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Islam and Politics ( 5 March 2018, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Greater Damascus: The Final Touches on the New Demographic Map



By Eyad Abu Shakra

4 March 2018

“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”, clearly and succinctly, wrote Robert Fisk in ‘The Independent’.

Fisk did not forget to mention that Eastern Ghouta (Northeast and East of Damascus) was now a besieged “enclave”; however, he did not bother to say why it became an “enclave” after 7 years of killing, destruction and systematic population displacement.

Stranger still, that as Fisk used the word ‘Syrians’ in the above opening quote to mean the Damascus regime, ignoring the fact that this Regime was not fighting alone, but was backed throughout its wars of destruction and displacement by the Russian 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 Al-Assad family regime, even before the Massacre of Hama in 1982; and yet he regards that Bashar Al-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, he also believes that he who has killed a million Syrians and displacing millions, with direct Russian support, as part of Iran’s settlement grand project connecting Iraq with the Mediterranean coast, not only represent the Syrian people but also Syria’s ‘sovereignty’!

This is a simple example of how some Western experts, circles and media have approached the Syrian debacle; specifically, since former US President Barack Obama decided his administration’s priorities in the Middle East.

The western focus has shifted from the moral duty to support a peaceful popular uprising against a sectarian dictatorship that controlled Syria since the autumn of 1970, to a “war against terrorism” that was allowed to proliferate and commit atrocities, in order to justify aborting the uprising, and rehabilitate dictatorship and ‘non-suicidal’ sectarianism. That latter is the famous term alluding to Iran’s, and used by Obama while marketing his nuclear deal with the Iranian regime.

On the other hand, it would be naïve to think that the ‘Iranian considerations’ were the only ones behind Barack Obama’s decision to stand against the Syrian Uprising. In fact, there is smart and dynamic representative of other interests in Washington, precisely inside the Democratic Party: which is ‘The Israeli Lobby’. This ‘Lobby’ has been comfortable with the Damascus regime’s commitment with ‘peaceful co-existence’ with Israel across the October 1973 ceasefire in in the Golan Heights.

The Israelis know the nature of Al-Assad regime only too well. They understand its strengths, weaknesses and existential priorities. The have also become familiar with its outbidding and escalating belligerent rhetoric while providing Israel one service after another. This is why we have noticed that Israeli pragmatism decided against taking a jump into the unknown; and taking the risk of replacing a ‘useful situation’ with non-guaranteed alternative.

Thus, with intersecting Israeli and Iranian – subsequently, ‘Obamist’ – interests in Syria, the decision was reached to leave the Syrian people to face its own fate.

Meanwhile, in another side of the arena, there were two important players: First, Turkey, the regional power hoping to reclaim its Ottoman imperial role and pose as the protector of Sunni Muslims in an area where Iran and Israel were in the ascendency with American approval. Second, Russia, which under a ‘neo-Tzarist’ rule, has decided to keep its last remaining foothold in the Arab world after losing Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011.

Flexing Muscles

Turkey flexed its muscles and resorted to loud rhetoric, while Russia used a more efficient approach combining its UN ‘veto’ and employed diplomacy and misleading negotiations as a cover of changing the rules of engagement on the ground.

Soon enough, Turkey suffered two regional setbacks: the first, when it became involved in inter – Arab conflicts; the second, when it had to beat a retreat in the face of Russian threats after it downed a Russian military aircraft in November 2015 over the Turkish – Syrian borders.

These two setbacks were bound to cost Ankara the initiative, and limit its grandiose geo-political ambitions in Syria; especially, following Moscow’s and Tehran’s exploitation of Washington’s bet on the Kurds.

Given these developments, Ankara realized its limitations, as well as the risks of being accused of ‘supporting terrorism’; and 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 Peace Process for Syria.

As for Moscow, and following its gains from Obama’s policy appeasement with Iran, it gained again from the confusion and chaos in Donald Trump’s administration. This has allowed the Russians, while liaising with Israel, to uncover their real ambitions in Syria, and provide the much-needed cover to Tehran and Al-Assad’s regime to carry on their demographic change in the country.

The policy of demographic change has resulted so far in uprooting and displacing the populations of eastern Aleppo, the western and southern suburbs of Damascus, as well as Wadi Barada (the valley of Barada River), with the intention of linking Damascus with Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon to the west.

All that after the mass displacement of the populations of the majority of Homs city neighbourhoods, as well as several areas in the provinces of Homs, Hama and Idlib; and under the pretext of fighting ISIS, many parts of the provinces of Raqqa, Deir Ez-Zor, Al-Hasakah, and even Deraa.

Today, when Robert Fisk talks with conviction about the imminent fall of Ghouta, and Idlib later on, he does because there are no more illusions, despite the futile haggling taking place in the UN Security Council.

The fact of the matter is that the demographic conspiracy against Syria is fast nearing its completion. The dubious ‘evaporation’ of ISIS, and the rush of secessionist Kurdish militias to hand back the territories they control to the Al-Assad troops and Iranian militias lead by Suleimani and protected by Putin’s air force, only confirm that we are now in the last phase.

What’s Next?

Well, logically, what remains of the set ‘scenario’ are determining the details of the Kurdish-American co-operation east of the Euphrates River, and settling the issue of Southern Syria with Israeli input.

The pre-2011 is now dead. This is a painful fact that one needs to accept; however, what is even worse and more dangerous is that we are going through the redrawing of new maps in an increasingly fragile and weak region.

Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.