The race to Syria's Raqqa

Both, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have lost more than one opportunity in Syria. They wouldn’t have been paying a heavy price hadn’t it been for intervening so late. This time, they must not spare any opportunity to seize al-Raqqa in its struggle against the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Meanwhile, Iran must be discussing two main possibilities with its Russian allies, the Iraqi militias and the Syrian regime. The first would be controlling and liberating al-Raqqa and making the headlines as happened with the recapture of Palmyra; the second is letting ISIS presence in the region justify the intervention of Russia, the Iranian Special Forces and the religious militias. This will perpetuate the international community’s fear of ISIS threat and speculation over who is to be the main priority, ISIS or the Syrian president.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and their allies should first move towards al-Raqqa before ISIS. Instead of making excuses, they must commit to eliminating the terrorist group that threatens security and makes them the victim of a major conspiracy. They must eliminate members of the ISIS who pretend to be torchbearers of Islam while all they do is killing their brethren in Dawadmi, Ankara and Istanbul.

But, according to me, the problem for Saudi Arabia and Turkey is the ambiguity of the United States. Human Rights violations and war crimes no longer prompt the American president to intervene or at least make others intervene under the UN umbrella. The US is occupied with the Iranian nuclear deal that could return Iran to the international community fold.

United States would probably declare that the world has become safer thanks to this deal; that Iran will no longer interfere in others’ internal affairs, perpetrate killings or spread violence in the name of the awaited Mahdi. The US would rather present to us the new Iran as the peaceful and moderate state.

Fighting in Daraa has proved that ISIS, the group that kills innocents in Dawadmi, Istanbul and Brussels, might be strong but not invincible

Jamal Khashoggi

Why would Saudi Arabia wait for the US decision to meddle in Syria while it didn’t in Yemen? Syrians made a mistake when they were indecisive about whom to overthrow first, ISIS or the regime. They decided not to fight ISIS until they fight the regime. Even the author of this article made the same mistake. I justified the revolutionaries’ refusal to fight ISIS before getting the US support against the regime.

We didn’t realize that the US has been dragged into Syria to make it fight the regime under the pretext of fighting ISIS. Saudis realized this when the US approved the dispatch of Saudi ground forces to Syria to fight the regime but didn’t receive its support. All the US did was to halt its fight and Russians and Saudi Arabia hailed the decision.

The situation in Syria, especially between the revolutionaries and the regime, has stabilized. The latter, gained ground in Palmyra and took the city back, suspiciously, from ISIS control. They’re still discussing whether they should control al-Raqqa.

Political vs military

Here, the decision must be political and not military. Revolutionaries including al-Nusra Front are launching military operations against ISIS in Daraa. They are said to be supported by special Jordanian forces and Oman. Fighting in Daraa has proved that ISIS, the group that kills innocents in Dawadmi, Istanbul and Brussels, might be strong but not invincible.

Daraa operations might lead to the liberation of more territories in the south of al-Raqqa alongside Jordanian borders with Iraq. But the main operation must be launched from the North. This is where political momentum becomes significant. In fact, the Syrian opposition refused to cooperate with the Americans in fighting ISIS; they cooperated with the Kurdish groups which support the regime in Damascus and with the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which Ankara labels as terrorist group.

The PKK recently launched suicide attacks inside Turkey. They have been provided arms by the US to fight ISIS. The US urged Arab tribes to ally with the PKK with the support of regional states close to Riyadh. They created the democratic Syrian forces that are also fighting the national Syrian forces’ allies of Riyadh, Ankara and Doha.

But what is the real intention of Washington? Why would the situation be even more complicated if we knew that Pentagon is supporting parties to the conflict in Syria other than the ones we know? Why would we see the situation as more complicated if we look at the 50 plans to overthrow Bashar al-Assad that President Obama has rejected?

Saudi Arabia and Turkey are unable to understand what’s really happening between Washington, Moscow and Cairo including al-Hasakah and al-Qamishli. After all, they should only care about their security and prevent any plan aimed at dismantling Syria because this does not serve their interests or the interests of the Syrian population. However, they will not be able to reap benefits for the time being especially in the light of the ceasefire and Geneva negotiations unless they gain the support of the Syrian national opposition.

The latter will eliminate ISIS from Syrian territories and will provide political support for the opposition in the negotiations. Most importantly, it will allow them to undermine the Kurds’ objectives. They will also not be able to realize their interests if the head of the regime’s delegation Bachar el-Jafari insists on making the Geneva negotiations as historic rather than focusing on overthrowing the Syrian president.

This article first appeared in Al Hayat on Apr. 09, 2016.
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Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:48 - GMT 06:48
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