreed on what that destination should be. I favor some sort of confederal model with several zones of autonomy, Assad gradually leaving over time and handing power to a government that he and Russia along with the US and others all have some say in creating,” Michael O’Hanlon explained.
He also shared the view that the removal of the current Syrian president from power should not be a prerequisite for further steps to resolve the crisis.
“I agree [with Emmanuel Macron’s statement], but over time, Assad must no longer govern Sunni-majority areas of Syria,” the analyst said and added that he supports devolution of authority and autonomy.
In turn, Itamar Rabinovich, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, former chief negotiator with Syria between 1993 and 1996, professor emeritus of Middle Eastern History at Tel Aviv University, distinguished global professor at New York University, foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, reminded that Israel is concerned by recent developments in the Syrian arena and specifically by the Russian American agreement on cease fire arrangements in Southern Syria.
“Israel worries that neither power will be a scrupulous defender of its interests in that part of Syria. Iran through Hezbollah and other Shiite militias has been trying to establish itself north of the Golan Heights and extend the current confrontation line with Israel along the Lebanese Israeli border. More profoundly Israel is worried by the expansion of Iranian presence and influence in Syria. Through its cooperation with Russia Iran helped Assad’s regime to recapture Aleppo. The regime with this external help is pursuing its effort to reestablish control over most if not all the national territory,” the expert explained.
“It is expected that with the fall of Raqqah, the capital of ‘the Islamic caliphate’ the main effort will be to take over the large territory now controlled by ISIS [the Islamic State, Daesh; banned in Russia]. Deir al-Zour is more important than Raqqah in this context. Iran's ambition is to create a land bridge all the way to the Mediterranean.US forces in Eastern Syria clashed recently with both Iran and Syrian forces but it is doubtful whether the Trump Administration will be ready to make the huge investment required in order to check Iran's takeover of Eastern Syria. This is Israel's principal concern,” Itamar Rabinovich stressed.
Meanwhile, in his opinion, President Macron's statement regarding Assad’s position is not surprising.
“Many in Europe see no real alternative at this phase. What is not stated is that they expect Assad to be in practice the ruler of a truncated Syria,” he explained.
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In addition, he drew particular attention to the information that appeared in the Media about the decision by President Trump to stop CIA program of arming and training anti-Assad rebels in Syria.
“This publication in the US Press is dramatic. If it is not reversed, it would indicate Trump’s decision to collaborate with Russia in Syria and to comply with Assad’s staying in power,” the expert said.
In turn, Gal Luft, Co-director, Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, suggested that the situation in Syria may soon be aggravated again.
“Israel concerns that a cease fire agreement that is not properly supervised together with the US lacking a coherent Syria strategy will lead to a win for Iran, enabling the Islamic Republic to establish land and maritime bases in Syria and further its ambition to encircle Israel. Yet, valid as this concern may be it is not likely to materialize as the chances of the agreement to last are slim. An unsupervised cease fire cannot hold and we are likely to soon witness a new outbreak of violence. Furthermore Israel may resort to more intrusive military measures to prevent Iranian proxies from changing the status quo along its border and this in itself can cause an escalation,” the analyst said.
According to him, the truce is only one of the steps to resolve the crisis, which may not lead to the desired result.
“While Putin has a clear agenda for Syria - perpetuation of the Assad regime - Trump has not yet developed a strategy. Macron's announcement that the removal of Assad is not mandatory provides Assad some respite from his isolation. Without American leadership the deck will be increasingly stacked in Assad's favor and Russia will be increasingly recognized as the main power broker in the region,” Gal Luft said.
According to Ilgar Velizade, Head of the Baku-based South Caucasus Club of Political Scientists, the contribution of Russia and the United States to the settlement of the Syrian conflict could be decisive if both countries develop acceptable approaches to solving the problem.
“According to the experience of last year, we know that attempts to reach a long-term truce turned out to be a failure because of the actions of the third forces, which sometimes openly torpedo the truce process. Today, everything will depend on whether the third forces will sabotage this process,” the expert said.
He also reminded that Israel is concerned about Hezbollah strengthening.
“After the allies of this pro-Iranian organization came to power in Lebanon, the strengthening of Hezbollah in Syria looks even more threatening. The truce does create opportunities for the respite of the pro-Iranian forces and the replenishment of their military potential. This is exactly what Israel is worried about, because the ultimate goal of Iran’s strengthening in the region is to weaken the position of Israel,” Ilgar Velizade explained.
At the same time, in his opinion, the positions of the West and Russia on Syria are gradually beginning to converge.
“Emmanuel Macron’s statement shows that the position of Western countries - in particular, France - on the Syrian crisis evolves. At the same time there is a convergence of the positions of Russia and the West towards Syria. But we should not overestimate this process. The countries are still too far from the complete unanimity and do not intend to abandon their current priorities. Today, the situation in the conflict zone is changing dynamically, and the course of these changes will itself dictate situational decisions to the parties involved in the conflict. The future will show what these decisions will look like,” the analyst concluded.