Syria’s red lines: A sketch by many painters

Numerous are the scenarios for how to fail best in Syria and lengthen the suffering of millions of Syrians

Mohamed Chebarro

Published: Updated:

Numerous are the scenarios for how to fail best in Syria and lengthen the suffering of millions of Syrians.

The Turkish - U.S. deal to engage in the Syrian crisis but only through the window of fighting ISIS and the PKK is another step in the same direction.

The Turks, who in return for opening their airbases for the international coalition fighting unsuccessfully to curb ISIS presence in Syria and Iraq, will be given a free hand to clip the wings of the PKK and the PYD despite the peace process underway between the PKK and President Erdogan’s government since 2012.

Even if the Turkish President is true to his published motives of clearing a major part of Northern Syria from ISIS with the sole aim to repatriate some of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, this will not be without major challenges

Mohamed Chebarro

Ankara is opposed to any form of direct control by the Syrian Kurds of the border areas between the two countries, as both the PKK and PYD seem to control hundreds of kilometers of the Syrian Turkish border towns and villages close to the volatile South Eastern Turkey inhabited by Turkey’s Kurdish minority.

Erdogan's renewed campaign

The Government of President Erdogan's renewed campaign against ISIS and the PKK is seen by many as twofolds. it is primarily designed to limit Kurdish influence within and outside Turkey. Also it is just another bid by the beleaguered Turkish President Erdogan to win much needed steam to regroup and reclaim a lost majority in parliament following the last elections which allowed an array of mainly Kurdish, nationalistic parties to gain seats.

But even if the Turkish President is true to his published motives of clearing a major part of Northern Syria from ISIS with the sole aim to repatriate some of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, this will not be without major challenges. The Kurds are no longer a simple force whom Turkey is capable of taming especially in view of renewed training and arming by western forces that started 12 months ago in a bid to restrain if not eliminate ISIS and similar groups in Syria.

The Syrian regime also is still flying his killer helicopters loaded with barrel bombs where he pleases. Though President Assad’s embattled and disoriented army is weak now, Assad will not facilitate the emergence of a de-facto safe haven even if it is coming four years late.

The Syrian fixed wings aircraft are still crossing paths with the coalition U.S., Canadian and British jets among others seeking ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq. This cannot be possible without some form of coordination directly or indirectly with the international coalition. So will the regime turn a blind eye as well to Turkish air force jets targeting ISIS and PKK in Syria?

Assad’s regime might choose to do so now, but also this regime is likely to test Ankara ‘s resolve at any junction specially if it is to go ahead with forming an ISIS-free region where anti Syrian regime forces are likely to congregate and potentially launch attacks at Syrian regime controlled areas.

A work in progress

The Turkish -U.S. understanding is a work in progress as we are led to believe by Turkish and American officials diverging interpretation of the deal. It is this divergence that has plagued the chances to settle the Syrian question and help find the light at the end of the tunnel for millions of Syrians.

Fighting ISIS must be part of a comprehensive plan regionally and internationally. Fighting ISIS in the north of Syria and leaving the organization free to grow new jihadists in the center of the country or across the porous Iraqi border will be catastrophic with time.

Fighting ISIS while leaving the regime responsible for killing Syrians and destroying the country shows the double standard and inability of the western powers to agree on one interpretation vis a vis the regime as a culprit and guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and not just against the Syrians.

Fighting ISIS and leaving Iranian and Iraqi militias and Lebanese ones in control of other enclaves free to commit ethnic cleansing and or crimes against Syrians is also a time bomb that will explode according to timers set by regional powers to undermine any deal. It is clear that the U.S. and Turkey are seeing their new understanding as a work in progress but dealing with Syria with blinkered goggles will further exacerbate the Syrian civil war.

The blood of the Syrians.

The regional and international powers drawn into the Syrian conflict seem to have few red lines drawn with the blood of the Syrians.

Among those red lines an unspoken one that enforces a stalemate until further notice. So for now, no clear victory could be accorded to any party while other potfolios are being settled such as the nuclear deal with Iran, the Saudi Iranian proxy confrontation from Bahrain to Yemen and not excluding Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

The safety of minorities in Syria is also another red line and any attempt to approach their areas is a red line highlighted in bold. We saw the advances halted on what is known as the southern front in Daraa, once opposition forces reached the Druze Syrian area of Soweida. Similarly advances to take Shia villages near Aleppo were discouraged as well as incursions towards Latakia. In all cases, it seems that the time has not come to deal with such questions.

Driving Sunni Syrians from their land is fine but minorities is a big faux pas for now.

Another red line was the use of chemical weapons, all forms of chemicals. That red line has been crossed repeatedly in the last three years, and instead of punishing the culprits, the international community simply went after the tool of the crime sanctioning indirectly its continued use.

Safe zones or no- fly zones are also a key red line, although I believe the international community should have pushed for those in the name of peace and stability of a volatile region and to keep millions of Syrians in their country rather than to spread those in more than four countries

Of course, Syrian opposition factions, split between religious and non-religious armed groups, could render these zones rather unsafe due to infighting, but miracles are still possible in the Middle East and if an ISIS free zone or a Safe Area is established with the help of Turkey it would be a way to shyly break one of the Syrian crisis many red lines, this time by Turkey’s Erdogan.


Mohamed Chebarro is currently an Al Arabiya TV News program Editor. He is also an award winning journalist, roving war reporter and commentator. He covered most regional conflicts in the 90s for MBC news and later headed Al Arabiya’s bureau in Beirut and London.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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