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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Eva J. Koulouriotis: Assad no longer able to protect Israel

Eva J. Koulouriotis/Syriawise

Eva J. Koulouriotis (@evacool_ and on www.evakoulourioti.com) is a political analyst specializing in the Middle East with a focus on Syria and the international and regional conflict around it. Her research interests are also Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Turkish role in the Middle East, the implications of US, EU and Russia involvement in the region, Jihad and Jihadist groups, and Greek-Turkish relations.

Eva has contributed to a range of both Greek and international media, including Al Jazeera, AFP, AP, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, The New Arab, Al-Sharq Qatar, Annahar, Orient News, Arab News, Huffington Post Greece, the Greek weekly Paraskinio, Syriawise and RT. She is also working as a political risk advisor for the Middle East and North Africa region.

Eva has held several positions with the European Union of Women (EUW), being the Vice President of the Hellenic Section since its establishment, and the International Vice President of the standing Election Committee. Prior to this, she worked for a variety of public and private organizations in multiple countries, with a focus on business organization, development, and strategic planning. 

Syriawise: Several years ago, Greece closed its borders to Syrian refugees wanting to enter as well as to exit the country. Have you been able to help any of the Syrian refugees who ended up stuck in Greece?

“the Syrian refugees have started facing greater difficulties in crossing the borders on the one hand and being threatened with forced return to Turkey even after their arrival on the Greek territory”

Eva J. Koulouriotis

Eva J. Koulouriotis: First, I must clarify that Greece, like all European countries, has never opened its borders to refugees or immigrants of all nationalities, as it did to Ukrainian refugees. The Ukrainian citizen fleeing the Russian invasion does not need to ride any death boats or surreptitiously cross the land borders.

The development that took place after the agreement signed between Turkey and the European Union in 2016 is that the Syrian refugees have started facing greater difficulties in crossing the borders on the one hand and being threatened with forced return to Turkey even after their arrival on the Greek territory (although this is a flagrant violation of the laws of the European Union). Cases of asylum denial of Syrian refugees also increased after this agreement.

Personally, I have participated in campaigns to support refugees through groups coordinating help provided for them, offering orientation to volunteers as well as refugees regarding the NGOs in Attica region. I also tried to shed light through my articles and social media posts on the Greek government’s violations of international and European Union laws. In fact, my personal translator for the Arabic language is a Syrian refugee. Τhe same goes for my teacher of Arabic language.

Syriawise: Do you have a topic that’s of particular interest to you regarding the Syrian cause when it comes to writing articles or being interviewed by the media?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: In the Syrian file, I try to keep my focus balanced between monitoring the geopolitical changes surrounding the Syrian arena (internal, border and external political changes) on the one hand and highlighting the humanitarian factor and what the citizens suffer there in terms of security and finances on the other hand. Here, I would like to stress that neutrality in analyzing politics is important, but neutrality does not mean in any way to forget our humanity and our conscience.

“I got involved in politics from an early age. I was active in the New Democracy party, mostly in the international section”

Eva J. Koulouriotis

Syriawise: Is your interest in politics something you inherited from your family, or is it something you decided to pursue on your own?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: Indeed, my family was deeply involved in politics. I inherited this love from my father, who was highly cultured, educated, cosmopolitan, active and above all, an honest person. He taught me to be tolerant, impartial, unbridable, honest, and resilient in the face of adversity. He had deep political thinking and historical knowledge which he passed on to me. Unfortunately, he died very early. But I got involved in politics from an early age. I was active in the New Democracy party, mostly in the international section. I have always had a special interest in international politics.

Eva, second from the left, during an event on ‘Populism, anti-Europeanism in Europe and in Greece” organized by the TV show ’24 Hours Europe’ in cooperation with the Office of the European Parliament in Athens

I initially focused on European politics. After some years of activity in Ukraine and Kosovo, as head of missions of the Greek Doctors of the World, my interests expanded. After the American invasion in Iraq, I began to delve into the Middle East because I found that what I was reading in the various media did not fully correspond to reality. So, I travelled a lot in Middle Eastern countries, researched, met people, talked with them, and tried to understand their mentality in depth. I believe that today I am mature enough to objectively analyse the political events of the region.

Syriawise: As a Greek citizen you are well aware of the fact that historically Greek-Turkish relations have generally always been under tension, but can you share with us your own personal relationship with Turkey and if there is any tension there as well?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: Unfortunately, there is a political class in both countries that relies on populist rhetoric based on inciting hatred and instilling fear of the other under the pretext of the possibility of war at any time. However, despite this rhetoric, a large portion of the citizens of the two countries still reject any war and are open to each other through the flow of tourism. Greeks visit Istanbul, Izmir and other Turkish cities, and Turkish tourists visit the Greek islands. There is also extensive business activity between the two countries, as well as cultural exchange.

As for myself, I follow the Turkish political scene in general through many articles in Arabic, English, and Greek, through which I try to provide a pragmatic analysis away from the Greek media led by propaganda, which is supported by the current government.

I am in a way connected to Türkiye because my maternal grandfather was born in Istanbul. He had to flee to Greece in 1922, yet he never instilled hatred for Türkiye to his children. Instead, my family tried to make me understand Türkiye from another more objective perspective. I have a lot of Turkish friends, and I have visited various places in Türkiye many times.

“after the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip will end, Hamas will have lost a large part of its power as an influential militia on the Middle East arena in general”

Eva J. Koulouriotis

Syriawise: The Cypriot newspaper ‘Politis’ recently published an interview in which you shared your extensive analysis of Israel’s war on Gaza since the attack by Hamas on October 7. Do you think that what is happening there will ultimately affect the situation in Syria, and if so, how?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: At the outset, it is important to say that the events of October 7 and the subsequent military developments in the Gaza Strip and Israel on the one hand and in the countries of the region on the other hand practically pave the way for important changes from a geopolitical standpoint for the entire region.

It is expected that after the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip will end, Hamas will have lost a large part of its power as an influential militia on the Middle East arena in general. This means that Iran will lose its only Sunni ally and one of the most powerful cards for blackmail and pressure on Israel and the US. Therefore, it can be said that Iran will be weaker than was the case before the 7th of October.

Iran’s losses may not stop there as Israeli and American politicians have already begun to talk about the necessity of changing the reality of southern Lebanon considering the continuing threats from the Hezbollah militia. Among the possible solutions is the implementation of Resolution 1701 issued by the Security Council in 2006, which stipulates the necessity of the withdrawal of Hezbollah militia fighters from southern Lebanon to a depth of 30 km. This resolution also stipulates the necessity of surrendering the weapons by the Hezbollah militia. Of course, neither Iran nor Hezbollah will agree to surrender weapons, and therefore there is a possibility that we will witness a military escalation on the Lebanese front after Gaza.

Practically, all these changes will be reflected in the Syrian arena. A weak Iran in the region means that it is less able to impose its conditions on the Syrian ground, or it may choose to turn the Syrian arena into a territory of settling scores with Israel and the US. Thus, Assad may lose one of his most important roles, which is based on preventing Syria from being a launching pad for attacks against Israel. Also, any war between Hezbollah and Israel will mean withdrawing Hezbollah forces from the Syrian geography, which will be reflected in Assad’s military capabilities.

In the first days of the war on Gaza, several Israeli media outlets confirmed that threatening messages were delivered by Israel to the Hezbollah militia through French intermediaries. The content of these messages was that any dangerous escalation on the northern front might push Israel to launch strikes against Damascus and the Presidential Palace. Leaking this message to the public was intentional and necessary, and it is what prompted Putin to contact Assad, then Raisi, then Netanyahu, to ease the tension on the Syrian scene.

In general, it can be said that Assad, whom Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia fought to keep in power, today has become the weakest link in the chain of their influence in the region, and he turned into a burden. While on the Israeli side, the adherence to Assad’s survival as the protector of its northern borders, little by little, this view began to change. Assad today is unable to prevent anyone from attacking Israel through Syrian territory. Therefore, Iran no longer sees him as important, Hezbollah has begun to consider him a burden and Israel no longer trusts him. What comes next, remains to be seen.

Syriawise: Regarding your participation in the media providing news commentary, how do you manage to maintain your objectivity when analysing International Relations?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: There is a popular Arabic proverb saying that “the truth, like the sun, is not covered by a sieve”. This description may not be very realistic though. Despite the development of the media in parallel with social media that transmit news quickly and from the scene of the event, the arrangement of events and scrutiny between truth and fabrication is not an easy task for us as researchers and political experts. That is why it is necessary to build a direct network with the region of the events.

In the Syrian file, for example, with the beginning of the revolution there, I was faced with two narratives. The first was drawn up by the regime and its media, supported by the Russian and Iranian media and some Western journalists. On the other hand, there was the narrative of the Syrian citizens who tried to convey what was happening around them through personal documentation of the events on the ground under the title: eyewitness.

I was familiar with what is going on in Syria in particular and the Middle East in general, from the suffering of citizens to the persecution and deprivation of freedom, economic and security corruption and the crimes of security and military services. This prior knowledge made it easier for me to understand the reasons for the revolution on the one hand and the first narrative on the other.

In my opinion, the political reading is less complicated in terms of analysis, given the presence of historical references that we can return to understand the present, the data that clarify the economic scene of countries and diplomatic visits that draw the line of interests of countries. Through this information, we can build a logical reading of what is the next step.

Syriawise: What is the most important advice you could give to up and coming students of International Relations?

Eva J. Koulouriotis: I would advise them to read the history of countries from their local sources, not from other sources. History is important for us as observers to build the base of the current political scene of countries. Therefore, if this base is not built correctly and accurately, you will not be able to understand the changes, and of course you will not be able to anticipate them. They should also learn in depth the traditions, the religions, and the way the people of these countries live. They should be able to discard dogmatism, intolerance, prejudice, political and religious beliefs, and personal preferences. Objectivity, impartiality, composure, and absence of sentimentality are the characteristics of a successful researcher of international politics. I call myself “independent”, “friendless” and “stateless”. This is what they must try to be.

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