Why does the Syrian regime neglect Aleppo airport?
Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi
Airports play an important role in the commercial and economic movement of the country in general, and its affiliated cities in particular, within the sectors of services, investment, import, export and trade.
The northern city of Aleppo is the economic capital of the country and the main commercial hub that played a major role politically and economically over many years, as well as during the years of the Syrian revolution.
The city witnessed military battles that led to the massive destruction of large parts, especially the eastern districts, until the Syrian regime took control of it in 2016.
Although Aleppo International Airport is of great importance as an outlet for the city to the outside world, it does not receive the attention that the Syrian regime attaches to the Damascus International Airport.
Before the Syrian revolution of 2011, Aleppo was one of the most important cities in the Middle East, and its strategic location played a role in giving it preference in the process of trade exchange within the regional and local spheres.
Why does the regime neglect Aleppo airport?
The head of the Aleppo Chamber of Industry, Fares Shehabi, has previously criticized the Syrian regime’s lack of interest in Aleppo airport, despite its importance to the city, several times, the last of which was on July 25.
Shehabi, in a Facebook post, called for activating air traffic to and from Aleppo International Airport, considering that this step “is sufficient to pump a lot of money into the local market,” and that air traffic through Aleppo airport is weak and illogical.
The importance of Aleppo airport also comes from its proximity to international highways between Damascus and Aleppo (M5) and Latakia and Aleppo (M4).
It seems surprising that the Syrian regime does not care about the airport and its navigation in light of the current economic conditions, and its continuous calls for Arab officials to invest in the areas under its control.
Economics researcher Dr. Firas Shaabo told Enab Baladi that the Syrian regime is trying to restructure the economy in the interest of the cities of the Syrian coast, pull the rug from the cities of Damascus and Aleppo, and shift the wheel to new cities to be the basis of the Syrian economy.
These attempts come in light of the regime’s fears that Aleppo will be out of its control within any future international settlement regarding Syria, according to Shaabo.
On August 13, the Turkish newspaper Sabah, which is close to the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey, spoke of instructions given by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to implement the “Aleppo model”, through a tripartite mechanism between the Turkish Ministry of Interior, the party and its parliamentary bloc. The model targets the “safe areas” throughout Aleppo, which will allow the return of hundreds of thousands of Syrians to their country.
The newspaper referred to negotiations between Turkey, Russia and the Syrian regime in this regard.
Airports are part of the state’s sovereignty, according to the economic researcher, Younis Karim.
Their absence means the absence of investors and their contributions to the economy, as well as the absence of tourism, which is the easiest sector capable of pumping money and foreign exchange into the state. Its normal operation also gives an impression of the extent of the country’s recovery, said Karim.
Regarding Aleppo airport and its importance, Karim said that the airport’s presence and operation means attracting Gulf and Arab investments that contribute to the economy.
According to the Flight Radar website, which specializes in navigation and air traffic, the number of flights to and from Aleppo airport, between July 18 and August 15, does not exceed 28 flights.
Karim believes that the lack of interest in Aleppo airport is due to the regime’s view that the airport is a bargaining chip between several regional powers and related to sovereign files and regional influence, including Iran, the Syrian regime’s ally.
Meanwhile, economic researcher Khaled Turkawi indicated in an interview with Enab Baladi that air traffic in Syria is basically weak, and does not need several airports, and the government fleet does not exceed three planes, as well as private aviation.
While Shaabo believes that the absence of a real commercial and economic movement in Aleppo makes the use of the airport useless.
The geographical location of the airport and its proximity to the Turkish military points in the countryside of Aleppo is an additional factor for its lack of full operation, according to Shaabo.
Iranian influence and Israeli bombing
An Israeli airstrike hit the Aleppo International Airport early on Monday, August 28, damaging a runway and putting it out of service, Syrian state media said.
The airport has been targeted several times this year, including two attacks in March that also put it out of service, according to The Associated Press.
At that time, the strike targeted an Iranian arms shipment, as part of a strategy that Israel calls the “war between wars,” through which Iranian sites or arms shipments are targeted.
Expert Shaabo told Enab Baladi that the airport’s restoration is costly and the regime has no financial capacity to do so.
On the other hand, the researcher Younis Karim believes that the Iranian presence at the airport is the same as the Russian presence, and that no one of the forces present in Syria controls the Aleppo airport completely.
Iranian moves reflect its influence at Aleppo airport and in the city as well. The Omran Center for Strategic Studies said in 2021, in a study titled “Economic Recovery in Syria,” the presence of Iranian militias (Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas and Liwa al-Baqir and Harakat al-Nujaba) in the eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, and it exercises its hegemony over a large number of local institutions such as the city council and controls other basic services.
Turkawi told Enab Baladi that any airport is an important facility, but the presence of Aleppo airport in an area of influence for the Iranians naturally pushes them to control it, whether directly or through groups affiliated with them that have the upper hand, unlike Damascus International Airport, which, in his opinion, falls under the shared influence of the regime’s allies.
Can the airport be privatized?
In light of the regime’s recent moves towards privatizing public sector institutions and companies, moving towards a new class of businessmen, and the announcement on July 2, of a new company to invest in Damascus International Airport, with stakes that will be distributed between 51% for the Public Syrian Airlines Corporation and 49% for the partner investor.
Experts see that such deals will not exclude Aleppo airport within the mindset of the war economy that the regime adopted by selling vital sectors that constitute important economic resources for the state in legal forms.
The company was announced by the regime, bearing the name Eloma, and through the information collected by Enab Baladi in an investigation it prepared on July 16, it is clear that the next investment will not only be in Damascus airport, but in all Syrian airports used by the Syrian Airlines Corporation.
Although this announcement includes all airports, the opinions of experts interviewed by Enab Baladi differed to talk about the possibility of privatization affecting Aleppo airport, as a solution or a step taken by the regime within the economic structure it is working on.
While economic researcher Khaled Turkawi believes that the privatization of Aleppo airport in particular is not in al-Assad’s hands due to Iran’s influence over it, and its use for security or military flights or to transport important figures, Younis Karim believes that the conflict over the airport between several forces prevents its privatization.
Karim added that Asma al-Assad could try to privatize the airport, as she did with Damascus airport previously, and then announce the participation of other companies in addition to “Eloma,” to avoid Western sanctions, according to his opinion.
Failure to invest in the airport wastes important financial resources for the state, and its operation of international flights between Aleppo and Arab cities is very important for the city, because Aleppo is still the economic capital of Syria despite all the damage it has suffered, Shaabo said.
The academic expert concluded by saying that the lack of interest in the airport gives an indication of the regime’s bad intentions towards the city.
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