Monday, August 8, 2016

Aleppo' victory: more a moment of truth for all than a turning point

A screengrab of a video showing RBK-500 ZAB-2.5SM incendiary munitions, believed to contain thermite, on a Russian jet in Syria. CREDIT: RT

“At the [Turkish] border yesterday we counted tens of trucks bringing in weapons,” said one Syrian activist, who crosses between Syria and neighbouring Turkey. “It’s been happening daily, for weeks... weapons, artillery  were not just talking about some bullets or guns.

Of course outside forces helped rebels break the siege of Aleppo. This is a proxy war after all, isn’t it? Russia and Iran have their clients and mercenaries; Saudi and Turkey have theirs. And the Obama administration is more than happy to just watch on, even as Obama gets more and more grey hairs. Erdogan might want to “reset Russia ties from clean slate,” but that’s no reason not strengthen his hand in any talks about the future of Aleppo and Turkish influence in northern Syria.  

As for those who object to Turkey’s and Saudi’s willingness to support Jihadis, even those with Al-Qaeda connections, it’s not really clear why should this be more appalling than Iran’s and Russia’s support for the Assad regime whose war crimes dwarf anything that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have done so far in Syria and Iraq. True, Al-Qaeda might pose more direct threat to the outside world than the Assad regime, but I doubt if that makes any difference to Assad’s Syrian victims, or their families. Those appalled by Saudi’s and Turkey’s actions but not Iran’s and Russia’s seem to think that their lives and interests matter more than Syrian lives and interests, or, to be more blunt and in tandem with the spirit of the times, Syrian Arab Sunni lives and interests.  

Be that as it may, and depending on how talks between Erdogan and Putin will proceed, among other ongoing talks, this might be the right time for another round of official talks in Geneva. For breaking the Aleppo siege comes as a tactical recalibration and does not constitute a turning point in the conflict, as some might think. For just as regime gains in Aleppo were reversed, rebel gains can also be reversed, especially should the political opposition fail to see them in their proper context.

Meanwhile, and just to drive the latter point home, expect Russia and Iran to react to their recent reversals through increased escalation, with the former intensifying its airstrikes using more horrible and banned munitions, and the latter sending more Shia militias, including Hezbollah elite units, to support the embattled regime death squads.