‘De-escalation zones’ are first steps towards Syria’s partition
The Astana peace talks added four new points to the Syrian issue. The purpose, however, was not to find permanent solutions in Syria to stop the bloodshed and end the war; rather, it was to give the international powers involved in the Syrian conflict some respite to put order in their plans and give proof of good faith in dealing with each other.
Their plan is to divide Syria into four “de-escalation zones.” One would be in Idlib province, another north of Homs, a third in East Ghouta and the fourth in southern Syria. The international powers apparently believe their interests will be secured and border zones between the four areas will be placed under international supervision.
Of course, the Syrian sides will have to approve the agreements but they have no choice or influence on how things are evolving.
Creating de-escalation zones and moving forward with the guardians’ agendas are the first steps towards Syria’s partition through the creation of areas of real influence from both local and external forces. This is particularly true in Idlib and southern Syria, along the borders with Turkey to the north and with Jordan to the south.
As we move away from these zones, however, partition becomes more complex and less likely. Several complications due to geography arise in East Ghouta and the northern region of Homs province. These areas share no international borders and, while controlled by the Syrian opposition forces, they are besieged by the Syrian Army.
There are also areas that have been purposely left out of the de-escalation zones, such as places north of the Euphrates, which are under the influence of the United States, which is supporting Kurdish armed units, and Turkey, which is providing support for the Free Syrian Army militia and anti-Kurdish Islamic factions. Let’s also not forget areas controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Nusra forces.
The northern area is vitally important if one wishes to cut off the geographical continuation between Iran on the one hand and Iraq, Syria and Lebanon on the other and thus weaken Hezbollah and safeguard Israel’s security. If the partition plan comes to pass, it will create another protracted conflict zone. Tehran will not easily acquiesce to any project between its Russian ally and its American foe that can result in Iran’s isolation.
We know that the Americans are insisting on removing Iranian and Hezbollah forces from Syria. It is also noteworthy that the areas of greater Damascus and the Syrian-Lebanese border where Iran’s and Hezbollah’s influences are strongest have been excluded from the partition scheme.
This geographical imbroglio is made worse by the warring parties’ refusal to make land concessions. Both the Syrian regime and its allies and the various opposition forces and their allies want to keep the status quo on the terrain. They know that any changes will lead to the creation of new conflict zones between new entities that would be difficult to control.
The Syrian conflict has had unprecedented political and human consequences and yet attempts to arrive at adequate solutions are still at the terminological level. A couple of years ago, we started hearing about “safe zones,” then we heard about “quiet zones” and now we hear about “de-escalation zones.”
With this last product from the Astana negotiations, international stakeholders in the Syrian conflict, particularly Russia, want to move to the phase of reaping the benefits of their involvement. The United States will get areas that are crucial to the security of its allies, namely Israel, Jordan and the Kurds. There are hints that Iran, which is deeply involved in Syria through a number of investments and projects, would be banned from making further investments in Syria.
“De-escalation zones” is just another name for a truce in the war against the Syrian people by the international stakeholders in Syria. It will be another brittle truce like the one decided between Russia and Turkey last December.
These “zones” have never been part of a peace plan for Syria. They are useless schemes for partitioning Syria into occupation and perpetual conflict zones. The blood-shedding machinery in Syria is intact and the Syrian population has no say in these pseudo-peace agreements.
Despite years of brutal war, those speaking in the name of the Syrian people have failed to adopt a clearly nationalistic Syrian vision for Syria.