As the Assad regime consolidates power across Syria, Mona Yacoubian says that regime change is increasingly unlikely seven years into the civil war. But, the conflict remains complex, as the U.S. and coalition forces continue to work to eradicate remnants of ISIS and Israel becomes increasingly concerned over Iran’s military presence in neighboring Syria.
Over the past two weeks, the Syrian government has embarked on a military offensive across Syria’s southwest, focused on retaking the city of Dara’a. Russia has played a critical role, backing the operations with airstrikes. The United Nations estimates that at least 160,000 Syrian civilians have been displaced by the fighting, and the number could increase as the battle intensifies.
Ties between Tehran and Damascus have been close since the 1979 revolution, but the relationship deepened after Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011. With the Assad regime’s survival at stake, Tehran doubled down on its support, providing critical military assistance—fighters and strategists—and economic aid estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Relations between the United States and Turkey have come under increasing strain in the past two years over the U.S. role in Syria and Ankara’s strengthening ties with Russia. American support for Kurdish forces battling ISIS has angered Turkey, which sees the cooperation as bolstering Kurdish nationalist elements inside its borders. USIP Board member Eric Edelman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey during the George W. Bush administration, and USIP International Advisory Council member Jake Sullivan, who served as Vice President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, provide some insight on the state of Turkish-American relations.
From Lebanon, Osama Gharizi shares his analysis about the clarity of U.S. objectives after retaliatory missile strikes targeting the Assad regime’s suspected chemical weapons facilities. Gharizi says these strikes sent a signal to Assad and his allies that there are limits to U.S. and coalition intervention in Syria. In turn, these limits strengthen Russia, Turkey, and Iran’s roles as the diplomatic arbiters to negotiate a peace deal. Separately, Gharizi addresses the risks associated with the suggestion of setting up an Arab force in Syria that could create further obscurity in terms of U.S. intent and objectives versus those of Arab countries forming such a force.
On Friday evening, the United States, together with Britain and France, launched a joint military operation in response to the Syrian regime’s April 7 chemical weapons attack on Douma. The Douma attack left more than 40 civilians dead and several hundred experiencing symptoms of exposure to toxic chemicals. The coordinated airstrikes hit three targets associated with Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure: a scientific research center, a chemical weapons production facility, and a chemical weapons storage area. Around this time last year in April 2017, the Trump administration launched a unilateral cruise missile strike on the Shayrat airfield following a sarin attack by the Syrian regime on the town of Khan Shaykhoun, which killed more than 90 civilians. U.S. Institute of Peace Senior Advisor for Syria Mona Yacoubian provides some insight into the airstrikes and the challenges that lie ahead.
Following USIP’s event “Iraq and Syria: Views from the U.S. Administration, Military Leaders and the Region,” Mike Yaffe provides key takeaways from the panel featuring CENTCOM Commander General Votel, USAID Administrator Green, and Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS McGurk. "Iraq and Syria are complex and starkly different from one another," says Yaffe, "but the key goals are the same: concentrate on defeating ISIS and work by, with, and through local people to stabilize each country."
With last year’s military rollback of the ISIS-declared caliphate, U.S. security and Middle Eastern stability require some way to establish governance in Iraq and Syria that meets the needs of their peoples, according to U.S. administration and military leaders, Iraqi officials and regional experts speaking on April 3 at USIP. During a day-long examination of strategy to stabilize the region and prevent a revival of ISIS, U.S. special presidential envoy Brett McGurk said President Trump’s March 30 order to freeze spending on post-combat recovery efforts in Syria “is not hampering our work in the field.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined a new Syria strategy for the Trump administration that includes an extended U.S. troop presence. Tillerson spoke days after Turkey, a NATO ally, denounced a U.S. plan to create a Border Security Force in Syria composed heavily of ethnic Kurds. Mona Yacoubian, a longtime analyst and policy specialist on Syria and the Middle East, discusses the implications of these developments.
Mona Yacoubian gives us a glimpse into the changing dynamics in Syria, addressing Assad’s grip on power, Russia’s support, and Iran and Turkey’s roles and interests. Yacoubian also addresses the rising tensions between Turkey and the United States over the Kurds.