A worthless resolution was passed at the UNSC, emptied of content by the Russians, thus allowing the Iranians to continue ethnically cleansing Ghouta. On the tail of Israeli airstrikes against Iranian installations in and around Damascus, and after the Turkish army ensconced itself around the rebel capital of Idlib, Iran seeks to continue the same policy to the east of Damascus, which it has already succeeded in implementing to the west, in Darayya, namely that of ethnic cleansing. On the pretext of dealing with terrorists, it is emptying these areas of Sunni Syrians, ready for the settlement of Shi’a militias and their families.
Meanwhile Israel warns Iran that it will not allow a military build-up by its forces in southern Syria. However, Iran is not relying on military installations to expand its influence, but on populating strategic areas with communities that are faithful to its ideology. This is a policy ongoing in Syria, which worked favourably in the past in its long-term plan to bring Iraq under its control. Its military installations may be be blown up from time to time by Israel, but local populations faithful to the Iranian régime will continue rebuilding them, and ensuring that the crescent of Iranian control all the way to Southern Lebanon is established as a permanent and ineradicable feature of Middle-Eastern demography through Baghdad, Karbala, and Damascus.
The success of this Iranian strategy is evident in a reduced reliance by Iran on forces from Lebanese Hezbollah in southern Syria, allowing Hassan Nasrallah to promise his Lebanese political partners that he will no longer have a role to play in Syria.
Meanwhile, all the noise about the Assad régime sending forces to Afrin to aid the Kurds against Turkey has also to be understood as part of the Iranian grand plan on two levels:
(1) The so-called Pro-Syria forces were actually Iranian militias. It has been clear for some time that Assad is an Iranian pawn. He is not even a Russian pawn – Russia is forced to back Iranian policy in Syria with their air power because it is Iran that has the forces on the ground in the form of militias that constitute the vast majority of the Syria government military machine. It also funds the Syrian government (such as it remains as a shadow of its former self), which has few resources remaining to it.
(2) Iran wants if possible to keep control of Aleppo. The Turkish encirclement of Afrin and Idlib which is ongoing in the slow methodical root and branch manner of the Turks, poses a problem as to where Turkish control ends and Iranian control begins. The confrontations now around Tall Rifa’at to the north-west of Aleppo, between the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Iranian militias, mean that the “border” between the new areas of influence is being decided. Iran sending militias to Afrin is not intended as a move to defend Afrin, but a tactical move to send units behind FSA lines in order to effect a better outcome for the Iranian side.
Furthermore, the alliance in Idlib province between Turkey and Tahrir as-Sham means the entire border between Afrin/Idlib and Aleppo provinces is being disputed.
In early 2017 it became clear, that the US, which had a confused, non-existent Syria policy under Obama, was turning inward under Trump. The Astana process between Turkey, Iran and Russia had begun and was clearly going to dominate the agenda in Syria for the foreseeable future. Now, a new situation has developed. This is primarily due to the unwillingness of the US to leave Syria, which is having two effects. On one hand its alliance with the Marxist-Kurdish group YPG/PYD/PKK spooked the Turks into a new military campaign in the Afrin region, and on the other its continued inexplicable presence after the defeat of DAESH/ISIS (despite the continuing rhetoric) is being interpreted by the Iranians as a ploy to break their long-term strategy.
With the US clearly posing a danger to the Assad régime (read Iranian interests) to the northwest, and Israel threatening Iran to the southeast, Iran has essentially broken away from the Astana process to carve out its area of influence in Syria as quickly as possible. This means that the Astana process is to all intents and purposes dead, as was patently clear at the Sochi conference, when the opposition objected to the hideous triumphalism of the Assad régime, and the Russian preparedness to humour the crass behaviour of Assad’s hangers on as the conference progressed.
Syria de facto is breaking into three sectors: With the US having decided some time ago to occupy Eastern Syria with the YPG/PYD/PKK militias as gophers, we have 3 “sectors” being carved out: the US, Iranian and Turkish spheres of influence. While Iran empties its zones of Sunni Syrians in order to repopulate with adherents to its ideology and interests, the Syrians all inevitably flee to the (now very crowded) Turkish zones, putting pressure on Turkey to complete its control of Idlib and Afrin, especially since Turkish voters are keen to see as many of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees within Turkey itself, resettled in their own country, as soon as possible. Note that the Astana process gave Egypt responsibility for the observation posts around Damascus. Egypt, however, is essentially a non-country at the moment, incapable of looking after its own affairs, let alone those of Syria. Perhaps that is why the ever calculating Russian diplomats gave it this sensitive task to understake.
With Astana goes the meaningfulness of all talk about the integrity of Syria, although rhetoric will always and inevitably continue to have a momentum of its own. A political process is impossible with a régime in Damascus that is a front for Iran. Russia may be claiming legitimacy for its military bases in Syria in virtue of the fact that it is the Damascus régime which has the accredited ambassador to the UN. But that is all it consists of. Iranian control of the régime can hardly be legitimised.
It is America we have to thank for causing the total destruction of Syria, the once most beautiful Arab country. Iran, Russia and Turkey may now have stepped in, but all this is due, in the first place, to US imperial rampages, its subsequent contradictory policies, and its craven political subservience to Israel. Furthermore, the problem continues as the Financial Times today calls US policy in Syria today inconsistent, and liable to lead to new dangerous outcomes, fearing especially that ‘… a miscalculation on the ground could now lead to direct fighting between NATO members’, in a reference to the US backing of the illegitimate YPG/PYD/PKK occupation of Manbij.