After the fall of Eastern Ghouta, Assad still wants an Alawite state

Seven years down the road and the Syrian crisis is becoming more complicated.
Sunday 01/04/2018
Syrian boys play as a government soldier walks down a street in the town of Hazzeh in Eastern Ghouta, on March 28.(AFP)
Rough path. Syrian boys play as a government soldier walks down a street in the town of Hazzeh in Eastern Ghouta, on March 28.(AFP)

What’s going to happen to Eastern Ghouta after it has partially fallen into the hands of the Syrian regime? What will the regime do after it had kicked some of the inhabitants out of their land? Let’s not forget that the objective of the Syrian regime is to establish an Alawite state extending to the coast with Damascus as its capital.

The Syrian regime will be allowed to have its state if it agrees to certain conditions. Russia seems to be the only party capable of imposing them on the Syrian regime and its backer, Iran. Among the first objectives of these conditions is guaranteeing Israel’s security and ending the displacement of Sunni populations in Syria.

It is time for the Syrian regime to show that it can carry out what is required of it from an Israeli point of view, namely dividing Syria and making sure that it never rises again.

It is quite clear that the regime’s militias would have never taken Eastern Ghouta without an agreement at the highest levels, which must have included the United States. What other explanation is there after the United States closed its eyes to civilian bombardments by the Russian Air Force and on the regime’s use of barrel bombs and chemical weapons against Syrian citizens?

The US administration must have been in collusion with the Russians and the Syrian regime in their military campaign against Eastern Ghouta. If they weren’t, the Americans could have very easily launched a few anti-aircraft missiles against Russian planes to make Moscow think twice before going after women and children in Syria.

They could have taken practical measures to make the Syrian regime understand that US threats every time the regime resorted to chemical weapons against Syrian civilians are not meant just for internal consumption.

They didn’t do any of these things.

What comes after Eastern Ghouta? Is it true that Deraa is going to be the next target? If that’s the case, Jordan will be facing an Iranian presence on its borders and another onslaught of Syrian refugees into its territory. That would be unfortunate because Amman has done its best to stabilise the situation in southern Syria.

Jordan is going through a profound economic crisis because of unfavourable regional conditions. Jordanian King Abdullah II, however, will not hesitate to prevent changes along the country’s Syrian borders. He will react to stop Iranian expansion towards the borders. Iran has always nurtured the dream of infecting Jordan either directly or via its proxy militias prancing around the region.

Jordan is not the only target for Iran. For the Iranian regime, Syria is the definitive bridge to Lebanon and, along with Hezbollah, it is vital for its expansion towards the Mediterranean. In this design, Hezbollah is a mere brigade of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps with Lebanese members and must be maintained in Lebanon at all costs. The Iranian presence in Lebanon depends on its presence in Syria, which relies on keeping Bashar Assad’s regime alive in Damascus.

The crucial question is: Can the Russian side manage all these complications following the fall of Eastern Ghouta? Much of Russia’s success will depend on convincing Israel that Syria and Lebanon will be free of Iranian missiles aimed at it.

Of course, Israel will push for a bigger security zone that might include Damascus itself, especially now that the Trump administration is committed to satisfying Israeli wishes. The US administration is also committed to confronting Iran as suggested by the recent nominations of Mike Pompeo as secretary of state and John Bolton as national security adviser.

Pompeo and Bolton are known for their staunch anti-Iran positions. They consider the nuclear agreement with Iran a big mistake and will resort to imposing unacceptable conditions (from the Iranian point of view) on Iran for its renewal.

One of these conditions will require Iran to stop developing ballistic missiles with North Korean help. Iran’s nuclear programme has never been a problem. The biggest problem with Iran has always been its expansionist project coupled with its use of ballistic missiles in the implementation of this project. Missiles launched at Saudi Arabia from Yemen are the perfect illustration of this problem.

Seven years down the road and the Syrian crisis is becoming more complicated. If the Alawites wish to maintain control of Damascus, they will have to accept certain stringent conditions. We can expect an explosive spring and summer.

Next May is going to be crucial. If we look closely, we will see the etching of the territorial boundaries of the Alawite state with Damascus as its capital. The Americans are marking their territory in north-eastern Syria and the Turks in Aleppo.

Who will mark Iran’s territory in southern Syria? Most likely, it’ll be the Russians but their task will not be made easy by an American administration that does not distinguish between its interests and those of Israel.