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"H-hour" looming for Syria

February 18, 2016, 17:34 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© AP Photo

MOSCOW, February 18. /TASS/.

None of the scenarios for Syria available at the moment guarantees the conflict there will come to an early end and the country’s territorial integrity will be preserved, polled analysts have told TASS.

In Munich last Friday the world’s leading powers, in the first place, the United States and Russia, agreed that a plan for the termination of hostilities between Syria’s government forces and the armed opposition should be devised within a week. The plan will not apply to struggle against Islamic State terrorists.

Senior research fellow Vladimir Akhmetov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, believes that the ceasefire scenario in Syria is unlikely to succeed. Last Monday Bashar Assad said that under the current circumstances and within this weak truce could not be achieved, because too many conditions would have to be met. Assad added that he regarded as terrorist all those who were fighting against the Syrian state with weapons in hand. “From Assad’s point of view military superiority over the enemy should be achieved first and the search for a political settlement of the crisis at further negotiations in Geneva started only after that. Assad is keen to alter the balance of force in his favor and to conduct negotiations on his own terms as the winner side,” Akhmetov told TASS.

The head of the Middle East Conflicts Analysis Centre at the RAS Institute of US and Canada Studies, Aleksandr Shumilin, agrees.

“The ceasefire plan for Syria was to begin to be implemented on February 19. Assad has in fact disrupted it by saying that with Russian air support he would attack everybody indiscriminately. It remains to be seen, though, if Russia will try to persuade Assad to change his approach. In any case, the intensity of the Syrian government troops’ offensive is mounting.

Turkey and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf have been hatching another scenario, unfavorable for Assad. Akhmetov recalls that Ankara was ever more insistent in its calls addressed to the United States for starting a ground operation in Syria and has already demonstrated its readiness to begin combat operations. “Turkey’s artillery has been shelling the positions of Syrian Kurds. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will by no means permit the emergence of a Kurdish enclave near Turkey’s borders. Wednesday’s terrorist bomb blast in Ankara, which killed dozens of Syrian military servicemen, and the explosion of a military convoy in the southeast of the country on Thursday will shift anti-Kurdish hysteria in Turkey into higher gear. In its preparations for a ground operation in Syria Turkey relies on heavy support from Saudi Arabia, which has been redeploying its warplanes and military hardware to military bases in Turkey.

He sees preparations by Turkey and the Persian Gulf countries for a ground operation in Syria as way of putting pressure on Russia with the aim to restrict its support for Assad’s troops. “If the ceasefire plan for Syria fails, Ankara will be able to tell Washington: ‘Don’t you see, Assad cannot be negotiated with!’ and launch a ground operation. President Barack Obama will have nothing left but to indulge in rhetoric about the need for a political settlement of the Syrian crisis. Five months later, when he steps down, Obama will just don’t care what will be happening in the Middle East,” Akhmetov said.

Shumilin is certain: “As soon as it becomes clear that the ceasefire plan for Syria has been disrupted, the United States will give Turkey and the Arab monarchies the green light to launch a ground operation. H-hour for Syria is ever closer. The negative scenario may start as early as tomorrow, on February 19.”

What will be left of Syria then? Akhmetov believes that Assad will manage to retain control of an area stretching from Damascus to Aleppo. Two-thirds of Syria’s territory will be left to the armed rebels and militants of the Islamic State. Part of the territory will be taken by Syrian Kurds, who have long dreamed of an expanded autonomy. Iran will be contesting Syria’s coastal areas, from where it would be able to supply weapons to its allies – Lebanon and Palestine. Syria’s territorial disintegration is as obvious as further war.”

Shumilin believes that as soon as Ankara and Riyadh get involved in active combat operations, everybody will forget about Syria proper: “The focus will be on how to avoid clashes on the ground and in the air between Russia and Turkey, which is a member of NATO,” he warned.

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors