The Aleppo conflict faces risk of escalation

The Aleppo conflict faces risk of escalation

A tremendous battle has been going on for the past months in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. However, it should be stressed that the battle is much more a determinant for the regime forces rather than for the rebels.

The conquest of Aleppo determines the regime’s capability to control the entire Western Syria and the ability to protect the Latakia region (centre of the Alawites), apart from taking possession of a highly symbolic target (but also material), to be asserted in the Geneva negotiations. From the point of view of the rebels, however, losing Aleppo would not be a big deal. In fact, it would not represent their defeat; they would still control the rural and deserted areas, from which they would continue the anti-regime fight.

Doubts have been raised regarding the willingness of Assad’s forces to fight in Aleppo. Indeed, those who are fighting in Aleppo’s front lines are the infantry contingents of countries supporting the Syrian government such as Russia, Lebanon, Iran and Shiite volunteers from Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their willingness to fight, however, is deeply eroded by a lack of government army commitment. It is clear that Assad wants to lessen the number of losses, so as to have the forces necessary to control the territories once they are conquered. Nevertheless, he does not actually possess the military strength to do so. His forces failed to prevent the encirclement of Aleppo and as a result have, once besiegers, have become the besieged. At the present moment, the “great battle” concerns the control of the roads, to prevent opponents from receiving supplies and reinforcements.

Recently, however, a big change has occurred in the Syrian scenario. This change is represented by Erdogan’s decision to intervene. Turkey also suggested the possibility that Assad could remain in power in the first phase of the transition period, but the statement was surely a result of the recent negotiations with Moscow. Nevertheless, it is becoming more and more clear that Assad is not aiming at a negotiated solution with his various opponents. He wants nothing more than to win.

In early August, the insurgents received significant quantities of weapons and ammunition from Turkey. However, Ankara is getting closer to Assad, while increasing its actions against the Syrian Kurds. Consequently, the latter are intensifying their fight against the Syrian government, with whom they had so far maintained an ambiguous and partial neutrality. The current balance of forces on the ground is changing. Indeed, it is conceivable that Assad, supported by the Russian air force, may decide to attack the Democratic Syrian Army. However, the Democratic Syrian Army’s core is made up of the Kurdish People’s Defense Units (also known as YPG militia), which is supported by the US, as well as elements of their special forces, intended to designate targets for airstrikes. The YPG militia is now being attacked by Turkey who is attempting to push them back, at least east of the shores of the Euphrates.

The risk of escalation, which involves US and Russia, should not be underestimated. In fact, both have their hands tied and are bound to their allies. This is also demonstrated by Tehran’s decision to block the use of its air bases from the super-Russian bombers who attacked ISIS and the Syrian Kurds. It should not come as a surprise that the cautious and realistic regime of the Ayatollahs, having sensed danger, decided to remove themselves from the situation.

Syria ceasefire begins as agencies prepare to deliver aid

A nationwide ceasefire in Syria brokered by the United States and Russia came into effect on September 12, as aid agencies prepared to send food and medical supplies, in particular to the besieged city of Aleppo. The ceasefire is the second attempt this year by Washington and Moscow. So far, sources on both sides of the conflict have indicated that the ceasefire will be respected. The agreement initially aims to stop fighting between western-backed rebels and forces loyal to the Syrian government, and allow aid to enter areas where it is most desperately needed. In later stages, it envisages joint US-Russian attacks on ISIS and other jihadist groups. The proposed truce was announced on September 10 after marathon talks by the Russian and US foreign ministers. The Syrian army said the seven-day “regime of calm” would be applied across Syria and that it reserved the right to respond with all forms of firepower to any violation by “armed groups”.

Source: The Guardian

However, despite the latest developments, the Syrian conflict will continue on for a long time. Nevertheless, alliances are likely to change. Meanwhile, the population will continue to suffer and the number of refugees will continue to increase. In this regard, the fantasies of humanitarian corridors, no-fly zones and refuge areas, or even proposals for ceasefire made by the Russians and the United Nations are little more than a convenient excuse. It is no coincidence that a call for a ceasefire is made each time regime forces are able to gain territory. In other words, there is no better way to consolidate positions than with a ceasefire. Subsequently, the fighting can resume. The latest ceasefire should therefore be understood in strategic rather than “humanitarian” terms.

It is therefore clear that none of the aforementioned temporary proposals is feasible. A truce is possible only if all the opponents have common interests, or if they fear heavy foreign intervention. The Syrian situation is extremely different from that of Bosnia for example, where Serbs and Muslims shared an interest in managing the black market in Sarajevo, stocked during ceasefires by humanitarian convoys. In Syria, the fight is to the death, especially given what’s at stake for all parties involved.

About Author

Stefano Sarsale

Stefano is an analyst that holds two master’s degrees in International Relations and Security and Terrorism. Specialized in the MENA and South-east Asia, he previously worked for the Centre for International Studies (Ce.S.I.) in Rome, the University of Kent's Conflict Analysis Research Centre (CARC), the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv and the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC) in Brussels. He is also specialized in terrorism and conflict-related issued, on which he published a number of articles for the think tanks where he previously worked and the Analysis blog Europinione which he contributed to creating.