Syria: Syria March 2024


March 7, 2024: Syria remains in a state of turmoil. There were some changes in 2024, starting with the discovery that the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah militia had secretly maintained operations in neighboring Syria. This was exposed when Israeli forces attacked Hezbollah in late 2023 and continued attacking into 2024. Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria over the last few years to make sure the civil war in Syria does not spread. Israeli air strikes are a quick reaction to any threats from Hezbollah, which is based in southern Lebanon but recently revealed some expansion into Syria.

Syrian leader Bashar Assad defended Hamas during an interview a reporter for Russian media. Assad also praised the work of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile in eastern Syria, the Kurdish SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) militia, consisting of Syrian Kurds, Syrian Sunni Arabs, and some other Syrian minorities, are leading the fight against the remaining Islamic terrorists belonging to al Qaeda and the more militant ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). ISIL continues to murder locals in order to obtain cooperation and compel civilians to refuse to cooperate with Syrian soldiers who are seeking to find and capture or kill ISIL members.

The ruling Assad clan of Syria choose peace over religion in 2021 by quietly abandoning long-time ally Iran for new deals with Russia and the Arab League, as well as Israel. That’s how the Assads, who belong to the Shia minority of Syria, have survived. They change allegiances when necessary. This most recent shift began after the 2011 rebellion of the Sunni majority against the Shia minority. The Assads almost lost but by late 2018 it was clear they had won.

The fighting persisted into 2024 because the main participants, like Russia, Turkey, Iran, the Assad government, and several remaining rebel factions, cannot agree on how to deal with the loose ends. Although initially considered likely to win, the rebels lost because of factionalism. So far over 500,000 have died and a third of the population has fled, mainly to Turkey and Lebanon. Meanwhile the Assads received over $16 billion worth of Iranian aid since 2012. That was joined by assistance from Russia after 2015 and Turkey since 2016.

The civil war also morphed into a proxy war between Iran and the Sunni Arab states and their Western allies. The major factor in the rebel defeat was ISIL, which began as one of many Sunni Arab Islamic terror groups, but mainly al Qaeda and ISIL, who wanted to turn Syria into a religious dictatorship. Most Syrians just wanted peace and prosperity. The Islamic terror groups, as was their custom, put a priority on determining which of them was the true savior of Islam. ISIL was definitely the most ruthless and best organized and many groups submitted to ISIL, if only temporarily. That weakened the rebel effort sufficiently for the Assads to hang on and become accepted as part of a larger anti-ISIL coalition. One thing everyone could agree on was that ISIL had to be destroyed first and by late 2017 that was accomplished. With ISIL reduced to small groups carrying out terror attacks, the remaining rebels were still not united.

At the time ISIL was crushed the rebels controlled about a third of the country but were outnumbered by the Assad forces and most Syrians were increasingly war weary. Most of the deaths occurred after 2013. The killing diminished a bit in 2015 because of sheer exhaustion and picked up again in 2016 because of the Russian air, and other support. The stubborn Assad dictatorship had a chance to win after 2015, something some Western nations saw as preferable to Islamic terrorists taking over and requiring a Western invasion to remove such a threat. The Islamic extremists still in revolt have been confined to Adib Province in northeastern Syria containing roughly two million people, almost entirely the rebels and their families. They had been being squeezed by Russian mercenaries, airpower and some Syrian ground forces until the Russians withdrew their forces after the Ukraine War started. At this point not much actual fighting is occurring save by Turkish forces attacking Kurdish areas.

In August 2016 Turkish ground forces entered northern Syria to seal the border from ISIL and Turkish separatist PKK Kurds as well as to weaken the Syrian Kurds. The Turks were basically helping the Assads and hurting ISIL and all that made an Assad victory more likely. Before the Assads could resume control of the country they had to deal with the fact that Israel, Jordan, and the Sunni Arab oil states are opposed to the Iranian effort to establish a permanent military presence in Syria. The Assads were not happy with Iranian domination but had to keep quiet about that.

Turkey was opposed to any autonomous Syrian Kurdish area in the northeast as well as a permanent Iranian presence. Turkey and Russia are technically allies of Iran in Syria, but the reality is that no one trusts Iran. The Russians have quietly made it clear they would side with Israel if it came down to that. The Turks are NATO members and traditional foes of Russia and Iran. The current Turkish government is unstable and increasingly unpopular with Turks as well as the neighbors. The unrest in Iran and growing financial problems have reduced Iranian efforts in Syria.

The Assads quietly patched things up with the Arab League, with help from Russia and, unexpectedly, Israel. At this point Iranian leaders were aware of what the Assads were going but were unsure of how to deal with it. Iran could probably kill the Assads, but that would be difficult because the key Assads tend to avoid joint meetings, the better to keep the clan alive, even if some key members get killed. This is how Middle Eastern politics has been conducted for thousands of years.




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