Syria: where will the pieces fall?
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t put Syria together again. So now neighbouring countries are preparing to intervene, to ensure that they control the fragments on their border.
Today President Erdogan is meeting his National Security Council after saying on Sunday that he will never allow the Kurds to establish a state along Turkey’s borders.
Helped by US airstrikes, Kurdish forces recently captured the towns of Kobani and Tal Abyad, driving out Islamic State fighters. They could in principle carve out a Kurdish enclave along that border, with US support. Erdogan – who fears resurgent Kurdish separatists inside Turkey – is reportedly considering sending his troops across Syria’s northern border to establish a buffer zone.
Now look south. Jordan has long feared Islamist contagion from Syria. According to the Financial Times, it is considering establishing a similar buffer zone, including the city of Deraa, where the uprising against President Bashar al Assad began.
The Jordanians have provided facilities for American troops to train a moderate rebel force, ready to fight both Assad and the Islamic State. It might now come into its own. The Israelis are also considering intervention, ostensibly to protect the Druze, a minority within Syria that is also at risk from IS.
In war you often can’t see the turning point until after it happens. In Syria that moment may have been in March when rebel forces took the town of Idlib. They were able to do so largely because Turkey and Saudi Arabia began to work together to arm the rebels, instead of backing rival groups. The result is that Syrian government forces are finding it increasingly difficult to hold ground.
At the G7 meeting earlier this month, British officials were floating the idea of a diplomatic solution, requiring the Russians to offer President Assad asylum.
That may be impossible – it’s hard to imagine the officials who surround the President letting him go. An alternative would be for the regime to retreat to the Alawite stronghold around Latakia.
Maps of the fighting in Syria need updating almost daily. Everything is in flux. But now the countries which have taken in so many refugees, and seen their borders destabilised, are preparing to act. Syria has exploded into fragments, and they want to decide where the pieces fall.
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