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Syria shows that Diplomacy is not dead

Alexander Athos

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I disagree with the notion the US has given power away by diplomacy. Although Obama looks bad that doesn’t mean the US looks bad.

In fact this diplomatic solution makes the US look better and its moral position more ‘backable’ by its friends such as UK, Australia Canada and EU because the US is seen to be acting within the framework, International institutions and more importantly within the framework of International Law.
Whilst the credible use of sanctions such as military force back up those international norms, they cannot be a law unto themselves. If they were then the US goes from being a cop to a vigilante.
By being an international team player rather than the vigilante with the biggest baseball bat, the US has more than it could have obtained alone. The US has achieved much by diplomacy such as the removal of WMD without collateral damage, without downed airmen, without confrontation with Iran and Russia, without exposing Israel to retaliatory strikes by Assad or Iran and embarks upon a modern form of detente with Russia that could yield regime change in Syria, an end to the suffering of the Syrian people and hopefully an international tribunal to bring to justice all individuals in the Syrian conflict guilty of war crimes from both extremes.
Although a win-win solution not crafted by US design, it has nevertheless come about by abandoning the rhetoric of the Cold War (something the old ‘War Horse’ , Senator McCain seems incapable of doing to his own humiliating detriment) and has ‘ticked all the boxes’ for US interests and international standing and then some.
This is, despite the rather childish protests of US commentators that Putin has upstaged Obama and ‘insulted’ the American people, a wonderful outcome that we must laud and not criticize in small mindedness.
Indeed we need to encourage our leaders to keep moving down the diplomatic track and give it more momentum….and keep the warships in situ just in case (to enforce the international law and not just US interests).Diplomacy is always preferable to war/violence.

Something like the following plan needs to happen in Syria to build upon the diplomatic initiates of the Americans and Russians to ensure regional stability, justice and the well-being of the Syrian people and the need to keep international normative values respected:
1.     Ensure that Syria not only sign onto the Chemical Weapons Convention but that it also enacts enabling Syrian legislation to bring it into effect as the law of Syria;
2.    the Chemical Weapons have to be independently audited and properly accounted for and disposed of under the auspices of that Chemical Weapons Convention with the involvement of Russian troops to keep the weapons inspectors and the CW secure and out of Jihadists hands,
3.    a ceasefire and perhaps a military strike against anyone who breaches the ceasefire so that CW can be secured pending sequestration in safer environment (perhaps shipped out by the Russians to an internationally accepted site for destruction away from the battlefield) ;.
4.    After all the dust settles on the above for the US to sign up to the Rome Statute (that is the international treaty recognizing The International Criminal Court; ICChttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_and_the_International_Criminal_Court ) and lead by example in championing the Rule of Law and not ‘might is right’.
5.    All countries involved including the Arab League, Iran and Syria sign up to agree to the Australia Group [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_Group ]and so maintain export controls on a uniform list of 54 compounds, including several that are not prohibited for export under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but can be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons to stop unauthorized non-state militia such as the Jihadists getting hold of WMD Chemical Weapons like Sarin;
6.    The US and Russia continue their effective diplomacy on peace and justice by ensuring with the Security Council refers all individuals responsible for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in Syria (including but not limited to those responsible for the CW attacks on 21 August in Damascus and those in March/April 2013 in Aleppo, Sheikh Masood and Idib, and the murder of civilians by other means by Shabiha Alawite militia and Jihadi militia be brought before the ICC) because as Souhayr Belhassen, female President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said “Peace in Syria can only be effective if those most responsible for the most serious crimes -whatever their affiliation- face justice. The future of Syria can only be built on a strong fight against impunity”;
7.    All regional and international ‘players’ who have been backing one side or the other in Syria (including US Russia, Iran, Qatar and KSA) to agree to above and to agree to cease supplying weapons to any party that breaches UN resolutions and directives.
8.    As the rationale for the stockpiling of CW in Syria was as a nuclear deterrent to Israel’s WMD’s; i.e. Israel’s (undeclared) Nuclear Weapons, Israel should be encouraged by the US to also come clean and have their WMD brought under the International Rule of Law that governs Nuclear Weapons;
9.    In exchange for Assad’s agreement to stand down, all Jihadists, FSA, Syrian National Coalition and the Syrian government, Iran and Hezbollah agreeing to a Security Council mandated cease fire to allow peace talks to commence to restructure Syria into a fairer democracy (e.g. federated country that gives more autonomy to the Sunni’s in Aleppo region and places Alawites into the Syrian National Coalition to make for a smoother transition into a new constitution and elections);
10.    As part of the above, for all non-Syrian foreign fighters to leave Syria or face immediate military action by an international force of Russia and Nato sanctioned by UN and allow Syrians to work through the peace process with UN peacekeepers along the lines of the Australian led and very successful Timor (UNMIT) model and to bring all Syrian refuges home.

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Turkey and the time bomb in Syria

Mohammad Ghaderi

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The Turkish attack on northern Syria has provided conditions for ISIS militants held in camps in the region to escape and revitalize themselves.

Turkey launched “Operation Peace Spring” on Wednesday October 9, claiming to end the presence of terrorists near its borders in northern Syria. Some countries condemned this illegal action of violation of the Syrian sovereignty.

The military attack has exacerbated the Syrian people’s living condition who live in these areas. On the other hand, it has also allowed ISIS forces to escape and prepare themselves to resume their actions in Syria. Before Turkish incursion into northern Syria, There were many warnings that the incursion would prepare the ground for ISIS resurgence. But ignoring the warning, Turkey launched its military attacks.

Currently, about 11,000 ISIS prisoners are held in Syria. ISIS has claimed the responsibility for two attacks on Qamishli and Hasakah since the beginning of Turkish attacks.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump said that Turkey and the Kurds must stop ISIS prisoners from fleeing. He urged European countries to take back their citizens who have joined ISIS.

It should be noted that the U.S. is trying to prove that ISIS has become stronger since the U.S. troops pulled out before the Turkish invasion, and to show that Syria is not able to manage the situation. But this fact cannot be ignored that ISIS militants’ escape and revival were an important consequence of the Turkish attack.

Turkish troops has approached an important city in the northeast and clashed with Syrian forces. These events provided the chance for hundreds of ISIS members to escape from a camp in Ayn Issa near a U.S.-led coalition base.

 The camp is located 35 kilometers on the south of Syria-Turkey border, and about 12,000 ISIS members, including children and women, are settled there. The Kurdish forces are said to be in charge of controlling these prisoners.

Media reports about the ISIS resurgence in Raqqa, the former ISIS stronghold, cannot be ignored, as dozens of terrorists have shot Kurdish police forces in this city. The terrorists aimed to occupy the headquarters of the Kurdish-Syrian security forces in the center of Raqqa.  One of the eyewitnesses said the attack was coordinated, organized and carried out by several suicide bombers, but failed.

In response to Turkey’s invasion of Syria, the Kurds have repeatedly warned that the attack will lead to release of ISIS elements in the region. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyib Erdogan denied the reports about the escape of ISIS prisoners and called them “lies”.

European officials fear that ISIS prisoners with European nationality, who have fled camps, will come back to their countries.

Kurdish forces are making any effort to confront Turkish troops in border areas, so their presence and patrol in Raqqa have been reduced.

Interestingly, the Turkish military bombarded one of temporary prisons and caused ISIS prisoners escaping. It seems that ISIS-affiliated covert groups have started their activities to seize the control of Raqqa. These groups are seeking to rebuild their so-called caliphate, as Kurdish and Syrian forces are fighting to counter the invading Turkish troops. Families affiliated with ISIS are held in Al-Hol camp, under the control of Kurdish forces. At the current situation, the camp has turned into a time bomb that could explode at any moment. Under normal circumstances, there have been several conflicts between ISIS families in the camp, but the current situation is far worse than before.

There are more than 3,000 ISIS families in the camp and their women are calling for establishment of the ISIS caliphate. Some of SDF forces have abandoned their positions, and decreased their watch on the camp.

The danger of the return of ISIS elements is so serious, since they are so pleased with the Turkish attack and consider it as an opportunity to regain their power. There are pictures of ISIS wives in a camp in northern Syria, under watch of Kurdish militias, showing how happy they are about the Turkish invasion.

In any case, the Turkish attack, in addition to all the military, political and human consequences, holds Ankara responsible for the escape of ISIS militants and preparing the ground for their resurgence.

Currently, the camps holding ISIS and their families are like time bombs that will explode if they all escape. Covert groups affiliated with the terrorist organization are seeking to revive the ISIS caliphate and take further actions if the Turkish attacks continue. These attacks have created new conflicts in Syria and undermined Kurdish and Syrian power to fight ISIS.

From our partner Tehran Times

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon.  One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.

The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria.  Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps.  The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.

Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian.  After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families.  About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.   

How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question.  Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently?  For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.

There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter.  Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes. 

Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability.  If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point.  Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal:  access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.

Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon.  It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke.  It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood.  The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.

A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power.  The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson.  So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006.  Now they are feared by Israeli troops.   

To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump.  Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past.  It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving.  If you go in, you will have to police the area.  Don’t ask us to help you.”  Is that subject to misinterpretation?  It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office. 

For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions.  Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included.  Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire.  On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May.  Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith.  The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can.  Where are they headed?  Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.

Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences. 

Author’s Note:  This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.

It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.

Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.

Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.

Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.

It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.

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