Syria at core of Middle East problems and their solutions

Friday 25/09/2015

Syria has long been the key to the solutions of conflicts affecting the Middle East. We should remember, however, that a key has a dual function: it can open a door or it can lock the door. The key that is Syria has always been more comparable to the latter.
Remaining true to that line of thought is Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year. It is a war that unlocked doors leading to a number of dangerous pathways. Syrian President Bashar Assad’s refusal to step down has given rise to extremist Islamists, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State (ISIS).
The combination of the civil war and extremism shown by these groups has opened an unprecedented chapter of violence that has shocked the world. But Assad’s reluctance to drift into the sunset may open another door; this one bringing back the dangerous tensions of the Cold War.
The latest developments in the Syrian conflict seem to be the deployment on the government side of Russian troops. A develop­ment that has Washington as well as Tel Aviv worried.
In Washington, US President Barack Obama wasted no time condemning that move, saying Russia’s decision to send military advisers and equipment to Syria extended a strategy “doomed to failure” and could kill already stagnant peace efforts.
Not that I support the presence of more troops in the area, but if Obama believes the peace efforts under way are actually going to materialise into something concrete, then he is even less informed about the realities of the Middle East than I imagined him to be.
The US president said Russia’s decision to ramp up its military presence in Syria represented a “doubling down” of Moscow’s support for Assad.
Reports from Obama adminis­tration officials say Russia has sent a number of ships, armoured personnel carriers and infantry to Syria in recent weeks. Obama said that showed Assad was worried his grip on power was slipping.
“The strategy that they are pursuing right now, doubling down on Assad, I think is a big mistake,” Obama said, adding that this “strategy was doomed to failure”.
Russia and before it the Soviet Union have traditionally been strong supporters of Syria for a number of reasons, including the ability to use deep-water port facilities on the Mediterranean coast. This time, however, the Russians seem to take very seriously the threat of Islamist expansionism and with good reason given their large and restive Muslim population in the North Caucasus.
Russia, given its proximity to Islamist groups, takes the threats far more seriously than does the United States. Having already fought two wars in the Caucasus, Moscow would much rather face them down in Syria rather than in its own territory.
“The Russians are going to have to start getting a little smarter than they have been,” said Obama, who added that the presence of Russian troops in Syria would make the political settlement of the conflict much harder.
However, Obama appears to be somewhat overly optimistic if he truly believes he can bring about an early end to the conflict that has claimed more than 240,000 lives, destroyed the country and created one of the largest refugee crises in modern history.
Indeed, the Syrian civil war has unlocked many new doors but as, in the past, they all open to new centres of conflict, the latest being potentially the revival of the Cold War with Russians and Americans facing each other down over the Middle East once again.