A ceasefire for Syria may seem a boon from the genie that appeared from Aladdin’s ring. But the genie that comes from the lamp is more powerful and could disrupt the ceasefire and set the stage for a major region-wide war or a world war.
Even now, Syria is a theatre of a mini world war, with big powers not only twisting each other’s arms over what is good for the war-torn nation, but also actively engaging in military activities supporting rival sides. But the story is not as simple as that. The Syrian war is much more complicated than the two world wars -- with the words ‘friends and enemies’ being mixed in a strategic blender to distort the maxim ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend and my enemy’s friend is my enemy’ to such an extent that my friends’ friend becomes my enemy and my enemy’s enemy my enemy’. More about this is later.
Let alone a solution to the crisis, even a temporary truce is unthinkable given the intricacies and the complications of the Syrian crisis where the answer to the question ‘who is supporting whom to achieve what strategic end?’ is as elusive as finding a democratic leader in the Arab world.
No wonder there is little optimism about the truce that will come into force, if all goes well, from midnight today Syrian time. This is because the truce worked out by the United States and Russia after weeks of painstaking negotiations and compromises has little to do with any compassion for the suffering millions caught up in the five-year crisis, and everything to do with one-upmanship.
A study of ceasefires may show how various parties to a conflict have used the cessation of hostilities to regroup themselves. This happened in Sri Lanka with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) making use of the ceasefire periods to wage the next phase of the war with much fiercer vigour. This also happened in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. This could happen in the Syrian civil war also.
With the entry of Russia, the war in Syria has turned more favourable to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Moscow. The ceasefire comes at a time when anti-Assad rebels, who are backed by the United States, the West, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and much of the Arab world, are on the run, with Syrian troops -- backed by Russian air power and Iranian troops and Hezbollah militia on the ground -- winning territory after territory. The ceasefire deal, announced after US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone conversation, also comes at a time when the Syrian troops are on the verge of freeing the strategic city of Aleppo from the ISIS.
A victory for Assad is certainly no good news for the US-Saudi-Turkey-led alliance which is likely to use the ceasefire period to rearm its favourite rebel groups, many of whom, however, maintain ties with the al-Qaeda-backed al-Nusra front or the ISIS. The ceasefire deal excludes the ISIS, the al-Nusra front and other groups which are on the United Nations list of terrorist organisations.
Even before the truce comes into force, the first blow to it came from Turkey. The Recep Tayyip Erdogan regime, which is accused of buying stolen oil from ISIS, says it has doubts that the ceasefire would hold. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said yesterday that the ceasefire plan would not be binding if his country’s security was threatened. What he meant was that Turkey would respect the truce but would continue to attack Kurdish fighters in Syria. The YPG or the Kurdish fighters in Syria are allies of the PKK, a Kurdish group fighting for a separate state for Turkey’s 20 percent Kurdish population.
Turkey blamed the YPG and the KPP for last week’s deadly suicide attack on a military bus in Ankara. But at the same time, the YPG has worked closely with the United States in the battle against the ISIS. Complicating the picture, the YPG has cooperated with the Russians who are in Syria to protect the Assad regime. Further complicating the picture, there is little love lost between the YPG and the Assad regime. They have fought many a battle and entered into many a truce since Syria was plunged into the civil war in February 2011. Compounding further the highly complicated picture is that Syria and Turkey are dead enemies though they both go after the YPG. This is just one case of my enemy’s enemy being not my friend in the Syrian crisis.
Given such a complicated scenario where there are no clear lines between enemies and friends, can the truce survive? With the anti-Assad alliance smarting over the Syrian troops’ success, the next blow to the ceasefire deal came from the United States on Tuesday when Secretary of State John Kerry talked about a Plan B – the balkanization of Syria – if the truce and peace talks fail.
Kerry told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if the truce failed – which is more likely amid the Turkish bellicosity and Saudi Arabia’s threat to send in ground forces -- he would move towards a plan B that could involve the partitioning of Syria.
“It may be too late to keep it as a whole Syria if we wait much longer,” Kerry said, declining to give more details.
Kerry coming out with a Plan B even before the ink on the ceasefire deal has dried gives more credence to the claims that the truce only has a strategic value and did not stem from any concern for the Syrians going through a living hell. The balkanisation of Arab countries is part of a Bush-era Neocon plan. Such a plan is also found in the Protocol of the Elders of Zion. It is presented as a strategy to strengthen and expand Israel.
Historian and strategic risk consultant F. William Engdahl in an article for New Eastern Outlook claims that in 2008, US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey D. Feltman, authored a secret plan with former Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, nicknamed ‘Bandar Bush’ for his intimate ties to the Bush family.
Engdahl claims that according to leaked documents, the Feltman-Bandar plan called for dividing Syria into different ethnic and sectarian groups, in particular Alawite, Sunni, Shiite, Kurd and Christian, as well as dividing the state into three zones — big cities, small cities and villages. The article can be accessed at http://sputniknews.com/politics/20160225/1035293806/kerry-plan-.html
Now this fits the pipeline theory of the Syrian war. The Syrian war was fuelled by Saudi Arabia and some of its Gulf allies with US blessings so that they could set up a pipeline across Syria to take oil and gas to Europe – a move that will end Russia’s hold on European markets. Besides, by installing a Saudi-friendly regime in Syria, the Saudis thought they could deal a blow to their archrival Iran. But the Saudi strategy backfired creating the ISIS monster and the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Russia is keen that the ceasefire should hold. But it is unlikely that the US-Saudi-Turkey alliance will match the Russian resolve and give peace a chance for the sake of the suffering Syrian people.