The Syrian conflict is changing? Not really

As Russia’s aerial offensive against government opposition forces in Syria entered its third day on October 2, ISIS had only been targeted once. In one of Russia’s attacks at least 36 civilians, including several children, were reportedly killed in Homs province. These airstrikes had targeted non-ISIS held territory.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials indicated Moscow also had aerially targeted CIA-backed Syrian fighters, in what likely had far less to do with threat assessments and far more to do with sending a message to the U.S. and its coalition partners. Russian President Vladimir Putin was quite clear: His latest war won’t be dictated by the current anti-ISIS coalition and it definitely won’t be centered around other countries’ primary objective of degrading the militant group. Putin is in Syria to save Assad and reap the benefits of securing its own military interests in the eastern Mediterranean.

For years, the U.S. and Europe’s strategy in Syria failed to comprehensively address both the Assad regime or the humanitarian crisis

Brooklyn Middleton

While the bloody conflict changes yet again and another aerial offensive begins, the worst humanitarian disaster of our time will now only worsen. Meanwhile, the refugee crisis, the same that briefly captured the West’s attention when a tiny child washed up on Turkey’s shore, will continue to spiral.

Russia has given no indication that its efforts to secure Assad’s future rule will be limited. And Moscow’s full-blown military intervention on behalf of the regime underscores the fact that Russia and Iran still assess there is no reason for a “transition” period to include Assad – because there is no need for a transition at all. With Tehran and Moscow’s total backing, emboldened Assad can obliterate what remains of the Syrian opposition.

In a written statement by the U.S. State Department, the U.S., France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and United Kingdom wrote: “We call on the Russian Federation to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and to focus its efforts on fighting ISIL.” Moscow, which has failed to make any distinction – in both its own reporting on strikes and during its actual operations - between ISIS and all other rebel forces, did not immediately respond.

Clear Israeli signals on Syria

On a separate front, it is worth noting that days before Russia began launching its aerial offensive, at least two projectiles emanating from Syria struck Israeli territory in a 24-hour period, triggering IDF retaliation. Israeli forces conducted at least two artillery strikes, targeting Syrian military positions. This is a point worth reiterating; while reports were rapidly surfacing regarding imminent Russian strikes, Israel sent a clear signal that regardless which party embroils itself in the Syrian conflict, it will continue maintaining its long-held red lines. Only days prior to the cross-border flare up, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Putin had what was, ostensibly, a positive meeting in Moscow on 21 September. However, days after the Israeli artillery strikes, Putin noted that such Israeli military operations in Syria “worried” him. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon responded that, they don’t really care, stating, “…we are not getting involved in the debate of who will be in power, Assad or someone else… We have our interests, and when they are threatened we act and will continue to act.

This was made clear to the Russian president. If reports indicating Iranian troops are deploying to Syria by the hundreds for a ground invasion, relations are likely to grow tenser in the near term. That said, Putin is arrogant but his mission in Syria in no way seeks to sever relations with Israel; there is no reason to assess Russia would act to prevent any retaliatory Israeli operations targeting Syrian military positions or Hezbollah at this stage.

Most critically, as all involved actors readjust to the changing Syrian landscape, the suffering of Syrian civilians continues unabated. Unless coalition partners are willing to directly confront Russia, initiatives favoring humanitarian efforts, including a partial No-Fly Zone, are now likely impossible to even consider. For years, the U.S. and Europe’s strategy in Syria failed to comprehensively address both the Assad regime or the humanitarian crisis. Now, reluctantly entangled, the West still must confront both, while at the same time, Russia carries out its own plans.

Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:46 - GMT 06:46
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