Syria: Powers edge closer to direct confrontation

The latest phase of the Syrian conflict has edged global and regional powers closer to direct confrontation.

Victory in East Ghoutha

The Syrian victory in East Ghouta is a significant step forward for the Syrian/Russian/Iran coalition.

The western alliance is faced with two problems.

  • Iran consolidating a corridor of influence right to the Mediterranean and enhancing it’s regional influence. That alarms the Gulf states and Israel, all key western partners.
  • The Syrians and their allies are in a position to push on and recover more territory, including areas under US and Turkish control.

Regardless of whether a chemical attack took place, the alleged incident is a pivotal one that allows the west to to put (and examine) all its options on the table.

There are a myriad of overlapping and opposing interests between all the powers on the ground complicating the options for the west.

The Turks and Russians are collaborating against US backed Kurdish forces. The Turks because of a strategic threat in their near abroad, the Russians because of the American presence. But the Turks still have a policy of regime change.

The Gulf states, Turkey and the west support rival Islamist groups – groups that fight each other as much as they fight the Syrian regime.

There are also other facts on the ground.

Oil rich Eastern Euphrates

The territory held by US allies is the oil rich region of the Eastern Euphrates. The US can exert an impact on regime rebuilding through its control of this area. Sooner or later the Syrian regime will be compelled to try to take back control. It’s also noteworthy that the Russian foreign minister, Lavrov, makes numerous references to the presence of US forces in Eastern Euphrates.

Military action

The US has talked itself into military action and has material interests on the ground, so I agree with the general consensus that there will be military strikes.

But how far will they go? Will they be a token hit on a few airbases? Or will they attempt strikes that materially damage Syrian forces? I think the latter is unlikely.

With the Russians embedded so closely with the Syrians it’s difficult to see how the west can could achieve that outcome without hitting Russian forces. Russian causalities would risk escalation given the warnings coming from Russia.

The aim of any strikes will probably serve as a warning to the Syrians and Russians to stay away from US controlled territory. The strikes may be reported as devastating but I doubt they’ll be a serious set back for the Syrians.

Direct confrontation unlikely at this stage

Accidents can never be ruled out and no one is in control of these volatile events.

However, it’s unlikely there will be direct confrontation between the powers at this stage.

Further down the line? To avoid direct confrontation one of the powers will have to give ground. There’s little sign of that happening peacefully…

Gary Hollands

Geopolitical analyst Tyga FX

11 April 2018