Aleppo seals win for authoritarian alliance
The fall of Aleppo marks the victory of an authoritarian alliance stretching from Tehran to Moscow, analysts say - and the biggest win yet for President Bashar AlAssad since civil war erupted in 2011. His regime’s total control over east Aleppo, declared Thursday, was obtained with pitiless brute force that has reduced much of the country’s former economic heart to rubble, in a war that has killed more than 310,000 people nationwide.
“The first lesson this teaches is that brute force pays off, and that abstention has a price,” said Bruno Tertrais from France’s Foundation for Strategic Research. The force, he said, comes from “the massive involvement of Russia and Iran, who have changed the course of the war” by ploughing air power, weapons, money and might into destroying the rebels. The abstention, he added, was “American nonintervention in 2013”, when President Barack Obama failed to follow through on his threat to act if Assad crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons.
It was in 2013, too, two years after the start of the uprising, that Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia, its ally, announced their entry into the conflict on the side of the regime. Russia threw itself into the fight two years after that, turning the tide for Assad. “The Russian involvement was when it really ended, when we knew nothing could be done”, one French diplomatic source said bitterly. Analysts say the fall of Aleppo has brought Turkey - which for years backed the opposition against Assad but then helped Russia to organize the final evacuation of the city’s rebel zone - into the authoritarian alliance.
Now Ankara sits alongside Moscow, Tehran and Damascus in being able to dictate the terms of a political settlement in Syria in “negotiations between friends”, as one European diplomat put it. Each sees its own interests in Syria’s future: for Turkey, a stable neighbor on its border, a diplomatic ally for Iran and as a “useful” tool for Russia, notably against US influence.
Assad, meanwhile, has a long way to go to regain others parts of Syria in the hands of opposition forces, Kurdish fighters, and Islamic State jihadists. Aleppo has suffered such huge devastation because of sustained fighting and massive aerial bombardment that it will take years for the city to recover. “This is a Pyrrhic victory”, warns researcher Karim Bitar at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs. “On the one hand, it has accentuated the frustration and humiliation felt by Syrians. On the other, the Russians are already starting to feel the consequences”, he said, referring to the assassination of Moscow’s ambassador to Turkey Monday by a man seeking to avenge Aleppo.
Foreign powers which have backed the Syrian opposition, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some Western states, come out after the Aleppo defeat weakened, analysts said, consigned to an observer status. Tertrais underscores that Aleppo’s fall, and the resurgence of Assad, was not an “inevitable” outcome of the war but a consequence of inaction by Washington and its allies. “This is not a question of Western powerlessness. It is a question of a lack of willpower,” he said. As Elliot Abrams noted in a recent Council of Foreign Relations brief, US policy of non-intervention looks set to continue in the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, which is more likely to see action supporting democracy as a luxury the West cannot afford in the face of Islamist threats. — AFP