Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Eyes Wide Shut

"Russia and the regime will target the areas of the revolutionaries on the pretext of the Nusra Front's presence, and you know how mixed those areas are, and if this happens, the truce will collapse."
Bashar al-Zoubi, head, political office, Yarmouk Army, rebel Free Syrian Army

"For us, al-Nusra is a problematic point, because al-Nusra is not only present in Idlib, but also in Aleppo, in Damascus and in the south. The critical issue here is that civilians or the Free Syrian Army could be targeted under the pretext of targeting al-Nusra."
Khaled Khoja, senior opposition figure
Aftermath of an air strike on rebel-held Kalasa district of Aleppo (4 February 2016)
  The Syrian opposition said it would accept the deal only if attacks on civilians stopped -- AFP


"Indeed, success of this initiative - including widespread humanitarian relief for Syrian civilians - requires good faith and decency by three parties who have shown little or none during the duration of this crisis."
"Let's hope they change their spots."
Fred Hof, (former) State Department Syria specialist, Atlantic Council think tank, Washington

This is a game that Russia never seems to tire of playing, and why should it, since its main antagonist/aid in the conflict never fails to agree to do its part in the pretense of offering the ploughshares of peace for the airstrikes of war. It worked in Ukraine, and it works in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be enjoying himself quite fulsomely in leading U.S. President Barack Obama around by the nose ring of placid and reasonable ceasefire offers.

Leavened, of course, with the provision that the Syrian regime must also be brought to agreement, and that Russia withholds for itself the right to continue bombing Islamic State targets, even as the U.S. accepts that fiction in the knowledge that it is the rebel groups whom the West, Saudi Arabia and Turkey support which Russian airstrikes are meant to hit, and do, killing rebel fighters and civilians alike, adding to the desperate streams of refugees.

And, as Syria specialist Fred Hof adds, allotting Russia, Iran and Syria five additional days through the proposed timetable to continue clobbering and lashing and encircling the rebels in the prize of Aleppo. But, it is the Russian initiative, and in the timid heart of Barack Obama, hope springs eternal that someone, some force, not his own, will rescue him and America from the nightmare that previous interventions have brought them to.

That this is precisely the very same approach recommended a bare week or so earlier only to collapse under the weight of its own fragile malicious pretense, appears not to have gained an impression, so eager is the United States to suffocate the nightmare that Syria has become. True, it is increasingly difficult to keep sight of all the theatres of conflict and intersecting nationalist agendas, among the multifarious jihadi groups mingling with Syria's legitimate rebel forces, but such is the Middle East in the complexities of its tribal, ethnic and sectarian hatreds.

Saturday is designated as the pull-through date, when all forces will withdraw from conflict; a breathing space, an appetizer for full peace that will/should/may follow, feels the eternal optimist who obviously has not been too long resident in the neighbourhood. But yes, believe it, a 'cessation of hostilities' between the armed opposition groups and the regime is imminent. Of course, the Islamic State is outside the agreement. come to think of it, so is the Nusra Front, with their al-Qaeda allegiance.
Syrian army fires a rocket at Islamic State group positions in the province of Raqqa, Syria (17 February 2016)
The Syrian government said "military efforts to combat terrorism" would continue -- AP

It will be difficult, to be sure, for the Russian/Syrian/Hezbollah/Shiite militias/al-Quds coalition to distinguish the "moderate" rebel groups from the "terrorist" everyone-else groups, but that's how  things are. Vladimir Putin suggested a telephone conversation with his American counterpart and they amicably figured it out, together. This is what diplomacy excels at, bringing adversaries together in a mutual arrangement that each sees merit in, even if one is a magician and the other a poor chess player.

"This is going to be difficult to implement. We know there are a lot of obstacles, and there are sure to be some setbacks", brilliantly observed White House spokesman Josh Earnest. Hard to tell when he's joshing and when he's earnest. Russia, to no one's surprise will simply get on with its air campaign, since there's always Islamic State to confront and bomb the hell out of, and if they actually proceed with that, it will represent a change in tactics. 

Since Russia has made it clear that it shares Bashar al-Assad's designation of the rebel scum as terrorists.


Map showing territorial control in the Syrian conflict (23 February 2016)

 

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