By Joshua Tartakovsky, 28 February 2016
US Secretary of State, John Kerry, announced his Plan B this week as he attempted to flex his muscles following the two-week long ceasefire agreed to by the US and Russia: if the ceasefire in Syria fails, then Syria must be divided. In this way, Kerry attempted to cover the US concession for allowing two weeks of a respite, by taking a tough stance, and patronizingly suggesting the violation of Syria’s sovereignty.
Kerry should forgive others for not taking his ideas too seriously. After all, only two months ago Kerry visited Moscow where he said that US has in effect given up on its intentions for a regime change in Syria, only for the US to switch its version, as Obama said a mere three days later that “Assad must go.” The disappointment with Obama’s statement did not prevent the First Lady of Syria, Asma al Assad, from visiting the Basilica of Our Lady in Damascus, along with Bashar, the President of Syria. She posted on Facebook pictures from the event. The First Lady, Asma al Assadsaid that Syria remains a sovereign country regardless of US attempts at regime change.
Then, one month ago, Vice President Joe Biden announced in Istanbul, before the peace negotiations between the Syrian government and terrorist groups even began in Geneva, that if talks fail, US will support Erdogan’s Turkey in fighting against ISIS, although Turkey is obviously supporting ISIS. This meant that Biden encouraged the collapse of the talks in advance, and was hoping that US and Turkey would bring about a regime change in Syria by force, against the democratic wishes of the people there. Indeed, the Geneva talks collapsed shortly later, largely due to the rebels’ intransigence. While Russia and Syria continued the airstrikes, the rebels failed to provide a complete list of participants. Knowing that they have the West’s baking, the terrorist groups took a tough line and talks indeed unraveled. (While the Western media blamed Russia for the failure of the talks due to its continued bombing campaign, it is hard to take the West’s sudden concern with loss of human lives seriously, as by now it is rather clear that the US has in effect been helping jihadist groups in Syria while excuses which sounded reasonable earlier no longer seem feasible).
In the mean time, as the Syrian Arab Army made significant gains on the ground, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both supporters of the most radical Islamic elements one can imagine, announced their plans to attack Syria, in their supposed ‘fight’ against ISIL. What they probably wanted was to save their rebels who were trapped in a small enclave that included Aleppo after victories of the Syrian army. Neighboring regions were and are still being liberated.
A ceasefire agreed between the US and Russia, which began this Saturday, does not include ISIS and al Nusra. This means that Saudi Arabia and Turkey wish to continue to support an Islamist takeover of Syria while the US is distancing itself from the two. But at the same time, one should not engage in wishful thinking and assume that the US has let go of its plans for a regime change. Kerry’s statement of a Plan B should be seen as an attempt to scare Russia into submission and into “pragmatism” with a Saudi and Turkish attacks being the alternative.
Kerry has on various occasions reached understandings with Lavrov which then dissipated into thin air. Russia and Syria are likely to respect the ceasefire. Al Nusra and ISIS obviously will not. But Kerry, on a personal level, is probably not too keen on Erdogan. Perhaps his words on Plan B were meant to assuage Erdogan’s fears, rather than a pragmatic proposal. For this reason, the ceasefire is actually a Syrian achievement, as it means the West and its jihadist proxies have recognized their weaknesses in face of the Syria and Russian campaign against terrorism. Considering the fact that we have seen decades of Western unilateral invasions, this is not a small accomplishment.
Syria, the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran, should not fear Kerry’s threats. He has no right to decide on the internal affairs of Syria. And, after all, if the US was as powerful as it claims itself to be, it would have invaded Syria by now. But it cannot.
The first day of the ceasefire held fairly well. The Syrian Army, now in Khanasser, not far from Aleppo is happy about its recent victories. The jihadist opposition in besieged Aleppo, facing the Syrian army in all directions, have predictably already shelled Zahra, according to a report. Terrorists in Jobar and Douma shelled Damascus. But while it is expected that ISIS and al Nusra will seek greater attention to themselves, more groups are coming to their senses and the respite allows people who joined the rebels to realize that their actions were counterproductive and to recognize the Syrian government as sovereign. Indeed, al-Ganta, al-Telb and Nakhtah allowed the Syrian army to enter their provinces, thereby indicating their submission to the Syrian government. Almost 100 groups agreed to the ceasefire.
ISIS carried a suicide bombing near Hama killing two, but as flies seeking attention, it is merely trying to remind everyone at its relevance. Aleppo may even be captured and Nusra in Quenitra should be targeted, so that their fighters will flee towards Israel, making the latter pay a price for sponsoring terrorism.
A victory for Erdogan and the Saudis would be getting more rebel groups that signed the ceasefire to join ISIS and Nusra, but it appears that such an effort will fail. What the ceasefire will do, however, is allow Turkey and the Saudis to arm its rebels to a greater extend. By and large, the ceasefire proves that the Syrian government is the legitimate authority as more villages accepted its role.
It seems likely that the US chose a ceasefire as it wants to calm things down momentarily, perhaps because this is an election year, perhaps because it wishes to win back the Kurds to its side after itlost them to Russia, perhaps for other reasons.
The ceasefire will not hold for long. At the same time, an all-out conflageration can still be postponed, and what we may be more likely to see is the attempt to conquer given areas in Syria, under the excuse of creating “safe-zones.”
Erdogan is likely to try to sabotage in any way he can. After all, his hatred for the Kurdish YPG runs deep. He may even attack them and say that they attacked Turkey, as he has done with others in the past. He may order a jihadist group that signed the ceasefire to attack Syrian forces so as to bring on the action again. Erdogan is not known for his patience.
In the intermediate future, however, what we will see is probably a Western attempt at Plan B: Merkel supporting Erdogan and the Saudis as they try to occupy areas that will be run by terrorist groups. An attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syria may come later too. But while Western support for a jihadist takeover entire zones is likely, it cannot invade Syria as it invaded Iraq and Libya, and therefore Syria is managing to hold it ground which is quite an impressive feat at a time of US hegemony. Meanwhile, the Saudis are coming under increased pressure as the EU parliament just called for an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, due to their war crimes in Yemen.