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Assad’s Allies at Crossroads Prior to the “Second Republic” Phase 

The President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad and the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi – May 17, 2018 (SANA)

The President of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad and the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi – May 17, 2018 (SANA)

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The Syrian regime’s President Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Moscow constituted a milestone amidst the changes befalling the Syrian landscape, for it happened a few days after the “Astana9,” joining the opposition, the regime and the guarantor countries. The visit has also freshened the talks about the constitutional committee, months after “Sochi” conference has address it and stressed its importance as a basic solution for Syria in the future.

The visit was sudden, and its prominence must be highlighted in comparison to other visits, since it came after the finalization of the military operations on the ground and the Russians and Turks intention to reach an entire ceasefire in Syria, especially in Idlib governorate, which “Astana9” has blessed by positioning the tenth Turkish monitoring point within its borders.

In the past a few days, the main point of focus was what Putting has said during his meeting with Assad, for the political process must be activated and “all foreign forces” must be withdrawn from Syria.

Putting did not specifically name the foreign forces, but the reality on the ground points out that Putin meant Iran and its affiliate military arms in Syria, which might pave the way for a dispute to be witnessed by the political landscape between Assad’s allies, Russia and Iran, for Iran views the constitutional committee, proposed by Russia, as a major threat to its interests and a minimization of its role in Syria which started in 2011.

Since its intervention in Syria, in 2015, Russia has utilized various political means to establish a certain image of itself, the sole agent to handle the area’s political future, alienating Iran, which in 2018, got entangled in a series of crises, the most prominent of which is its combat wit Israel.

If the current constitution is not changed, the current republic will not change, and the regime will, thus, continue to rule. However, after changing it, the State will enter the second republic phase, which ends the current regime’s authority, under the provisions of the election-based new constitution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awaiting Iran’s Response

Concluded on the 13th of last January, the “Sochi” Conference participants agreed to form a constitutional committee of the regime’s and the opposition’s representatives to reform the Syrian constitution according the Security Council’s resolution “2254”. The final communiqué has provided for “building security establishments and intelligent services, which preserve national security and adhere to the rule of the law, function in line with the constitution and the law, and respect human rights.”

In the past four months, none of the political sides, involved in the Syrian affair, have touched upon the constitutional committee’s matter, it was not until the meeting that joined Assad and Putin. The latter said that the on-ground success have introduced “additional convenient conditions to revive the full political process,” pointing out that “Assad has made the decision to send a delegation to form the constitutional committee,” a decision that Russia hails and supports will all possible means, considering the lately conducted agreement.

Assad has assured that the constitutional committee is proceeding, and in a statement quoted by the official news agency, “SANA,” he said, “Today I confirmed to President [Vladimir] Putin that Syria will send a list of its delegates to the constitutional committee to discuss amendments to the current constitution. This will be done as soon as possible.”

 

The above-mentioned thread of discussion presents a marked absence of Iran concerning the constitutional committee; actually, Iran’s role was present; however, it took the form of calls to expel it, especially that the situation in Syria is taking a turn from battles to a new political phase, the first steps of which are meant to reform the current constitution or to draft a new one.

Firas al-Khaldi, a Syrian opposition figure, believes that the features of the new political phase in Syria are not yet clear, pointing out that Assad’s regime is fully aware that any progress in the political process could only mean the approaching end of its military and security order.

Al-Khaldi told Enab Baladi that today we are waiting for a twofold Iranian response, Iran in relation to the Syrian regime and Iran in general, for the constitutional committee and proceeding with it pose a massive threat to its interests that have been a matter of concern to both America and Israel in particular.

During the visit, Moscow tried to focus the discussion on Assad’s preparations to send the delegation to UN, although he did not agree to changing the constitution, but only to making amendments.

In the presence of Putin, Assad was left now choice during the discussion. According to observers, he seemed at a crisis, for the Russians were trying to prevent him from evading the political process in partnership with Iran.

 

Expelling the Iraqi “Ghost”

Iran’s role in Iraq entices Russia’s fear, concerned about Syria’s turning into a wide space under the Iranian hegemony, in a similar scenario to that of Iraq in 2003, following America’s failure back then, after it gave Iran the chance to eliminate the Iraqi resistance, in a subversive step that started with the Iranian militias establishment of military bases and ended up with Iran control of the political circle.

Older international conflicts have defined Iran as a country that wants no stability; rather, one seeking continued sabotage and chaos, to build its bases, impossible to establish at times of peace.

Iran’s practices were accurately applied to Syria, as it utilized the instability and chaos which overcome the country at the beginning of the Syrian revolution and constructed dozens of military bases, which turned into a target for the Israeli army.

Reaching an entire ceasefire in Syria does not lie in Iran’s interest, especially that it might turn its bases and barracks into overt targets and prevent it from expanding.

The conclusion of Iran’s followed scenario is a sectarian nonconstitutional country.

In addition to the talks about the constitutional committee and Moscow’s intention to proceed with it, the field reality witnessed movements that cannot be separated from the Russians’ intention to diminish the Iranian role while creating the new political phase.

The Iranian militias, on May 17, withdrew from the town of al-Hader to Azan mountain in the southern countryside of Aleppo, amidst talks about the Russian forces’ preparations to establish a Russian monitoring point at the frontlines under the provisions of the “Astana” contracted “de-escalation” agreement.

Al-Hader is one of the most prominent towns at the east of the International Aleppo-Damascus Highway, only 10km away from it. The town is also close to the al-Zirbah town and its station, which is considered Northern Syria’s commercial vein.

 

Iran’s retreat came a few days after the ninth round of the talks, which joined Russia, Turkey and Iran as the guarantor countries, was concluded.  Ayman al-A’semi, “Astana” delegation member, believes that Iran’s withdrawal from the town of al-Hader was due to a Russian pressure, as a part of their current dispute that emerged after the military operations were finalized and dividing the areas of influence started.

Turkey and Russia have a mutual desire to cooperate to reach a total ceasefire in Syria, for both are aware that Iran wants chaos to build military bases, according to what al-A’semi told Enab Baladi.

Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesman, informed Russian media outlets that Putin and Assad’s meeting lasted more than three hours. As for Putin’s statements about the withdrawal of foreign forces from Syria, after the presumption of the active political process there, he only pointed out that “The Syrian territory is today home to personal from different countries, as a de facto force in an illegal manner according to the international law. [The forces which Putin referred to] are these countries in particular.”

He added that military cooperation joins many of these countries with Syria, stressing that “Russia went to Syria based on the Syrian leadership’s demand and that it has all the legal foundations to be there, in contrast to some of the other countries, which presence in Syria violets international laws.”

Astana’s Two Objectives

“Astana” Talks occupies the Syrian political landscape, for although it favors on-ground military operations, it is trying to enter the domain of the political decision, an attempt confirmed by its ninth round’s recommendations.

The final communiqué stated that the “Astana” guarantor countries are to conduct their meeting, next July, in the Russian city of Sochi and to conduct the third meeting of the detainees’ file work team in the Turkish city of Ankara next June.

The statement has also necessitated that the proceedings be guided by the Security Council’s “2254” resolution, stressing the continuity of the mutual efforts aiming to enhance the process of political settlement, through “facilitating the implementation of Sochi Conference’ recommendations.”

It was also agreed to hold joint consultations with the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to pave the way for the Geneva-based constitutional committee as soon as possible and to hold similar meetings on a regular basis.

Astana, according to al-A’semi, functions seeking two goals. The first is to have a military force beside the factions on the ground (Turkey) and the second is that Iran can never approve a ceasefire, the reason why the Talks has necessitated the ceasefire, especially in Northern Syria.

The Syrian opposition figure believes that the current situation demands a ceasefire, as to allow the factions a chance to tidy up their house and to avoid the rift which Eastern Ghouta and the northern countryside of Homs have witnessed. In addition to this, the popular incubator and military organization both require a quiet area.

 

Attempts at Exclusivity

“Astana9” has concluded with a ceasefire resolution to be implemented in four months, especially in Idlib governorate, which borders have been drawn by 12 monitoring points; the Talks has also stressed the importance of protecting the agreed upon “de-escalation” areas.

Away from the rest of the political platforms, on top of which are Moscow and Cairo, the opposition’s delegation, participating in the Talks, is trying to reach the Syrian oppositions’ third assigned to choose the constitutional committee that will take part in drafting the constitution.

During “Sochi” Conference, the involved parties have agreed upon a mechanism to choose the constitutional committee. It will join the Syrian regime, the opposition and UN; each of them is allocated a third of the total number of the committee’s members.

Al-A’semi explained that “Astana’s” delegation’s current task is to form the constitutional committee’s delegation, which is the first delegation’s right, pointing out that the constitutional committee will be the result of Turkey and Astana’s delegation discussions.

In “Sochi’s” final communiqué, the names of Syrian opposition figures were registered on the constitutional committee’s list, responsible for drafting a new Syrian constitution, including Brigadier General Ahmed Berri, Colonel Haitham A’fisi, Lt. Col. Fares Biouch, Major Yasser Abdel Rahim, Ayman al-A’semi, Fahim Issa a leader in the “Free Army,” and the head of the “Astana” delegation Ahamad Tu’meh. The list extends to include 168 names, of whom only 45 will be chosen to form the ultimate constitutional committee.

Most of the mentioned opposition figures are present in the “Astana” Talks.  According to al-A’semi, the “Astana” delegation has not yet decided about going to Sochi, next July, which depends on the discussion with the Turks and addressing the shared points, the detainees’ file and the commitment to the ceasefire agreement.

 

The Combat with Israel Continues

The political movements cannot be seen as separate from the Israeli-Iranian military confrontation, the repercussions of which are yet appearing.

The Russian and Iranian interests kept meeting throughout the Syrian war’s past years, for the on-ground supporter is mutual, the Syrian regime and its President Bashar al-Assad, and the enemy is also mutual, represented by the opposition factions. The two agents have formed an alliance that run all the military operations and had an important role in the recovery of many areas to the Syrian regime’s control. The cooperation was not limited to the battlefield, as it was accompanied by a cooperative effort in the political space as well.

After seven years, nonetheless, the landscape differed, for Russia has lately been neutral about Israel’s attacks against Iranian positions in Syria and announced that it will not interfere to the advantage of any of the sides, to follow a new plan that is related to the political scenario, which Iran is trying to scape and vade.

Late in 2017, Syria became a stage for the Israeli aircraft and unidentified rockets, which have repeatedly targeted military positions under the Syrian regime, Iran and the Lebanese “Hezbollah.”

The pace of military strikes has increased, albeit unknown and were not adopted by anyone; but these strikes have an Israeli character, coinciding with the increasing escalation between Tel Aviv and Iran in Syria, in addition to Israel’s continuance threats to diminish Iranian influence and to prevent it from establishing military bases in the region.

Assad’s forces’ “General Command,” on the 9th of last January, has announced that its defense forces have responded to an Israeli rocket attack, which targeted military positions in the city al-Qutayfah, rural Damascus.

Following this attack, on the 7th of February, the regime once more announced responding to a number of rockets that targeted a military position in rural Damascus, from Lebanon, pointing out that the defense system has responded and destroyed most of the missiles.

In April, the attacks’ indicator was on the rise, for the Syrian regime’s Ministry of Defense said that air raids have targeted the military base “T4” in rural Homs and led to deaths and injuries.

Israel has not confirmed its responsibility, but the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that two Israeli “F15” aircraft attacked the airport from the Lebanese airspace.

The 10th of May, 2018, witnessed an Israeli shelling of Iranian positions, in a an attack that is considered the strongest in 45 years. The attack targeted most of the military bases in Southern Syria reaching the ones in eastern Damascus, as a response to the Iranian “Revolutionary Guard’s” attack against the occupied Golan.

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