Northeastern Syria awaits new alliances map
Enab Baladi – Khaled al-Jeratli
At the beginning of this year, a series of statements were made by Turkish officials about Turkey’s intention of rapprochement with the Syrian regime in order to fight the organizations classified on its terrorist lists, which are spread in the north of Syria.
Although it is in the interest of the Syrian regime to regain control over new areas in Syria, information was reported by the Reuters news agency regarding the regime’s rejection of this rapprochement.
Such ambiguity about the regime’s position on rapprochement was reinforced by the talk of the commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, about his intention to ally with the regime to stand up to Turkey in the region.
Through this report, Enab Baladi attempts to analyze the map of alliances concerning the relationship between Turkey and the Syrian regime and the position of SDF and Russia in it based on the views of experts and specialists.
Regime’s alliances are linked to developments
The Syrian regime is “resisting Russian efforts to broker a summit with Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” Reuters news agency said on 2 December, after more than a decade of hostility between the two sides.
The said agency quoted three unnamed Syrian sources as saying that Turkey had “supported terrorism” by endorsing a group of fighters, including fighters affiliated with Islamic factions, as well as repeated military incursions into northern Syria, which prompts the regime to reject the idea of this rapprochement.
This was preceded by Russian statements about the Kremlin’s introduction of the rapprochement plan as the “most rightful option” in relation to the Syrian file.
Maan Talaa, a researcher at the Omran Center for Studies, told Enab Baladi that the change of alliances on the Syrian map is primarily linked to the changes that have taken place in the Syrian scene.
In order to recognize the transformation mechanism in these alliances, Talaa believes that these shifts are imposed by the “tactical moments” in the Syrian file, and therefore it is not possible to talk about available indications of a “sustainable” relationship or alliance between certain actors on the Syrian map.
Based on the foregoing, and despite the Syrian regime’s setbacks in several fields, most notably the economy, it realizes today that the Russian position provides it with a number of tactics by which it can maneuver.
The regime does not view the relationship with Turkey as an alliance as much as it follows a “cautious” policy of rapprochement with it, given that this rapprochement is actually formulated according to determinants imposed by Turkish affairs more than it is related to improving relations with neighboring countries.
Consequently, these determinants require the regime to deal with rapprochement with Turkey at the security level. In this context, the regime’s handling cannot change in this regard because security issues cannot rise to a political level.
On a political level, it demonstrates “political flexibility” without real action in line with Moscow’s desire to make the Astana Platform a source of security consensus in the first place and a political consensus later, according to Talaa.
On 15 September, Reuters reported that the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Service, Hakan Fidan, met with the director of the Syrian regime’s National Security Office, Ali Mamlouk, in the Syrian capital of Damascus, according to a “regional source loyal to Damascus.”
According to the agency’s citation of four unnamed sources, Fidan held several meetings with Mamlouk during the same month, which it saw as an indication of Russian efforts to encourage a “thaw” between countries on opposite sides of the Syrian dossier.
Regime, SDF relation
This is not the first time Turkey has waved a military operation against the SDF in northern Syria. It has already mobilized the media through its officials’ talk about the approaching date of its operation in Syria, not to mention the operations it has already carried out.
As soon as there was Turkish talk regarding a potential Turkish operation in Syria in the middle of this year, the regime forces began sending military reinforcements of soldiers and vehicles to stand by the SDF on the battlefronts in the areas of Ayn al-Arab/Kobani, Tal Rifaat, and Manbij in the countryside of Aleppo.
Researcher Maan Talaa reckons that the regime is fully aware of the extent to which its relationship with the SDF has shifted since the placement of US bases within Syrian territories.
The US presence put the Syrian regime in front of the reality that the Kurdish groups in northern Syria are no longer the same ones that it had previously used to fill a security or military vacuum or even to provoke Turkey on its southern borders, he added.
Thus, the SDF’s relation to the Syrian regime is more like one of “equals” governed by several tracks, the first of which is for the regime to converge with the US through the SDF, but so far, there has been no indication of this path at the current stage, or that there is rapprochement with the SDF itself but on the regime’s terms, the conditions for which are also not available in the current situation, says Talaa.
In mid-July, a member of the Joint Presidency of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Aldar Khalil, said that “Syria’s sovereignty and the responsibility to protect it rests with the Damascus government,” which claims to represent Syria at the United Nations. He considered that this is one of the points of disagreement over an agreement between the two parties, in addition to the fact that the regime has not yet been convinced “to abandon the centralization by which it rules because it fears that it will be a reason for its fall from power if it abandons it,” which constitutes an obstacle to any agreement.
Turkish political mind
Turkey’s new policy has been evident since its government’s move to improve its relationship with countries that previously had many problems between them and Ankara that lasted for several years, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
Political researcher Maan Talaa said that Turkey’s strategy for resolving its differences had been divided into three paths, the first of which is a strategy that has become clear in the Turkish political mind. This strategy is limited to arranging the relationship with the allies in the region and transforming the surrounding territorial environment into one that is “not problematic within the Turkish structure.”
The second path is based on the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian war, which is what pushes Turkey in this context, especially with the intersection of relations in the two files between Turkey and Russia, and thus Turkey builds its alliances within a strategy it previously defined that achieves the largest possible gains, especially in its relationship with the US as well concerning the Syrian file.
The third path is the Turkish elections, which are considered a prominent factor in shaping its current policy, particularly with the issue of Syrian refugees in the country playing an important role in promoting electoral programs.
The file of Syrian refugees in Turkey is one of the most present during Turkey’s presidential election campaigns, which over time has led to legal restrictions on their lives, causing instability.
This political discourse has become seasonal, escalating, and declining with any elections in the country, even at the level of its municipal elections.
Some of Turkey’s political party election campaigns depend solely on the project to deport Syrian refugees, which shows the refugees’ state of instability.
On 17 November, Erdogan left open the issue of rapprochement with the Syrian regime, talking about the possibility of reconsidering his country’s relations with both Egypt and Syria after the upcoming elections in June 2023.
This was followed by the Turkish president’s repeated talk that “there is no permanent rivalry in politics,” commenting on the likelihood of rapprochement between Turkey and the Syrian regime, according to the Anadolu Agency.
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