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Saturday, December 3, 2022

Opinion | Syria in the eye of Russian-Chinese-Iranian storm

The recent serious developments in northern Syria are not the result of internal conflicts. They are instead an implementation of a policy that was agreed upon at the Tehran Summit on July 19, 2022 which charted the role of each country in Syria in proportion to the Russian-Chinese-Iranian alliance. Erdogan’s Turkey is now walking with it, and other Arab Gulf countries are hesitant to join.

Tehran Summit on July 19, 2022; Credit: AFP

Background

The Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) published a working paper entitled Settling the Syrian Conflict Amid the Ukrainian Crisis: Political Economy Perspective that outlined a recovery plan for Syria based on the economic factor to which China, Iran, Russia, and Turkey will contribute and on an acceptance of political and security decentralization, which means the continuation of the influence as it is now, in addition to sharing of interests and areas of power, including southern Syria, which can develop its autonomous system that can minimize the fears of Israel and Jordan, and does not exclude the participation of northern Syria, which is dominated by the US-backed Kurdish SDF, which built a network of interests with the Assad regime related to security and military cooperation, oil and grain.

The paper also reviews the expected options, and chooses the best ones that Turkey should make, in preparation for the reintegration of the north with the Assad regime. The economy is the basis, and it will unite in the end the political variation according to Marxist theory. The dramatic differences that have no solution now must be jumped over by recognizing the military victory of the regime, which is a source of legitimacy according to the Russian criteria.

The paper does not address any future security or political changes. Instead, it consolidates the current political-military security reality, using the economic factor only as a variable element that must be relied upon. The Russians always insist on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2642 regarding early recovery programs attempting to jump over Resolution 2254, which stipulate establishing a transitional authority, holding elections, and applying justice.

Russia would be satisfied with controlling raw materials and underground resources such as oil and phosphates and full political supervision of its sovereign decision. The paper looks positively at the possibility of Iran returning to the joint nuclear cooperation agreement with the West, which will inject huge sums that will allow Iran to increase its investment in the Syrian economy, consolidate its presence on Syrian soil, and strengthen the Iranian regime in Tehran. At the same time, Russia benefits from Iran’s presence in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon while China benefits from the Shiite Crescent presence through the Silk Road. The alliance of Russia, China, and Iran is substantial. The Assad regime calls them brothers.

China also politically supported the Assad regime with more than 15 UN vetoes in the Security Council

Kamal Al Labwani

Why should this be a wake-up call for the West?

The United States should pay close attention to the collaborative interests between those nations as they may directly impact Western economy. China has started its investments in Syria decades ago and the visit of its foreign minister to Syria is frequent. China also politically supported the Assad regime with more than 15 UN vetoes in the Security Council. It directly supervises infrastructure projects in the Iranian and Iraqi economy and plans to expand them to Syria and Lebanon. It has built unique relationships with Lebanese banks and established production sectors related to electronics and solar energy generation in Syria.

Th Iranian economic influence in Syria has developed rapidly since the beginning of the century when Bashar Assad took power and this influence accelerated further after the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon in 2005 slowly but increasingly becoming the backbone of the Syrian economy after the Syrian revolution in 2011.

Iran plans to build railways and roads linking Tehran to Beirut and Latakia and has large housing and settlement projects in Homs, Damascus, and Aleppo, not to mention construction campaigns and demographic change

Kamal Al Labwani

Iran currently controls the fuel, grain, banking, mobile, and industry sectors, iron, machinery, and military industries. The businesspeople associated with Iran constitute most of the owners of the economy’s sectors and they control a vast industrial zone in central Syria in Hassiyeh and essential shares in the industrial areas near Aleppo and Damascus.

Iran plans to build railways and roads linking Tehran to Beirut and Latakia and has large housing and settlement projects in Homs, Damascus, and Aleppo, not to mention construction campaigns and demographic change. Iranians have confiscated uncountable accounts of real estate in Syrian cities, built many military and industrial bases, imposed influence on state institutions and security services. Iranian projects in Syria are being financed through the business of drug trade, which alone amounts to four billion dollars annually.

The first appearance of Maher Assad, Bashar’s brother since the beginning of the Syrian revolution in 2011, a long-time ally of Iran, with the commander of the Russian forces was intended to disqualify the rumors of tensions between Iran’s Syrian supporters and Russia’s Syrian supporters especially in the army that is practically the weakest branch of Assad’s government.

Turkey’s role in the Russian plan

Immediately after the Tehran summit, Erdogan’s speech and that of his foreign minister before him changed. The foreign minister spoke about security and political meetings between the two countries and his meeting with Faisal Miqdad, the Assad regime’s foreign minister. Erdogan spoke about discussions between the two countries, security coordination, the possibility of his meeting with Assad, and the need for reconciliation between the opposition and the regime.

Syrians fear that Turkey may soon instruct the Syrian opposition and negotiating committees to transfer its headquarters to Damascus

Kamal Al Labwani

As a result, massive demonstrations took place in the north of Syria in which Syrians rejected this reconciliation. Some armed factions supported these demonstrations, and this annoyed the Turks.

The entire Turkish team supervising the Syrian file for seven years has been changed, and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham moved to punish the factions that refused to comply; this move previously mentioned in the paper, which aims to impose complete control of that terrorist-classified body over all other fighter groups, and it had opened special crossings linking them to the regime and exchanging with its coordination and goods.

What is the West’s plan to confront the vicious plan prepared by Russia, China, and Iran for the Middle East?

Kamal Al Labwani

Many Syrians viewed the Turkish delay to respond was a programmed and planned act. Syrians fear that Turkey may soon instruct the Syrian opposition and negotiating committees to transfer its headquarters to Damascus and thus accept Assad’s authority and nominal participation in exchange for autonomy in the northwest under the security governance of Haiyat Tahrir al-Sham.

Conclusion

Syrians are in a race against time, as the new variables suggest an exacerbation of crises and their tendency to erupt. What is the West’s plan to confront the vicious plan prepared by Russia, China, and Iran for the Middle East? Is the West interested in the first place? Or is the West still only betting on the single possibility of Putin’s defeat in Ukraine? What is certain is that Putin and his partners are expanding their influence in the Middle East at a time of exacerbation of crises in the already fractured Western economy.

It is a strategic mistake by the West to ignore Syria and allow Iranian militias and Russia to dominate it

Kamal Al Labwani

In the end, Syria should not be considered a low-ranking card on the list of the priorities of the West. It is a strategic mistake by the West to ignore Syria and allow Iranian militias and Russia to dominate it. We will pay dearly for that mistake because it will encourage totalitarian regimes to dominate the world.

Kamal Al Labwani
Kamal Al Labwani
Syrian writer and political opposition figure

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