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.
The Syrian war grinds lethally on, as regime forces move to recapture rebel-held areas. In our first-ever illustrated commentary, Crisis Group explores one holdout, Idlib, where three million Syrians – many already displaced – chafe at jihadist rule but dread the coming onslaught.
Pro-govt forces backed by Russian air power late June stepped up offensive to retake from rebels area in south west toward Jordanian border raising risk of escalation in July, as U.S. and Turkey agreed on way forward for control of Manbij in north. Govt’s campaign in south west defied U.S. warnings – reiterated 21 June – to President Assad and his Russian allies of “serious repercussions” if they violated de-escalation agreement for south west negotiated in 2017 by U.S., Russia and Jordan. But U.S. late June told Syrian rebels in south west not to expect military support from it. Upsurge in violence caused at least 45,000 people to flee; Jordan late June said it would not open its border. In east, Islamic State (ISIS) offensive on al-Bukamal near Iraqi border 8 June caused dozens of casualties among pro-govt forces, reportedly including Syrian and non-Syrian Iran-backed forces. Alleged Israeli airstrikes 17 June near al-Bukamal caused dozens more casualties among pro-govt forces; Iraqi Shia militia Popular Mobilisation Units said airstrike, for which it held U.S. responsible, killed 22 of its fighters, U.S. denied it or any anti-ISIS coalition member were involved. U.S. Sec State Pompeo and Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu 4 June signed roadmap for addressing control of Manbij in north which Syrian Democratic Forces led by Kurdish-dominated People’s Protection Units (YPG) – U.S. ally which Turkey sees as threat – took from ISIS in 2016. Both sides said agreement will see YPG cadres withdraw from town to area east of Euphrates river, but most details yet to be negotiated. In first phase, U.S. and Turkish militaries 18 June began patrols along front line separating pro-Turkish and pro-YPG forces west of Manbij city. UN-led political process saw increased activity: after govt late May submitted list of nominees for committee to be charged with rewriting constitution, UN convened meetings of Russia, Turkey and Iran in Geneva 19 June and of U.S., UK, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Jordan 25 June.
As the Syrian regime masses its forces to recapture the country’s south west from the opposition, another humanitarian disaster looms. The U.S., Russia and Jordan, which brokered a south-western ceasefire in 2017, should urgently extend that truce in preparation for a broader settlement.
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.
Jusque-là, les Russes sont restés relativement passifs et ont laissé les Israéliens bombarder plusieurs positions en Syrie. Mais avec l’avancée significative de Bachar Al Assad, dans la région, leur calcul a changé, les Russes veulent rétablir la stabilité du régime. Ils pourraient bien considérer la prochaine frappe israélienne comme une violation du territoire syrien et, dans ce cas, les conséquences seront difficiles à prévoir.
We are entering a new stage of the relationship with Russia and Israel as it comes to Syria, and we will see more divergences. If Israel does not find a way to drive a wedge between the Iranians and the Syrians in the long term, then, whether in a few weeks, or a few months, the Iranians will return to south-west Syria.
[The last rebel stronghold in southwestern Syria] presented a problem for the regime and its Russian and Iranian backers. The presence of Iranian-backed militias in the region would be a red line for Israel. The Russians have therefore been looking for a way to negotiate a deal whereby the takeover of the south would be peaceful, with political agreement. As far as we can tell, this hasn’t come about yet, but may still be being negotiated.
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.
Originally published in The Times of Israel
Originally published in War on the Rocks
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.
Russia’s proposal for humanitarian corridors for Eastern Ghouta and Rukban camp have little chance of mitigating suffering there. Instead, Moscow should push for a negotiated resolution of Eastern Ghouta through UN Security Council Resolution 2401 and secure normal aid agency access to Rukban, thereby enhancing its credibility as a mediator.
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.