Greater Damascus: The final touches on the new demographic map

Greater Damascus: The final touches on the new demographic map

“Ghouta will fall. That is the message. And when it falls, Idlib must surely be next. And then the Syrians must decide how to break the US-Kurdish hold on Raqqa,” wrote The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk. He did mention that Eastern Ghouta is a besieged “enclave,” but he did not bother to say why it became an “enclave” after seven years of killing, destruction and systematic population displacement.
Stranger still, Fisk used the word “Syrians” in the above quote to mean the Damascus regime, ignoring the fact that it has been backed throughout the conflict by Russia’s air force and Iran’s sectarian militias, brought into Syria from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fisk knows more than many the true nature of the Assad dynasty, even before the massacre of Hama in 1982. Yet he thinks Bashar Assad and his brother Maher, who is now shelling Eastern Ghouta with the intention of uprooting and transferring its inhabitants — as was the case with Western Ghouta, Wadi Al-Ajam and Wadi Barada — represent “the Syrians.”
Perhaps Fisk also believes that he who has killed a million Syrians and displaced millions — with direct Russian support, and as part of Iran’s grand regional project — not only represents Syria’s people but also its sovereignty. This is a simple example of how some Western experts, circles and media have approached the Syrian debacle, especially since former US President Barack Obama decided his administration’s regional priorities.
The Western focus has shifted from a moral duty to support a peaceful, popular uprising against a sectarian dictatorship that has controlled Syria since 1970, to a “war on terror” that was allowed to proliferate and commit atrocities in order to justify aborting the uprising and rehabilitating the dictatorship.
But it would be naive to think that Iranian considerations were the only ones behind Obama’s decision to stand against the Syrian uprising. There was also the pro-Israel lobby, which is comfortable with the Damascus regime’s commitment to peaceful coexistence with Israel along the October 1973 cease-fire line in the Golan Heights.
The Israelis know well the Assad regime’s nature. They understand its weaknesses, strengths and existential priorities. They are also familiar with its outbidding and escalating belligerent rhetoric while providing Israel with one service after another. This is why Israel decided against getting involved and replacing the known with the unknown. So with intersecting Israeli and Iranian interests in Syria, Obama decided to abandon the Syrian people.
Meanwhile, there are two other important players: Turkey, a regional power hoping to reclaim its Ottoman imperial role and pose as protector of Sunni Muslims in an area where Iran and Israel are ascendant with US approval; and Russia, which under neo-tsarist rule has decided to keep its last remaining foothold in the Arab world after losing Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011.
Turkey flexed its muscles and resorted to loud rhetoric, while Russia has used a more efficient approach, combining its UN Security Council (UNSC) veto with diplomacy and misleading negotiations to change the rules of engagement on the ground.

The dubious evaporation of Daesh, and the rush of secessionist Kurdish militias to hand back the territories they control to Assad’s troops and Iranian militias, confirm that we are now in the last phase.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Ankara suffered two regional setbacks: When it became involved in inter-Arab conflicts; and when it had to retreat in the face of Moscow’s threats after it downed a Russian military aircraft in November 2015 over the Turkish-Syrian border. These two setbacks were bound to limit Ankara’s grandiose geopolitical ambitions in Syria, especially after Moscow’s and Tehran’s exploitation of Washington’s bet on the Kurds.
Given these developments, Turkey realized its limitations, and the risks of being accused of supporting terrorism. Seeing Washington’s rush to bolster secessionist Syrian-Kurdish militias, Ankara saw a common cause with Moscow and Tehran that soon resulted in the Astana process, the first political coup against the Geneva process for Syria.
Following its gains from Obama’s appeasement of Iran, Moscow gained again from the confusion and chaos in the Trump administration. This has allowed the Russians, in liaison with Israel, to reveal their real ambitions in Syria, and provide much-needed cover for Tehran and Damascus to continue their demographic changes in the country.
This policy of demographic change has resulted so far in uprooting the populations of eastern Aleppo, the western and southern suburbs of Damascus, and Wadi Barada, with the intention of linking Damascus with Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon to the west.
All that after the mass displacement of the populations of most neighborhoods in Homs city, several areas in the provinces of Homs, Hama and Idlib, and under the pretext of fighting Daesh, many parts of the provinces of Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, Hasakah and Daraa.
Fisk talks with conviction about the imminent fall of Eastern Ghouta, and later Idlib, because there are no more illusions, despite the futile haggling taking place in the UNSC. The demographic conspiracy against Syria is fast nearing its completion.
The dubious evaporation of Daesh, and the rush of secessionist Kurdish militias to hand back the territories they control to Assad’s troops and Iranian militias, confirm that we are now in the last phase. But what is even worse and more dangerous is that we are going through the redrawing of maps in an increasingly fragile region.

• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article is also published.
Twitter: @eyad1949
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