Syria: Further losses for opposition

Bassel Oudat , Friday 13 Jul 2018

While the Syrian opposition has been suffering further losses on the battlefield, this does not necessarily mean victory for the regime, writes Bassel Oudat in Damascus

Nasib border, Deraa
Russian forces are seen in the Nasib border crossing with Jordan in Deraa, Syria (Photo: Reuters)

The Syrian opposition lost control of Deraa in the south of the country this week, due to Russian military power relying on heavy air-strikes against cities, towns and villages in the region where anti-regime factions were present.

The regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad then quickly took control after the Russians forced opposition leaders to sign surrender deals under the threat of more destruction, leading some to talk of the end of the armed revolution in Syria.

Deraa is not the last stronghold of the armed opposition, or the largest cluster of armed factions. In the northern city of Idlib there are also tens of thousands of opposition fighters who have assembled there over the past three years after the regime began applying a scorched earth policy and giving them the option to either die or relocate as part of a policy of demographic change in many regions of Syria.

The battle for Deraa will not be the last between the regime and the opposition, and the end of war is still in the distant future.

However, Deraa is significant because it is the gateway to the capital Damascus and the border region with Jordan.

It is also the gateway to trade with the Gulf countries and is of strategic importance to the US since it borders with Israel and is vital for the latter’s security.

It is a symbolic location since it was the launching point for the Syrian Revolution seven years ago.

The battle of Deraa is the culmination of a consensus between the US, Russia and Israel that has snuffed out what remains of the dream of revolution that began in March 2011 and spread across the country.

This dream can no longer be sustained due to Russia controlling 50 per cent of Syrian territory, the US controlling the eastern part of the country, or 40 per cent of land rich in natural resources, and Turkey controlling a substantial portion of northern Syria.

Iran has infiltrated the Syrian regime, and pro-Iranian militias now rule areas across the country.

Once the opposition had surrendered in southern Syria, those opposing the regime, including the 12 million displaced and refugees, have found their dream of one day returning to their country evaporating.

The country is now full of foreign military bases shoring up the regime, with Russia having 23, the US 11, and there being many smaller Iranian bases.

Many are convinced that an anticipated deal between Moscow and Washington is now taking shape with the approval of Israel, Iran and Turkey that will be finalised during the upcoming summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since the start of Russia’s interference in the conflict in 2015, its strategy has been to support the regime politically, militarily and financially against the opposition. Iran’s strategy has been similar and has also included sectarian occupation.

The US strategy has focused on prolonging the conflict to drain the players, while making sure the regime does not fall.

The regime has crossed all the red lines drawn by the US without significant reaction from abroad. Israel’s strategy has been to quietly support Al-Assad, while watching for an acceptable alternative who would protect its interests and security.

All these parties are involved in Syria to support their own interests, not to end the war or the deaths that have now reached more than one million.

There have been various alliances among the parties, Russia allying with Iran and then with Turkey, the US allying with the Kurds and then the opposition, Jordan allying with the US and then with Russia, and all of them co-existing with the Islamic State (IS) group because this gave them a pretext for their presence in Syria.

Moscow and Washington have agreed not to disagree despite their opposing goals. Syria has become a playground for anyone who wants to try their luck and anyone who wants a piece of the pie, vastly complicating any solution to the crisis.

The alliances have benefited the regime and harmed the political and armed opposition. Although the regime is weak militarily, morally bankrupt, criminal and sectarian, it has benefited from the foreign players, selling them promises in return for keeping it in power.

Meanwhile, the opposition has never been able to live up to its responsibilities, dealing with issues in a politically immature manner with personal interests being more important than national ones.

This greatly impacted the course of the revolution and hastened the foreign intervention in Syria, which the opposition also chose to rely on.

The regime no longer controls the country or the political and military decisions, being subject to the orders of Russia and Iran. It cannot respond to Israel’s weekly violations of Syrian sovereignty, and it is held hostage to the whims of countries such as the US, Turkey and Israel.

Russia wants to impose itself on the international stage through its actions in Syria, relying on its military might to present itself as a global power equal to the US and having its word to say on issues such as the Ukraine, the European missile shield and the European gas pipeline.

However, Russia’s hopes could be dashed because they come up against US interests, and Washington has a stronger military and more important allies.

It is for this reason that the upcoming meeting between Trump and Putin will be so important, since it may decide the fate of Syria and the Syrian regime.

It may result in an outline roadmap on Syria that meets US goals and accommodates Russian interests and includes real changes on the Syrian political scene.

The Syrian opposition is facing challenges that threaten to decimate it, causing it to lose all the gains of the revolution. Those opposed to the regime now accuse each other of compromising on basic principles, moving towards reconciliation with the regime, or acting out of personal gain.

It must now find practical and wise alternatives, since if not Syria will return to totalitarian rule, Russian and Iranian occupation, and a catastrophic future.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 July 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Further opposition losses

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