The Syrian crisis is as much a manifestation of an old conflict between Persians and Ottomans as it is the outcome of a new one between the US and Russia.
By convening Astana and Sochi talks, Russia, along with Iran and Turkey, tried to eliminate all armed opposition backed by the West and start a political process that would secure its goals and those of its allies, which is of dividing Syria into different areas of influence that are key to these countries’ interests.
An example of this is what happened in Idlib, where Turkey was given the responsibility to resolve the problem in the area, which it covertly considers an extension of the territories that lie under its control. Similarly, Damascus’ suburbs (such as Reef Dimashq) have fallen under Iranian control, and the Syrian coast in Russian hands.
The US-Russian conflict over resolving the Syrian conflict, might take two paths. The first may be through the UN and its resolutions, especially through the formation of a constitutional committee, which will decide the new construct of the country and the societal, economic, and political compact following, which all foreign forces will have to leave Syria.
All of this will go in accordance with the will of a group of countries interested in Syria, such as the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, France, Britain and its allies. This was made clear in their announcement on 17 September 2018, in which they said they will contribute to rebuilding Syria.
The second way is through Astana, something that Russia and its partners want. In this solution, the constitutional committee will impose a political solution by picking a great number of the participants, which will ensure their control over the final outcome. Until now, it is unclear who will have the final say in this matter.
The Syrian territory under the control of US-led coalition forces to fight ISIS remains the main stumbling block for the Iranian project, because it covers large tracts of fertile land and has a diverse population consisting of Kurds, Arabs, Syriacs, and Assyrians – all of them suspicious of Russian intentions and apprehensive of Iranian occupation as well as Turkish control. At the same time, this area’s reality depends on the Kurds’ desire to achieve more political and economic independence, which comes at the cost of its Arab neighbors.
Through its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has proven its inability to understand the historical and social complexity of these countries’ people. The US did not know how to deal with them in a way that would yield positive results.
Despite spending billions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the presence of its military troops and the raising of national armies and international civil institutions, it failed to achieve stability in both countries, fight extremism, put an end to Iranian domination and create a coherent civil society and a stable government.
After US troop withdrawal
Hence, Saudi Arabia has a major role to play in Syria, which must not be left to face regional and international competition without a strong Arab presence, especially after the US decision to withdraw from Syria and amid ongoing negotiations for the phase following the withdrawal.
Talks now focus on protecting the Kurds from Turkish attacks. It is surprising that nobody is talking about the Arab majority in that area, which is the party that truly fought ISIS from within the Syrian Democratic Forces and stood up against Iran’s threat.
Saudi Arabia knows more about the structure of the Syrian Jazira area than do all members of the international coalition, and it’s the closest among them to local citizens, particularly towards Arabs.
The kingdom can play a major role in resolving the conflict between different denominations, especially between Arabs and Kurds. It can also protect Christian minorities simply because it does not have ambitions in Syrian territories, and because it has had good and historic relations with all parties and does not need to send its troops as part of the international coalition to combat terrorism.
The Saudi kingdom has donated large sums of money to support projects that bring about stability. Saudi companies should participate in executing the projects agreed upon among the international coalition members. This will provide Saudi Arabia with the tools needed for effective communication with ordinary people and will confirm the kingdom’s major role in the final solution on Syria.
Saudi presence will reflect Arab presence and Arab concern towards resolving this crisis in a way that achieves Arab interests that are represented in implementing international legitimacy resolutions that pertain to Syria and for putting an end to the Iranian project in the region.