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.
() 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.”
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.
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. ()
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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.
|April ISIS attacks
|May ISIS attacks
|June ISIS attacks
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:
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:
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:
|New customs fees per ton
|Potatoes – Tomatoes – Green Onions
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.
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:
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.
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?
In a symbolic blow to the anti-government uprising born in Daraa in 2011, the Bashar al-Assad regime and Iran-backed militias are once again attempting to violently subdue the Syrian provincial capital, which is considered the birthplace of the revolution that began a decade ago.
The most recent round of clashes was sparked by Syria’s May 31 illegitimate presidential elections. Several of Daraa province’s cities refused to participate in the elections and civilians took to the streets in protest.
On the day of the elections, the Syrian regime was forced to move the election center from the Baath Party Division building in Nawa city to the district center in the middle of the security square, where branches of the regime security agencies are located. This prompted the flight of most of the working members of the party’s division to the capital, Damascus, for fear of being targeted.
As a result, several neighborhoods in Daraa province were placed under a brutal siege. In late June, the Fourth Division of the Syrian army and other regime forces encircled the city and cut off all roads leading to Daraa al-Balad in the south, preventing the entry of food and medicine as well as the entry or exit of civilians. The regime and its allies proceeded to cut off electricity, water, and communications. One checkpoint remains open for residents, but it is under the control of the Military Security Branch and the Mustafa al-Kassem militia—a troubling scenario for civilians.
Daraa hasn’t witnessed a military campaign like this since the regime took control of the province in July 2018. Following that takeover, the region was divided into settlement areas, as happened in Daraa al-Balad, Busra al-Sham, Tafas, and other areas under regime control (MAP 1). Members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) remained, forming sleeper cells, such as the Popular Resistance in the south—an armed group from Daraa province that was formed in November 2018—in several towns that refused the terms of a settlement with the regime, which exposed them to attacks. Other formations of the FSA joined the Fifth Corps—a volunteer-based force—under direct Russian control. The most prominent outgrowth was the Sunni Youth Forces, which now forms the forces of the Eighth Brigade in the Fifth Corps.
The complex reality of influence and control after the 2018 settlement
Despite the Assad regime’s control over Daraa since the 2018 settlement, the reality on the ground indicates that there are three spheres of influence in the province. The first is the area considered the center of negotiations between the opposition and regime, which is under direct Russian supervision. In this area, the regime maintained institutional control but was denied a security presence. The second sphere of influence comprises of settlements where the regime has all-out military control, such as Bosra al-Harir, al-Harak, Saida, and surrounding towns, as well as western areas like Jassem and Newa. Lastly, the third includes areas seized by the regime without signing a settlement agreement, such as Dael, Inkhil, and al-Hara.
Iran’s consolidation of influence in Daraa is one significant implication of this power diffusion. Via the Fourth Division, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and militias deployed in Daraa, Iran has successfully expanded its influence in the south and established a military presence in strategic locations near Syria’s southern border. Recent developments are further evidence of Russia’s failure to contain Iran in Daraa. While the Russians led the initial negotiations, Iran subsequently upended the process, empowering local allies to take military control of the province.
Daraa developments in light of the regime’s army being dispersed between Russia and Iran
Beginning on June 25, regime forces imposed a complete siege on the neighborhoods of Daraa al-Balad (inhabited by approximately fifty thousand people): the internally displaced camp, Palestinian refugee camp, al-Sad Road, and the farms in the areas of Shiah, al-Nakhla, al-Rahiya, and al-Khawani. The siege is meant to punish civilians for ongoing demonstrations since 2018 and the refusal of Dara al-Balad residents to participate in the voting process. As the dispute escalated, the Central Committee of Daraa al-Balad met with Russian General Assad Allah, who threatened to storm dissenting neighborhoods but agreed to prevent Iran-backed forces from taking military action in the city.
After several meetings between the Central Committee and regime, the two parties agreed to hand over the remaining light weapons of former FSA fighters who are not part of the Fifth Corps in exchange for lifting the siege imposed on Daraa al-Balad and an end to the regime’s military campaign there. The two sides also agreed to construct a new settlement to clarify missing or gray areas in the 2018 settlement.
However, the agreement has not been implemented so far due to several obstacles created by Major General Husam Louka, the head of General Security Directorate, Brigadier General Ghaith Dalah, commander of the Fourth Division, and Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub—all of whom have stated that the regime’s goal is absolute control over the entire neighborhood of Daraa al-Balad. This proclamation upset the Russians, who know Iran is escalating the conflict and attempting to strengthen the control of its local allies near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
It is possible to deduce several important points from the rapid developments in Daraa al-Balad during the past week:
Amidst this military escalation on Daraa al-Balad and the eastern and western countryside and the continuation of negotiations between the Central Committee and the regime, Daraa faces several scenarios.
A new settlement and forced displacement
The way the Assad regime dealt with the cities of Tafas and al-Sanamayn could foreshadow what happens in Daraa al-Balad in the coming days. After the regime attack on the city of al- Sanamayn in March, Russia intervened through the Fifth Corps to resolve the conflict and imposed a truce that ended with the deportation of fighters to the north; those who stayed have had to hand over weapons. In January, the same scenario occurred in Tafas, after the regime demanded that the people hand over light and medium weapons and that those who wished to leave Daraa go north.
According to this scenario, Russia may intervene to end the attack on Daraa al-Balad, put an end to the military operation, and sign a new agreement. However, the details and terms depend on the size of the Assad regime’s losses in the coming days. This seems to be the most realistic scenario for the regime, considering its accelerated losses and negotiations with the Central Committee of Daraa.
The area under the shadow of the Fifth Corps
The FSA’s recent success will give it an upper hand at the negotiating table. The Central Committee may negotiate a stop to the escalation in all towns and cities in return for stopping the military campaign, lifting the siege, and deploying checkpoints for the Fifth Corps in Daraa. Although this scenario is possible, it requires the approval of Russia and Jordan and it is unlikely that Iran and the regime will accept this scenario, which would threaten their control in the south.
Return to the 2018 settlement
If the Russians do not intervene in the coming days to stop the regime’s military campaign and the FSA continues to maintain the military escalation line and preserve its gains on the ground, the regime may turn to pre-June 25 conditions to prevent further losses and the further bolstering of the opposition. The situation at the time gave the regime full administrative control over the area but with very limited security control.
Worst case scenario: absolute control by the regime without any reconciliations or settlement
This scenario is best for the Assad regime and its ally Iran, which does not favor Russia. It depends on launching a vast military campaign on the neighborhood and imposing absolute control without referring to any new settlements, which will result in a massive campaign of arrests for the residents and will not even allow them to flee to the north of Syria. This scenario is preferable for Iran because it will create a large vacuum in the region that can be exploited by local allies at the administrative, military, and security level, which will therefore pose a major challenge to Russia in regard to controlling the Iranian presence near the Syrian and Jordanian borders.
In the long run, this scenario will enhance the fragility of the security situation in the region for an array of reasons. This includes: an increase in assassinations against Iran’s allies in the region; the high incidence of clashes between members of the Eighth Brigade and Iran’s allies; and an increase in the number of Israeli attacks on Iran-backed forces. In sum, this scenario is considered the worst for Daraa and its people because it serves only Iran and its local allies from the regime.
The Information Unit Manger at Omran Center for Strategic Studies talked to Arab News about Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal.
Navvar Şaban said: The Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara, Confirming Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories.
The resource: http://bit.ly/2MJem69
The conflict in Syria that has been dragging on since 2011 generated many challenges that began to take shape as the conflict is coming to an end. Some of the key challenges pertain to early economic recovery which has already started in the various areas of the country, with their different influences, needs, resources and potentials. Given the current situation in Syria—with the consolidation of zones of influence and the faltering political process -local, regional, and international policies have begun to adapt to this reality, with key stakeholders launching early economic recovery projects in the established zones of influence.
The political and military landscape in Syria remains precarious and questions of the capacity of different actors, reality of these regions and the political context pertaining to economic recovery in these areas must be addressed in order for stakeholders to successfully implement early recovery projects. Accordingly, the Omran Center for Strategic Studies has developed a research series to understand the dynamics, political compass, requirements, and challenges of these early recovery projects so for them to facilitate the establishment of stability on the ground.
Early recovery is critical because it is the phase that is supposed to transition the country from conflict to peace and stability and lay the foundation for the subsequent reconstruction process. This phase has political and social dimensions that are of equal importance to its economic dimension. The political dimension involves working to stop violence throughout the country, establishing new governance institutions, and reaching a political solut3. Autonomous Administrationion that generates stability. The social dimension includes relief work, accommodations and housing for refugees, and national reconciliation after the preparation of an appropriate security environment. The economic dimension includes the restoration of basic public utilities, relaunching of the economy moving, rebalancing the macroeconomic framework, and dismantling the components of the conflict economy in areas both outside of and under state control. The above political, social, and economic elements are significantly intertwined and success in any one area depends on success in the other two.
The research orientation of Omran Center assumes that the coming phase in Syria will take place in a military post-conflict setting and that a most likely scenario to play out will be one of two: The first scenario is the instilment of the zones of influence: a ‘useful Syria’ with Iranian and Russian influence, eastern Syria with Western-Arab influence, and northern Syria with Turkish influence. The second scenario is continued investment in the ceasefire by regional and international actors, with priority placed on declared or undeclared negotiations to reach a new form of authority in which the existing regime maintains the largest share, thanks both to the efforts of its allies and the regime’s success in retaining the mechanisms of control.
The overall objectives of the research orientation of Omran Center are to identify criteria for an effective early economic recovery that is conducive to stability and development and to create a policy framework for implementing those recovery efforts. This research also aims to define the requirements and conditions for early recovery as they relate to security, governance, and development and to reach a position regarding the regime’s ability to handle Syria’s post-conflict challenges and to implement recovery and reconstruction policies. In this context, Omran has produced five reports:
1. A political analysis paper on the political context of early recovery in Syria;
2. An analytical paper of early economic recovery in Syria: challenges and priorities;
3. A paper on the political economy of early recovery in Syria;
4. A study on Early Recovery in Syria: An Assessment of the Regime’s Role and Capability; and 5. A study on the Turkish approach to early economic recovery in Syria, Euphrates Shield area as a case study.
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Mr. Yaser Tabbara talked about the Syrian regime troops, and their allies, had made major gains in Idlib province. Forces loyal to Bashar al Assad say they're targeting terrorists. But tens of thousands of people are fleeing towards the Turkish border, in what could create a new humanitarian disaster.