London, 10 Dec – The big worry over fall of Aleppo is the way in which it will fall.
Will there be a bloodbath, or can Secretary of State John Kerry negotiate a way out for the civilians trapped with the rebels in the eastern portion of the city? Additionally, although Aleppo’s fall won’t end the war, the US and the moderate rebels want to frame the surrender of the city as something other than a defeat.
On December 8, CBS News published an article by Margaret Brennan looks at how the surrender of Allepo will affect the Middle East.
A European diplomat, who spoke to CBS only on the condition of anonymity, due to sensitivity of the ongoing diplomacy, said, “We are witnessing talks that are trying to manage Syrian and Russian victory.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Kerry discussed one potential arrangement on Wednesday and again Thursday. Kerry will convene with high-ranking diplomats in Paris this weekend, and technical advisers are set to meet this weekend in Geneva on the matter.
Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat who worked closely with the US-backed political opposition, told CBS News, “A cessation of hostilities is urgently needed to protect the civilians from Iran and the regime.”
Thousands of Syrian civilians have no path out of the siege. They are holed up alongside the Free Syrian Army fighters, and will face death at the hands of the Shiite militias supported by Tehran, who are feared even more than Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, or Assad’s own troops.
Brennan writes, “Western and Arab diplomats tell me they are keenly aware that a defeat of the moderate rebels leaves the ‘bleeding edge’ of Sunni extremism – ISIS and al Qaeda backed groups seeking to control Syria – up against the ‘bleeding edge’ of extremist Shiite militias hired by Iran. The concern is that this violent churn will draw more fighters to extremist groups rather than to the moderate rebels who have been nominally supported by the U.S. Kerry has made similar arguments to Moscow in the past.”
More worrying for the Syrian opposition is that the Assad regime’s victory will strengthen Iran’s hold. Syria is the ‘crown jewel’ of Tehran’s sphere of influence in the Middle East. Even though Trump reached out to Assad’s sponsors in Moscow, the Syrian opposition is hoping that the Trump administration will use Syria to push back against Iran. The Syrian opposition has contacted the incoming administration.
“The statements from the elected president Trump and his cabinet toward Syria are promising: he makes it crystal clear his coming administration will defeat ISIS and Iran,” Barabandi said. “Both are enemies of Syrian people, and both helped the regime.”
A Western diplomat stated that both the U.S. and Europe focused too much on Moscow and too little on Iran to stop the violence in Syria. This diplomat believed the hesitation was due to American concern over the nuclear deal with Iran, and European concern about squandering the investment opportunities that have come from that agreement.
The Syrian opposition also feels its US and European allies have provided little support to rebels fighting Assad and ISIS, and withheld their military might. Fred Hof, former U.S. envoy to Syria, agrees. He said the White House strategy “breathes oxygen into the lungs of Islamist extremism everywhere.”
“The refusal of this administration to do anything at all to complicate or mitigate—much less end—collective punishment and mass homicide in western Syria raises a real question about its commitment to address the underlying governance issues giving rise to Islamist extremism,” Hof wrote. “But if one is not going to push back against ‘Caliph’ Baghdadi’s most effective and efficient enablers—Russia, Iran, and Assad—just how serious is this anti-terrorism undertaking?”