Syria: key to Mideast problems and solutions

Arab World Materials 18 September 2015 15:21 (UTC +04:00)
Syria has long held the key to the solution of conflicts affecting the Middle East. We should remember however
Syria: key to Mideast problems and solutions

By Claude Salhani- Trend:

Syria has long held the key to the solution of conflicts affecting the Middle East. We should remember however that a key has a dual function: it can open a door or it can lock the door, making it all that much harder to re-open.

Syria's ongoing civil war, now in its fifth year, has unlocked doors leading to a number of very dangerous pathways. Syrian President Bashar Assad's refusal to step down from power has given rise to extremist Islamists such as the Jabhat al-Nusra or yet the group going by the name Islamic State.

The combination of the civil war and the extremism shown by these groups has opened an unprecedented chapter of violence that has shocked the world. But now Assad's reluctance to give up power as other Arab dictators have done in recent years, may yet open another door; this one bringing back the dangerous tensions of the cold war and the near nuclear disasters it produced.

The latest developments in the Syrian conflict seems to be the deployment on the government side of Russian troops. A development that has Washington as well as Tel Aviv very worried.

In Washington, US President Barack Obama wasted no time condemning that move, saying Russia's decision to send military advisors and equipment to Syria extended a strategy "doomed to failure," and could kill off already stagnant peace efforts.

Not that I support the presence of more troops in the area, but if Obama believes the peace efforts currently underway are actually going to materialize into something concrete, then he is even less informed about the realities of the Middle East than I initially imagined him to be.

The US president said Russia's decision to ramp up its military presence in Syria represented a "doubling-down" of Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Reports from US officials say Russia has sent a number of ships, armored personnel carriers and naval infantry to the country in recent weeks. Obama said that showed Assad was worried about his grip on power slipping.

"The strategy that they are pursuing right now, doubling down on Assad, I think is a big mistake," Obama said, adding that this "strategy was doomed to failure".

Russia, even before it was the Soviet Union, has traditionally been a strong supporter of Syria, for a number of reasons, including their ability to use its deep water port facilities on the Mediterranean coast.

This time however the Russians seem to be worried about the threat of Islamist expansion, and with good reason given their large and restive Muslim population in the North Caucasus.

Russia, given its proximity to the Islamist groups takes the threats far more seriously than does the United States. Having already fought two wars in the Caucasus, Moscow would much rather face them down in Syria than in that of the former Soviet Union.

"The Russians are going to have to start getting a little smarter than they have been," said Obama, who went on to say that the presence of Russian troops in Syria would make the political settlement of the conflict all that much harder.

However Obama appears to be somewhat over optimistic if he truly believes he can bring about an early end to the four-year-old conflict that has claimed more than 220,000 lives, destroyed the country, and created one of the largest refugee crises in modern history. One that is far from over or contained.

Indeed, the Syrian civil war has unlocked many new doors but as in the past they all open to new centers of conflict, the latest being potentially the revival of the cold war with Russians and Americans facing each other down over the Middle East once again.

Claude Salhani is senior editor at Trend Agency. You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani