UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura gives a speech in a press release during the second day of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 23, 2017
In recent days, there have been significant news and analyses from regional and trans-regional experts and “friends” and “foes” of the Syrian government on how to do the Syrian peace talks and the fate of these talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, and possible achievements and implications for each party. From addressing why and how a quick agreement was achieved, and the final joint statement was issued, and it was read by the distinguished representative of the legitimate government of Syria, Bashar Jaafari, to the acknowledgement of groups opposing the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stating that there is no solution for the Syrian crisis without considering Bashar al-Assad, as well as the emphasis of some trans-regional global news agencies on how much pressures from Iran played a role in the fading presence and influence of the US in the Astana talks, and finally the UN commendation for the successful implementation of a trilateral mechanism by Iran, Turkey and Russia for creating and implementing a political solution to resolve the Syrian crisis, are all paid attention to by observers and experts.
In the meantime, what stands out along with the surprising successful result of talks is that all parties agreed on considering the ISIS and al-Nusra front (Fateh al-Sham) as terrorists which is, of course, an issue that immediately showed its field effects, and has led to the concern, anger and manic reaction of forces under this group. Turkey’s agreement with separating al-Nusra front provoked the emotional reaction of the other regional supporter of terrorists - Saudi Arabia - so that her ambassador to Turkey, in a non-diplomatic and an emotional statement, called Erdogan a traitor, and this shows above all the weakening relationship between Turkey and Saudi Arabia as yesterday’s like-minded states in the Syrian crisis, and the penetration of doubt and distrust among opposition groups supported by them that will bring about new consequences such as the fact that these groups will become uncontrollable. This uncontrollability will be intensified when the imposed restrictions on the opposition groups by the resistance front - the lack of space as a result of the presence of overcrowded Syrian opposition groups in Idlib, the lack of economic resources, and, in particular, food shortage in this city in comparison to the city of Aleppo - are also taken into consideration. Above-mentioned issues resulted in the confrontation and divisions within these groups, on the one hand, and the formation of new alliance and coalition, on the other hand.
In the meantime, what is more newsworthy than other issues is the confrontation between the two groups of Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra and their efforts to recruit from smaller terrorist groups currently present in the field of Syria. The effort and confrontation that resulted in bloody battles in the north and south of the city of Idlib between the groups like “Suqour al-Sham Brigade”, “Jaysh al-Islam”, “Kata’eb Thuwar al-Sham”, “Jabhat al-Shamiyah”, “Jaysh al-Mujahideen” and “the Fastaqim Kama Umirt Union” which joined Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra Union and the groups of “Jund al-Aqsa”, “Noor al-Iman Battalion”, “Nour al-Din al-Zenki”, “Jaysh al-Sunna”, “Jabhat Ansar al-Din” and “Liwa al-Haqq” under the single title of Tahrir al-Sham commanded by a man called Abu-Jaber Hashem Al-Sheikh. This confrontation led to many forces from both sides being killed and wounded including some of their outstanding and effective commanders such as “Abdullah Makhzum”, and some others were also arrested.
Beyond all these issues and bloody events and the efforts of regional supporters of these groups to mediate and restore peace and then aggregate their power to deal with the main purpose - the overthrow of the Assad government -, what comes to the mind in the field analysis and the effort to predict future developments in Syria and the region is the deep hatred penetrated into the yesterday’s allies and today’s opposition groups, a subject raised following the deaths of dozens of people from both sides in conflicts occurred in recent days. On the one hand, some important and influential groups such as “Suqour al-Sham Brigade” will no longer be able to play a role as in the past, and appear as a claimer, because a significant number of its forces separated, and some of its field commanders were also killed, and it lost significant amounts of its military equipment during the recent clashes with al-Nusra front (Fateh al-Sham). With these in mind, and following the fast and uncontrollable developments in recent days between terrorist groups and the Syrian opposition groups, we have to wait and see whether the Astana talks will have more - presently hidden - gains for the central government of Syria and Bashar al-Assad, and whether we can see the emergence of these gains in the Syrian field equations in the coming days and months, or that the regional and trans-regional supporters of terrorists and Syrian opposition groups will be able to control and manage new coalitions formed out of these groups under new titles, and follow their goals in a developed and new way.
It seems that the subsequent developments of the Astana meeting and divisions and conflicts between groups opposing the Syrian government are so far estimated and analyzed in line with the goals and desire of the Syrian government and her allies, however, it should be noted that the formation of new alliance and coalition will also serve as a double-edged sword for the Syrian central government. On the one hand, the continued bloody conflicts and confrontation between terrorist groups and the groups opposing the Syrian government along with field restrictions imposed on them by the axis of resistance - the integration of terrorists in the city of Idlib in northern Syria that no longer enjoys the capacity of a city like Aleppo to control terrorist groups without any concern, and this will cause their positions to be overlapped, and will deepen their intellectual differences - will result in more loss of military and arms power, and these groups opposing the central government of Syria will be decentralized, an issue that can explain why the axis of resistance insists on the integration of terrorists in the city of Idlib following the compromise with them in Aleppo and other cities.
On the other hand, the formation of new alliances and coalitions among opposition groups and terrorist groups which is mainly studied in the form of two groups of “Ahrar al-Sham” and “Tahrir al-Sham” can bring them out of dispersion and individual actions, regardless of the ISIS unilateralism, and give them extraordinary operational capacity. This will be more critical when the current differences come under the control as the result of the efforts of regional and trans-regional supporters of opposition groups, and increase the power of these groups to design and implement operations. A case that seems difficult due to the hatred formed between these groups, however, it is not considered improbable as a possibility. This makes it necessary more than ever to think about proper solutions, and prepare the opposite front - the legitimate government of Syria and her allies - to deal with possible scenarios.
Bahman Shamsi, a PhD candidate in Regional Studies at University of Tehran, is the guest contributor to IRAS.
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