Opinion: Understanding the Syrian Conflict, and How It Can Be Resolved

With more than 400,000 dead people and 5,000,000 registered refugees, the Syrian conflict has become one of the worst humanitarian crises in contemporary History. Despite these shocking numbers, the common reactions have failed to see the complexity of the situation and the ulterior motives of the players who have long been involved in this conflict.

What started out as peaceful manifestations demanding basic rights quickly escalated into a civil war which itself turned into an international conflict. It is essential to note that there are not only Assad forces, Rebel forces and ISIL forces in Syria, but also AL-Nusra Front, the Kurdish YPG, Turkish forces and many others.

Assad’s regime has mainly been fighting the Rebel forces, backed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, with occasional skirmishes with ISIL. Russia, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah have been supporting Assad’s forces and fighting ISIL too. On the other hand, the Rebel forces, also referred to as the moderate opposition, have clashed with ISIL, Assad and his allies’ forces and the Kurdish YPG. The latter, which de facto established an autonomous region in the north on the Turkish borders, have clashed with the Turkish military, since Turkey considers them to be a threat. Add to that, there is the U.S. led international coalition to fight ISIL which has been bombing ISIL for years now, and supporting fighters both in Iraq and Syria who are considered as the moderate opposition. The United States also provided training and logistic support to these fighters along with the Kurdish YPG.

If one puts these pieces together, the situation turns out to be the complete opposite of a binary choice between Assad and the Rebels when the dust is settled. One needs to bear in mind the ulterior motives that guide these players as well as the nature of the enmities between them. ISIL and all other Jihadist groups want to establish an Islamic “Khilafa”, the Kurds want autonomous rule like Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey sees a Kurdish state or region by its borders as a threat and wants Assad gone, etc.

U.S. Strike, a Possible Intervention?

The status quo indicates that the U.S. strike on Shayraat airfield on April 7th was just a reactionary punishment for the presumed use of chemical weapons by the regime, and not a declaration of war on Syria. As mentioned above, the U.S. has been involved in the conflict for years, and is currently preparing an assault on Raqqa, the last stronghold of ISIL. In this assault, Turkey is a crucial ally; but, the latter refuses to fight along the YPG, which is considered by the US as a more effective force than the Turkish backed moderate opposition Arab forces. All this leaves everything on standby for now.

A full intervention in the Syrian conflict by the U.S. will have serious repercussions on Syria and the whole region as it will leave Syria as a destroyed and worn-out failed state- like in the case of Iraq. Also, it is not in anyone’s interest to further nourish anti-American and anti-Western sentiment that fuels religious extremism.

A Political Solution?

A peaceful resolution is the only way the conflict is resolved with minimum risks to the integrity of the Syrian state. Western mediation to talks between the regime and the moderate opposition has proven to be unsuccessful which signals the need to an alternative. At the same time, the Arab League has shown itself to be unmoved by the intensity of the conflict and its repercussions. It is time for the Arab leaders to overcome their differences and enmities and gather to mediate the resolution of the conflict. The Arab League can provide the political umbrella for the successful resolution of the conflict through multilateral talks with all of the parties involved and with the participation of the UN. This means Assad’s government, the moderate opposition, representatives on behalf of the Kurdish forces and Turkey to guarantee that it will not intervene. A possible political resolution can be achieved if all parties show rationale and put the interest of the Syrian people ahead of their aspirations. Terminating the terrorist threat of ISIL, Al Nusra and the rest of the Jihadist groups should be the focus of all parties.

In these talks, Tunisia can play an active role for several reasons. Although its democratic transition faces several challenges, Tunisia is the only democracy in the Arab League which can grant it a certain authority. Moreover, it has always been neutral when it comes to other Arab states’ internal issues, except for diplomatic crisis with Syria in the Troika period. This same past crisis is another reason for Tunisia to take part in the resolution of the conflict as it will be a huge step to remedy the bilateral relations between the two countries. Tunisia has also been a part of a tripartite initiative with Egypt and Algeria to solve the Libyan crisis; it can do the same in Syria. An active role in the resolution of the Syrian crisis can go a long way in boosting Tunisia’s image within the international community and further highlight the perks of having a democracy in the Arab League, hence attracting more support for our transitional transition.

Article Written by Aymen Bessalah 

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