The Syrian conflict since 2011 is a constellation of overlapping crises. Each of its global, regional and sub-national dimensions demands a tailored response set within an overarching framework. Instead, chronic violence and worsening suffering have killed more than 250,000 people, fueling radicalisation, refugee flight and a self-sustaining war economy. Outside stakeholders must learn from the way the Syrian conflict has repeatedly dashed unrealistic expectations on all sides. Crisis Group pursues a comprehensive approach for achieving a sustainable decline in violence and, ultimately, a political settlement. We also seek to correct dominant narratives that focus on jihadism and migrant flows, which are the symptoms, rather than the causes, of the problem.
After an apparent chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb Saturday, the United States and its allies are considering retaliatory strikes against the Syrian government. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Sam Heller lays out the Douma attack's impact and the repercussions of a possible new U.S.-led intervention.
U.S. President Trump late March-early April plunged U.S. Syria policy into confusion, making clear he wants to seize territory still controlled by Islamic State (ISIS) and then withdraw in next several months; top military officials pushed back, highlighting risks of hasty withdrawal. Regime forces by mid-April had taken complete control of Eastern Ghouta, last significant rebel stronghold in greater Damascus; as talks over surrender deal stalled between govt and Jaish al-Islam, only rebel group still controlling part of Eastern Ghouta, regime 7 April allegedly conducted chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Douma, killing at least 42 people. In following hours, Jaish al-Islam accepted deal to evacuate thousands of fighters and civilians to Turkish-dominated territory north of Aleppo and release captives. U.S. and allies accused regime of conducting chemical attack, regime and Russia denied, with contradictory explanations. U.S., UK and France 14 April launched coordinated missile and airstrikes on three sites in Syria allegedly associated with regime’s chemical weapons program, informing Russia beforehand. Israel 9 April attacked air base in centre, which it had identified as command-and-control site for Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace in Feb, killing seven Iranians; Iran promised retaliation. Strikes on army bases in north 29-30 April, described by Syrian opposition as Israeli and by pro-Syrian govt website as Western, reportedly killed 38 Syrian soldiers in Hama and eighteen Iranian fighters. In north, Turkey established two more observation posts 3 and 7 April along front line between rebel-held Idlib province and regime-controlled territory, bringing total to nine and consolidating Russian-Turkish efforts to pacify north west. Infighting continued between rebel alliances Hei’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Jabhat Tahrir al-Sham (JTS): parties 7 April agreed on ceasefire for mediation, which failed and fighting resumed 15 April; HTS took several towns in southern Idlib province, but lost several in western Aleppo province. Regime forces late April bombed areas in south Damascus held by jihadists and other rebels, and prepared for expected offensive against besieged rebel enclave north of Homs.
An imminent military showdown in Idlib with disastrous human costs can be avoided only if Turkey strikes a deal between Russia, on one hand, and militants, on the other, and deploys its forces along the front lines to deter an escalation.
Facts on the ground in Syria are defining the contours of the country’s political future and also the geography of a looming clash between Israel, Hizbollah and other Iran-allied militias. Russia should broker understandings to prevent a new front from opening.
Host community hostility toward Syrian refugees is on the rise in Turkey’s metropolitan areas. In order to defuse tensions and mitigate rising intercommunal tensions, Ankara and its international partners should support long-term strategies for the Syrians’ sustainable integration.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and its Syrian affiliates face a stark choice: risk their gains in northern Syria through continued prioritisation of the PKK's fight against Turkey, or pursue local self-rule in the area they have carved out of the chaos of the Syrian war.
The U.S. campaign against ISIS in northern Syria both benefits from and is complicated by its partnership with an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group fighting against its NATO ally Turkey. The challenges will grow as the war on ISIS moves further east.
This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
Les Russes sont surtout en train de redéfinir les règles du face-à-face entre Israéliens et Iraniens en Syrie.
La Russie exprime de plus en plus son insatisfaction au sujet du conflit entre l’Iran et Israël en Syrie. Les Russes suggèrent à l’Iran, s’ils veulent agir contre Israël, de le faire ailleurs qu’en Syrie.
The Syrian regime is gaining militarily. It has little interest in negotiating at the national level. So there isn't a pathway right now for a sustainable political solution in Syria.
Even if [U.S.-led strikes in Syria are] a chemical weapons deterrent, that leaves a whole arsenal of conventional means with which people can be killed with few real repercussions.
Normalement, ces avertissements servent à minimiser les risques d’escalade, par exemple, si les forces russes sont frappées par inadvertance. Mais le tweet était une provocation. Il jette de l’huile sur le feu.
Moscow decided to be judge and jury [following Monday's airstrike on Iranian assets in Syria] — to side with Assad and Hezbollah, which were saying it was an Israeli attack, rather than siding with Israel.
With the U.S. threatening a retaliatory response to apparent chemical attacks in Syria and escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, Crisis Group has raised the threat of confrontation to the highest possible level in its early-warning platform the Iran-U.S. Trigger List.
Joost Hiltermann, Crisis Group's Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa talks about a new phase in Syria’s war that augurs escalation with Israel.
Originally published in Lowy Institute
Sultangazi is home to a mix of religious and ethnic groups – as well as 50,000 Syrian refugees. The district received the refugees warmly. But resentment is rising, as public services suffer and opposition forces suspect the ruling party of using refugees to exacerbate social divisions.
How can the dizzying changes, intersecting crises and multiplying conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab uprisings be best understood, let alone responded to? This long-form commentary by MENA Program Director Joost Hiltermann and our team steps back for a better look and proposes new approaches.