As Aleppo’s fall looms, Syria dynamics shift for Trump
ANALYSIS: With its forces closing in on opposition-held areas in East Aleppo, capturing 40 percent of the country’s largest city, the Syrian regime is eying a significant victory that could turn the tide of the five-year-old conflict and lay out new dynamics for the incoming US administration.
Regaining control of Jabal Badro, Baadeen, and Hanano districts in the last few days is no small thing for the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies, experts said.
Despite the humanitarian disaster at hand with 275,000 people trapped in eastern Aleppo, hundreds dead over recent weeks and 10,000 displaced, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the Aleppo battle is redrawing “the contours” of the war, and preempts the Presidency of Donald Trump on Jan. 20 with a new military landscape.
Aleppo’s ‘political’ fall
The regime’s ability, supported by Russia, to recapture areas it ceded in 2012, speaks to the symbolism of the operation, as a serious blow to the rebels and one in which heavy bombardment, use of cluster munition and sieges has paid off for Assad.
“Aleppo’s fall is a matter of time,” said Joseph Bahout, a scholar and close follower of the Syrian war at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Given the almost complete lack of logistical support for the Syrian rebels and the deafening silence and indifference on the diplomatic front, we can consider that Aleppo has fallen ‘politically,’” Bahout told Arab News.
The regime’s offensive “has been meticulously prepared for months and includes a wide array of local, national and foreign forces,” said Tobias Schneider, a defense analyst based in Washington.
“The districts captured by the regime over the past 36 hours cut right through the heart of opposition-held Aleppo... and now the regime is throwing its full weight at what remains of the opposition areas by seeking to break the single enclave into three smaller parts,” Schneider added.
Against the sheer force and “vastly superior regime fire power (backed by Russia’s air force), the fighters may only hope to prolong the inevitable,” he said.
Schneider expects “the regime advances to continue until the armed opposition inside Aleppo is either defeated or sufficiently neutered to accept one of Damascus’ humiliating local truce agreements.”
‘Fait accompli’ for Washington
Coming 52 days before the inauguration of Trump, the reshaping of Syria’s military landscape is also a strong signal to the new White House.
Bahout said that a “most probable calculus in Russia’s mind was that a substantial Aleppo gain was needed at all costs before the new US administration is sworn in regardless of the name of the winner.”
Moscow is seeking a “new fait accompli that would strengthen its position on the negotiating table,” Bahout added. With Trump winning following a campaign of friendly gestures to Russian President Vladimir Putin and promises of a “different approach” on Syria, Moscow “is preparing the ground for a much more ‘friendly’ negotiation with the new administration,” contends Bahout.
Replicating Aleppo in Raqqa or Idlib by joining forces with Washington against Daesh or Nusra could be on Russia’s bucket-list proposals for the new US President, says Bahout. The idea is not too far-fetched for Trump, who just last October said “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS, Russia is killing ISIS and Iran is killing ISIS.”
Militarily, Schneider says that “once Aleppo is secured, a confident Bashar Assad may well consider himself safely on the path to overall victory.” He expects the regime “to refocus its attention on the rebel-held towns of Douma and Al-Tall, just outside of Damascus to further consolidate his hold on ‘useful Syria’.”
While Assad might not be able to regain full control over Syrian territory, Schneider sees the regime in “a sufficiently strong position militarily and strategically to reject political compromise on anything but its own terms” — even if the war “rages on the periphery.”
Bahout paraphrases the expected fall of Aleppo as an effective “redrawing of the contours of ‘useful Syria,’ as the regime controls major cities and feels comfortable in its strongholds.”
The next phase for Assad, he anticipates, would look like a push to control more land, rehabilitate the regime and regain international legitimacy. With a new right-wing wave sweeping through Britain, the US and Europe, Assad’s objectives may not be unforeseeable following the showdown in Aleppo.