The Structure of the Syrian National Army
The Structure of the Syrian National Army After eight years of war, the Syrian opposition announced that all armed groups united under the command of the Syrian Interim Government’s Defense Ministry and joined forces under the banner of the National Army. This announcement marks a milestone in the journey of the Syrian opposition which united ranks and is a product of a 3-year process that commenced with the start of the Operation Euphrates Shield. With the increasing role of Turkey as the sole backer of the Syrian opposition and following Turkish pressure, the remaining factions in Idlib, Afrin, and northern Aleppo came together. However, the announcement in and of itself does not guarantee the unity of the Syrian opposition. Yet and despite the fact that many structural and environmental obstacles remain, the announcement may provide new opportunities for the actors involved in the Syrian War. Most notably, the announcement of the unification also comes with an essential change within the Syrian opposition. For the first time, the Syrian Interim Government formed by the Syrian National Coalition has managed take the armed opposition under its command. With this step, the political opposition for the first time may be able to proclaim itself the representative of the entire Syrian opposition. In general, the factions that united and became the National Army can be summarized as all the factions in Idlib, Latakia, Hama, western Aleppo, Afrin, and northern Aleppo. However, a deeper look into the factions offers important insight into the National Army’s constituent components. Among the 41 factions that joined the merger, 15 are from the National Front for Liberation and 26 from the Syrian National Army. Thirteen of these factions were formed after the United States cut its support to the armed Syrian opposition. In terms of numbers, the National Army comprises of approximately 70,000-90,000 fighters. The biggest factions in numbers in the National Army are Ahrar al-Sham, Ahrar al Sharqiyah, Faylaq al-Sham, Firka Hamza, Firka Sultan Murad, Free Idlib Army, Jabhat Shamiyah, Jaysh al-Islam, Jaysh al-Ahrar, Jaysh a- Nasr, Jaysh al-Sharqiya, and Jaysh al-Nukhba. The Structure of the Syrian National Army The Syrian National Army is officially part of the Syrian Interim Government and responds to the Defense Ministry of the Syrian Interim Government. Abdurrahman Mustafa as the president of the Syrian Interim Government and Selim Idris as the Minister of Defense are in charge over the Syrian National Army. Selim Idris is also the Chief of Staff of the Syrian National Army. However, the Gathering of the Syrian National Army faction leaders as a council has a strong say within the Syrian National Army. The commanders of the three legions of the Syrian National Army; Muataz Raslan, Mahmud el Baz and Abu Ahmad Nour are responsible for all of the factions of their legion. Each commander have officially order command of them anda re taking decision as representatives of their legion in coordination with Selim Idris and the other two commanders of the other legions. The Chief of Staff and the Defense Ministry have different offices operating autonomous from the factions of the Syrian National Army and only respond to Selim Idriss. The spokesman Yusuf Hamoud and his media Office, the head of the military court Arafat Hamourd and the military court office, the head of the military police service Ahmad al Kurdi and the military police, the head of the guidance counselors Hasan Dagim and the guidance counselors office, the finance office, the administration and organization office, the operational office and the training office are all under the command of the Syrian Defense Ministry. The Composition of the Legions of the Syrian National Army While the 4-7 legions of the Syrian National Army compose of the factions in İdlib of the National Front for Liberation and have yet to be formed, the first three legions of the Syrian National Army have a set structure. The first three legions are also the ones who joined the Operation Peace Spring. The First Legion composes of the 11. Division, 12. Division, 13. Division and the 14. Division. The 11. Division composes of the 111. Brigade (Liwa al Shimal), the 112. Brigade (Jaysh al Ahfad) and the 113. Brigade (Jaysh al Ahfad). The 12. Division composes of the 121. Brigade (Liwa Samarkand), the 122. Brigade (Liwa Muntassir Billah) and the 123. Brigade (Ahrar al Sharqiyyah). The 13. Division composes of the 131. Brigade (Sultan Mehmed Fatih), the 132. Brigade (Kaidat al Ghazil) and the 133. Brigade (Liwa al Wakkas). The 14. Division composes of the 141. Brigade (Faylaq al Sham), the 142. Brigade (Sultan Sulaiman Shah), 142. Brigade (9th Division), 144. Brigade (20th Division), 145. Brigade (Jaysh al Nukhba) and the 146. Brigade (Jaysh al Sharqiyyah). The Second Legion composes of the 21. Division (Firka Sultan Murad), the 22. Division (Firka Hamza and Liwa Suqour al Shimal), the 23. Division (Firka Muattasim and Rejal al Harb), the 24. Division (Firka Sultan Murad), the 25. Division (Jaysh al Islam) and the 26. Division (Feylaq al Rahman). The Third Legion composes of the 31. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah), the 32. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah and Suqour al-Sham), the 33. Division (Jabhat Shamiyah), the 34. Division (51. Division [Sultan Osman, Thuwwar Al Jazira, Fawc al Mustafa and Fawc al Awwal] and Liwa al Salam [Fawc al Hamis and Firka 23]), the 35. Division (Faylaq al Majd). This study has been conducted via several interviews with officials of the Syrian National Army and based on the previous work of author, Ömer Özkizilcik, Uniting the Syrian Opposition: The Components of The National Army and the Implications of the Unification, (SETA Foundation: Ankara, 2019). https://setav.org/en/assets/uploads/2019/10/A54En.pdf
The Syrian Revolution and the Geopolitics of Energy Mehmet Çağatay Güler
The Syrian Revolution and the Geopolitics of Energy Considering the economic profile of Syria before the inception of 2011 revolution, it would not be wrong to claim that it was a foreign-resource dependent economy. Their national income was highly dependent on the exports of raw materials and the imports of machinery and transportation products. Speaking of the exports of raw materials, crude oil and other mineral products were standing as the main export commodities. Apart from being a basic economic input, these mineral products/energy resources have also crucial importance to be able to maintain sustainable development, industrialization and urbanization. However, after the inception of the civil war, non-state actors like ISIS, SDG/YPG have seized control of the significant oil and gas fields as well as the hydroelectric power plants located in the country. While these mentioned non-state actors have been obtaining immense economic profits, Syrian regime’s economy has been devastated. Notwithstanding, Syrian regime has been compensating these losses in their energy resources by illegal exportations which also means more burden on their economic budget. All these losses in their energy resources and declines of their revenues, constitute an obstacle on the way to establish just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the country and in the region. To be able to establish stability and security in the region, the control of these resources ought to be taken over from the terrorist organizations and the revenues that they obtain through these resources must be prevented. The Economic Situation in Syria: Before the Revolution As of 2010, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Syria was around 60 billion dollaralong with a considerable amount of population (21 million). In the same year, agriculture represented 23 percent of GDP, industry 30 percent, and services 47 percent. In this period, crude oil (around 109 thousand barrel in a day) was in the first place among the main export commodities. The revenues of crude oil export, around 4 billion dollar, constitute the 30 percent of the total Syrian government revenues. The refined petroleum products and the other mineral products were standing just behind the crude oil export. The 90 percent of this crude oil were exported to European Countries. Regarding the import commodities of the Syrian government, machineries and other mineral products share the first place. The 45 percent of these imported products were originated in Asia and 38 percent of them were coming from Europe. As such Italy, Germany and the Russian Federation were among the largest import partners in Europe. On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Republic of Turkey, and the Republic of Korea were constituted the largest import partner in Asia. PRC, Republic of Korea and Germany were the main countries where Syria imported machinery and transportation products. It is a very common phenomenon that we usually face: If one country’s value-added from industry sector ranges between 25-30 percent and the services sector generates the biggest part of the value-added of that certain country, then the same country usually exports raw materials and imports machinery. In brief, this type of countries are generally foreign-dependent, low productive countries whose production mostly consisted from low-value-added products. In a nutshell, this was and still is the case for Syria. The Status of the Energy Resources after the Revolution Following the inception of the revolution in Syria, we have witnessed harsh and bloody divisions in the country. The regime forces have lost control of the significant territories and resources to different non-state actors e.g. ISIS, SDG/YPG, Opposition. These non-state actors have seized control of critical parts of the country and rest has been left to the Esed regime’s authority. In the beginning, Opposition forces dominated and took control of the large areas of the land, whereas in 2015, ISIS consolidated its hegemony over the areas that contain rich energy resources and beyond. These energy rich areas, including Deir Ez Zor, Al-Hasaka, Homs and Al-Raqqa, constitute almost the 65-70 percent of the total energy resources of the country. When we compare the Esed regime’s total energy production in 2010 and in 2015, we see a sharp decline from 27.67 million tonnes oil equivalent (Mtoe) to 4.68 Mtoe. Similarly, their total electricity generation declined by 27 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) to 17 billion kWh in just 5 years. The petroleum industry of the country took a hit as they were previously able to produce 416 thousand barrel crude oil per day, however it fell down to 35 thousand barrel per day in 2015. Eventually, the Esed regime became an oil-importer since they were unable to supply the demand of 139 thousand barrel per day. To top of the already harsh conditions, they lost control of important gas fields and consequently their natural gas production was declined by 4.5 billion m3 to 4.3 billion m3 in five years. In 2015, Esed regime lost control of the most of the energy resources and the production capacity once it possesses, to ISIS. This above mentioned production differences, excluding the SDG/YPG-controlled areas and the malfunctioned facilities due to the war conditions, put forth the estimated production capacity of ISIS at that period. Though we are not able to put forward the exact revenue of ISIS with official data, nevertheless, we can calculate the approximate profit that ISIS once had when they were prevailing. In this regard, if we take the averaged 53.60 dollars of Brent Oil priceas of 2015 and at least 300 thousand barrel crude oil export capacity, we can claim that they had the potential to generate 6 billion dollars (53,60×300.000×365) revenue in 2015. Furthermore, considering the averaged 2.62 dollars of Henry Hub natural gas prices and 4.5 billion m3 production capacity of natural gas, they could have obtained 421 million dollars (2,62×160593066) income in the same year. Notwithstanding, ISIS took the possession of the Syria’s most important water resource (Euphrates river) and the three crucial hydroelectricity generation dams (Baath, Teshreen, Al-Thawra) with the installed capacity of 1.5 million kWh. Since 2016, U.S.-backed SDG/YPG forces have gradually seized control of the areas which were previously under control of ISIS. Almost all of the water and energy resources along with the production and export potential, once ISIS enjoyed, fell under the hegemony of SDG/YPG forces. In spite of the some fields over which regime claimed authority, it was indeed SDG/YPG who came out ahead. When we further analyze the mentioned fields, in addition to Conoco gas field and oil fields located in Al-Raqqa and Al-Hasaka, more than 10 oil and gas fields, specifically the Al-Omar, located on the East coast of the Deir Ez Zor district, are in the grip of SDG/YPG forces. On the other side, Esed regime controls Shaer oil and gas fields in Homs as well as the several oil fields which are located on the West coast of the Deir Ez Zor district. Only one or two oil fields located on the South coast of the Deir Ez Zor district and somewhere close to the city of Abu-Kemal are left to the possession ISIS. Regarding the electricity generation issue, Syria’s 1.5 million kW installed capacity of hydroelectricity was fallen under the authority of SDG/YPG as well. When we re-calculate the 6 billion dollars export potential of crude oil with the new averaged price of Brent Oil (73.10 dollar), we find out that the SDG/YPG’s current potential is around 8 billion dollars (73,10x300000x365). Similarly, by taking the new averaged price of Henry Hub natural gas (3,04)into consideration and re-calculate the 420 million dollars natural gas export potential of ISIS as of 2015, we see that the SDG/YPG’s current potential is around 490 million dollars (3,04×160593066). For non-state actors, these are extremely high numbers so much so that the states behind these actors get their slices from the cake. Nevertheless, these are all estimated numbers which might have been affected negatively from the operations conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces. Through the help of “Operation Euphrates Shield” and “Operation Olive Branch”, the planned trade route towards Mediterranean Sea was blockaded and the future revenues via Mediterranean trades were prevented. In sum, crucial energy and water resources along with the hydroelectric power plants were first lost to ISIS and then to SDG/YPG. Although the regime forces have achieved to preserve significant thermal power plants and refineries, they lost control of the most of the natural resources which are being used in these thermal power plants and refineries. As a result, regime has been using mostly illegal means to compensate its losses in their energy resources and to substitute its declined electricity production. As such, these losses have been mostly substituted via Iran and non-state actors like SDG/YPG. Even if we do not acquire any information or data about the legal energy trade, according to the unofficial data, only in October more than 100 thousand barrels of crude oil were imported from Iran per day. The Esed regime has been utilizing these crude oils for daily purposes as well as in their war requirements (as jet and tank fuel). In addition to them, the previous partnership deal which was signed between Esed regime and SDG/YPG regarding the oil fields located in Al-Hasaka, is the proof of the regime’s illegal substitute from non-state actors. Conclusion All in all, the initiative of the reconstruction process for Syrian people by their own resources, are in the hands of this terrorist organization (SDG/YPG). In the light of all the facts mentioned above, since the first day of the civil war until today, the situation that the regime has been in is not promising in terms of energy and water resources. There is a need for radical change in the status of these energy resources which may be regarded as benchmarks for the development and the survival of the country. To his end, if these large amounts of energy resources and high profits pursuant to these resources, were not taken from the initiative of this terrorist organization it would not be possible to achieve sustainable development in the country, not to mention sustainable peace and security in region. Mehmet Çağatay Güler Sources: Statista, “Nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in Syria from 2008 to 2015 (in billion U.S. dollars)”, Statista Inc, www.statista.com/statistics/742532/gdp-in-syria/[accessed on November 17, 2018]The World Bank, “Syrian Arab Republic/ Total Population”, The World Bank Indicator, data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=SY[accessed on 17 Nov 2018]FAO, The Statistical Yearbook of 2013: World Food and Agriculture,Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States, Rome 2013: 32OEC, “What does Syria export? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/export/syr/all/show/2010/[accessed on November 18, 2018]EIA, “Today in Energy”, Energy Information Agency, 16 Sep 2011, www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=3110 [accessed on 12 Nov 2018]OEC, “What does Syria export? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/export/syr/all/show/2010/ [accessed on November 18, 2018]EIA, ibid.OEC, “What does Syria import? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/import/syr/all/show/2010/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]OEC, “ Where does Syria import from? (2010)”, The Observatory of Economic Complexity, https://atlas.media.mit.edu/en/visualize/tree_map/hs92/import/syr/show/all/2010/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]Ibid.Ibid.Suriyegündemi, “Change In The North Of Syria Between 2013-2018”, 14 Nov 2018, www.suriyegundemi.com/2018/11/14/2013-2018-yillari-arasinda-suriyenin-kuzeyinde-yasanan-degisim/ [accessed on November 20, 2018]AA, “Suriye’deki enerji kaynaklarının ne kadarı PYD’nin elinde?”, Anadolu Ajansı, 09 Feb 2018, www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/suriyedeki-enerji-kaynaklarinin-ne-kadari-pydnin-elinde,YeFYqGOsp0-lE7YcMcWCdA [accessed on November 9, 2018] (in Turkish)IEA, “Syrian Arab Republic:Indicators for 2010”, International Energy Agecy, www.iea.org/classicstats/statisticssearch/report/?country=SYRIA&product=indicators&year=2010(ingilizce kaynak) [erişim tarihi 15.11.2018] ve EIA, “Syrian Arab Republic:Indicators for 2015”, International Energy Agecy, www.iea.org/classicstats/statisticssearch/report/?country=SYRIA&product=indicators&year=2015[accessed on November 9, 2018]EIA,”Total Electricity Net Generation 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-12&cy=2010&pid=2&aid=12&tl_id=12-A&tl_type=a [accessed on November 15, 2018] and EIA, “Energy Source/Electricty/Syria”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/ [accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Total Petroleum and Other Liquids Production 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=53-1&cy=2010&pid=53&aid=1&tl_id=1-A&tl_type=/ [accessed on November 15, 2018] and EIA, “Total Petroleum and Other Liquids Production 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-7&cy=2015&tl_id=5-A / [accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Total Petroleum Consumption 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy Information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=2-7&cy=2015&tl_id=5-A&aid=2&pid=5[accessed on November 15, 2018]EIA, “Dry Natural Gas Production 2010”, International Energy Statistics, Energy information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=26-1&cy=2010&pid=3&tl_type=a&ug=8 / [accessed on November 19, 2018] and EIA, “Dry Natural Gas Production 2015”, International Energy Statistics, Energy information Agency, www.eia.gov/beta/international/rankings/#?prodact=26-1&cy=2015&pid=26&tl_type=a&ug=8 / [accessed on November 19, 2018]Fusion Media, “Brent Petrol Vadeli İşlemleri Geçmiş Verileri”, tr.investing.com/commodities/brent-oil-historical-data [accessed on November 20, 2018]Macrotrends, “Henry Hub Natural Gas Spot Price – Historical Annual Data”, Natural Gas Prices – Historical Chart, www.macrotrends.net/2478/natural-gas-prices-historical-chart [accessed on November 20, 2018World Energy Council, “Hydropower in Syria”, www.worldenergy.org/data/resources/[accessed on November 20, 2018] andTobias von Lossow, “Water as Weapon: IS on the Euphrates and Tigris”, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), 2016: 5, see also: Plants/Hydro/Syrian Arab Republic, globalenergyobservatory.org/select.php?tgl=Edit [accessed on November 12, 2018]Suriyegündemi, “Oil/Gas Fields And Refineries In Syria”, 23 Nov 2018, www.suriyegundemi.com/2018/11/23/suriyedeki-petrol-gaz-kuyulari-ve-rafineriler/ [accessed on November 26, 2018], see aslo: AA, “Suriye’deki enerji kaynaklarının ne kadarı PYD’nin elinde?”, Anadolu Ajansı, 09.02.2018, www.ntv.com.tr/dunya/suriyedeki-enerji-kaynaklarinin-ne-kadari-pydnin-elinde,YeFYqGOsp0-lE7YcMcWCdA [accessed on November 20, 2018] (in Turkish)Ibid.Ibid.Fusion Media, ibid.Macrotrends, ibid.BBC, “Başbakan Yıldırım: Fırat Kalkanı Harekâtı bitmiştir”, BBC|Türkçe, 30 Mar 2017, www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler-turkiye-39439339 [accessed on November 17, 2018] (in Turkish)CNN TÜRK, “Zeytin Dalı Harekatı nedir? Cumhurbaşkanlığı yanıtladı”, CNN TÜRK, 28 Ocak 2018, www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/zeytin-dali-harekati-nedir-cumhurbaskanligi-yanitladi?page=1 [accessed on November 17, 2018] (in Turkish)Aime Williams vd., “US claims Russian groups helped funnel Iran oil to Syria”, Financial Times, 20 Kas 2018, www.ft.com/content/b86ab54e-ece8-11e8-8180-9cf212677a57 [accessed on November 21, 2018]Ibid.Ibid.AA, ibid.
Russia’s Arms Supply: Assad over Israel’s security
It is in the early-2000s that Russian cooperation with Syria was resumed and started being evolved in areas varying from economic and trade deals to military and arms agreements. Yet, for the most of the last decade, Russia took a very contradictory role in terms of its modest arms supply to Syria; with the latter expressing its vast interest in expanding the arms transfer deals. Moscow’s hesitations were primarily derived from its relations with Tel Aviv and were to some extent overcome by the late 2000s. The eruption of the Syrian crisis had changed the military relations between Russia and the Assad regime and resulted in even deeper cooperation. Thus, despite Russia’s relationship with Israel, Moscow has significantly deepened its alignment with the Assad regime. With its military intervention on behalf of Assad in 2015, Russia has manifested its engagement in Syria. This intervention served as a hallmark for Russia’s consolidation of its physical presence in the country as well as its enhancement of military/arms deals between it and the Assad regime. The Israel factor was finally overcome by Russia in late 2018 when shooting down of the Russian plane served as a trigger for Moscow to provide full-fledged arms procurement to the regime. Restricted by Israel: Traditional Russian arms deliveries to Syria: Russian-Assad regime military-technical cooperation includes both arms procurement (transfers) and security (military) assistance. Having inherited a long history of cooperation on the matter from the Soviet times, the relations in the military field were resumed in the mid-2000s and increased with the Syrian War, especially with the Russian intervention. Syria’s arms procurement attempts in the early and mid-2000s having been often jeopardized by Moscow’s relations with Tel Aviv. Many arms procurements were overcome by the end of the decade with Assad succeeding in the purchase of Buk-2M Ural medium-range theatre defense missiles, GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, Tunguska SAMs, MiG-29SMT fighter aircraft, Pantsir S1E air-defense systems. Additionally to the arms transfer deals, Russia and Syria launched a security assistance program by reviving the Tartus Naval base in 2009 and launching the Hmeymim airbase. Moscow popping up arms deliveries into Syria In May 2005, Russian and the regime’s finance ministers signed an agreement nearly annulling the regime’s debt owed to Russia. The agreement included Russia’s consent of dropping 73% (nearly $9, 8 billion) of total debt with the remaining 27% ($3, 6 billion) of it going towards joint water, oil, gas, and other industrial projects. This generosity by Moscow was based on its desire to resume its more active cooperation with the country and consequently reacquire its physical presence in the region. This development is a strong contrast to the past where Russia hesitated to deliver arms transfers to Syria, while the latter was paying enormous efforts at the negotiations table. For instance, repeated Syrian requests to procure Russian S-300 PMU self-propelled SAM system, aircraft MIG 29 Fulcrums and MIG-31 have not been met. This was based on the claim of Kremlin’s “unwillingness to upset the balance of power in the Middle East”, yet was simply a result of a strong Tel Aviv’s pressure on Moscow. Additionally, Israel managed to convince Kremlin to block its sales of the Iskander-E missile batteries to Syria; the batteries were capable of sending conventional or chemical weapons payloads deep into Israel in case of a war. In 2006, Russia was committed to modernize and repair military hardware used by the Syrian army and continued to train Syrian military personnel at the senior officer level. By 2006 about 10,000 Syrian officers had received training at either Soviet or Russian military academies. Furthermore, as of 2006, up to 2000 Russian military advisors were serving in the country’s military.  The aforementioned Kremlin’s “minor steps” towards Damascus, in terms of arms supplies, were undertaken in 2006-2007 when Russia resumed its arms transfers to Syria by delivering the vehicle mount variant of Russian Kolomna KBM Strelets multiple launch units for use with the GM 39 Igla fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile (SAM) system and Tunguska SAMs.  On the verge of 2008-2009 Syria finally succeeded at purchasing several weapons from Russia that varied from modern anti-tank to anti-air missile systems. Hence, Syria upgraded its air defense capability with new Buk-2M Ural medium-range theatre defense missiles, MiG-29SMT fighter aircraft and the first batches of the Pantsir-S1 short-range self-propelled air defense system procured from Russia. However, since the outbreak of the Syrian War, Moscow has popped up its arms deliveries to the Assad regime vehemently. For instance, in January 2012, Rosoboronexport –Russia’s arms export monopoly- agreed to sell Syria 36 new Yak-130 combat trainer aircraft, which started being delivered in 2013. Furthermore, the arms procurement reached its culmination in the second half of 2018, when the Assad regime started receiving its long-wanted S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems. This brings about questions of whether Russia was no longer interested in “sustaining a balance of power in the region” as it did before and whether it’s omnipresent concern over Israel disappeared. What stood behind Russia’s disregard towards Israel this time? It was an accidental downing of a Russian military plane by the Assad regime that was trying to repel an Israeli air attack, performed by four F-16 jets, on Latakia on 18 September 2018. Consequently, the Il-20 plane was downed over the Mediterranean Sea, carrying the death of 15 Russian personnel. Not surprisingly, Russia held Israel directly accountable for the accident and hence provided a shaking response by upgrading the Syrian air defense system. Russia has started its S-300 anti-aircraft missiles deliveries to Syria within only two weeks after Russian reconnaissance aircraft Il-20 was shot down. The Russian side declared that its delivery of the S-300 system, which is capable of intercepting air attack weapons at ranges of more than 250 km simultaneously hitting several air targets, was based on the assumption of constraining the actions of Israeli aviation. A New Era? 2017 Agreements on Tartus and Hmeymim Before the Syrian war erupted, Russian-Syrian naval cooperation was renewed and deepened. From the Soviets, Russia inherited its sole stronghold in the Eastern Mediterranean, which remains the only Russian naval facility outside of the territory of the former Soviets; a small logistics base for its Navy in Tartus. From 2009 onwards the logistical facility in Tartus is being expanded with the Russian engineers having rebuilt depot to cope with more traffic and larger ships. Finally, the Syrian Crisis served as an impetus for the launch of a Russian Hmeymim air defense facility in 2015, hence reversing the course of the events in the crisis. In 2017, treaties were signed establishing Tartus and Hmeymim facilities to have a permanent Russian presence for roughly (at least) the next 50 years, of course, if the second party –the regime- is to survive ongoing mayhem. The signed agreement allows Russia to expand the Tartus naval facility for 49 years and to prolong for 25-year periods on a free-of-charge basis. Additionally, according to the same agreement, Russia is to enjoy a sovereign jurisdiction over the base with full immunity granted to the Russian personnel and material at the facility. Over 11 Russian ships, including nuclear vessels, are to stop at the Tartus facility on the permanent grounds. The 2017 agreement –to be precise a protocol to an amended 2015 agreement- covered the Hmeymim airbase. The Hmeymim airbase that is currently operated by Russia is located in the southeast of Latakia and shares an airfield with Bassel Al-Assad International Airport. The Hmeymim air base’s legal ground is an agreement between Russia and the Assad regime of August 2015. The base was built in mid-August 2015 for a purpose of serving as a “strategic center for Russian military intervention in the Syrian War” became operational on 30 September 2015. Similarly, the agreement envisaged 49 year-long Russia’s presence on the Hmeymim base with a possible extension for the subsequent 25 year-long period. Similarly, the treaty protocol set about the permanency of the Russian presence on both naval base of Tartus and aerodrome Hmeymim. As of November 2015 onwards, the combined Russian-Syrian Air Defense force was deployed in the war zone comprises Pantsir-S1 (SS-22 Greyhound) close-in SAM/AA systems, Osa-AKM (SA-8 Gecko), S-125 Pechora-2M (SA-3 Goa) short-range (SHORAD) SAM systems, Buk-M2E (SA-17 Grizzly) medium-range SAM systems, S-200VE Vega (SA-5 Gammon), S-400 Triumph long-range SAM systems. The SAM-air defense in Hmeymim airbase is composed of multiple layers. The first one of which is laid out by the S-400 and S-200 VE long-range systems. The second one is delivered by the S-300 FM Fort0M and Buk-M2E medium-range systems. It is further furnished by the Osa-AKM and S-125 Pechora-2M SHORAD systems. In the end, Pantsir-S1 is to provide coverage for the base. Conclusion Russia’s firm stance taken in the Syrian Crisis along with its decisive military intervention in 2015 enabled the Assad regime to finally procure the arms it could not for most of the 2000s. After being restricted by Tel Aviv in terms of its arms supply to Damascus, Russia finally managed to overcome the Israel factor in the middle of the Syrian Crisis. In particular, Moscow’s respect for Tel Aviv’s security concerns minimized with the accidental shutdown of Russian Il-20 in 2018 that triggered multiply postponed delivery of S-300s to Syria. On the other hand, the Syrian War gave a new breath to the revival of the Russian military presence in the region; the presence that is defined by its naval facility in Tartus and airbase Hmeymim. Both of the facilities being legally grounded on the aforementioned 2017 agreements foresee Russia’s ability to conserve its strongholds on the Eastern Mediterranean for at least the next 49 years. Thus, fulfill Russia’s permanent desire- access to the warm waters. Hence, an ongoing Syrian turmoil opened a window of opportunity for Russia to realize this innate interest. It is the Syrian Crisis that served as a solid ground for Russia to install its physical presence in the Middle East.  “Russia defends arms sales to Syria”, UPI, 29 September, 2008, from https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/09/29/Russia-defends-arms-sales-to-Syria/28611222726785/?ur3=1 (Access date: retrieved 8 March, 2020)  Ibid.  Ibid.  ‘Annual Defense Report: The Middle East and Africa”, Jane’s Defense Weekly, 14 December 2009.  Andrej Kreutz, “Syria: Russia’s Best Asset in the Middle East”, IFRI, pp. 18-21  Vasiliev 2018, p.387.  A. Konovalov, “Russia: Defense Ministry Rules Out Supplying Offensive Weapons to Syria”, TASS, 25 January 2005.  U. Klussman, “An old Base/Friendship Gets a Facelift”, Der Spiegel, 22 June 2006.  “Syria Receives First Strelets SAM”, Jane’s Defense Weekly, 23 August 2006  “Syria”, INSS, 19 October 2010, from http://www.inss.org.il/upload/(FILE)1287493352.pdf (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  M. Hassington, “Syria receives First Batch of Pantsir Air Defenses”, Jane’s Information group-International Defense Review, 6 June 2008.  “Russia defends arms sales to Syria”, UPI, 29 September, 2008, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/09/29/Russia-defends-arms-sales-to-Syria/28611222726785/?ur3=1 (Access date: 8 March, 2020)  “Russia sells 36 fighter jets to Syria”, The Times, 23 January 2012, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/russia-sells-36-fighter-jets-to-syria-xtxknvgtmnr (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  “Russian aircrew deaths: Putin and Netanyahu defuse tension”, BBC News, 18 September, 2018, from, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45563304 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  Ibid.  “S-300 missile system: Russia upgrades Syrian air defences”, BBC News, 2 October, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-45723503 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  “Россия передаст Сирии комплексы С-300 в ответ на инцидент с Ил-20”, BBC News, 24 September, 2018, from https://www.bbc.com/russian/news-45624098 (Access date: 10 March, 2020)  Kreuz, “”Сирия: главный российский козырь на Ближнем Востоке”, IFRI: Novemeber 2010, pp. 22-24  Ibid.  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March, 2020)  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Путин внес в ГД соглашение о расширении пункта обеспечения ВМФ в Тартусе”, РИА Новости, 13 December, 2017, https://ria.ru/20171213/1510800603.html (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Договор о размещении авиагруппы РФ в САР заключен на бессрочный период”, РИА Новости, 14 January, 2016, https://ria.ru/20160114/1359734984.html (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Moscow cements deal with Damascus to keep 49-year presence at Syrian naval and air bases”, TASS, 20 January 2017, https://tass.com/defense/926348 (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Russia establishing permanent presence at its Syrian bases: RIA”, Reuters, 26 December, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-bases/russia-establishing-permanent-presence-at-its-syria-bases-ria-cites-minister-idUSKBN1EK0HD (Access date: 8 March 2020)  “Three layers of Russian air defense at hmeymim air base in Syria”, TASS, 26 February, 2016, https://tass.com/defense/855430 (Access date: 9 March, 2020)  Ibid.
Occupy, Annihilate, and Rule: Russia Implements the Grozny Model in Idlib Mehmet Çağatay Güler
The Grozny model is a tactic based on the sequence of occupy, annihilate, and rule. This model was adopted by the Russian Federation in the two wars it waged against Chechnya in North Caucasus in 1994 and 1999. It is originally inspired from the Nazi Germany’s Blitzkrieg method against the Soviet Union during World War II. The Grozny model relies on breaking the adversary’s line of defence with sudden and swift attacks, annihilating the targeted area, and forcing the opponent forces to surrender through blockade. This entered among the fighting tactics used by Russia especially against guerilla combat. The 12-Year War With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, its 15 constituent republics declared independence, which set an example for Chechnya. In 1994, Chechnya sought independence under the leadership of Dzhokhar Dudayev, but Moscow formed an opposition and supported them in military and political terms in order to hamper the independence movement, which fomented the Russian-Chechen conflict. The conflict between Moscow and Grozny lasted around 12 years, with the exception of a three-year ceasefire, and caused widespread devastation. Firstly, during the First Chechen War that went on for two years, Russia under Boris Yeltsin’s rule did not yield tangible results although it had a major superiority over Dudayev’s Chechnya. In the clashes that took place around Chechnya’s capital Grozny, Russia suffered from its lack of experience in the face of the guerilla war and was caught off-guard by the abrupt attacks organized by its enemy. During the two-year period until the ceasefire of 1996, tens of thousands were killed, around 500,000 people were displaced, and many cities, particularly Grozny, suffered great damage. The foundations of the Grozny model, which still in the present day is a preferred method, were laid in the First Chechen War. However, the first war where this tactic was fully applied and yielded tangible results was the Second Chechen War. The failure in the First Chechen War did not only pave the way for the second war, but also played a significant role in Vladimir Putin’s becoming the president of Russia. Having gained experience in the guerilla methods, this time, the Russian military almost destroyed Grozny, killed many critical names of the insurgency including Shamil Basayev, and forced the insurgents either to escape or surrender by besieging the region for a long time. Moscow finally appointed a pro-Moscow government head (Akhmad Kadyrov and his son Ramzan Kadyrov as his successor) who could keep the Muslim population under control and prevent other regions from following a similar path. Inasmuch as the Grozny model is inspired from the Blitzkrieg tactic, these two models actually differ in terms of the time-result dimension. The Grozny model prioritizes obtaining long-term and permanent results in the regions it is applied, and if necessary, allows for the damage or the siege to be used as a trump card against the target country or region. Now, we observe that Russia is implementing the Grozny model in the Syrian war, especially in Idlib. Same Tactic in Syria There are multiple facts that demonstrate that the Russian military action in Syria carries marks of the Grozny experience. Two cases are particularly noteworthy, namely Aleppo and Idlib. In addition, the same model was also employed in Homs and Ghouta, but the cases of Aleppo and Idlib are more significant due to their overall importance, effects, and outcomes. The Assad regime and its allies couldn’t achieve any progress in the first four years of the war. As in the First Chechen War, the regular army could not overcome the guerilla tactics until Russia’s involvement in 2015. With Russia’s involvement, the balances in the field started to change in favor of the Assad regime, and Aleppo ended up being under the regime’s control owing to Russia’s support. Russia applied the Grozny model in Aleppo. Firstly, Russia’s intense air attacks broke the blockades of the opposition forces, cut off the supply lines extending to Aleppo from the north and Azez, and ravaged a number of areas. Subsequently, the pincer movement gained momentum and the only land route leading up to the region was rendered unusable through heavy shelling. Lastly, the region, which was completely besieged and disconnected from all the supply lines, became an unlivable place as a consequence of increasing air bombardment and shelling. The opposition forces gradually receded after suffering heavy losses and the regime ultimately seized control. Looking at the record of this war that lasted over four years, we see that more than 23,000 civilians were killed, the region was completely ravaged, and its population was displaced. By applying the Grozny model in Aleppo, Russia got what it wanted once again through massive devastation. The Idlib Case Another location where Russia nowadays implements the Grozny model is Idlib. As in Grozny and Aleppo, Russia and the regime forces are gradually rendering the opposition forces ineffective and seizing control. Housing around 4 million people, Idlib is one of the most war-torn regions in Syria, and both receives and sends the highest number of immigrants in the country. Idlib’s position is rather different from Aleppo’s in terms of population density and the configuration of opposition forces in the region. In order to break the resistance of anti-regime forces across the country, Moscow attaches a particular importance to Idlib, a stronghold of the opposition forces. The balance of power in Idlib started to change as it did in Aleppo in 2015 as Russia started heavy air bombardment and shelling. But despite this, the field dynamics and Turkey’s role as an active power in the region prevented the regime forces’ seizing full control of Idlib. Russia’s air attacks increased, in line with the first step of the Grozny model, causing the displacement of millions of locals. Meanwhile, on May 4, 2017, due to the growing conflicts, Turkey, Russia, and Iran signed a deal to create safe zones inside the Idlib province. This deal, however, did not stop Russia and the regime forces. Inhabited spaces including safe zones were ravaged and the civilian population had to flee. The humanitarian crisis in Idlib became a key subject in the diplomatic relations between Turkey and Russia. As a result, the two countries agreed to create a demilitarized zone on September 17, 2018. But this agreement, too, did not prevent Russia’s air attacks, and the devastation continued. In addition, Russia and the regime forces continued their military advance through the blockading of land. Murak and Suman are two examples, along with similar military advances from Karati and Katrah to Carcanaz. Furthermore, advances and retreats from Katrah, Barnan, and Istabalat towards the west and north were experienced and severe clashes took place. Eventually, the number of displaced people reached around 1.6 million. As of November 2019, 310 civilians have been killed whereas the material damage in Idlib has exceeded $320 million. The infrastructure and superstructure of the region have become unusable and life has come to a halt. Deliberately causing severe damage in Idlib has other purposes as well. Especially recently, Russia has been planning to trigger massive flows of refugees which it aims to use as a card against the neighboring countries. Millions of displaced people eventually threaten the internal stability of host countries and pose a security threat. Russia wants to use this card at the negotiation table. The Grozny model is an occupy, annihilate, and rule tactic. Russia formerly applied this in Chechnya, and now it plans to control Syrian dissidents by employing this model. Russia implements the same model to entire Syria in order to protect Assad and to eliminate threats that might undermine Russia’s political and commercial interests in the region in the long run. But the outcome of the model is the same everywhere: hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians, tens of thousands of casualties, and a whole slew of destroyed cities. Despite being disgraceful in humanitarian terms, Moscow’s Grozny model continues to create advantages for Russia and its allies, and stands out as an instrument in realizing Russia’s long-term goals. https://thenewturkey.org/occupy-annihilate-and-rule-russia-implements-the-grozny-model-in-idlib
Syrians In Turkey and The Whole Picture
Syrians In Turkey and The Whole Picture Perhaps one of the most dangerous mistake, both at the political or socio-economic, is the failure to see the full picture and getting stuck at the current moment, without realizing the picture’s backgrounds and consequences. As such, people are unable to realize the roots of the Syrian people’s revolution and its causes; how others attached to a particular moment; insist on the interpretation of the present and the past through this moment. We can also talk about the failure of some to realize the roots and backgrounds of terrorism in Syria and beyond. Not to mention their inability to monitor the role of the parties that sponsored and enlarged the terrorism in our land. Reading the change in the world over the past years through a similar perspective reveals how the events have been affected which end up with absolute devastation. At this point, I, Head of the National Coalition for the Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, think that it is more important to remember the role played by the international community and how it always failed to deal with the situation from the very beginning. This deficit of solid, firm and solution-oriented international efforts is what allowed the regime to continue its crimes against humanity which ended up with mass displacement and successive waves of refugees. These refugees found themselves in several regions including Europe. After their arrival in the European countries, the far-right in those countries started to exploit this situation and the mood of the continent was started to affect relatedly. The attitude put forward by the far right is an unprecedented one and the impact of this on the vote to Brexit ought not to be overlooked. This approach can further help us while dealing with the reality of Syrian refugees in Turkey. In this way, we will not dwell on past events. On the other hand, we will be able to look outside the box and analyze closely at the scene and details of the origins of the problem. By doing so, it becomes possible to foresee the possibilities for prospects and to build a vision through which we change the reality and the future. Data based on facts and figures presented by the research report issued by the Euro-Mediterranean Forum of Economic Institutes of Science “FEMISE” published recently under the title of “long-term effects of Syrian refugees on the Turkish economy” help to shed light on the side of this approach. Historic Brotherhood At the outset of the analysis, a quick return to the past is a must. Starting from the long historical relationship that linked the people of the region over a thousand years ago, turning back to times when the Syrian soldiers fought along with their Turkish brothers’ shoulder to shoulder in Canakkale Battle one hundred years ago, the current brotherhood between them seems not so surprising. That brotherhood brought out several parties and entities which had been engaged in deciphering this relationship. They were and still are trying to disrupt every way possible to transform the region into a group of scattered helpless islands. If we go back just a few decades, we will find a huge rupture between Syria and Turkey, as if there was a vast ocean separating both countries. Nevertheless, the developments successively beginning of 2003 and then especially after 2011, revealed to all that all of these efforts and plans have failed as the peoples of the region know themselves and their history. Syrians in The Turkish Economy Since 2011 Based on the report issued under the auspices of the European Union, it would be better to note the impact of 3.6 million Syrian refugees on the Turkish economy as they will lead to a doubling of Turkey’s GDP at a rate of 4%. Furthermore, Syrians invest in Turkey reveals a strong ability to organize and manage projects. While some people just consider the temporary negative effects, the report puts forward that the contribution made by the Syrian labor force in terms of reducing the cost of production has a stimulative impact on the economy. Confirming what was predicted that the production capacity of the Syrians in the establishment of projects is more significant than of their consumption on the Turkish economy. We are confident that the implementation of further measures to support the Syrians and their chances of organizing work will certainly increase their support for the economic growth of Turkey. Other reports indicated that the Syrians have established more than 10 thousand companies in various sectors since 2011, and it is similar in the various countries that have received the Syrians such as Germany or the other neighboring states. They quickly realized that the Syrian refugees represent a powerful ability and capability that could help them to cope with economic problems, to work and to create despite the cultural barriers. As specialists in this issue know very well that the cross-cultural interactions are among the most important emitters of creativity and innovation. Such as Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, is the son of Syrian refugees, as well as Sergey Brin, a founding partner at Google, is the son of a Russian refugee. There are many other examples of those people who did tremendous work had a cultural interaction in their background. Such creators are everywhere and all they need is a safe environment that preserves their rights, afterward, innovation becomes a matter of time, especially for the Syrian people since they are very hard-working people. Procedures in Need of For Syrian Refugees and Joint Syrian-Turkish Committee Syrian refugees’ contributions to the economy have already emerged even though a large proportion of them are still unemployed. Today in Turkey, more than two million Syrians are at working age (men and women) and only half of them are employed. Numbers are inaccurate, but there is a need to fix this situation and to address the problem of the Syrians working outside the framework of law with low wages far below the minimum wage and sometimes under harsh circumstances. Job creation, support, training, and recognition of previous education certificates in addition to providing opportunities for follow-up education are crucial for the integration process of Syrians. Not only on the economy but the cultural, social and political levels as well, investment is the best way to deal with the abilities of the Syrians rather than wasting or restricting them. Given all these facts, it seems the presence of Syrian refugees in Turkey, is an exceptional opportunity to put the history back on track. It would be very imperative to promote coexistence and cooperation in a way where everyone wins. We have made huge efforts over the past months under the framework of the “Joint Committee” between the Syrian Coalition and the Interior Ministry of Turkey, to discuss and resolve the problems being faced by Syrian refugees e.g. problems related to their residence. No doubt learning the language and obtaining respect for the customs and traditions of the locals are of utmost importance, and we have to emphasize this aspect in conjunction with the preservation of our language and traditions. Syrians do not want a substitute homeland, and they did not start their revolution in search for immigration and asylum, but to build a nation that protects their rights and allows them to perform their duties in the development and reconstruction. Spring Peace Operation and The Safe Home for Refugees Today, Syrians who have the possibility of returning to their home in secured areas began to return voluntarily. Most of them prefer to work for the reconstruction that has become possible through the Turkish operation of Euphrates Shield, Olive Branch, and Spring Peace. Syrian Interim Government began to form local councils in both Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ein to be able to provide services to citizens. It assumed the duty of ensuring refugees’ safe return. In addition to that, it started to formulate police forces and to deploy them into the region to maintain security. The return of Syrian refugees to their homeland must be achieved properly under the context of a political solution towards their aspirations that also preserves their rights. This framework should consider the current circumstances and create accordingly. It can be utilized as an opportunity to achieve economic and social integration during the post-solution stage and can be seen as an inception for stable bilateral relations. Conclusion and Recommendations What we are working on and care about what we are seeking to cooperate with the Turkish government is to continue to hold seminars, conferences and specialized studies focusing on the issue of asylum and mechanisms to deal with it. We aim to benefit from the experiences of other countries and to get recommendations. Hence, we take the economic and administrative decisions to contribute to easing the regulatory burden on the displaced Syrians in Turkey. In addition to improving the business climate for small and medium enterprises, we promote for better export sector and integration process with the Turkish economy. Successful projects, as well as training plans for entrepreneurs, help them to create solid and beneficial projects. We are doing everything within our means to support the education sector. We cooperate with the Turkish government for the integration of Syrian students in schools. We try to overcome and prevent any kind of problem in schools beforehand such as school dropouts. This issue does not only have human, moral or religious dimensions, on the other side, but there are also political, social and economic benefits that can be in favor of everyone. However, this case ought to be dealt with an open mind based historical relationship retained by the memory of people. This means, there are very significant opportunities for today to take advantage of and to strengthen our ties to rebuild Arab-Turkish relations on solid foundations. The best investment is to invest in human beings. It represents a tremendous success that brings a huge impact on the conscience of the people. Let us remember together that the memory of the people is difficult to be forgotten.
Interfactional Dynamics And The Future Of Idlib Ömer Özkizilcik
Interfactional Dynamics And The Future Of Idlib Interfactional Dynamics And The Future Of Idlib Since the planned wide-scale military operation by the Assad regime in July 2018 against the different military factions, Idlib has been the center of the Syrian conflict. On January 1, 2019, renewed clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the former Al-Nusra Front, and the Nureddin Zengi Movement brought Idlib again at the epicenter of the Syrian conflict. Now, HTS has become a dominant power in the region in terms of controlling territory, and has become capable of transforming Idlib. This paper aims to give a brief overview of the recent battle and the dynamics inside Idlib which led to the fighting between the Nureddin Zengi Movement and HTS. Furthermore, the dynamics which enabled HTS to win the battle will be analyzed. Based on the implications for the interfactional dynamics in Idlib, the Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia has to be adjusted given that certain of its terms couldn’t be implemented on the ground. The paper also offers an array of possible scenarios of how Turkey and Russia might adjust the Sochi agreement in order to counter the violent extremist group in Idlib and prevent a humanitarian crisis. Source: https://www.setav.org/en/analysis-interfactional-dynamics-and-the-future-of-idlib/
Four Scenarios for Idlib and the Future of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham
Four Scenarios for Idlib and the Future of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham On January 1, 2019, renewed clashes occurred between the former Al-Nusra Front Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Nureddin Zengi Movement which is part of the Turkey-backed National Front for Liberation. As a result of these clashes in western Aleppo, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) managed to expel Nureddin Zengi and crushed Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham who joined the battle to help Nureddin Zengi against HTS. As HTS came out as the winner of the battle, militants managed to get control over strategic areas in Idlib and to force the administrative handover of almost all areas inside Idlib to the HTS-backed ‘civil government,’ called the Salvation Government. The military operation by HTS could be divided in two steps and it will have serious implications for the Sochi deal. The First Phase: Eliminating Nureddin Zengi Hayat Tahrir al-Sham started a wide-scaled military operation against the Nureddin Zengi Movement in western Aleppo to disband the later. In excuse for its attitude, HTS argued with the killing of 5 of its fighters by alleged Nureddin Zengi members and the alleged refusal of Nureddin Zengi to implement the reached deal to handover the suspects to a court. While Nureddin Zengi sources and the leader of Ahrar al Sham refused the claims of HTS that Nureddin Zengi haven’t handed over the suspects, HTS already started its military operation, sparking allegations the group was misusing this incident to gain control over strategic areas. After HTS started its assault on areas held by Nureddin Zengi, primarily the strategic Darat Izzah which links western Aleppo to Afrin, the later put up a strong resistance. However, as Nureddin Zengi lost the strategic hill at Sheikh Barakah, the town of Darat Izzah was captured by HTS on January 2. After the loss of the strategic town, the General Command of the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation declared a general mobilization against HTS and called upon all elements of the umbrella to put up a fight against HTS. However, the call by the General Command of the National Front for Liberation wasn’t answered by factions of the umbrella except Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Sham. On January 4, HTS succeeded in capturing all areas held by Nureddin Zengi in western Aleppo and remnants of the later fled to the Afrin region leaving tanks and other heavy weapons behind. During the fighting between HTS and Nureddin Zengi, some sporadic clashes erupted between HTS and the Turkish-trained National Army. That night, the Russian air force bombarded areas captured by HTS in western Aleppo. On January 5, HTS put pressure on the independent town of Atarib which was known for its fierce resistance against HTS and former Al-Nusra Front. As Nureddin Zengi was defeated, Atarib got surrounded by HTS and representatives of the town made a deal with HTS to handover the city to the extremists. According to the agreement, people who were wanted by HTS were allowed to leave the area towards Afrin. The loss of Atarib is important as the city was a role-model of non-violent resistance against HTS. Second Phase: Crushing Ahrar al-Sham On 6 Junuary, HTS started the second phase of its operations to crush Ahrar al-Sham in the Ghab Plains. The day after, HTS managed to get control over Al Abideen, Suth Al Deir, Araniba, Al Naqeer and Termala and pushed into the Ghab Plains. After several advances in the northern part of the Ghab Plains and in Jabal Shasho, HTS and the local Ahrar al-Sham units signed an agreement under which all Ahrar al-Sham units in the region handover the region and their heavy weapons to HTS and were allowed to flee to Afrin in return. With this gain, HTS managed to isolate the presence of Ahrar al-Sham in Ariha and Marat al Nouman. On 10 January, HTS and Ahrar al-Sham together with Suqour al-Sham signed a ceasefire agreement. The deal provides for an immediate cessation of hostilities, an exchange of detainees, the lifting of all checkpoints inside the region, and its unification under the authority of the Salvation Government meaning that administrative duties will be under the control of the HTS-backed ‘civil government’. Implications for the Sochi Agreement Developments on the ground in Idlib and a bigger HTS presence will have serious implications for the international context and the signed Sochi agreement between Turkey and Russia. After Turkey’s decisiveness to prevent a new humanitarian disaster in Idlib, and diplomatic pressure from western countries on Russia, Russia and Turkey signed the Sochi agreement. According to the agreement, a demilitarized zone should have been established along the front lines of Idlib. This demilitarized zone had to be cleared of radical elements such as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and heavy weapons of the Syrian opposition factions. As a second step, the strategic M4 and M5 highways which link Latakia and Damascus with Aleppo should have been opened to free trade, but with the newest HTS campaign against the Syrian opposition, four different scenarios of the fate of Idlib may occur: Starting a Turkish military operation into Idlib to clear the area from HTS Approving a Russian-led military operation by the Assad regime while establishing a humanitarian safe-zone along the Turkish-Syrian border Rebranding HTS into an acceptable structure Freezing the dispute over Idlib and gaining time The first scenario seems to be the most unlikely among the listed. Turkey’s priority in its fight against terrorist organizations in Syria is the PKK/YPG. Also with the US withdrawal declaration, Turkey’s focus is on east of the Euphrates and Manbij. Additionally, Turkey’s military has to focus on the Aegean, the Black and the Mediterranean Sea while fighting terrorists inside Turkey and preparing a major operation into Syria’s northeast. Therefore, Turkey’s military will most likely not want to get involved into another major fight in Idlib. The second scenario to approve a Russian-led military operation towards Idlib is a worst-case scenario for Turkey. A hugely feared humanitarian disaster will happen, and Turkey would see millions of refugees at its border trying to enter inside Turkey. As Turkey already hosts over 4 million refugees, this scenario would have a catastrophic outcome for Turkey. The burden of this scenario might be eased with a humanitarian safe zone along the Turkish border, but this wouldn’t be effective enough. Also the costs for Russia in such an operation would be very high which will be a topic Russia will think twice of. As a theoretical third scenario, Turkey could try to change HTS internally into an acceptable structure to ease Russian pressure and to take Idlib into the transition process. Turkey already worked in separating the dogmatic wing of HTS and the pragmatic wing, strengthening the later. After the former Al-Nusra Front cut its ties to Al-Qaeda it rebranded itself as Jabhat Fath Sham and later formed HTS together with other factions in Idlib. After the formation of HTS, former Nusra sub factions who rejected cutting ties with Al-Qaeda defected and formed Hurras Eddeen. However, this scenario seems not to be a realistic perspective. Neither is HTS willing to change, nor is the international community ready to accept a rebranded HTS. Postponing the time in which a solution for Idlib has to be found and implemented may help Turkey find a new window to act as a fourth scenario. For example, if the situation in the east of the Euphrates and Manbij becomes clear and the dust settles down, the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition might return back to Idlib. Also for the Russian side, a military operation in Idlib would be very costly and expensive. The Russians would need the active support of Iran-backed Shia militias to advance on the ground in the highly fortified region of Idlib. Russia is also aware that such an operation would take several months at least, and it would have to deal with HTS guerrilla warfare in captured areas. All in all, to freeze the situation in Idlib might be an option for Turkey and Russia, but a safe haven for Al-Qaeda affiliated radicals has to be prevented. Therefore, Turkey and Russia could agree on extended intelligence sharing to contain this threat. Also, the US might join hands with Russia and Turkey in these efforts. Source: https://thenewturkey.org/four-scenarios-for-idlib-and-the-future-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham
Combatting Criminal Gangs in Northern Syria Ömer Özkizilcik
Combatting Criminal Gangs in Northern Syria After Turkey and the allied Syrian opposition factions launched Operation Euphrates Shield and Operation Olive Branch, both areas in northern Aleppo and Afrin were cleaned from Daesh and YPG militants. After the success of these military operations, the Syrian opposition and Turkey invested in reconstructing, re-organizing, and re-building these liberated areas. However, the war-torn region faced a new security challenge, especially after the massive arrival of new internally displaced peoples (IDPs) from Ghouta, Homs, Hama, Derra, DeirEzzor, Raqqa, and Manbij. While Daesh and YPG cells have tried to sabotage the new administration of the Syrian opposition with terror attacks, other criminal gangs took advantage of the situation. Although Turkey invested a lot to help the Free Syrian Police and the National Army recruit and train, criminal gangs exploited the weak security situation to harm the local population. Only after both Turkish-trained structures reached a certain level, on 19 November, the National Army and the Free Syrian Police started a wide-scale operation targeting those criminal gangs with the support of Turkey. The entire operation also gives a hint about the future security problems awaiting in Syria. Catching the big fish first The security operation by the National Army and the Free Syrian police successfully disbanded the Shuhada al Sharqiyyah faction after a day-long fight. Shuhada al Sharqiyyah is a DeirEzzor originated faction that had to flee from its hometown towards northwest Syria due to the Daesh threat. After the liberation of Al-Bab from Daesh, Shuhada al Sharqiyyah broke the ceasefire with regime forces at Tadef and tried to escalate the situation. After this incident, Ahrar al Sharqiyyah, which is a component of the National Army, cut its ties with Shuhada al Sharqiyyah, and the faction was disbanded. Over time, Shuhada al Sharqiyyah reorganized itself under the leadership of Abdurrahman el Huseyn, who is also known as Abu Hawl. While some claims suggest the faction to have up to 400 fighters, figures near 100-150 seem more realistic. After the faction reorganized itself in Afrin, it started to commit several crimes against the local population, including robbery, extortion, and other criminal activities. On the evening of 18 November, a curfew was declared over Afrin, and the day after, the National Army and the Free Syrian Police started a joint operation with the support of the Turkish Armed Forces in order to disband the faction, to arrest its members, and to hand them to the criminal court. With the start of the operation, the Shuhada al Sharqiyyah faction showed fierce armed resistance using heavy weapons. This resistance led to clashes between both sides, which continued over midnight. Nevertheless, the National Army and the Free Syrian Police succeeded and arrested the faction members. During the clashes, several members of Shuhada al Sharqiyyah were killed and injured. With these clashes ending in a determinate result of disbanding Shuhada al Sharqiyyah, the National Army, the Free Syrian Police and Turkish authorities displayed their decisiveness to combat criminal gangs in northern Aleppo and Afrin. With the end of these clashes, the leadership of the National Army published a new statement, saying: “Our Security Operation Will Continue!” The second phase On 20 November, the National Army leadership published a statement saying that they will continue with their security operation. The operation continued in Al-Bab in which several criminals were arrested and handed over to the Military Police of the Free Syrian Police. In contrast to the first day of the operation, criminal gangs have not attempted to resist against the National Army or the Free Syrian Police, as the decisiveness of the operation had become crystal clear. Also, in contrast to the first day, the Military Police played a bigger role in arresting several in Al-Bab. However, a commander in the Northern Brigade, which is a component of the National Army told the author that all operations were spearheaded by the National Army. As seen on several images, the operation was conducted with heavy weapons in case of resistance from armed criminal gangs. Among the arrested in Al-Bab were Mohammed Abdulkarim Jard, Abdurrazzaq Waki and some remnants of Shuhada al Sharqiyyah in the village of Tal Aisha, north of Al-Bab. During the same day, the Free Syrian Police captured a bomb loaded vehicle inside Azaz, which may be another sabotage and terrorism attempt by either YPG or Daesh militants. Due to the geographical situation of Azaz, which is close to YPG-held Tal Rifaat, YPG militants are the most likely suspects. Also, on the same day, Firka Hamza, which is a component of the National Army, handed over its checkpoints in Basuta in the Afrin region to the Free Syrian Police. At the end of the day, the Chief of Staff of the National Army published a statement, which imposed a curfew over Jarabulus for 21 November. On 21 November, the security operation continued in Jarabulus, and a curfew was imposed on the city. Several criminals were arrested by the National Army and the Military Police of the Free Syrian Police and with the withdrawal of the National Army, the city control was fully handed over to the Free Syrian Police again. Within the third day of the operation, the Jarabulus court published a statement calling for people to file criminal complaints. At the end of the day, the leadership of the National Army published a new statement imposing a curfew over Al-Rai. With the start of the operation on 22 November in Al-Rai, a criminal subgroup of the Jaysh al Sharqiyyah faction, which is a component of the National Army, surrendered themselves to the National Army and the Military Police. Together with other criminals in Al-Rai, the Military Police arrested 17 people. At the end of the day, the locations of Azaz and Akhtarin were declared as the next target of the operations. On 23 November, the Military Police arrested 3 different criminal gangs and 3 individuals in Azaz and Akhtarin. The Marea and Tel Rifaat Military Councils declared that they will also arrest criminals in Marea and hand them over to the Military Police. The last operation was conducted on 24 November in Jinderes which is located in the Afrin region. The National Army and the Military Police arrested around 50 criminals and 8 criminals surrendered themselves to the authorities. At the end of the day, the National Army leadership published a statement declaring the end of the operation while pointing out that efforts against criminal gangs will continue. After the security operation While the entire operation began with a huge challenge, and all operations following were reported by several media outlets as “internal fighting among Turkey-backed groups,” in reality, it was a “clean up” operation, with the backing of Turkish Armed Forces. An important period of training, organization, supply and supervision by Turkey, the National Army, and the Military Police of the Free Syrian Police, succeeded to disband a strong faction, which proved the effectiveness of Turkish efforts inside Syria. Source: https://thenewturkey.org/opinion/combatting-criminal-gangs-in-northern-syria?fbclid=IwAR1OJJFYRmu4jy0BNmU_CriWBRmCWJvRSd8gxza8XewmxggHZ3wquasGOGU
Making Sense of YPG’s Strategic Threat Posed Against Turkey Furkan Halit Yolcu
Making Sense of YPG’s Strategic Threat Posed Against Turkey There are certain methods to analyze the threat posed to states by insurgent and terrorist organizations. One may work for the best of this paper is the method that categorizes the ideological strings, capacity and the logistics of the terrorist and insurgent groups to see the rationale behind their threat posed against the states. Modern states base their survival on two instinctual defense mechanisms, namely territorial integrity and sovereignty. This paper is going to reveal how and why YPG/PKK terrorist organization is an active menace for the Turkish territorial integrity and sovereignty. The “Great Design” of YPG/PKK As mentioned in Ocalan’s book of “Road to Kurdish Revolution- A Manifesto” which he established PKK’s ideology, there is a certain bargain that the terror organization wants to strike. The way to obtain this bargain is certainly an organized method of utilizing coercion towards the Kurdish people to organize and force them against the states, which are antagonized. The states antagonized in Ocalan’s ideology are Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, which uphold the “Kurdish Heritage” according to him and other PKK ideologists. Every ideology as in the case for PKK also, requires a utopia or a “great design” where the bargains and ends are achieved through the methods suggested by the leaders of the movement. In Ocalan and YPG/PKK’s case, this is the case of a “National Democratic Kurdish State” which will base its institutionalization on socialist and Marxist values. In addition, every great design requires a territorial “design” (imagination) and in Ocalan and PKK’s ideology it is the great Kurdish territory, which categorically includes lands from, the four countries mentioned above. The practical design of this ideological program is to establish a “Democratic Confederation” which will include one confederation from each country. This is one of the most important reasons behind the threat perceived by the Turkish state from YPG/PKK in Syria and Iraq. Although there are political boundaries, each of these four states grasp the idea behind the YPG/PKK and the other branches’ moves towards the “great design” which means the loss of territorial integrity for these nation-states. It is quite obvious that nation-states are designed to protect their borders no matter what the cost is in the long term. This makes it very feasible to understand why Turkey feels threatened by the mere existence of YPG/ PKK in both Syria and Iraq. The mere ideology itself is a threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity thus even YPG/PKK demilitarize themselves it would be rational for Turkey to absorb and insulate the ideology as much as possible. The Capacity-Threat Correlation States do not perceive threat per se without any actual organization that holds a certain amount of capacity to use force. The number of militants in the PKK terrorist organization is asserted to be more than 6000. The one third of this population is believed to be in the Turkish soil preparing and managing the attacks and logistical matters. When it comes to YPG the numbers are much higher. It has been asserted many times that YPG has more than 30.000 militants across the Syrian border. The total number of manpower in the hands of YPG/PKK should be more than 50.000 when the YPG/PKK activities in Deir ez-Zor and the other east southern parts are taken into consideration, as well. Additionally, there has been many incidents where the weapon systems such anti-tank, man portable systems and explosive substances that are given to YPG/PKK and then transferred to Turkey through tunnels built mostly in Mardin and Diyarbakır provinces. Strong evidence towards this phenomenon was discovered during the clashes between Turkish Armed Forces and PKK militants in Nusaybin/Mardin. In this border district it was revealed that PKK had been transmitting goods and military equipment through tunnels that opens to Syria. This development transformed into a rationale for TAF to determine the annihilation of YPG/PKK militants in a holistic sense. It is not only the militants that doubts the states when it comes to popular movements but its the people who support these fight conducted by the guerillas. The number of Kurdish-origin citizens in the demographic mosaic in Turkey is believed to be around 13 million. This causes an assertive reaction from the Turkish state against any movement that has the mobilization of Kurdish people as a mean to reach a higher goal. So the Kurdish-origin citizens of Turkey become an integral part of this equation. The ideology promoted by the leaders of the organization usually tries to mobilize the people in terms of creating a more massive movement. As Ocalan designates the reformists, as “recreant” Kurds who betray the Kurdish cause and choose to stay within the incumbent state’s boundaries. As for all ideologies that oppose a given status-quo YPG/PKK’s ideology also endavours a great change in the circumstances which constrain the Kurdish folk into a dichotomy. According to PKK’s ideology Kurds all around the world and especially the people in those four states are bound to choose between supporting “the cause” and betraying the cause. This is of course a technique widely used in propaganda making which is called framing. Therefore both in the manpower and the influential manners YPG/PKK has a potential that turns them into de facto strategic threats. The Principle of Proximity in Security The designation of a threat as “strategic” requires a certain type of circumstances and some type of reasoning. Let us assume there are 5000 YPG/PKK militants in the border areas of Iraq and Syria and 50000 YPG/PKK militants in New Zealand. The rational state behaviour would dictate that the most imminent threats should be taken into consideration more than the other ones even though those bear a higher potential. This is called the principle of proximity in state security and it has a certain type of rational thinking that is accurate usually. Since the YPG/PKK militant clusters are usually near the Turkish-Syrian border the threat posed YPG/PKK is perceived as a more strategic threat than the other threats such as economic breakdown, the Syrian crisis as a whole etc. There has been rumours that YPG/PKK was prepared to invade Turkish territory in the exact night that the failed coup d’état attempt took place in 15th July. Even the rumour itself proves that in the minds of the Turkish decision-makers YPG/PKK poses a constant threat for the territorial integrity of the Turkish state. It is quite rational for Turkish decision-makers to perceive YPG as a strategic threat per se and with each canton established the threat becomes more imminent. This was the basic rationalé behind the Olive Branch Operation as Turkey successfully impeded the plans to construct a border cluster of YPG/PKK militants which would pose a liquid threat that would use its potential in a matter of moments in case of any kind of turmoil in the country. All being said, Turkey’s rationale behind the threat perceived by YPG/PKK is based on realistic assumptions in both the theoretical and practical sense. Since the ideology of YPG/PKK has a “great design” that insults the integrity of Turkish territory. Secondly, the organizational structure of it holds a potential to damage the state in an array of ways with the manpower they have and the popular support behind them. In the last phase, these two organizations pose a threat to the states they designate as “colonizers” since they are either in those states’ territory or next to their border. As any antagonistic organization with an ideology that targets means of one state’s possession, physical potential to damage or take away what is currently being controlled by the state and that is proximate, YPG/PKK have always been and will always be a strategic threat as long as they exist.
Sharing the costs of rebuilding Syria Ömer Özkizilcik
Sharing the costs of rebuilding Syria In seven years of war, nearly half a million people have lost their lives due to killing by bombardment, torture or chemical weapons. More than 6.1 million people have been displaced within Syria and another 5.6 million have fled the country as refugees. The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia estimated the costs of Syria’s reconstruction at $388 billion. As neither the Assad regime, nor its backers Russia and Iran, have the needed resources – and China’s support won’t be enough, the reconstruction of Syria should be divided into areas of responsibility between Turkey, the United States and the regime axis. By doing so, Syrians may find a path to recovery in their country. The destruction of Syria become exorbitant due to the tactics of the Assad regime – especially the scorched earth strategy used by the Damascus (and its backers Russia and Iran), leading to the destruction of entire cities. In order to force Syrian rebels and civilians under siege to surrender or accept an evacuation deal, the regime explicitly targeted infrastructure. The bombing of hospitals, markets, administrative buildings, universities and schools by the regime and Russian air forces made living in those areas impossible, and forced the armed opposition to surrender. Except in the case of Raqqa, the most significant destruction has been caused by the regime and its backers. Areas of responsibility In order to manage the reconstruction of Syria, conflict parties could agree to divide Syria’s reconstruction into areas of responsibility. This would enable parties to invest more efficiently, and it would also help Syrians – as rebuilding nations may compete to make each area of responsibility more liveable for civilians. Even if the historical comparison lacks from many aspects, the case of Germany and its destruction after the Second World War may be an inspiration for Syria. Germany after the war was divided into four areas of responsibility, but has become the most successful united European nation. To divide Syria’s reconstruction into areas of responsibility would limit the costs for each party and would accelerate many funds into the rebuilding. While US, European, Gulf and Turkish authorities may refuse to invest in Syria – fearing the empowerment of the Assad regime, a division of Syria’s reconstruction in areas of responsibility would enable parties to rebuild Syria with limited political obstructions. Turkey may be able to accelerate EU and Qatari funds into its areas and the US may be able to accelerate Saudi, Emirati and European funds into Syria’s reconstruction. Trump’s current blockade on investments in Syria may end, but even if not, the next US administration would most likely follow another agenda. The planned summit in Istanbul between Russia, Turkey, Germany and France will have huge importance in starting to find politically acceptable solutions for the reconstruction of Syria. Besides this summit, bilateral and multilateral meetings are ongoing. Even if international powers have not yet agreed upon a division of areas of responsibility to rebuild Syria, developments on the ground are following this path. If the de-facto divisions on the ground evolve into an international agreement for reconstruction, all efforts may become more concentrated and effective. Regime axis Under today’s circumstances, states have already started to rebuild parts of Syria or at least started to plan it. Iran, Russia, Lebanon and China have started working in reconstructing territories under the control of the Assad regime. Of these, China may become the most important for the rebuilding of Syria, as neither Russia nor Iran has the financial power to invest to the same degree. China sees Syria as a strategic link on its new Silk Road and has already agreed to fund $2 billion of rebuilding. Additionally, Beijing has announced a further $23 billion in loans and aid for the Arab region, including Syria. More than 30 Chinese companies, including infrastructure construction giants China Energy Engineering Corporation and China Construction Fifth Engineering Division have visited the country. Russia, meanwhile, acknowledges its inability to finance the reconstruction of Syria and sent a proposal to Washington requesting US assistance. Russia brought Syria’s reconstruction to the UN Security Council and tried to pressure the EU to pay for the rebuilding. Iran is also aware of its inability to rebuild Syria. Both nations who supported the regime with military power, and who bear responsibility for the destruction of Syria, lack the resources to reconstruct Syria. Both nations remain under international sanctions. Interestingly, tiny Lebanon is hoping for huge gains from the reconstruction of Syria. Lebanon expects to become an important actor in the rebuilding as it enjoys a lucrative geographical location between Syria and the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, Lebanon can expect industrial transit to boom and plans to develop its port capability. Turkish zone of responsibility Turkey has already started to rebuild parts of Syria in its zone of influence. Some Turkish firms are present in Al-Bab where an industrial zone is being developed. Turkey has also invested a lot in medical healthcare, education, infrastructure, security and administration. Local councils in northern Aleppo and Afrin are working closely with Turkish authorities to govern their areas, with even ID cards being produced with Turkish support. The Stabilisation Committee which works in those areas to provide basic needs like food, water and electricity is closely working with Turkey. Turkey has built hospitals, post offices and schools in northern Syria. Turkey alsotrained local police forces to provide security. According to one report, Turkey spent about $8.1 billion last year on humanitarian aid, and assistance to Syria is an important portion of this. Turkey ranked in second place for the number of contracting companies building the largest volume of projects across the world outside their home countries, according to the latest list of the world’s “top 250 contractors” by the magazine Engineering News Record. In order to finance the scale of reconstruction Syria needs, Turkey may able to use its friendly relations to help gather funds. Qatar and the EU may be the first points of contact. Qatar pledged $1 million medical aid for Syria, and funnelled more than $4 billion in aid into Syria via the Turkish Red Crescent. Qatar may yet play an important role in funding the Turkish reconstruction efforts as both countries share good relations. Turkey also managed to make an important refugee deal with the EU to stop the refugee flow towards European nations. As Turkey is also a candidate for joining the EU, Turkey may be able to accelerate EU funds into its construction efforts in Syria. US zone of responsibility Even if the Trump administration has continuously cut US aid to Syria, Washington’s role in Syria’s reconstruction is important. One may expect the US to invest in Syria’s reconstruction despite Trump’s objections. However, with the end of the Trump administration, the US attitude may change immediately. The US is also playing a role and having its own zone of responsibility is key for Syria’s reconstruction. The US has established several bases around north-eastern Syria and provides important supplies for the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces – much to Turkey’s chagrin. The US presence may also help accelerate more EU funds into Syria. France and UK already have their share in the US zone of influence. Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates may finance parts of the reconstruction effort due to the US role. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already pledgedmore than $100 million for the reconstruction of Raqqa – which was destroyed by the US air force. Ömer Özkizilcik is the editor of Suriye Gündemi, a Turkish news site about the Syrian conflict.