Events

The Captagon problem has been one of the most critical security dilemmas for Jordan, due to the increasing attempts of drug and weapon trafficking into its borders that became a threat to Jordan’s national security according to a formal assessment paper, along with the ineffectiveness of the current mechanisms to deter the actors involved in Captagon, particularly Iran-backed militias and the Syrian regime. Although the 2017 de-escalation agreement is supposed to grant Iran-backed militias being pushed back 40 km from the Jordanian border, Russia has not completely fulfilled its pledges. The Russian-sponsored settlements of 2018 and 2021 have failed to introduce a security-providing environment through the DDR process of opposition armed groups in Syria’s Daraa. 

The security dynamics of the settlements have played a crucial role in creating a Captagon-friendly environment i.e. the absence of a hegemon actor with the involvement of Russia, Iran, and the regime, in addition to former opposition groups which underwent a transformation process in terms of their motivations (political or economic) and objectives of the use of force (zero-sum or variable-sum). Many of the armed groups that had fought fiercely against the Syrian regime gave up on their political aspiration and became involved in Captagon trafficking. This article provides insight into the security landscape, particularly the interconnection between security and Captagon, as a war economy dynamic, in Syria’s Daraa, and ultimately proposes alternative policy scenarios. 

The Status Quo of the Settlements

The settlements of 2018 and 2021 between the Syrian regime and opposition factions under Russian auspices resulted, mainly, in the piecemeal return of the regime’s security apparatuses to the governorate, and the integration of many opposition fighters into these apparatuses, without achieving concrete progress vis-a-vis the detainees or forcibly-disappeared persons in regime’s prisons. Since the first settlement, Daraa has been characterized by a fragile security with the prevailing wide scale, politically motivated to a large extent, violence against various civil and armed individuals, let them be affiliated with the opposition or the regime.

Assassinations and detentions, at which dozens of individuals are targeted monthly, have been the regime’s tools to eliminate his opponents relying, for the most part, on the Military Intelligence Branch of Daraa/Swayda, led by  “Loay al-Ali”– an EU, UK, and Canada sanctioned Brigadier-General who was promoted to his current position before the 2018 settlement after he served head of the military intelligence/Daraa section between 2011 and 2018.

Thus, the regime rested on a variable-sum use of force to strengthen its territorial control, eliminate opponents, benefit economically from Captagon trafficking, and underpin its central role in the settlement status quo. Yet, even the transformation of regime behavior from zero-sum to variable-sum is mainly a result of Russian diplomatic coercion and the externally imposed status quo in Syria i.e. the relatively frozen conflict that started to arise in 2018.

The Transformation of the Opposition Armed Groups

Former opposition armed groups in Daraa have pursued different survival strategies to cope with or counter-balance the increasing security leverage of the regime in the governorate. Their transformations have generated different types of armed groups with varying motivations and objectives. While the 8th brigade became mainly motivated by preserving the settlement’s status quo that granted the brigade territorial control over some localities and a maneuvering ability to expand influence; other groups, many of which became associated with the regime, have relinquished their political motivations for economic ones through getting involved in Captagon trafficking and/or thuggery activities.

The 8th brigade led by the former opposition commander, Ahmed al-Oda, and composed mainly of former opposition fighters of “Sunna Youth Forces,” has maintained its territorial control in Eastern Daraa’s Busra al-Sham since its establishment under Russian auspices in the aftermath of the first settlement in 2018. Given the relatively secure environment with the lowest assassination rate and the better governance services in areas under its control in comparison with other areas in Daraa, the brigade has managed to preserve social support and counterbalance the regime’s influence seeking to preserve the settlement status quo. Yet, the brigade increased its leverage through variable-sum use of force.

The 8th brigade conducted multiple security operations against ISIS or groups accused of ISIS affiliation in different parts of Daraa such as Jasim in Western Daraa in August 2022 and Daraa al-Balad neighborhood where the operation eliminated the Hafo-Harfoush militia in December 2022. These operations were conducted after the regime’s escalation and threats to launch offensives in these areas under the pretext of ISIS cells, in which the 8th brigade capitalized on the social rejection of the regime’s interference and its connections with local Sheikhs and dignitaries. In addition to its previous intermediary role between the regime and local communities to ease escalation such as the cases of the 2022 March escalation in Jasim and the 2020 February escalation in al-Sanamayn city Northwestern Daraa. Moreover, the 8th brigade has also targeted other groups involved in Captagon trafficking in Northeastern Daraa including a group affiliated with Fayez al-Radi, a former opposition commander assassinated after an escalation with the 8th brigade.

Other groups such as those led by Mustafa al-Masalmeh and Imad Abu Zureiq, the two former opposition commanders, have not only given up their political struggle against the regime after the settlement but also became affiliated with the regime, as they became motivated by economic motives under the new status quo, where the regime became superior. As such, they have been involved in trafficking Captagon drugs, imposing levies on locals, and conducting assassinations against regime opponents on behalf of the military intelligence – which is managing militias and receiving levies from them.

By April 2023, both Abu Zureiq and al-Masalmeh were sanctioned, along with Assad family-affiliated individuals including his cousins, by the U.S., EU, and UK for their involvement in the production and export of the Captagon. However, al-Masalmeh was later killed after several attempts on his life by local factions due to his involvement in assassinating numerous opponents of the regime.

Hafo-Harfoush militia is another armed group led by two former opposition commanders Muhammad al-Masalmeh and Moayad Abdel-Rahman who -unlike other opposition groups- rejected the settlements and refused to be displaced to Northern Syria. They were, territorially, located in Daraa al-Balad neighborhoods until getting defeated by local factions supported by the 8th brigade in November 2022, for their links to ISIS cells, implication in assassinations against opposition figures based on revenge motives, and involvement in thuggery activities such as theft and imposing levies on locals. All of these security dynamics illustrate the overlap of security and war economy, notably the Captagon trade.

Alternative Policies: Addressing the Captagon Dilemma

Sanctions have not been effective in impelling the regime to make concrete concessions or changes such as in the case of the military intelligence in Daraa and similarly had no impact on the former opposition commanders, currently affiliated with the regime. The Arab engagement with the Syrian regime has not only failed to make progress in countering the Captagon trafficking, but the trafficking itself also increased after the normalization talks that led to the regime’s return to the Arab League in May, let alone the increasing technological capabilities of drug traffickers such as the use of drones

For regional policy implication: First, Jordanian national security should be considered vital for regional security by Jordan’s international and Arab allies against the Iranian aspiration for a next domino after Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. Second, the assumption that the Syrian regime possesses the willingness and/or the capacity to counter the Captagon problem or disassociate from Iran should be reconsidered. Third, policy options should account for the interconnection of regime-affiliated security actors and Captagon trafficking, and the increasing capabilities of Captagon networks. The May statement by the Jordanian foreign minister on the prospect of taking military action to counter the Captagon threat in Syria and the three Jordanian airstrikes targeting drug smugglers and factories in May, August, and December, highlight an alternative policy based on coercive means that can and should be adopted in countering drug trafficking.

Given the lack of a comprehensive solution, three alternative policy scenarios can be illustrated:

  • Strengthening state institutions: The interconnection between the regime and the smuggling networks, its use of the Captagon as a weapon, and the current inability to enforce security sector reform on the regime render the latter unreliable in countering the Captagon.
  • Proactive targeting of Captagon networks: The Jordanian previous airstrikes were reactive in nature and limited in scale. A proactive strategy shall, rather, be focused on targeting the factories operating in different locations across Syria as well as the Captagon barons. Such a strategy requires U.S. and regional support in addition to coordination with Russia.
  • Buffer zone: A demilitarization process in Southern Syria that necessarily requires a new status quo i.e. a new agreement with Russia and a new settlement that involves demilitarization. Such a scenario would prevent a potential spillover of the Gaza war to Southern Syria – which is, perhaps, in the interest of all parties involved. However, the technical challenges in enforcing and monitoring such settlement will not be easy to deal with.

Finally, the dynamics of the settlement in Daraa, its security repercussions, and its interconnection with the war economy can no longer be ignored, especially with the outstanding risk of spillover into the neighboring Sweida that has been gripped by a state of unrest since August.

 

The Source : Politics and Society Institute

Article link: https://bit.ly/3GZZjSc

Published in Articles
Thursday, 21 December 2023 14:52

Gaza War: The Responses of Syria’s Local Actors

Given Syria's involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948, solidarity with Palestine has been a fundamental element within Syria's political culture. Regarding Syria's local actors’ stances on Gaza war (Syrian regime, Syrian opposition, “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham”, and “Syrian Democratic Forces”), while there is consensus in expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, their approaches to the war varied significantly in respective to their stances on Hamas, the “al-Aqsa flood” operation, and how they used the war in their different political strategies. These differences stemmed from a blend of ideological political identities on one hand and objective considerations related to their different relations with international and regional actors on the other. This article provides insight into the discourse projected by these actors on Gaza.

The Syrian regime has consistently propagated a narrative of resistance since the onset of the Gaza war, publishing official statements through its foreign ministry or speeches delivered by its prominent figures, notably Bashar al-Assad and his Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad. The regime praised the “al-Aqsa flood” operation as a “glorious achievement,” linking it to the October 1973 war due to its historical significance as a victory within the Syrian and Arab narrative.

Using the Gaza war in emotional mobilization of its popular incubator and its narrative of conspiracy, the regime associated the Israeli aggression with the ongoing struggle in Syria, holding Israel accountable for supporting the perpetrators of the drone attack on the Homs Military Academy on October 5th. This sentiment was further underscored by Mekdad when he criticized the stances of the United States and European states on Gaza accusing them of “Western deceit and open appetite for killing Arabs, including Palestinians.” In response to Israeli escalation of targeting various Iranian and regime sites in Syria, the regime continued to propagate a discourse centered on the right to defend sovereignty and reclaiming the Golan Heights within the 1967 borders.

By political means, the Syrian regime leveraged the regional atmosphere after the Gaza war to bolster its diplomatic activity within the Arab League and its bilateral diplomatic engagement with various Arab countries. While Assad advocated for halting the process of Arab-Israeli normalization during the extraordinary joint Arab Islamic summit on Gaza in November, the regime did not record formal reservation on any of the summit's resolution provisions, including having “normal relations with Israel,” a reservation upheld by Algeria, Iraq, and Tunisia (1).

This reflects the regime's alignment with the official and prominent Arab stance concerning the Israeli aggression on Gaza in formal diplomatic means, while concurrently maintaining a vehement anti-Israeli and anti-Western sentiment through its rhetoric, as a cornerstone of the “axis of resistance” led by Iran.

“Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” adopted a different narrative toward the “al-Aqsa flood” operation in comparison to jihadist groups - al-Qaeda and its branches - that advocated in their statements for jihad and targeting Western sites in Muslim countries. HTS's official rhetoric, expressed through statements by its “Syrian Salvation Government,” revolved around praising the operation carried out by Hamas, endorsing the Palestinian people's right of “the entire liberation of Palestinian land,” and calling on the “international community and Arab nations” to halt the Israeli aggression on Gaza after the Israeli targeting of Jabalia refugee camp. HTS’s call, in essence, mirrored a statement issued earlier by the Taliban government, which has been promoted as a “model” by prominent figures within HTS.

As it has been promoting itself as a moderate actor, the SSG’s Ministry of Media issued -ironically-  a statement on press freedom and condemned the Israeli targeting of journalists regardless of their faith. This condemnation included Israeli violations of the targeting of journalist Wael al-Dahouh's family, the killing of journalist Sherin Abu Akel in Palestine, and the targeting of journalist Carmen Joukhadar in Lebanon.

At the same time, the jihadist element remained present in the speeches of HTS figures, notably Abdul Rahim Atoun, the head of its Fatwa Council. He said that the conflicts in both Syria and Palestine constitute a jihad that is an "obligation" upon every Muslim. This declaration was made during a symposium titled "From Idlib to Gaza... One Wound," organized by the SSG’s Ministry of Media. This highlights the tone difference in the technical statements and media discourses as well as the continuation of the jihadist ideological element within HTS's narrative.

Nevertheless, the primary objective of the symposium was to draw parallels between the Palestinian resistance against Israel and the Syrian struggle against the regime. The focus was on highlighting the similarities in crimes committed against the Syrian and Palestinian people, by the Assad regime and Israel respectively. This narrative resonated with SSG’s official statement, which regarded Palestinian resistance as an inspiring model for the struggle against the Syrian regime. A narrative aligns with HTS's efforts to project a national-Islamist image at the expense of its former Jihadist one.

As for the Syrian Opposition, the Syrian Negotiation Commission, the Syrian National Coalition, and the Syrian Interim Government expressed solidarity with Gaza, particularly following the bombing of al-Maamadani Hospital. Both the statements from the Negotiations Committee and the National Coalition condemned the crimes committed by Israel and emphasized the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative (2002), rejecting the forced displacement of Gaza residents. Simultaneously, the Interim Government condemned the crimes of the Israeli occupation and declared a three-day national mourning in its controlled areas.

Regarding their stance on Hamas or “al-Aqsa flood,” there hasn’t been any official statement or position issued on the matters, given the challenge of attaining a unified stance within the opposition due to the varying and sometimes conflicting positions toward Hamas, driven by ideological or political reasons related to Hamas's stance on the Syrian regime or Iran. Let alone the objective considerations related to the opposition’s political relations with international and regional actors.

As for the “Syrian Democratic Forces,” the SDF-affiliated “Syrian Democratic Council,” issued a statement condemning the targeting of civilians in Gaza, particularly the al-Maamadani Hospital, taking into consideration the pro-Palestinian sentiment among Syrians. The statement made reference to the “right of the Palestinian people to self-determination,” in line with SDF’s claim of the “Autonomous Administration” in Northeastern Syria. On Hamas, the head of the SDF, Mazlum Kobane, condemned it, yet expressed concerns over the Israeli objective to eradicate Hamas because of the potential spillover effects of such eradication.

The response of local actors in Syria to the Gaza conflict varied significantly in their level of engagement, political stances, and the use of the war in their narratives. There has been notable and active engagement by the regime and HTS, moderate engagement from the opposition, and cautious one from the SDF. The regime leveraged the Gaza war in emotional mobilization within its popular incubator as a cornerstone of the resistance axis by endorsing Hamas. Simultaneously, the regime has politically capitalized on the regional atmosphere to strengthen its diplomatic presence within Arab politics. HTS has also used the war in emotional mobilization in Idlib and in its rebranding process as a local actor endorsing Hamas as a model. In contrast, the opposition limited its response to humanitarian solidarity with Gaza, refraining from issuing an official stance on Hamas. The SDF pursued minimal engagement with Gaza and was the only actor to take an anti-Hamas stance along with fearing the repercussions of the war.

Finally, the result of the war on Gaza, will have impact on these actors, particularly for HTS and SDF, at least in terms of boosting their confidence to survive as semi-state actors in case Hamas survives the Israeli military campaign or diminishing that confidence in case Israel manage to eradicate Hamas.


([1]) This stance followed the regime's prior formal reservation on “any wording that could be interpreted to equalize between the Israeli occupier and the Palestinian people living under occupation,” in the resolution of the extraordinary ministerial session of the Arab League on Gaza in October, akin to reservations expressed by Iraq, Libya, Algeria, as well as Tunisia which objected to the resolution entirely, advocating for “the right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on all of the territory of Palestine.”


Published in Articles

Early recovery in Syria stands out as one of the most significant variables that has started to take shape in recent years. There are indications of varying dynamics in early recovery in the current areas of influence, which are distinct in terms of local actors, needs, resources, and capabilities, as well as variations in local, regional, and international approaches to this variable. In this context, the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, in collaboration with Mardin Artuklu University, is organizing its second research conference titled “Early Recovery in Syria: Realities and Future Perspectives”.

Therefore, we announce the commencement of receiving research proposals for participation in the conference in Arabic, English and Turkish. The deadline for submitting research proposals is  January 31, 2023.

The conference is scheduled for May 17-18, 2024.

For more details:

-        Main Themes and Subscription Criteria: https://bit.ly/47N6clq

-        Conference Background Paper: https://bit.ly/47Jap9A

-        Submission Link: https://bit.ly/3Gf1rFg

 

Published in Events

On September 3, 2023, Bashar al-Assad announced Legislative Decree 32 of 2023(1)which nullified Legislative Decree 109 of 1968 and its subsequent amendments. Which eventually had established the Military Field Court(2)With this new decree, all ongoing cases will be transferred to the military judiciary, where they will be prosecuted under the Penal Code and Military Procedure and its amendments(3).

The Military Field Court was initially set up in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967. Its primary purpose was to address crimes that fell under the jurisdiction of military courts during times of war or military operations. Later, its scope was broadened by Hafez al-Assad through Legislative Decree 32 of 1980, allowing it to hear cases during "internal unrest" and thereby permitting civilians to be tried in this court.

It's crucial to note that this court does not meet basic litigation standards. It did not adhere to the principles and procedures outlined in existing legislation. Furthermore, its rulings, including death sentences, were final and not open to appeal. Death sentences required ratification from the head of state, while other sentences were approved by the Minister of Defense.

Historically, the court has been a tool for suppressing Syrian society. This was evident during the 1980s(4)and became even more pronounced after 2011. The security services frequently referred detainees to this court, where many faced the death penalty. Others were sent to “Sednayah Military Prison”, where they were systematically tortured to death(5) .

Despite the court's abolition, the situation will not change significantly. The security services still hold sway over the assessment and categorization of crimes. Over 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared individuals remain in the regime's prisons(6)This suggests that changing the judicial tool does not necessarily alter the regime's behavior. The core issue lies in the fact that there is a governance defect in the military judiciary as a whole(7)which is summarized by its connection to the executive authority represented by the Ministry of Defense and the connection of its officers to the security services. Moreover, the court has been a hub for financial extortion against detainees' families, generating millions of dollars through corrupt networks(8) .

Furthermore, the challenge of trying civilians in military courts persists. One of Syria's primary issues is the lack of an independent judiciary, both military and civilian. Bashar al-Assad, as the “President of the Republic,” presides over the Supreme Judicial Council, as per Article 133 of the 2012 Constitution(9)

The decision to abolish the court appears influenced by external pressures rather than domestic concerns. The Assad regime seems to be diverting international attention from human rights issues, state restructuring, and accountability. The regime is likely to continue with symbolic gestures, such as issuing new amnesty decrees, reducing military presence on public roads and dismissal of a number of conscripts and reserve personnel from the army. These actions are seen as superficial attempts to appease the international community amidst the regime's growing isolation and economic crisis.

The court's abolition is also seen as a move to pre-empt international legal actions against the Assad regime for torture crimes. This comes ahead of the “International Court of Justice's” hearings on the lawsuit filed by Canada and the Netherlands against the regime(10)The decision is also linked to the Arab initiative and the step-by-step approach, especially concerning refugees' legal and security concerns.

A significant aspect of this decision is the regime's attempt to distance itself from the Military Field Court's actions, especially since its reactivation in 2011. In accordance with paragraph (a) of Article 8 from the decree that established the court, death sentences required ratification from the head of state. This means every death sentence since 2000 has been directly approved by Bashar al-Assad.

The annulment of the military field court decree doesn't negate it’s on the ground application automatically. It's tied to other procedures, and mere superficial changes at the top aren't sufficient. Resorting to the military judiciary often leads to further repression due to significant loopholes. This judiciary's laws and its consistent use serve as intimidation tools.

The regime's decision to dissolve the court can be attributed to its strategy of handling enforced disappearances and murders. By operating within this exceptional judiciary and indirectly sending detainees to “Sednayah military prison”, this helps the regime circumvent the UN General Assembly (UNGA)’s decision to form an international mechanism to reveal the fate of missing persons in Syria. This move coincides with Canadian and Dutch efforts to hold the regime accountable at the International Court of Justice for violating the convention against Torture, which was ratified by the regime in 2004. 

Previously the Assad regime abolished the state of emergency and the State Security Court in 2011(11)By 2012, they introduced the Anti-Terrorism Law and established the “Terrorism Cases Court”(12)However, these changes didn't alter the regime's oppressive tactics. Instead, they intensified their crackdown through various courts, including military, field, and civilian ones. With the “Military Field Court's” dissolution, its alternative is already in place.

Genuine change in Syria isn't about switching litigation tools. It hinges on three unavailable criteria: judiciary independence, assigning case types to the Attorney General instead of security services, and a shift from emergency law dynamics. The distinction between judicial tools is merely administrative.

Real change in Syria requires a conducive political environment, an independent judiciary, and robust constitutional institutions that enforce the law. Local civil bodies must oversee the change process and safeguard citizens' rights. Without transparency and laws granting access to information, assessing change remains impossible, especially with the regime's secrecy around detainees and the missing.

For legal reform in Syria, two primary requirements stand out: First: abolishing the laws from which security agencies feed. Second: legally curbing the violations of security agencies, especially arbitrary detention, and torture, which are tools to silence and instill fear in citizens, their violations can be curbed through laws combating arbitrary detention in its three types, ensuring the foundations and rules of a fair trial, and combating torture.

In conclusion, the regime’s changing of the sole leadership system will remain symbolic and evasive captive to formalism, blackmail, and evasion, which has been its practice throughout the Baath era. Genuine change requires a political climate that involves all actors. While the regime might present this move (Abolition of the field court) as an extension of the Arab initiative or a political process step, it's likely a superficial response to growing internal unrest, particularly in Suwayda and southern Syria.

Human rights and civil society organizations must critically assess these developments. Political entities should push international players totem pressure the regime and its allies to address the fate of the missing, ensure a safe environment for Syrians' return, and earnestly participate in the political process, with Resolution 2254 at the forefront.


([1]) “Legislative Decree No. 32”, Sana, Publication date: Sep 03, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/48AmAXB

([2]) “Bashar al-Assad ends the system of military field courts”, The new Arab, Publication date: Sep 03, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/46i3Jiy

([3]) “The Penal Code and Military Procedure”, The Syrian Parliament, Publication date: Mar 13, 1950, Link: https://bit.ly/3Lh0EUh

([4]) “The Muslim Brotherhood Uprising in Syria (1979-1982) which comprised the Hama massacre”, EUAA, Publication date: September 2020, Link: https://bit.ly/3LKVD9V

([5]) “An Instrument of Death and Disappearance: How the Syrian Regime Uses Military Field Courts Against Activists and Dissidents” SNHR, Publication date: Sep 12, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/46BuVZ4

([6]) SNHR’s 12th Annual Report on Enforced Disappearance in Syria”, SNHR, Publication date: Aug 30, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/46z6w6

([7]) “Changing the Security Sector in Syria”, Omran Center for Strategic Studies, Publication date: Oct 23, 2017, Link: https://bit.ly/45jogSp

([8]) “Families of Syrian prisoners and missing persons 'paid $900 million' to find out the fate of their children”, BBC, Publication date: Sep 14, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/3EZXbJ4

([9]) “Syrian Arab Republic 2012”, Constitute project, Publication date: Feb 27, 2012, Link: https://bit.ly/48Giihe

 ([10]) Application of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Canada and the Netherlands v. Syrian Arab Republic)”, International Court of Justice, Publication date: July 15, 2023, Link: https://bit.ly/45irIwH

([11])“Syria announces lifting of state of emergency and cancellation of Supreme State Security Court”, the world of the homeland, Publication date: Apr 10, 2011, Link: https://bit.ly/3LJUv6l

 ([12])“Law 22 of 2012 establishes a Damascus-based terrorism case court”, The Syrian Parliament, Publication date: July 26, 1950, Link: https://bit.ly/3RrxSqP

 

Published in Articles

Executive Summary

This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of August 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.

  • Security and Military Sector: In Deir Ezzor, the security situation has deteriorated significantly following the disbandment of the “Deir Ezzor Military Council” and the subsequent arrest of its leaders by the Syrian Democratic Forces “SDF”. This has sparked intense conflicts between the SDF and local Arab tribes, who are calling for the creation of a genuine local government that truly represents the region's inhabitants.
  • Political Sector: Civilian demonstrations escalated in the province of As-Suwayda, with people asking for political changes based on a specific Security Council Resolution /2254/ after the regime's failure to achieve popular demands for twelve years.
  • Economic Sector: The Regime's efforts to alleviate the severe economic crisis by raising the salaries of workers have proven to be ineffective. Despite the increase in wages, the cost of essential goods has more than doubled, making the monthly average living cost for a family of five in Syria exceed /10.3/ million Syrian Pounds.

Frustration and Resistance: Emerging from the Regime's Policies

Bashar al-Assad has made the decision to replace the governor of Tartous, “Abdel Halim Khalil”, with the retired Brigadier General “Firas Ahmed al-Hamid”. This move is seen as an effort to quell the growing dissatisfaction among civilians due to bad living conditions in Tartous.

In August 2023, the protests against the poor economic conditions intensified with a higher number of participants in As-Suwayda province. The scope of these protests has significantly expanded, spreading to /48/ distinct areas, a substantial increase from only /3/ areas during previous demonstrations. 

Map (1): Protest points in As-Suwayda governorate during August 2023

If the protest in as-Suwayda province evolved, we might see the Regime adapting different tactics in dealing with these protests such as, using local gangs in the city to incite violence or even assassinate key figures in the protest movement, particularly if it begins to threaten the interests of the regime and its allies, including potential disruptions to drug trafficking routes (primarily Captagon).

In August, the head of the National Coalition of Syrian “SOC” received a letter from the French Foreign Minister. The letter stated France's belief in the need for political change in Syria and their goal to hold war criminals responsible. Also in August, Bader Jamous was chosen again as the president of the Syrian Negotiations Commission for a second term.

Syria's Shifting Sands: The Impact of Recent Security and Military Events on Territorial Control

During 2023, the Regime held-areas have seen a rise in IEDs attacks aimed at the regime military's and security forces, during August 2023 two IED's attacks were recorded, one in the city of al-Moadamyeh and the other attack was at al-Quneitra province, the rise in IED attacks is a clear indication of the regime's growing weakness of its security capabilities, after becoming more reliant on untrained foreign militias on one hand, and the ongoing failure in limited ISIS cells attacks in 2023 on the other hand.

In the Opposition held-areas, in southern Idlib, specifically in the northwest region of Jabal al-Zawiya, ongoing battles have been reported between the “al-Fateh al-Mubin” opposition factions and the regime forces alongside their allied militias. The conflict escalated after the opposition took control of the “Milaja” village and other strategic points. In response, Russian warplanes-initiated airstrikes to aid the regime forces in recapturing the lost territories. The clashes over three days resulted in numerous casualties, including dozens from the regime forces and 7 opposition fighters.

Map(2):Developments in battles between tribal forces and SDF in Deir Ezzor (August 31.2023)

In the SDF held-areas, in Deir Ezzor, tensions increased between the SDF and tribal forces following the arrest of the Deir Ezzor Military Council commander, “Ahmed al-Khabil”, and several other leaders of the council by the SDF. The situation worsened as the SDF implemented a security policy to manage the backlash, which triggered further violence. The aggressive stance of the SDF towards civilian demonstrators spurred other tribes, including al-Akidat clan, to join the fight, demanding redress for the grievances of the Deir Ezzor populace and the removal of Kurdistan Workers' Party “PKK” leaders from the region. This situation poses a significant challenge to the “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” project and its influence over the area.

Discontent and Migration on the Rise as Syria Grapples with Economic Crises

Regime Held-Areas

Bashar al-Assad approved a decree to double the salaries of public sector workers, both civilian and military. This was followed by a 50% bonus for certain groups. However, the regime also increased fuel prices and reduced subsidies on drinking water by up to 400%, leading to a surge in the cost of living, with the average family now needing over /10.3/ million Syrian pounds to get by, according to Qasioun newspaper. These measures, aimed at covering the salary increase, have resulted in a continuous devaluation of the Syrian pound and increased poverty.

On another note, the regime will have to import around two million tons of wheat to meet the country's needs, as the local season's won't exceed /800,000/ tons, far below the required three million tons. Meanwhile, to foster ties with Saudi Arabia, the regime granted licenses to two Saudi-owned companies to invest in Syria's phosphate, fertilizer, and cement sectors. However, Saudi Arabia has imposed restrictions on Syrian trucks entering its territory, causing delays at the Nasib crossing.

Moreover, there has been a significant increase in the migration of traders, especially from Aleppo and Damascus, with some transferring substantial gold reserves abroad, highlighting the deepening economic crisis.

SDF Held-Areas

The “Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria” has doubled the salaries of its civilian and military employees, setting the minimum wage at /1,040,000/ Syrian pounds and the maximum at /8,222,000/ Syrian pounds. They also increased the price of heating diesel and allocated /300/ liters per household for the upcoming winter.

In terms of early recovery projects, 90% of the “Ambara” road project, linking al-Qamishli city to the M4 international road, has been completed with a 2023 budget of around $/794,633/.

To regulate economic activities, two laws were enacted:

  • One governing exchange and transfer operations, setting the minimum capital for exchange companies at $/500,000/ and for exchange offices at $/50,000/.
  • And another regulating the trade and manufacture of precious metals, outlining licensing procedures and prohibiting unlicensed operations. The administration also approved a draft law comprising 66 articles to combat money laundering.

Opposition Held-Areas

In northwest Syria, the “Salvation Government” raised the prices of gasoline and domestic gas following a two-week shortage in its controlled areas. To foster investment, the “Syrian Interim Government” initiated discussions with local entities to organize an investment conference aimed at enhancing the investment environment in northern Syria. A memorandum of understanding was signed with various stakeholders to foster cooperation and prepare for the conference.

Meanwhile, the electricity crisis is escalating in rural Aleppo, with “Ak Energy” hiking electricity prices, sparking public outrage and protests in front of the company’s headquarters in Azaz. Local councils are considering new contracts with alternative energy providers to address the issue.

In terms of early recovery, projects are underway in rural Aleppo and Idlib, including housing projects and road expansions to improve infrastructure. Various organizations are working on these initiatives to facilitate better living conditions and connectivity in the region.

Published in Reports
Tuesday, 15 August 2023 19:24

Syria Monthly briefing - July 2023

General Summary

This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of July 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.

  • Security and Military Sector: The eastern parts of Syria have seen heightened military activity by several groups along the Euphrates River. Additionally, disagreements between the Deir Ezzor Military Council and the Syrian Democratic Forces “SDF” have led to armed clashes and road blockades in the northern Deir Ezzor villages and towns.

  • Political Sector: The continuation of the Arab rapprochement initiative, this rapprochement appears to be contingent on the reciprocal actions and offerings from the Assad regime, emphasizing a “Step-for-Step” approach. Furthermore, Russia's veto against the extension of cross-border aid challenges the UN and other humanitarian organizations, necessitating new strategies to deliver aid amidst Syria's dire humanitarian crisis.

  • Economic Sector: Syria's economic situation is deteriorating, marked by a significant rise in the cost of living paired with decreasing salaries. Concurrently, the Assad regime is aiming to further assert its control over vital resources and gain a monopoly over critical, high-revenue sectors, benefiting both the regime and its allies.

Internal Security Issues and Rising Military Presence Across Various Frontlines

Regime Held-Areas:

Israel conducted strikes on multiple security and military sites in the regions of Damascus countryside, Eastern Homs, and Tartus. Out of the five sites targeted, three are under the control of militias backed by Iran. ([1])

Map (1), Highlighting Israeli strikes in Syria from January of 2023 to July 2023

Security chaos continues in the south, /37/people were assassinated in Daraa province, with /20/ more in various security incidents throughout the month. During July, the regime used drones in its operations in Daraa, hinting at a shift to newer security tools, possibly supported by Iranian expertise.

In al-Suwayda Province, in retaliation for the regime's recent arrest campaign, local groups apprehended regime officers. Such incidents highlight the regime's fragile security control in the province.

Opposition Held-Areas:

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham “HTS” continued its security campaign, arresting over /300/ of its members from different departments, accused of spying for the Syrian regime, Russia, or the USA.

SDF Held-Areas

Deir Ezzor witnesses military mobilizations by various parties along the Euphrates River.

  • Numerous military supply convoys for the International Coalition have reached their bases near the al-Omar oil field.

  • The Syrian Democratic Forces “SDF” have increased their presence and set up operations rooms in Deir Ezzor.

In the northern countryside of Deir Ezzor, several villages and towns experienced clashes between the “Deir Ezzor Military Council” and the SDF's Military Police. This conflict arose following the killing of two council members and the detention of several others.

International Coalition forces intervened to mediate and stabilize the situation, assuring that those responsible for the incident would be held accountable. These events highlighted the vulnerabilities within the SDF's internal unity and underscored concerns about the PKK's dominance over these forces, often sidelining local factions in decision-making.

A general strike took place in Manbij city against the conscription campaign carried out by the SDF.

Despite Renewing International Ties, Assad Regime Continues to Use Extortionate Behavior

Following the failure of the UN Security Council to extend the decision on cross-border aid delivery due to Russia's veto, the Assad regime announced that it would allow the UN and its specialized agencies to deliver humanitarian aid through the Bab al-Hawa crossing, on the condition that it would not be handed over to what he termed as “Terrorist Entities”, and the aid distribution should be coordinated with the Syrian Red Crescent. Several Western countries rejected this, and the UN considered it contrary to its independence and freedom of operation. The regime aims with this decision to control the UN aid and use it as a new tool to put more pressure on the international communities and the Syrian oppositions. Meanwhile, Bashar al-Assad received the Iraqi PM, Mohammed Shia' al-Sudani, in Damascus during his first official visit for an Iraqi PM since 2011. Al-Sudani emphasized the importance of coordination between the two countries. Assad mentioned the “Theft” of Syria's and Iraq's water by neighboring countries in supporting terrorism, referencing Turkey, Despite Erdogan's expressed willingness to meet with Assad, the path to reconciliation has been hindered due to the regime's preconditions, primarily the demand for a withdrawal timetable from Syria.

On a technical level, the first meeting of the Jordanian-Syrian Committee to Combat Cross-Border Drug Smuggling took place in Amman. This committee was established following the decisions made at the consultative meeting hosted by Jordan in Amman last May.

Fragile Markets and Increasing Economic Challenges

The SYP rate continued to fall against foreign currencies, registering /13,000/ SYP to the US Dollar in markets of Damascus, Aleppo, Idlib, and al-Hasakah. Meanwhile, the Regime Central Bank adjusted the US Dollar exchange rate to /9,900/ SYP for banking operations, money exchange companies, individuals, and foreign transfer exchange rates.

This month's SYP depreciation is attributed to the vast amount of money introduced into the market due to wheat payments, estimated at 2 trillion SYP (2,000 billion SYP) for purchasing /800,000/ tons of wheat from farmers in Regime held-areas. It's valued at $/516/ million in SDF held-areas in northeast, and $/64/ million in Opposition held-areas in northwest, causing a cash surplus. The central bank also approved printing a /5,000/ Lira note to add to market liquidity. The decrease in the SYP’s value led to a significant, uncontrolled increase in the prices of co0mmidities in regime held-areas, with some products witnessing over a 200% increase. The average living cost for a family of 5 in Syria has reached more than /6.5/ SYP, while the average salary stands at /150,000 SYP/.

Given these continuous crises, the PM of the regime, “Hussein Arnous”, announced the formation of a joint committee from the People's Assembly and the economic committee in the Council of Ministers to prepare a proposal to boost the economic and living conditions, even though the People's Council admits its inability to change the country's economic reality.

During the UN Food Systems Summit in Italy, Agriculture Minister “Mohammed Hassan Qatana” urged his Saudi counterpart, “Abdul Rahman al-Fadhli”, to ease the import of Syrian goods into the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Director General of the regime's Civil Aviation Corporation announced that Saudi Arabia has approved the resumption of flights between the two Syria and KSA. Consequently, the Syrian Arab Aviation Corporation has started setting up its offices in Riyadh.

The regime's Ministry of Transport announced an investment partnership with “Iluma”, a company closely linked to Bashar and Asma al-Assad, for the Damascus International Airport. The General Organization for Aviation will retain a 51% stake, while the investing company will hold 49%. “Iluma” will be responsible for all tasks and services related to air transport of passengers and goods, including owning, purchasing, leasing, and investing in aircraft, as well as organizing flights and ground services. This move underscores the regime's strategy to exert control over resources and monopolize key sectors, ensuring significant returns for itself and its allies.

In Opposition held-areas, food prices have surged by 48% in the past six months due to the depreciation of the Turkish lira. According to the UN REACH team, the minimum expenditure on basic food items has increased from /1,600/ TL to nearly /2,700/ TL within a year.

In eastern Syria, the Autonomous Administration raised fuel prices, leading to a temporary halt in sales at gas stations until new prices were set, also the cost of diesel for vehicles and industrial purposes rose from /425/ SYP to 525 SYP per liter, while the cost of free diesel rose from /1,200/ SYP to /1,700/ SYP per liter. However, diesel prices for generators and bread ovens remained unchanged, but the cost of a domestic gas cylinder increased, going from /7,500/ SYP to /10,000/ SYP.

The Autonomous Administration has designated the regions of al-Hasakah, Tal Tamr, and their surrounding areas, as disaster zones due to the ongoing water crisis. The water scarcity in Hasaka has worsened since 2019, primarily because of water supply disruptions from the opposition-controlled “Alouk” wells. Additionally, in al-Qamishli, the devaluation of the SYP value to less than a third of its value since early July has led to a decline in food sales. Both consumers and retailers have reported a drop in food orders by up to 70%.


[1]See Map (1) Israeli strikes break down in 2023, Map is designed by Omran team, and the information is based on credible open source along with Omran team special private source in Syria.

Published in Reports
Friday, 14 July 2023 15:35

Syria Monthly briefing June 2023

Executive Summary

This report provides an overview of the key events in Syria during the month of June 2023, focusing on political, security, and economic developments. It examines the developments at different levels.

  • Security and Military sector, the report highlights the following: 1) Opposition held areas in northwest Syria witnessed intensification of Russian strikes. 2) Rise in ISIS security operations in eastern Syria. 3) Increase in assassination victims, and clashes between local factions and militias associated with the regime forces in Daraa.
  • Political sector, the report highlights the regime's ongoing efforts to foster closer ties with the Arab world through economic agreements, considering the Western resistance towards normalizing relations or lifting sanctions without substantial measures undertaken by the regime.
  • Economic sector, the report focuses on the persistent depletion and devaluation of the Syrian pound, a consequence of the economic and financial policies pursued by the Assad regime. In the meantime, local councils and civil organizations in northwestern Syria have successfully concluded the implementation of numerous early recovery projects across several critical sectors, with particular emphasis on the industrial sector.

High indicators of security instability

In northwestern Syria, both the regime and Russia have conducted aerial and artillery bombardments in several areas in Idlib. This ongoing security and military complexity can be used as pressure to reach understandings or technical agreements, particularly due to the increased military capabilities of local actors in both regime-controlled and opposition-controlled areas. Simultaneously, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham security forces have arrested over 80 individuals accused of engaging in dealings and espionage for hostile parties. Among those detained are notable figures from the General Security Agency and certain military brigades.

In northeastern Syria, ISIS has claimed responsibility for more than 24 attacks targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and their allies. These attacks resulted in the death of 11 people and left 26 others wounded. The following charts provides a comparison of ISIS attacks against the SDF between April and June for the years 2022 and 2023.

2022 2023 Difference ratio
April ISIS attacks 34 13 - 61.76%
May ISIS attacks 11 8 - 27.27%
June ISIS attacks 17 24 + 41.18%

The Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria has made a significant announcement. They have decided to initiate public prosecutions for approximately 10,000 ISIS operatives who are currently detained by them. This decision was prompted by the international community's delayed response to the autonomous administration's requests for assistance in repatriating their detained citizens. The trials of these operatives will be conducted in accordance with a local anti-terrorism law that was developed in 2022. While the ISIS operatives on trial will have the right to appoint their own lawyers, it has not been clarified whether the court will appoint lawyers for them. It's important to note that the death penalty is not applicable in northeastern Syria. Furthermore, Turkey persistently refused to acknowledge the Autonomous Administration, labeling it as a "terrorist" entity associated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In line with this stance, Turkey continued its strikes against the administration's leaders and key figures. Most recently, Turkish drones conducted an airstrike on a vehicle transporting the leaders of the “Qamishlo Provincial Council|” in the eastern part of Qamishli. The strike caused the death of the co-chair of the Council, the deputy co-president, and the driver, while the co-chairman of the council, "Kabi Chamoun," sustained severe injuries as a result of the drone strike.

Regarding Daraa, ongoing evident signs indicating the failure of the regime's efforts for reconciliations and settlements. The notable indicators include:

  • Ongoing assassinations: A total of 30 individuals were killed in targeted assassinations during the month. Additionally, eight people lost their lives in other security incidents.
  • Clash between local factions and pro-Assad militias near the Naseeb crossing, situated along the Syrian Jordanian border.
  • Continuation of drug smuggling operations across the Jordanian border, either through the Naseeb crossing or the border strip.

The Assad regime between Arab rapprochement and western rejection

During the month of June 2023, the Syrian regime recently made several diplomatic moves. They appointed an ambassador to the Arab League, and their foreign minister visited Iraq and Saudi Arabia, resulting in an agreement to resume economic cooperation between Syria and Arab countries. Additionally, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian leader, met with the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. During their meeting, al-Assad emphasized the importance of not politicizing the return of refugees and providing the necessary resources for reconstructing damaged structures and rehabilitating service facilities.

However, these statements by Assad also highlight the regime's refusal to address key security concerns regarding the safe return of refugees. These concerns include stopping security prosecutions against refugees, controlling, and restructuring the security services, and releasing detainees while reforming the judicial system.

It is likely that in the future, the Assad regime will continue to exploit the refugee issue to pressure the international community. Their aim is to achieve economic gains and the lifting of sanctions imposed on Syria.

In a parallel development, Canada and the Netherlands jointly lodged a lawsuit against the Assad regime at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The lawsuit accuses the regime of torture and violations of international law, highlighting the ongoing stance of Western countries rejecting any form of normalization with the Syrian regime government.

During the recent 20th round of the Astana meetings, the final statement included several significant points. One of the key highlights was:

  • Rejection of unilateral sanctions that violate international law, international humanitarian law, and the UN Charter. This statement implies the potential development of a Turkish stance favoring the lifting or easing of sanctions on the Assad regime.
  • The participants at the Astana meetings expressed their approval of the regime's consent to allow aid entry through the al-Rai and Bab al-Salama crossings. This reaffirmed their opposition to any attempts to bypass the regime and Russia's approval after the extension expires in August 2023.

Current economic policies increasing Syrian’s suffering

In the Regime areas, The Syrian pound continues to experience massive declines against the US dollar, reaching a rate of 9,250 SYP per dollar. These declines are a result of the economic and financial policies implemented by the regime government. To restore stability to the currency, the Monetary and Credit Council issued a decision allowing individuals entering Syria to bring in financial revenues up to $500,000. However, those leaving the country are restricted from taking out more than $10,000 or its equivalent in foreign currency. Living conditions in regime areas remain challenging, with the population enduring rising prices during Eid al-Adha. Price increases ranged from 15% to 45%, with notable examples such as the cost of "30 eggs" reaching 30,000 SYP in Daraa and 34,000 SYP in Damascus. The price of sacrificial animals during Eid al-Adha reached 3 million SYP in certain areas, recording a 6 time increase for 2022 price. Reports indicate a significant decrease in foreign remittances to Syria during Eid al-Adha compared to Eid al-Fitr. The regime government refrained from providing any financial grants or salary increases prior to Eid al-Adha. The regime's Ministry of Finance estimated inflation rates for 2022 at 10-0% and projected a range of 10-4.7% for 2023. It is important to note that the inflation rate has reached approximately 16,000% between 2011 and 2023.

In Opposition areas, both the interim government and the salvation government have established the price of durum wheat at $330 per ton, and the price for soft wheat is set at $285 per ton. On the other hand, in areas under the Autonomous Administration, the price of durum wheat is set at $430 per ton, while in regime-controlled areas, it is set at $222 per ton.

This difference in pricing may discourage farmers in opposition areas from selling their crops to the regime or motivate them to consider alternative crops that offer higher profits, given the current pricing conditions. As part of early recovery initiatives, local councils and civil society organizations have successfully completed various projects across multiple sectors. For instance, the local council in Mare' inaugurated a new industrial city consisting of 50 operational factories and 100 others in the process of being equipped. In the city of al-Ra'i, a significant infrastructure development project, involving the establishment of a major transformer for the industrial zone, has been implemented to facilitate future projects.

In the Autonomous Administration, citizens in Hasakah protested the shortage of domestic gas, which led to its price doubling on the black market to 150,000 Syrian pounds. In Amuda market, remittance and currency exchange companies closed in objection to new licensing requirements that impose financial guarantees and office conditions beyond their capabilities. Additionally, the Customs Department has implemented a new customs system. The updated fees for shipments of vegetables and fruits are as follows:

Item New customs fees per ton
Potatoes – Tomatoes – Green Onions 3$
Onions 10$
Garlic 20$
Cherries (non-local) 6$
Bananas (non-local) 16$
Pineapple (non-local) 60$

The fire brigade in al-Hasakah province has reported crop fire damage in 2023. Approximately 370 dunums of land in the countryside of al-Hasakah city and 418 dunums in al-Qamishli city have been affected.

Published in Reports
Friday, 13 January 2023 16:48

Dynamics in YPG-Regime Relations

While facing a potential new military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army (SNA) in northern Syria, the general commander of the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stated in his interview with Asharq al-Awsat:

“We are not opposed to the SDF becoming part of the defense organization of the Syrian army. We have conditions, however. We boast over 100,000 fighters, who have spent the past ten years in combat. They need a constitutional and legal resolution. The SDF must have a role and specific distinction in the military. We are in agreement over general issues, but the problems lie in the details.”

He also stated; “I want dispatch a delegation and go to Damscus when the conditions fora solution are available. I want my trip to Damascus to help in reaching a peaceful solution to the current crisis. ”This statement outlines the current relationship between the Assad regime and the YPG. To understand this relationship and how a potentially new military operation may impact it, this report explores the dynamics of the relationship with focusing on the main dynamics that are related to a Turkish-Syrian military operation.

The first dynamic in the YPG-regime relationship is the concept of a common enemy. For both actors, Turkey and the Syrian opposition are perceived as enemies. However, the YPG’s and the regime’s perspectives oppose one another. The YPG perceives Turkey as an existential threat and sees the Syrian opposition as an actor that enables and facilitates Turkish military operations against the YPG. The Assad regime perceives the Syrian opposition as an existential threat and Turkey as an actor that enables the continuing presence and territorial control of the Syrian opposition. But, since 2016 during Operation Euphrates Shield, there was growing cooperation between the YPG and the Assad regime. Both YPG and the regime forces worked together against Turkey and the current situation resulting in YPG-regime signing an agreement in 2019. During this time, the Assad regime protected the YPG along the frontlines with the Turkish Armed Forces and SNA. Furthermore, in the past, the Assad regime handed over predominantly Kurdish territories to YPG as part of their cooperation in capturing Tal Rifaat and their joint fighting to besiege Aleppo city.

In looking at the second dynamic, the American military presence in Syria negatively influenced the YPG-regime relationship due to their support for the YPG. The US enabled the YPG to control vast territories and altered the balance of power between these two actors. The Assad regime and its supporters, including Iran and Russia did not want the US to remain in Syria. Moreover, there is a difference in ideology between the old and new generations within the PKK – the YPG’s main branch – as it relates to its international relationships. While the old generation values historic partners like the Assad regime, the new generation places its trust in its partnership with the US.

Interdependency is the last main dynamic in the YPG-regime relationship. The YPG and the Assad regime both have territorial control that relies on one another to cooperate. For example, the regime's territorial control in Qamishli and Hasakah is surrounded by the YPG and requires YPG cooperation. Similarly, YPG’s presence in Tal Rifaat and the Shaikh Maqsoud neighborhood in Aleppo city is dependent on the cooperation and protection of the regime that surrounds those areas. Since 2019, the Assad regime deployed army soldiers to the frontlines alongside the Turkish Armed Forces and SNA to function as protection to and from the YPG. This is due to the regime units being located in areas that are far away from regime-held territories where if a war broke out or the regime decided to withdraw their forces, then the YPG could have the ability to target and eliminate these units before the possibility of support arrives. Thus, this delineates the interdependency these two parties have with each other with the regime’s ability to provide YPG with the protection requested while also ensuring their weak points are exposed to minimal dangers.

In looking at the prospects of the YPG-regime relationship, the Assad regime has stated that it wants to go back to how things were in 2010, but with a ‘controllable population.’ It would require the regime to either assert full authority or accept some level of autonomy under the Russian reconciliation agreement model. On the other hand, the PKK’s new generation wants to establish an autonomous region in Syria and achieve international legitimacy via the US with the possibility of engaging in deals on the behalf of Syrian between the US and Russia. With that, the old generation believes that going through Damascus could result in international legitimacy, and would be more realistic as they would gain more legal standing and recognition on a local/national level.

Based on this examination, the report provides four different options for a Turkish-Syrian military operation against the YPG that may alter the YPG-regime relationship:

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Published in Reports
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Dr. Ammar Kahf, executive director of the Omran Center for Strategic Studies, commented on the Brussels donor conference, saying, "The pledges were better than expected, except that the focus was always on the aid approach rather than the systematic empowerment approach that the Syrian people need to create more jobs.

 

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From the beginning of the Syrian uprising, several Arab countries were almost unanimous in isolating the Syrian regime to punish it for its violations of Arab League resolutions and the rights of the Syrian people. This approach was translated by Qatar’s leadership in the Arab League and the important support of Saudi Arabia and post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt into a resolution that led to the suspension of the regime’s membership in the Arab League in November 2011.

In the following years, most Arab countries called on the regime to stop military operations against civilians, and some of them even played a greater rolein actively seeking regime change in diplomatic manners and by supporting and financing the opposition. However, in the coming years, political changes occurred in some Arab countries such as in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, causing a departure from regime change politics to the restoration of pre-Arab spring MENA security order, thus affecting the regional attitude towards the Syrian regime.

Egypt resumed consular relations in 2013, when most Arab countries took a stand against the Syrian regime, but has not fully normalized its relations with the regime to date. This shows that Egypt prioritizes the stability of the Syrian regime in its foreign policy, as Egypt distrusts the opposition and considers it a proxy for Turkey. Moreover, Egypt prefers to work with the army and considers it more reliable.

The UAE and Jordan, on the other hand, were on the opposite side and supported the Syrian opposition to varying degrees, but after the Russian intervention in 2015, the situation on the ground had changed, which, along with other factors such as the UAE’s attempt to counter Turkey and contain Iran with a different approach in Syria, led to a change in the countries’ priorities in their foreign policy toward Syria. In 2018, the UAE and Bahrain reopened their embassy in Damascus and resumed relations with the Syrian regime. The UAE wants to normalize its relations with the Syrian regime in order to have relations with all parties on the ground.

Similarly, when the Syrian opposition lost control of southern Syria in 2018 and signed reconciliation agreements, Jordan reopened its border with Syria with some restrictions, as it had done before 2015, Jordan has not completely severed relations with the Syrian regime, but it has downgraded its representation. It normalized its relations only in October 2021 after a telephone conversation between King Abdullah and Bashar al-Assad, which was expected after King Abdullah’s speech on CNN during his visit to Washington and after his meeting with President Biden.

Looking at the factors behind this action, the first one seems to be the economic factor, because the country is in a difficult economic situation, aiming at normalization and cross-border trade, as the Arab gas pipeline will help the Kingdom’s economy. In addition, the security factor is not as important as the economy, but it plays a role because the Kingdom is concerned about stability on its northern border and normalization will help in security coordination with the Syrian regime to prevent possible threats.

2021, the beginning to regime regional re-integration

In the last quarter of 2021, more precisely on November 9, 2021, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed, visited Damascus as the highest UAE official since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011. The visit came at a time when the idea of normalizing relations between Arab countries was discussed among Arab officials, and some expressed this on various occasions. In addition, Jordan’s King Abdullah spoke to Bashar al-Assad by phone in October last year, removing doubts about relations between the two countries.

At the same time, Egypt, which has maintained close relations with the Syrian regime in recent years, has not yet fully normalized its relations. So, if we look at the approach of each country, we can examine the differences between these three actors in the region-Egypt and the UAE, Jordan-in terms of timing and level, as well as their advocacy for the Syrian regime. Timing shows how long these countries have been linked to the regime, while level shows how deep these links are. Advocacy shows which countries are committed to the regime’s return to the Arab world.

As for the level, not all countries that normalize with the regime do so to the same degree. Egypt has played a role in supporting the Syrian regime, although it has not yet fully restored its relations with the country. There are several reasons for this, such as the desire to maintain relations with the Gulf States, as they have led the front against the Assad regime.

Egypt’s main objective is to view this relationship from a political and security perspective. The UAE, on the other hand, is looking at the relationship from an economic and political perspective. They want to participate in the reconstruction process in the coming years. Therefore, its normalization process with the Syrian regime has taken place without any conditions.

Although it has not severed its relations with the regime, Jordan has taken positions close to the Syrian opposition over the past decade, but has kept its border open with the Syrian regime for economic reasons. The Kingdom believes that normalizing its relations with the regime will help its economy recover and that it wants to play a role in resolving the conflict. Jordan has also sought to reactivate the bilateral agreement with Syria on various issues such as water. It also wanted to reactivate the Arab Gas Pipeline to reach Lebanon through Syria, which is part of the kingdom’s ambitions to become an energy hub in the region.

What sets Jordan apart, however, is that it is not only Jordan that wants to engage with the regime, but also brings along other countries that have the same idea of changing the regime’s behavior through concessions and vice versa. It is an approach that has met with the approval of the Biden administration. As part of its strategy to manage the Syria conflict by focusing on changing the regime’s behavior rather than regime change, this administration’s new approach to Syria is the opposite of the previous administration, which pursued a policy of maximum pressure.

In March 2022, another important UAE rapprochement with the Syrian regime took place, namely Bashar al-Assad’s visit to the country. This visit is considered very significant, mainly because it was al-Assad’s first visit to an Arab country since the beginning of the uprising. The visit can be analyzed from various points of view, such as future investments, the possibility of the regime’s return to the Arab League, and Iran’s influence.

The possibilities of reinstating the Syrian regime in the Arab League

 

In terms of support for the Syrian regime, not all of these countries are equally committed to Syria’s return to the Arab League in order to normalize the country’s relations with the world, but we can see some differences. In late January this year, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that Syria’s return to the Arab League was not discussed at the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Kuwait. He later added that Syria’s return to the Arab League depends on consensus among Arab countries. These are indications that a return is unlikely at the next summit.

The irony is that Egypt is playing a role in the Syrian regime’s return to the Arab League but has not yet fully normalized its relations with the Asaad regime, which could happen in the near future. As mentioned earlier, Egypt sided with the Syrian regime under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the two countries have since restored consular relations.

The UAE changed its stance on Syria after 2015 until it normalized its relations with the regime. After that, they began to support the Assad regime and promote the normalization of their relations with other countries in the region. They went even further by calling for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Syria.

In Jordan, however, we see a different approach that accepts the current status quo in Syria as a reality. For example, Jordan does not fully side with the regime in the Syrian conflict, but rather seeks to benefit from the opening of its relations with the Syrian regime on an economic level and restore the situation to what was before the border between the two countries. In doing so, it advocates its approach to Syria “step by step” as a comprehensive plan for dealing with the regime.

Ultimately, these approaches are similar in some respects, but they are not identical. This means that not all of the approaches these countries are taking have the same goals. Moreover, not all countries approaching the Syrian regime can be considered allies of the regime; rather, it is about their needs.

Finally, these approaches are similar in some respects, but they are not identical. This raises the question of which of these approaches will be successful and how this will affect the situation on the ground. To what extent these approaches will be able to bring the Syrian regime back to the Arab League.

So far, these approaches have not been able to change the position of Riyadh and Doha in terms of normalizing relations with the Syrian regime, which may show how effective these processes have been so far. On another level, will the relations between the Syrian regime and the international community remain the same? Will we see some changes in the position of some countries like the U.S., or could other approaches be taken?

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