Only months ago, expectations were high that the Syrian civil war was coming to an end. But today, it seems that the war for Syria is just beginning. New disturbing scenarios are opening up. Weeks ago, tensions between Iran and Israel over Syria reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, the Turkish military began the operation "Olive Branch" in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin district in the northern region of the country.
The years preceding the Arab Spring were rather calm ones for the armed forces of the Arab world: two major conventional campaigns (Iraq 2003 and Lebanon 2006) barely involved the military, and terrorism was mostly under control in Algeria and Yemen. Elsewhere all was quiet on the Arab front. The Arab Spring changed this in more ways than one: to start with, it turned the militaries of Tunisia, Syria and Egypt into political actors, and split those of Yemen and Libya in two.
In an interview given to several European newspapers last June, the recently elected French president Emmanuel Macron took a new position regarding Syria and the future of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad: France no longer sees his departure as a priority to bring peace back to the country. “Because no one has introduced me to his legitimate successor”, Macron added.
Nowadays, the Mediterranean region’s balance of power is challenged by several conflicts and actors. Russia has taken advantage of this complex and fluid situation, becoming a key actor, expanding its military involvement, and building up political relationships. A key step in this process has been Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict since September 2015. While this was a surprising development, the paper argues that it is nonethless consistent with Russia’s regional interests and its renewed foreign policy.
Russia’s military intervention in Syria at the end of September 2015 undoubtedly strengthened and sustained the Bashar Al-Assad regime. For the first time since the height of the Cold War Russian military personnel were actively involved in the Middle East as a combatant force with significant political leverage to counterbalance the roles of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the Syrian conflict and thus the wider Middle East.
Since the end of September, the French air force extended the scope of its operations to Syria. This is a true strategic inflection but Paris, as its allies, still demands the ousting of Bashar Al-Assad.
In this summer of geopolitical realignments, Oman confirms to be the subtle centre of Middle Eastern diplomacy: in these days, Muscat has been hosting informal talks on the Yemeni crisis and seeks to find a minimum room for dialogue about Syria. Oman is the first Arab country that has received Damascus’ foreign minister since 2011.