What’s happening in Syria is war and when it comes to wars, we may know how they begin but no one can assert how they will end.
Things started to deteriorate in Syria’s largest city Aleppo with the people’s uprising and ended with the city’s fall at the hands of the Iranian and Russian-backed Damascus regime in the past few days. However, war has not ended as around half of Syrian territories are still not controlled by the regime. Thus no one must rush to the conclusion on how the end will eventually look like.
The battle for Aleppo was indeed important and requires a review. The city’s fall does not indicate victory of the Assad alliance. Instead it shows the failure of rebels and its allies to manage developments. Aleppo’s residents revolted during the first stages of the revolution – since July 2012 – and it has been a raging front since then and a symbol of the revolution. Rebels succeeded at linking it through land to the city of Hama and this confirmed the seriousness of the uprising.
During the past four years the city has not witnessed a single calm night. The regime continued its efforts to control the city as it was aware that Aleppo may become the center of an opposition government and mark the beginning of an alternative state. The regime resorted to the trick of intimidating the world with terrorism. It released extremists from jails and alleged that the opposition is only made up of al-Qaeda.
Armed extremist groups parallel to the opposition were formed. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is certainly an expansion of al-Qaeda. The Syrian regime used its experience from the days of sponsoring the Iraqi opposition, particularly of extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. ISIS emerged stronger and its hideous mass executions terrorized the world.
The regime continued its efforts to control the city as it was aware that Aleppo may become the center of an opposition government and mark the beginning of an alternative stateAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Other extremist organizations came into being later. The most prominent one is al-Nusra Front which is also an expansion of al-Qaeda. It was not affiliated with the Syrian regime and unfortunately it received the support of regional parties that allowed its members to pass through. The group also received media support. It was definite that allowing armed extremist religious groups to enter Syria will serve the regime and intimidate regional and international governments.
Jordan, which was a passage and a headquarter, retreated and cut down its role. Saudi Arabia launched a major campaign pursuing anyone who has anything to do with supporting these groups or trying to travel to join them.
The Syrian opposition allies were divided into two, a camp in support of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which represents the national opposition, and a camp in support of extremist organizations as many thought they were stronger and they will achieve results faster.
Syria then turned into an arena of competition over regional influence. Lebanon’s mistakes were repeated, specifically when regional powers divided between either supporting Hezbollah or supporting the Future Movement in a battle, which empowered Iran and enabled Assad and his allies from assassinating a number of moderate leaders and dominating Lebanon.
Those who supported al-Nusra Front and other extremist groups practically supported the Syrian regime and made it easy for Iran, Russia and their militias to stay in Syria in the pretext of fighting terrorists.
For five years, the war in Syria has been going on between two major parties: groups that represent the majority of the Syrian people and the military regime. Terrorist funding, which is a dangerous strategic mistake, also became a factor in this war.
The regime’s supposed alliance with ISIS, particularly buying oil from it in Raqqah, does not justify it for others to look at al-Nusra Front as the revolution. Up until 2015, the FSA, which dominates most of Syria, was the only political umbrella that appeared diverse, plural and representative of the various segments of the Syrian society.
Unfortunately, and due to all these circumstances, even the FSA’s allies regionally restrained its activity. As terrorist groups emerged, western countries found an excuse to justify their refusal to supply the opposition with advanced weapons. This helped the regime to brutally shell, murder and displace people from cities.
These mistakes are not the only reason behind Aleppo’s fall and behind the loss of liberated territories. Iran’s and Russia’s involvement in the war and the leniency of the American administration in addressing this alliance resulted in the tragic situation we are witnessing today.
Yet, the current formula cannot sustain as the majority still opposes the regime despite its success in displacing five million from the country. This also doesn’t the regional balance is opposed to Iranian expansion in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 19, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed