Damascus, al­lies up­beat on Trump win, await poli­cies

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad and his al­lies hope to ben­e­fit from Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion win, be­liev­ing it has saved them from the risks of an in­ter­ven­tion­ist Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion. Trump’s win may have al­ready shifted the course of the Rus­sian­backed mil­i­tary cam­paign in Aleppo. A se­nior proAs­sad of­fi­cial told Reuters that plans to cap­ture the rebel-held east by Jan­uary were shaped around an as­sump­tion Clin­ton would win.

The con­fi­dence in Damascus will have been jus­ti­fied if some of Trump’s com­ments on Syria crys­tal­lize into pol­icy, though there are ques­tions over how far he will fol­low through on sug­ges­tions such as co­op­er­at­ing with Rus­sia - As­sad’s most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary ally - against Is­lamic State. One com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor could be Trump’s tough stance on Iran, As­sad’s other main mil­i­tary backer. Trump has threat­ened to rip up the nuclear deal with Iran and heaped crit­i­cism on the sanc­tions re­lief it brought. Long-stand­ing Repub­li­can aver­sion to As­sad may also block any big pol­icy shift, an­a­lysts say. Yet Trump has struck a dif­fer­ent tone to cur­rent US pol­icy on some as­pects of the multi-sided Syr­ian con­flict, where the United States with al­lies Turkey and Saudi Ara­bia has backed some of the in­sur­gents who have been fight­ing to top­ple As­sad for more than five years. Trump has ques­tioned the wis­dom of back­ing rebels, played down the US goal of get­ting As­sad to leave power, and noted that while he didn’t like him, “As­sad is killing ISIS” with Iran and Rus­sia. ISIS is an acro­nym for Is­lamic State.

“This is very com­fort­ing for us and our al­lies in Syria,” said the se­nior of­fi­cial in the mil­i­tary al­liance fight­ing in sup­port of As­sad, who is backed by the Rus­sian air force, Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards, Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah, and other mili­tias. “The wave is cur­rently with us, serv­ing our in­ter­ests, and we must ben­e­fit from it as fully as pos­si­ble,” said the of­fi­cial, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied by na­tion­al­ity or af­fil­i­a­tion so he could give a frank as­sess­ment.

The war has shat­tered Syria into a patch­work of ar­eas con­trolled by As­sad’s state, rebels bat­tling to top­ple him, a pow­er­ful Kur­dish mili­tia, and the Is­lamic State group. It has killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, and cre­ated the world’s worst refugee cri­sis. While Washington has pro­vided sig­nif­i­cant sup­port to the op­po­si­tion, it has never matched the back­ing given to As­sad by Rus­sia and Iran. The rebels have seen US pol­icy as a be­trayal of their re­volt, with Washington fo­cus­ing mostly on the fight against IS in the last two years.

Trump ‘a New Fac­tor’ for Damascus

The ground war be­tween As­sad and the rebellion has this year fo­cused largely on Aleppo, in the north west of Syria. The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to re­cap­ture the rebel-held east of the city, the op­po­si­tion’s most im­por­tant ur­ban strong­hold. Ex­pec­ta­tions of a Hil­lary Clin­ton win have been shap­ing mil­i­tary plan­ning in the Aleppo cam­paign for some time, and the aim had been to con­clude the cam­paign be­fore the new US pres­i­dent took of­fice, the se­nior of­fi­cial said.

While that is still the plan, the of­fi­cial said Trump’s vic­tory was a “new fac­tor”. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin would “cer­tainly have a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to­wards the en­tire Syr­ian cri­sis based on what will hap­pen with Trump”. The Syr­ian news­pa­per Al-Watan said most Syr­i­ans had felt “joy” at the result, and that many had spent the night up fol­low­ing the US elec­tion. Trump had no de­signs in Syria, or the re­gion, it de­clared. While some in the op­po­si­tion ex­pressed con­cern about Trump’s state­ments and views on Putin, oth­ers still hold out hope for a US pol­icy that serves their cause. A se­nior rebel leader noted Trump’s views on Iran were “pos­i­tive” for the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion. “To­day, the role of the United States re­mains ac­tive and es­sen­tial in Syria, re­gard­less of whether he tries to dis­tance him­self from it, he won’t be able to,” said the rebel, who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied so he could talk freely. — Reuters

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