The accepted premise of this trilateral solution is that Iran
are content that the regime has full access to the coast and a clear channel all the way to the Iraqi capital Baghdad
— through which Tehran
can slowly harass Israel
and dominate the region, and Moscow
can retain an airbase on the Mediterranean.
is meant to be happy as its proxies control the area west of the Euphrates Rivers along to Idlib, and provide a space for Sunni militants to create their own communities into which millions of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey
The unspoken annex to this is that the Americans retain adequate firepower and influence in the northeast for the area to remain a de facto Syria-Kurdish enclave for the years to come.
Long- and short-term flaws
Yet already the short-term flaws to this solution are emerging. Ankara
has its sights on harassing Manbij, just across to the west of the Euphrates, which is currently held by Syrian Kurds with American backing. And the regime is also eyeing the most populated area in the northwest, where Turkey
has large influence: Idlib. It is to Idlib that the Syrian Sunni rebels of Ghouta, Aleppo and elsewhere have fled, along with tens of thousands of civilians.
These are just the short-term problems. The longer-term ones are even harder to solve.
Essentially, this supposed trilateral arrangement fails to deal with the underlying demographic and sectarian issues that began the war in the first place.
Syria’s Sunnis rose up against a predominantly Shia regime in 2012. These Sunnis still lack proper representation or a functional homeland. They are squeezed into a tiny pocket of the northwest, and outside Syria’s borders into Turkey
, with many in Lebanon
Keeping this disenfranchised, beleaguered and under-resourced population in the rubble, tents and rural flatlands of Idlib won’t reduce the influence of extremists in their midst — it will amplify it.
There are two things you can count on in the months ahead: that Russia
and the regime will bombard Idlib and its thousands of civilians, and that the Sunni rebel militants who take shelter in it will respond as extremely as they can. Both sides will continue to do what they have done before.
Secondly, Syria’s Kurds, thanks to the near-defeat of ISIS
, control an outsized chunk of the northeast now. Everything east of the Euphrates River was not exclusively Kurdish before ISIS
and is not entirely so now, but the Syrian Democratic Forces are the unwavering authority there.
If the US
leaves, as President Donald Trump
has said is likely, then the Syrian Kurds will have to either forge a deal of coexistence with the Syrian regime or go it alone, potentially against both Turkish and regime forces.
Three forces, three agendas
Yes, the Iran- and Russia-backed Shia regime has solidified its control over the territory it wants, but the majority of the country — the Sunnis of Syria
— has not settled the question of where they will live and who will rule them. That started this, and must be resolved if it is to end.
Finally, Syria’s three dominant forces — Turkish-backed rebels, US-backed Syrian Kurds and the regime supported by Iran
— have backers with totally opposed agendas. Turkey
wants to defeat the Kurds. The regime wants to defeat the rebels Turkey
is backing, and keep the US
out. And the US
wants to defeat Iranian and regime ambitions in the region, while also keeping Russia
can smile for the cameras in Ankara
, but they still walk on Syria’s broken glass.