Syria’s current prospects are no longer a return – albeit a laborious one – to an old pre-2015 unitary State, but the persistence of a very fragmented territory. This, however, responds to a logic of various countries’ future participation in the great reconstruction business.
The war operations on the Syrian territory are currently prerequisites for the various strategic players’ future presence for reconstruction. They are not only mere war actions for reconquering a specific territory, but also actions to achieve a “post-national” hegemony.
In this regard, as early as 2005, in his article entitled War is Peace: on Post-National War, Ulrich Beck spoke about the relationship between post-national and cosmopolitan responsibility, currently typical of the West, when war is decided in a specific place of cosmopolis.
War is waged – often an unending war as the United States is currently doing – but then a new war is waged to isolate the type 1 conflict from the rest of the global system.
Certainly, as we well know, the motivations of the various players that started the war in Syria were much more immediate and earthly. However, if the West decides a war in its periphery, it must always justify it globally, because this is now its code of action and the justification it must “sell” to its public.
Ever more laboriously, indeed.
The East must not justify its wars. It just wages them. Also China and Russia, however, are very careful not to spread the effects of a regional conflict to the rest of the international equilibria system like wildfire.
Israel is continuing its air strikes in Syria, especially to avoid friction between Hezbollah, Iran, some Syrian units and its key positions in the Golan Heights.
On September 11, the Israeli Air Force and missiles hit the missile construction stations at al-Safirah, near Aleppo, probably in Hezbollah’s hands.
In that case, sources of the Syrian regime stated that most of the Israeli missiles were shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft forces.
The Israeli Air Force also attacked the T-4 base, in the Homs province, with a probable departure of Israeli jets from the U.S. base of Al-Tanf on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.
Moreover, some military logistics analysts state that Israel’s targeted attacks on the Hezbollah missile stations in Syria and on the Golan Heights have now completely inhibited Iran from transporting weapons, both within the Tehran-Beirut line and from that line to the Golan Heights.
Other Israeli attacks have been recorded in Al-Mayadin and Abu Kamal, but in total there have been six Israeli attacks, at least since the beginning of September 2020.
There was also an ammunition depot in Abu Kamal.
Pending the attacks, but also the current reconstruction of the “Caliphate”, all this is matched by Bashar el Assad’s request for closer relations with Russia, with a meeting held on September 7 last between Bashar el Assad, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, where the two countries reaffirmed their common fight against “terrorism”, but underlined their efforts for Syria’s reconstruction.
Russia is more interested in achieving hegemony and benefiting from the reconstruction business than in militarily supporting Assad for him to fully reconquer the whole Syrian territory both against the jihad and the various other forces, always linked to external players. An operation which is unlikely and anyway future and very expensive.
The “Caliphate” is currently present in various parts of the Syrian central desert.
There were already some ISIS suicide attacks to take some territories back after the “Battle of Baghouz” of March 2019, which also put an end to the Caliphate’s grip on Iraq.
By what means? Much of the money that was in Raqqah, the capital of the aforementioned ISIS, is still held by the various regional leaders who, however, still have an obscure, but probably strong military and political link between them.
Initially the flow of money was above all from Raqqah to Abu Kamal, the ISIS last outpost before the supreme, but not final defeat. Currently, however, the “Caliphate” is attacking Deir-ez-Zor, Raqqah, Homs and Shaddadi, south of Hasakah, hitting both Bashar el Assad’s army and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Only a few days ago the Russian forces reconquered the gas deposits and wells of Doubayat, south of Sukhnah, in the Homs province.
There were also other ISIS attacks against the Shiite militias west of the Euphrates.
Nevertheless, the most important one was the attack of various (Sunni) tribes, gathered by the leaders of the Aqidat tribe, against the Kurdish troops and especially against the Syrian Democratic Forces.
This happened after the clashes in Jajsh Aqidat, but there was also a threat – not even too veiled – from the Baghouz Coordination to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), so as to force them to apologize for their behaviour in the region, especially with regard to the many citizens of Baghouz currently interned in the camps organized by the Kurdish-led FDS.
Tribes really count, “foreign” armies less.
It is the logic of the old Bedouin proverb: “I against my brother. I and my brother against my cousin. I, my brother and my cousin against the stranger”.
Meanwhile, the Iranian Al Qods Forces support, even materially, the Shiite or non-Shiite defections of elements already belonging to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), without any Western supporters of the SDF raising the problem.
The main Kurdish tribes are currently seven, with religious affiliations of various origin, including Yazidis, Yarsanis (the oldest Kurdish religion),Alevis and obviously Sunnis.
In the Kurdish tradition, however, there is also a considerable Shiite minority, the FailiKurds – about 1.5 million people – who are found between the Zagros mountains and the two Syrian and Iraqi borders, but now also live in Baghdad, Diyala, Wasit, Missan and Basra.
They have always had little affinity with the Ba’ath Party. They are often rich and hold important positions in the commercial communities of the cities where they live, but they have played a significant role in the creation of Kurdish nationalism.
There are also the Shabak, mainly Iraqi Kurds, who speak an Iranian dialect and live in religious communities (ta’ifa) in the Nineveh area.
The ancestors of the Kurdish Shabak were almost all followers of the Kurdish mystic Saif-ad-Din Ardabili.
As a man linked to the Sufi order of Zahed Gilani, the Zahedieh, Ardabili created a mystical tradition largely linked to the Kurdish identity, although no Sufi order really bonded with these “appearances”.
If we do not study the development lines of Islamic mysticism, but also Alawite (which is a modern expansion of Shiite Sufism) and Christian mysticism, we do not understand anything about Middle East’s Arab factionalism and the true “incense route” that currently separates the various territories of the Greater Middle East and not only them.
The Sufi, Sunni and Shiite Tariqat connect areas which are very far one another: the Horn of Africa connects to Iran, from Sudan to the Amazigh of the Maghreb desert, from India to Egypt.
It should be recalled that in Turkey the Sufi orders were banned by Atatürk in 1925, but they went ahead with little legal trouble.
The Albanian Bekhtashi were tolerated and, indeed, they became powerful even under Enver Hoxha’s regime.
Currently the greatest Sufi order is the Qadiriyyah, linked to the tradition of the first Sufi recognized by the Islamic tradition, Abd Al Qadir al Jilani, who was probably Kurdish. It was our year 1000 in Baghdad.
It is a very rich order – thanks to the Arab informal finance channels – and operates everywhere.
In Sudan there is also the Khatimiyyah, namely the Mirganiyah, not to mention the Mahdi sect.
Also Omar al Mukhtar, well known to the Italian occupying forces in Libya, was a Qadiriyyah, a Sufi order from which the secret society of Tijanijah originated and developed. It expanded especially among the Amazigh, in our 18th century, and had many Sufi traits.
There are even the Fulani, who also love jihad very much, but in a different way from Al Qai’da al-Sulbah and other very recent similar organizations.
If, instead of studying how to fatten up the Islamic goose to make it addicted to the mystical Western ritual of the ballot in a box, we had studied the esotericism – even the political one – of the seven Sufis and the various confraternities and brotherhoods, we would have had much fewer political and terrorist problems.
As an old Afghan Sufi “master” told me, “do not send us mobile phones and computers. We already have them and we know how to use them better than you. Just send us a holy manand we will listen to him with respect”.
Materialistic secularism destroys, above all, its worshippers.
But let us revert to Syria.
In Syria, ISIS is continuing its assassinations against both Assad’s and the Syrian Democratic Forces’ soldiers.
General Talal Qassem, an officer linked to Assad, was assassinated, as well as two officers of the 4th Division, supported and armed by Iran, and Muhammad Jamal al-Jamal, very close to Russia and leader of the Deraa Committee. The jihadists also killed Muhammad Qasimal-Yunis, recruiter of the Iranian Al Quds Forces in Deraa.
Hence a significant level of Caliphate’s territorial intelligence, which makes us assume that much more relevant operations will be made in the future.
Since 2019 the “Caliphate” has been reorganizing itself, from al-Sukhna in the province of Homs,al-Mayadin, in the area of Deir-ez-Zor, to Ma’adan near Raqqa, towards the desert of Al-Suwaida, the one of Al-Buqamal, of Al-Mayadin, al-Salamiya and al-Zakf, in the Western area of the Anbar desert.
The Caliphate’s primary triangle is currently the one between Al-Sukhna, al-Mayadin and Ma’adan that is supposed to count 45,000 militants approximately.
Talking again about Ba’athist generals, Firas Al-Nasaan, executive of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Service, the real core of Syrian intelligence, and other leaders of Assad’s Intelligence Service, were also killed.
This implies a dangerous penetration of Syrian structures by the jihad, which not even Russia has been able to avoid.
There were clashes – very dangerous politically – between Assad’s 8th Brigade, in the hands of the Russian forces (like all the Syrian army operational corps),and some Bedouin tribes in the Deraa province.
Clearly this province is already an area of Caliphate’s deep penetration, but also of its financial, political and religious networks which, apparently, are currently not an evident part of ISIS.
This intelligence and military porosity of Assad’s regime is therefore extremely dangerous and could thwart both the pax russica and, above all, the already defined projects of investment in the “New Syria”, mainly by China. It is therefore clear to understand who is behind it, if anyone.
In the meantime, the United States is sending mainly drones, which killed two commanders of “Hurras al-Din“, also known as the Guardians of Religion, an organization affiliated to Al Qa’eda, but also opposed to the other traditional subsidiaries of Bin Laden’s network in Syria. The two commanders were Sayyaf al-Tunisi and Abu Hamza Al-Yamani.
War with remote control, namely strategic zapping. It will not be enough.
The two U.S. operations were recorded by Russia in the Idlib area, but it is likely that the contrast between this Qaedist organization and the other traditional ones did not favour Haya’tTahrir Al-Sham and the subsequent Bin Laden’s networks.
The Hurras al-Dinnetwork, however, is known to have stable relations with the Turkish Intelligence Services.
In 2018 it operated to mediate between the Syrian Liberation Army, in the Aleppo area, and Ayat Tahrir al-Sham.
The above-mentioned pro-Turkish group has recently operated in the Hama area and, sometimes, in Idlib.
The Russian Federation has operated successfully in Syria but, mainly and indirectly, by organizing the Army structures of Bashar el Assad, thus controlling him closely.
The factionalism of the Syrian Ba’athist army is well known. In 2018-2019, Bashar el Assad’s Chief of Staff directly controlled only 25,000-30,000 soldiers and officers out of a total of over 200,000.
Hence the usefulness of the non-Syrian Shiite militias, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah; the Iraqi and Pakistani Ali Zulfikar, originating directly from the Islamist efforts of the Bhutto family; the Abu Fadl al Abbas Brigade, born in Syria mainly to prevent jihadist activities of desecration of Shiite mosques (and Christian churches), as well as, obviously, the Al Quds Brigade of the Iranian Pasdaran, and finally the Afghan Shiite Fatimiyoun and the members of the Pakistani Zeinabiyoun Brigade.
Russia strongly needs to have Iran present in Syria, but it certainly does not want to leave the Syrian future in Iran’s hands.
Quite the reverse. Many intelligence signals tell us that Russia knew about some operations of other regional players against the Pasdaran and the other forces led by Iran, but did not lift a finger.
The Russian plan is therefore to have a mobile and very centralized Ba’athist force, with a significant share of Special Corps and relative autonomy from Russia, especially in the Southern and Eastern Syrian territory, with reference to both jihadist operations and operations by more or less regular forces led by regional or global players.
As early as 2015 Russia had created the 4th Syrian Corps, with a core of Bashar el Assad’s old army and a unit of the National Defence Forces led by Iran, as well as some brigades of the Ba’ath Party.
It is therefore obvious that, in Syria, the second opponent of Russia is an ally, namely Iran.
Putin has therefore correctly calculated his strategic equation: the West could not materially oppose his intervention in Syria.
Part of his intervention in that country was aimed at deterring the West.
Hence many Anti Access-Denial Area (A2AD) operations and full control of the airspace, as well as – particularly today – Russia’s continuous use of Private Military Companies (PMCs), which allow greater flexibility in the use of force and also to “do politics” on the territory.
There is also the oil problem, which can never be neglected.
At the end of June 2020, the U.S. company Delta Crescent Energy signed a contract with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, but also with a guarantee from the Kurdish leadership that Russia could benefit from the agreement, and with possible future opportunities for Russia to explore and extract local oil.
Erdogan, too, offered Russia the opportunity to modernize the Deir-ez-Zor oil fields, in view of reinvigorating the Syrian economy.
The Mercury company, owned by Yevgheni Prigozhin, an entrepreneur who is Putin’s personal friend, already operates in Eastern Syria but, in the meantime, Russia’s operatives are permanently dealing with the Syrian Tribal Council, as well as with the pro-Iranian Nawaf al-Bashir tribes.
Unlike other countries, Russia knows that the Middle East States are mobile compositions of tribes that are the real basic political entity.
This happens while the United States is leaving the Syrian buffer zone, i.e. the Peace Corridor, or the Security Mechanism placed on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Turkish border, and hence China is entering the scene.
China’s humanitarian aid to Bashar el Assad began in August 2016, but obviously China always stresses the principle of non-interference in conflicts and in the internal affairs of other States.
It should also be recalled, however, that China has shown a cold attitude also towards Russia’s missile and air operations in Syria, although it is an open ally and friend of Bashar el Assad’s regime.
Iran has often sought Chinese support for its engagement in Syriaand it is also trying to enter the system of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
This Chinese support will continue also during the likely future offensive by Assad’s forces on Idlib.
Erdogan punches above his weight
Since months Turkish Lira losing its value and inflation is on the rise, the statistics shows that inflation increased from 8 percent by 17 percent and still climbs. According to the National Statistics Institute-Tüik, inflation jumped by 14.6 since 2020 and 17.84 % from the time when 2019. Turks have lost their reliance on Lira, so that people purchase foreign currency or gold, which in turn caused unemployment and capital fight. When venture capitalists avoid investing, it sparks unemployment subsequently, redundancy brings about less money spending and capital flow, ultimately, poverty and depression takes place.
Erdogan attempted to fix the issue thru his monetary policy and fiscal measures, and he even reshuffled national financial institutions. Erdogan sacked finance minister and head of central bank in hope of deflation and economic recovery.
In order to ameliorate country’s Real GDP, Erdogan raised the prime interest rate, doubled gold reserves and began to sell collaterals. Despite Erdogan’s monetary measures, Turkish quarterly Nominal GDP signifies price increase and inflation escalation. One has better find the root cause for the economic stagnation in Turkey, in precise sluggish economic developments have not been effected due to fiscal policy, rather Erdogan’s politically motivated foreign and interior ambitious policies.
Erdogan’s imperialistic political ideology to ottomanize the world has had backlashes, as result most of the regional countries have distanced themselves from Turkey. In order to sponsor such a dogma, Ankara signed an agreement with Moscow to run Turk-stream a natural gas pipeline. Moreover, Erdogan’s Ankara launched drilling in offshores of Greek and Cyprus, and signed an exclusive agreement with Tripolis’ leadership to get access to the oilfield and natural resources of the country, which nurtured a possible full-scale war between Athens and Ankara. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s ambitions caused anger within European Union’s leaders, who warned Turkey with penalties and sanctions. Turkey’s acquisition of S-400 missile system form Russia not only infuriated its traditional ally the United States but also annoyed its fellows within the NATO club. In the aftermath of the purchase, Trump’s administration sanctioned Turkey on 14 December 2020, Ankara was dropped from F35 stealth fighters’ project, and the decades-long history of productive defense cooperation between the countries demised.
Erdogan has joined Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, and he recently signed an extradition covenant to deport Uyghurs and Beijing’s criticizers to China, whereby they face death penalties and capital punishment. Erdogan’s sponsorship of Turkish enunciated minorities not only defamed Turkey in Afghanistan, but also in most of east European countries.
Turkey’s military and financial support to HAMAS (Palestinian Radica Islamic Movement) exasperated Israel, which has been in turn counter-productive, triggering face-off between Ankara and Jerusalem. Turkish military intervention in both Azerbaijan and Libya led adversary between Ankara and Moscow. Erdogan’s fundamental Islamic hegemony (Muslim Brotherhood) instigated rift between Ankara and Riad and its allies, who sponsor the ideal of Salafism, consequently, most of the gulf countries removed Turkish products from their ranges and excessively complicated Ankara’s access to the regional markets. Ankara has recently agreed to finance and train Pakistan’s backed mercenaries and militants in Kashmir to fight Indian army in the region, which put Ankara at diplomatic, political and economic standoff with New Delhi.
Erdogan’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt ramified Ankara from Cairo, which minimizes Turkish entree to Suez-Canal. Accordingly, Erdogan has drawn a political, military and economic buffer zone all around the country.
If we put all pieces together, it will eventuate a conclusion that Erdogan punches above his weight. Erdogan’s monetary policy and populistic dogma cannot handle Turkey’s grimy economic situation and inflation, relatively a profound strategic shift in policy within internal and external realms of the country can rescue Ankara from total collapse.
Additionally, thru populist rhetoric and national-populism, he hits below the belt. Since Turkish lethargic economy cannot bear the burden of neo-ottmanism and tans-national Islamic fundamentalism as well as cross-border terrorism.
Can Syria be reborn from the ruins after a decade of civil war?
According to the data from the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” (a non-governmental organization based in London), in 2020 – after ten years of civil war – “only” 6,800 people were killed in Syria, the lowest figure since 2011.
In this long and bloody decade a total of 387,000 people died, of whom 117,000 were innocent civilians, victims of a war that began with a student protest and, in a short time, turned into a small “world war” that saw Turkish, Iranian, Russian and American forces in the field, besides the “local” contenders, namely Bashar al-Assad’s loyalist army and the various indigenous militias, ranging from the Kurds in the North-East to the jihadist militiamen of various complexion or background.
Considering the importance of Syria in the Middle East and in Mediterranean’s and North Africa’s equilibria, before analysing the possible developments of the geopolitical situation triggered by the conflict, it may be useful to go over the five phases in which the Syrian war unfolded, which turned out to be the most explosive and bloody consequence of the entire phenomenon of the so-called “Arab Springs”.
The first phase, in March 2011, was triggered by a demonstration of students in Deraa who, on the wave of the first protests in Egypt and Tunisia, took to the streets to demand the democratization of Assad’s regime, based on an Alawite leadership (a minority sect of Shi’ite origin) that for over forty years had been in power in a country where the Sunnis, traditional enemies of the Shi’ites, accounted for 65% of the population – as is still currently the case.
The police repression of student demonstrations was extremely harsh and, also thanks to a skilful information and disinformation campaign by Al Jazeera – the Qatari TV channel which is a master in defending the interests of the “Muslim Brotherhood” protected and supported by the Qatari Emir – the protests quickly spread throughout the country, while Assad’s forces tried to control them with the military iron fist.
Soon what looked like a re-edition of the French 1968 protest movements in Arab guise turned into a full-blown civil war.
In early 2012 there was the second phase of the crisis. The street protests turned into armed conflict due to the fact that better armed and better organized militias took the field, thanks to weapons and money from Qatar and Erdogan’s Turkey.
While the Syrian regime began to lose control of strategic territories in the North and in the South of the country, ceding the city of Aleppo to the insurgents, Iran – worried about the fate of the regime and the Alawite minority – had the Shi’ite militias of Hezbollah intervene in the conflict, from the neighbouring Lebanon, as well as “military advisers” from the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” a powerful paramilitary organization created by the Ayatollahs to defend Iran’s interests abroad and the internal stability of the theocratic Republic.
In the spring of 2013, the Syrian regime appeared to be on the verge of collapse but, thanks to the Iranian help, it managed to maintain control of the capital and the strategic ports of Latakia and Tartus, in which a strong Russian naval presence was “hosted”.
The third phase marked the internationalization of the conflict, with the emergence of ISIS and the American and Turkish intervention.
In June 2014, faced with the total marginalization of the Sunni minority by the Shi’ite majority in Iraq, a Sunni political-military group composed of former Iraqi members of Saddam Hussein’s regime decided to establish the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, a jihadist military organization aimed at building a new Sunni nation sitting astride two States considered “bastard” because they were conceived by Anglo-French colonialism.
The armed forces of ISIS, under the leadership of the “Caliph” Al Baghdadi, quickly conquered the city of Raqqa and territories in the North-East on the borders with Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan, and initially thanks to the Turkish help they threatened to exterminate the Syrian Kurdish population and establish a bloody terror regime in the conquered areas.
The threat of ISIS led to the first American intervention, with targeted bombings in defence of the Kurds, while Turkey supported not only the Caliphate but also the creation of Sunni militias gathered under the name of “Jabhat Al Nusra”, that progressively reduced the control of the Syrian territory by the loyalist forces faithful to Damascus.
The fourth phase of the conflict started in 2015. The fate of Assad’s regime seemed doomed: the Damascus army did not even control the entire capital; the international isolation of the regime was almost absolute and the Sunni forces of ISIS and Al Nusra seemed destined to a victory that would deliver Syria to the fundamentalists and bring back to the centre of the Middle East scene a neo-Ottoman Turkey whose leader, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, pursued the dual goal of definitively cutting Kurdish irredentism down to size and ensuring Turkey the role of centre of gravity in the whole region.
At that juncture Russia directly entered the field with its own air force, siding with the Iranian forces deployed in defence of Assad, thus turning the tide of an increasingly confused and bloody conflict.
In the fifth and final phase of the Syrian war, thanks to the Russian military support, which almost led to a direct clash between Russian and Turkish forces, the Syrian armed forces not only regained total control of the capital but also of all the cities that had fallen under the control of ISIS and its allies, ranging from Aleppo to Raqqa, at the time reduced to a heap of rubble as a result of street fighting and Russian and American bombings.
The final conquest of Deraa – the symbolic city of the civil war – by Assad’s military forces at the end of 2018 marked the end of Sunnis’ and their internal and external supporters’ hopes to overthrow the secular Alawite regime in Damascus. However, as the 6,800 deaths in 2020 show, Syria cannot be considered pacified.
The Syrian civil war had significant impacts throughout the Middle East and Europe.
Over 3 million refugees poured into Turkey, the Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Some of them arrived also in Europe via Greece, while Erdogan was “convinced” – with a donation of 7 billion euros- initially to curb and later to stop the flow of Syrian migrants to Europe.
Currently Syria is a country in ruins which, however, remains fundamental for the Middle East equilibria.
The role played so far in the conflict by Russia, Iran and Turkey and, albeit marginally, by the United States and Israel, shows that what appeared to be the “Arab Spring” in Damascus, was indeed an attempt to exploit the international unpopularity of Assad’s regime to alter the regional balance in favour of Turkey, Qatar and the most reactionary Sunnis.
Despite the Turkish military backlash that, in 2019, attempted to definitively eliminate the Kurdish threat from its borders by seizing Syrian territories, currently Syria is gradually integrating again into the Arab world.
It is a world that survived the impact of false “Arab Springs” which, badly analysed by a short-sighted and superficial West, were not initially understood in their most realistic sense, i.e. a well-orchestrated attempt by the most reactionary part of political Islam to overthrow the secular governments of the Arab-Muslim world.
Thanks to the efforts of Al Sisi’s Egypt, Syria is back again in the Arab League and has progressively resumed diplomatic relations with most Arab nations. With its support for Assad, Egypt is trying to curb the strong Iranian presence in the region and the unscrupulous activism of Turkish President Erdogan, who still dreams of becoming the “dominus” of the region.
The worst part of the Syrian war has come to an end. The Caliphate has been defeated militarily, but it still controls some parts of territory in the North-East of the country and is still able to carry out sporadic attacks against the regular armed forces.
Turkey remains a threat to the stability of Syria, a half-destroyed country, with a collapsing economy as a result of the U.S. sanctions and the Covid 19 pandemic.
Egypt, the Gulf States and Russia are working to bring Syria’s relations with the rest of the world back to normalcy, thus taking the first steps in the process of physically rebuilding a country in ruins. China and North Korea are also players in the game – a game that, in the future, will have important positive economic repercussions for the protagonists of the process.
For the time being, Europe and the United States have a wait-and-see attitude and are satisfied with maintaining a system of indiscriminate sanctions that have negative effects not on the stability of the regime, but on the well-being of its citizens.
After a decade of war, Syria has the right to peace and reconstruction – a complex process at which Europe should look with pragmatism and rationality, recalling the statement by Henry Kissinger that “in the Middle East there can be no peace without Syria”.
Maritime Border Dispute: The South Lebanon Crisis
The Middle Eastern region has been riddled with crisis and disputes for centuries yet only a few seem to make their way out of an endless war. One such instance is making its way to the map as aged rivals: Lebanon and Israel, are inching their way to a possible resolution to a meddling dispute spanning decades. The two countries have been formally at war with each other since the Arb-Israel conflict initially sparked after the establishment of Israel post Holocaust in 1947-48. Though the official position has not deterred much since then, Lebanese representation states that a ‘framework’ has been devised under the eye of The United Nations (UN) while Israel’s energy minister Yuval Steinitz confirmed that the talks over the maritime dispute would initiate soon after being deterred since October 2020. The significance of these talks could only be deciphered once you realise the backdrop leading to such complex relations.
Both Lebanon and Israel are Middle Eastern countries located to the western periphery of Asia. Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, shares a border with Syria to the north and east while meets Israel in the south. The two countries share no border on land and have overlapping borders in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, which stems the basis of the conflict. The disputed region is cited by experts as rich with lucrative energy reserves. Back in 2011, Israel discovered two gas fields in the region as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu stated that, “The state enjoys exclusive economic rights including the right to exploit sea’s natural resources”. Lebanon on the other hand is not economically upright relative to Israel and could reap immense benefits from the resourceful region.
As Lebanon and Israel share no defined border on land, it makes it significantly difficult to draw a justifiable demarcation to the maritime. The current boundary, known as the ‘Blue Line’, was drawn by the UN after, almost 22 years of occupation, Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon back in 2000.
The region is the most sensitive region between the two countries as it has often been deemed as the ‘Tensest Frontier’ of the region. Historical facets make this fact even more apparent since Israeli forces have met thorough resistance over decades in this very perimeter from the Lebanese army and the Shia militant group, its arch-rival, Hezbollah. The deadliest conflict struck between the duo back in 2006 when Israeli forces clashed with Hezbollah over the blue line frontier. A month-long war resulted in 1190 casualties on the Lebanese side whilst 163 Israeli soldiers were rendered dead in the sea. A recent skirmish came about only 3 months back in July when Lebanese border again quivered with ammunition. A set-up attack sparked when a Hezbollah cell comprising of heavy artillery throttled the Israeli forces. The responsibility of the attack was never accepted by Hezbollah, but the incident was cited as a revenge operation over the assassination of a Hezbollah fighter due to an Israeli airstrike in Damascus mid-July.
Despite the nations being on rough patch, both militaristically and diplomatically, both have showed positive signs to resolve the dispute once and for all. Israel has been under pressure over the growing tensions as the normalisation of relations with UAE, Bahrain and Morocco came about. While, Lebanon is still reeling with the catastrophe struck by the blast in Beirut and subsequent resignation of the government. Although Lebanon refused to directly negotiate the talks with the Israeli representatives, the UN still welcomed this step toward the much-awaited talks as a ‘Historic Agreement’. However, the talks stalled after the fourth round left some dents in the position of either parties. Israel’s Energy Minister, Yuval Steinitz accused Lebanon of changing, in fact, contradicting its position on the borders seven times, stating that “Lebanon’s position during the fourth round of negotiations not only contradicts its previous positions, but also contradicts Lebanon’s position regarding the maritime borders with Syria, which takes the Lebanese island near the borders into consideration,”
The fifth round of the talks was deferred just hours before the scheduled meeting, casting a gloom over the optimism shown by the UN. After 3 years of dedicated mediation, UN presumes these talks to pave a way towards a conclusive end to the dispute and beginning of development of natural resources for the benefit of all people of the region.
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