• Ola Rifai

The fall of Aleppo and the big fall of Syria

Horrific footage streaming on a daily basis from eastern Aleppo of parents digging in the rubble of their homes to rescue their beloved ones has shaken the globe, hitherto it has no foreseen effects to end the tragedy of Syrians.

Breaking a shattered ceasefire which was brokered earlier by Russia and the U.S, Russian and Syrian regime forces embarked on a deadly military campaign with the aim of capturing Aleppo: the last major urban area held by rebels. This onslaught marks the second year of Russia’s intervention in Syria, and more than ever, Putin looks very determined to obtain military gains on the ground so he can advance his agenda on the political scene. For Putin, controlling Aleppo would yield him a great leverage over all players in the drama and would emphasise his role as a pivotal actor in the region. Ignoring international pleas to stop the violence, Russian jets continue to throw innovative types of air-drooped incendiary weapons on eastern Aleppo, adding a new War Crime to a heavy criminal record in Syria. U.N chief Ban Ki-moon described the situation as worse than a "slaughterhouse", and a UNICEF top official declared that what is happening in Aleppo is “defiantly the worst we have seen”. Yet, unsurprisingly, the International community is paralysed to stop the violence, and is incapable of introducing any deterrence measure.

Undoubtedly, the Aleppo battle is extremely crucial in drawing the road map for the, now, five and half year drastic war in Syria. Controlling Aleppo would impose a new reality on the ground and on any negotiation table; the one who captures Aleppo would acquire the keys to changing the rules of the game. After the Russian onslaught last week, the power balance shifted dramatically toward the Assad regime and its allies yielding them leverage over their foes while no carrot neither stick are there for the West to counter such leverage. On the other hand, rebels on the ground seem to be in their worst situation ever with no supplies or international backing; as Turkey fluctuated its stances and is now busy fighting the Kurds, and Gulf States are still hesitant in handing the opposition sophisticated anti-craft missiles. And even if the latter did so, such missiles are far less sufficient to thwart the Sukhoi’s incendiary bombs, instead, they would prolong the fight.

In this context, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry’s threats to halt ‘cooperation’ with Russia falls on Russian deaf ears; since the top man of Kremlin seems indomitable to maintain his agenda as long as there is no one to deter him and no "red lines" to take into account.

Indeed, the failure of diplomacy indicates a necessity to apply hard power to prevent a fatal shake up in the power balance. Therefore, Western powers should promptly respond to prevent the fall of Aleppo; imposing a no-fly zone is now a crucial step. The fall of Aleppo would have lethal repercussions on the ongoing war and on the post-war Syria; radicalisation and sectarianisation of both sides are escalating; Shia fighters including Iranian revolutionary guards, Hezbollah soldiers and Iraqi fighters and afghan mercenaries are massing for a final assault on Aleppo. In this light, Akram al-Kaaby; the leader of al-Nujba Iraqi Shiite militia arrived earlier this week in Aleppo to greet the Iraqi soldiers on the frontline. This portrays the battle as a Sunni/Shiite holy war, which inflames the polarisation and sectarianisation of the conflict. Surely, this accelerates the process of radicalising Sunni rebels instead of deradicalising them, and with no surprise, it pushes them towards extremist groups. Before its farewell, the current U.S administration should carefully calculate its policies so it can realise that the risks of inaction overweigh the risks of action on the Syrian scene. When speaking about American action one excludes the form of a military offensive, rather, advocating a no-fly zone is what is possible.

At this time last year, Obama said that the Russian intervention in Syria will suck Moscow into a ‘quagmire’. In truth, the American inaction is what would trigger this quagmire to flood the globe. Mr. Kerry was absolutely right when he stressed, during a Security Council meeting in New York last month, that Syria’s future is "hanging by a thread"; yet this thread is now wrapped on the American hand more than ever.


© 2018 Centre for Syrian Studies