These lines are being written as more than two million frightened people in Idlib in Northwestern Syria are expecting the military of President Bashar Assad to enter the city. Almost one million people are expected to flee if the Syrian forces decide to occupy Idlib.
The US, Russia and Turkey attempted to reach an agreement with the rebels’ militias that rule the city, but with no success. The rebels who rule the town, which is divided between different militias, were gathered in it following an agreement with Assad to leave other cities and towns and dwell in Idlib. While some militias decided to negotiate with the Russians, others refused to do so, a situation that brings the Syrian regime closer to military confrontation with the rebels. It is evident that without an agreement between the two sides, the Syrian military will launch a massive attack that will put an end to eight years of bloody civil war.
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The West is doing nothing to prevent Assad from massacring the people of Idlib. Thus, the Americans let Russia, Turkey and Iran form the basis of a joint meeting between the Syrian regime and representatives of the rebellious militias. A summit is scheduled on Friday in Geneva in order to negotiate a future Syrian constitution, but the US is enabling Russia, Turkey, the EU member states and other countries to play a pivotal role.
The Trump administration does not want to be perceived as having responsibility for the future of Syria, so other international actors are being left to deal with the Assad regime, which will shortly emerge triumphant out of the civil war. The big question is, therefore, what will be the future of millions of innocent people who live in Idlib and depend on the diplomatic maneuvers of Moscow, Ankara and Tehran?
In the meantime, Israel sees how Iran becomes the principal power in the new Syrian state. Iran will help Assad to rebuild his military, restore its deterring capabilities, and forge the Syrian Army in the spirit of the Iranian mullahs. The huge cost of rebuilding the Syrian Army will make the task hard for the Iranian regime, which is suffering a serious financial crisis. However, Tehran is ready and willing and knows that it can get serious benefits from controlling Syria.
It will not be easy for Iran to get control over Syria, mainly due to the cultural gap between the two countries. But it seems that the ayatollahs are determined to expand their influence over Damascus. Russia, the US and Israel will not allow the Iranians to do whatever they wish in Syria, but it seems that the American administration doesn’t regard the problem of Iranian presence in Syria as acute.
In addition, Russia will permit the Iranians to be involved in the country’s future if they can manage to keep their interests safe. The US refused the Russian offer to take its military out of Syria in return for new deployment of Iranian forces in the country, but it is, in fact, doing zero to stop the Iranians from moving forward to controlling Syrian soil with the Russians.
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Neither Russia nor Iran are impressed by Israeli threats to prevent Iran from playing a crucial role in Damascus. Without the US, it seems, the future of Syria is doomed. Although Syria prefers to have its future associated with countries like Russia and China (Russia will be responsible for recovering the country’s oil fields), it is clear that Iran will get its share. In the meantime, Idlib is left to its destiny: The forces that might attack the city will certainly not differentiate between terrorists and innocent civilians. There is no single international force that wishes to save the city from a bloodbath being committed by the Syrian Army.
The writer is a prospective PhD student of ancient Near East studies at Bar-Ilan University.
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