Rivalry in Syria after the US Withdrawal

The decision to withdraw the US forces from Syria created a new situation for a country suffering from civil war for eight years. The decision resulted in several changes in the shape of the conflict and the rivalry between yesterday’s allies, the so-called Sochi Alliance or the Astana Alliance, which includes Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Each country seeks to gain from the decision and the subsequent exit of the US-led coalition forces.

The Sochi countries attempts to form a new map on the ground seem to be complicated by new factors, such as the conflict of interests between them, which emerged when Turkey tried to seize the eastern Euphrates region under the pretext of preventing the formation of an area of influence controlled by Kurds. And their commitment to maintain the status of their Kurdish allies in the war against ISIS, as well as the desire of the Syrian government backed by Russian support for control of the region.

The recent start of a rapprochement between Damascus and the Kurds was when Kurds demanded the entry of Syrian government forces into their region to confront Ankara’s threats. Despite the US objections to the rapprochement between the Kurds and Damascus, it’s reluctant to seek Turkish influence on the east of Syria, after handing over the Idleb area in northwestern Syria to the Nosra front.

It seems that the Iranian ambition was no more fortunate than the ambitions of Turkey, came targeting the Israeli occupation of the Iranian military targets and striking its affiliated militias inside Syria as a blow to it. Observers believe that the Israeli attacks on Iranian forces is coordinated with Russia or at least with its knowledge. Russia has not concealed its strategy that its eagerness to coordinate with Israel outweighs its keenness on its alliance with Iran in Syria, which many observers see as a green light from Moscow to Tel Aviv to open the Syrian airspace protected by the Russian defense system to Israel as long as its targets are the Iranian troops.

Each Sochi country seeks to make the biggest gains from it:

  • Russia seeks to be the sole power holder in Syria, by working to strengthen the Syrian government in Damascus, restore the land in its favor and end the opposition.
  • Iran seeks to find a legitimate status for its presence in Syria to ensure its influence, as well as to protect its interests within an international coalition to achieve its national interests.
  • Turkey is running the conflict to mitigate its negative effects, both in the status of the Kurds or in seeking some gains to ensure greater influence in Syria, ensuring the emergence of a Kurdish state that certainly threatens Turkish borders and poses a threat to its national security. Ankara therefore believes that coordination with Tehran is very helpful in achieving this.

Although the decision to withdraw the US forces from Syria seems to have benefited the countries of the Sochi Alliance, it may have caused a defect because of the start of differences between the three countries in some important inter-issues.

Although Iran initially considered Syria will be free of the US presence, it is well aware that Israel’s military actions will not stop but are on the increase.

The weakness of the Turkish position:

However, after a period of the resolution, Ankara’s negotiating position became weaker, especially after increasing pressure on it, which explains the increasing likelihood of rapprochement between Ankara and Damascus, and perhaps its direct request to re-activate the Adana agreement and return relations with Bashar al-Assad, with the blessing of Russia, and open channels of dialogue with the Kurds through Arbil, Iraq.

Russian-Iranian rivalry:

Following the US withdrawal, Russia seeks to complete the Syrian arena, and in order to achieve this, Iran’s role must be limited. Russia rejects any influence of any state in Syria, whether Iran or any other, except through it.

A year ago, tensions between Moscow and Tehran erupted, but preoccupation with battles, whether in the face of the armed factions or the presence of US-led international forces, may have hidden the dispute.

There is no doubt that changing the current situation after the American decision to withdraw from Syria will push the differences between Moscow and Tehran to get out of the surface in the coming period, which emerged through Russian-Israeli cooperation, which resulted in several blows to the concentrations of Iranian forces and their allies in Syria, The Syrian army, especially the Fifth Corps, is replacing the Iranian militias. Tehran is aware of this, which explains why it signed several economic agreements with Damascus, so as to ensure its continued influence, if it had to withdraw from Syria.

The dispute between Moscow and Tehran in Iran’s attempt to share influence with Moscow in Syria is more than its dispute with Turkey, especially since Moscow will rely on the differences of the Damascus government with the Ankara government to carry out this task. Unlike the situation between Damascus and Tehran, Interests and goals.

The sovereignty of the Syrian state:

Observers believe that the Damascus government will deal with the US withdrawal from Syria by working to return the areas that were under American influence to Syrian sovereignty. The presence of Turkish forces on Syrian territory is an occupation (at least from the point of view of Syria), especially since these forces are not authorized by the state Syrian border.

After Bashar used the Syrian military intervention, by an Iranian-Russian agreement, to prevent the Kurdish states in Syria today (after the loss of the Kurds hope for a state), he turned to the Turkish presence through twinning with the Kurds in eastern Syria because the situation had changed.

Syria will try to contain the Kurds again, as was the case in the past, and may even use the Kurdish file as a pressure on Turkey with the help of Russia in that.

The fate of Syrian refugees and cells urging:

The issue of refugees is one of the most important issues for the Syrian government, as if it moves in the return of refugees, it will increase its credibility internationally and in the Arab world. As for the organization in Damascus, the defeat on the ground as an end in Syria operationally, according to experts, the organization will work to compensate for the loss of terrorist bombings and the activation of dormant cells from time to time.

Russian-Iranian rivalry:

Following the US withdrawal, Russia seeks to complete its sole control in Syrian arena, and in order to achieve this, Iran’s influence must be limited. Russia rejects any influence of any other acting power, whether Iran or any other, except through it.

A year ago, tensions between Moscow and Tehran slightly appeared, but preoccupation with battles, whether in the face of the armed factions or the presence of US-led international forces, may have hidden the dispute.

There is no doubt that changing the current situation after the American decision to withdraw from Syria will push the differences between Moscow and Tehran to get out of the surface in the coming period, which emerged through Russian-Israeli cooperation, which resulted in several blows to the concentrations of Iranian forces and their allies in Syria. The Syrian army, especially the Fifth Corps, is replacing the Iranian militias. Tehran is aware of this, which explains why it signed several economic agreements with Damascus, so as to ensure its continued influence, if it had to withdraw from Syria.

Clashes broke out last January between the “fourth division” led by Maher al-Assad and supported by Iran, and the “Fifth Corps” and the “tiger” led by Colonel Suhail al-Hussein and supported by Russia, because of the power struggle between them in a number of areas in central Syria.

The dispute between Moscow and Tehran in Iran’s attempt to share influence with Moscow in Syria is more than its dispute with Turkey, especially since Moscow will rely on the differences of the Damascus government with the Ankara government to carry out this task. Unlike the situation between Damascus and Tehran; both have common Interests and goals.

The sovereignty of the Syrian state:

Observers believe that the Damascus government will deal with the US withdrawal from Syria by working to return the areas that were under American influence to Syrian sovereignty. The presence of Turkish forces on Syrian territory is an occupation (at least from the point of view of Syria), especially since the existence of these Turkish forces are not authorized by the Syrian state.

After Bashar used the Turkish military intervention, by an Iranian-Russian understanding, to prevent the Kurdish states separation. Today, Syria (after Kurds lost the hope for an independent state), it turned to the Turkish presence through understanding with the Kurds in eastern Syria.

Syria will try to contain the Kurds again, as was the case in the past, and may even use the Kurdish file as a card of pressure on Turkey with the help of Russia in that.

The fate of Syrian refugees and cells urging:

The issue of refugees is one of the most important issues for the Syrian government, as if it moves to support the refugee’s issue, it will increase its credibility internationally and in the Arab world. As for ISIS which has been defeated operationally in Syria, according to experts, ISIS will work to compensate for the loss by launching terrorist attacks and bombings, in addition to activate its dormant cells from time to time.

Future of Syria

Scenario I: Fragile Peace:

I think that the return of stability as usual in Syria, after 8 years of conflict that left more than half a million deaths, is difficult to predict.

Although the search for a solution in Syria still exists, the difference lies in how this solution works.

Scenario I: the cessation of Turkish-Russian cooperation, the flow of more Syrian refugees to Turkey and Europe, and a crisis in the European-Russian relationship:

As a result of the Syrian Arab Army forces attack on Idlib, with the help of the Russian air force and the Iranian militias, as Moscow and Damascus are seeking coordination in this file, but Moscow will not bear pressure Damascus to carry out the attack. The pretext used by Moscow to justify the attack is Turkey’s inability to implement the Sochi deal and the extremists’ takeover of the greater part of Idlib.

In this scenario, it is not possible to use chemical weapons and the military actions of the United States and its allies against the Syrian army, as has happened before.

Scenario II: Syria’s insistence on supporting the Kurds against Turkey:

With the withdrawal of US forces from Syria, and as a result of Turkey’s continuing military operation against the forces of the Kurdish People’s Protection units in the north of Syria, with the declared goal of “imposing a safe or buffer zone”, the Kurds may conclude an agreement with Damascus, Of the Kurds, which will lead to the Turkish-Syrian collision, and this will generate a serious crisis between Russia and Turkey, which may extend to impose new tensions between Russia and the West.

The sharp development of the Turkish-Syrian-Kurdish confrontation could lead to a new wave of terrorist acts in both Syria and Turkey.

Scenario III: The collapse of the Sochi Alliance (Astana) and the return and escalation of violence to Syria:

The undeclared rivalry between Russia and Iran in Syria has begun to influence Damascus, and this has been demonstrated by inter-ethnic clashes between the two countries. Iran believes that Russia has sacrificed Iranian interests for its coordination with Turkey, that it did not punish Israel for its aggressions against Iran, and that Turkey and Israel will press Vladimir Putin to determine his position on Iran, so Iran will feel isolated and this will strengthen its positions on Syria and the Middle East and North Africa in general, and thus the collapse of the Alliance of Astana and the return and escalation of violence to Syria.

Scenario IV (the most dangerous): The United States launched a military strike against Iran:

As Israel continues to strike at Iranian forces, and since the agreement in southern Syria is no longer feasible (as Iranian-backed forces approach the occupied Golan Heights and become in contact with Israeli forces, leading to an escalation of Israeli attacks and the possible return of Hezbollah to the border) The United States may support Israeli attacks by launching an air attack on Iran, which would in turn lead to a Hezbollah attack on Israel, and consequently the United States would launch a direct attack on Iran, and within these developments the Russian position would become increasingly embarrassing and difficult.

Sayed Ghoneim, Major General (retired)
Fellow, Nasser Higher Military Academy
International Security Consultant and Lecturer

www.igsda.org