Assad's greatest asset? EU-NATO appeasement

Assad's greatest asset? EU-NATO appeasement
6 min read
10 Mar, 2020
Comment: Turkey has demonstrated that Assad's regime could be defeated in Syria, were it not for the curse of global indifference, writes Sam Hamad.
A Turkish military convoy on the highway linking Idlib to the Syrian-Turkish border [AFP]

The recent Turkish intervention in Idlib against Assad gave us a snapshot of the kind of activity necessary to stop genocide in Syria. 

Make no mistake about it: as operationally limited as Turkey's intervention in Idlib turned out to be, the damage done to pro-Assad forces in Idlib was massive. In a matter of days, Assad's instruments of terror had been effectively neutralised by the Turkish army and air force. 

Most notably, two of Assad's notorious Russian-provided SU-24 jets, these fighters-cum-bombers that have been responsible for so much destruction in Syria, were easily downed by Turkey's superior F-16 fighter jets. In addition to this, eight of Assad's helicopters, the vessels of the notorious barrel bombs, were blasted out of the sky by the Turks. 

But perhaps the most telling aspect of Turkey's intervention was the manner in which Turkey overwhelmed and dismantled Assad and Russia's air defence systems. In past years, apologists and propagandists have warned about the efficiency of Assad's Russian-manufactured air defence set up, but its destruction was no obstacle to the Turks. 

Effectively, after years of obstinate denialism regarding its plausibility by the Obama administration, Turkey had established a no-fly zone (NFZ) over a large area of Idlib – the people, for the first time in a long time, had respite from Assad-Iran-Russia's aerial savagery. 

Apologists and propagandists have long warned that any action to stop genocide in Syria would spark WWIII. But on the few occasions that any force has actually confronted Assad or Iran, such as strikes by Israelthe US and Turkey, Russia has revealed itself to be a paper tiger – crumpling into low-level diplomatic pleading and condemnation, with not a hint of military intent. 

In a matter of days, Assad's instruments of terror had been effectively neutralised by the Turkish army and air force

In fact, the Turkish operation vindicated a strategy that we have been told for years now was simply impossible, namely setting up a NFZ to protect civilians and incapacitate Assad's aerial war, while arming rebel forces with the sufficient weaponry to take on Assad's Russian and Iranian-bolstered forces.  

This is exactly what happened during Turkey's intervention and the results were significant in terms of both protecting civilians and decimating the genocidal forces encircling them. 

While apologists and propagandists for Assad-Iran-Russia praised the so-called 'Syrian Arab Army' for its efficiency in conquering liberated areas of Syria, these forces too, were exposed as paper tigers when faced with those who could fight back.

Turkey seriously dented the manpower of the pro-Assad forces, both through airstrikes and ground attacks by Turkish-backed Syrian rebels. This led to an acute manpower crisis for Assad, with the regime having to rely on local police and forced teenage conscripts to make up the numbers.

Even more interesting, regarding Syria beyond Idlib, 'dormant' Free Syrian Army (FSA) and other forces were spurred into action by the Turkish offensive, while thousands of Syrians took to the streets of towns and cities across the north in support and celebration of decisive action finally being taken against Assad and his allies. 

Read more: Erdogan holds Brussels talks as EU mulls taking in child refugees

It demonstrates that Assad's alleged 'military supremacy' compared to 'amateur' and ideologically compromised rebels - a myth endorsed so destructively by Obama during his presidency and one that marked the end of any remote chance of support for the rebellion - is very precarious. As is the alleged 'political hegemony' that many imagine reigns supreme without contradiction in the Baathist rump state. 

If Assad's military forces could collapse so dramatically in a matter of days, prompting thousands of Syrians to once again take to the streets, due to the Turkish strategy, imagine what could be achieved in a matter of weeks or months across all of Syria? Imagine if NATO had mobilised to widen operations to all of Syria?  Who could possibly stand in its way - who, out of Assad and his allies, would dare to?

Genocide has already occurred in Syria - nothing in the world can erase the horrors that have eclipsed the lives of millions of Syrians.  But rather than the 'let them die' strategy - often buried under misconceptions and propaganda about Syria being a 'lost cause', Turkey has demonstrated that Syria could yet be saved from even more genocidal horror. 

Unfortunately, 'could' is the operative word here. Even among the protests in the north, the celebratory aspect was tempered by a resignation that the ray of hope provided by Turkey would soon be shut out.

From the outset of its military operations, Turkey has not hidden the fact that its motives were essentially twofold: firstly, to force the Russians into stopping Assad from his attempt to cleanse and conquer all of Idlib and thus stem the flow of refugees into Turkey, and, secondly and relatedly, for Turkey to spur NATO and the EU into aiding it in its endeavour. 

Neither NATO (essentially the US), nor the EU were interested. Turkey's additional attempt to garner a meaningful response from Europe by opening up its borders with Greece and Bulgaria, has simply led to both these countries reacting to the influx of refugees with the same racist intransigence that defines EU policy.

Neither NATO (essentially the US), nor the EU were interested

As it became clear to Turkey that no meaningful response was forthcoming, the only reasonable solution it could undertake, as opposed to risk an isolated war against Assad, Iran and Russia, was come to terms with Russia.

And while Turkey has been the object of much misplaced ire over this, the reality is that the deal, while far from perfect, has temporarily allowed Idlib to be free from the genocidal violence that has seen 1 million people cleansed since December of last year. This means Turkey is in no hurry to allow millions more refugees to join the 4 million already in the country.

It's far from perfect, but the deal is a result not of Turkish 'betrayal' but rather of that old, malign spectre of global indifference and inaction. 

It seems that some within the EU, including 
Angela Merkel and Guy Verhofstadt, might have begun to wake up to the fact that only the halt of the Assad-Iran-Russia refugee-makers will serve as the end point of the refugee 'crisis' they fear so much.

But the reality is that such action from the US is simply not on the cards - it seems the spirit of Obama's destructive inaction reigns supreme across US politics, whether the next president for the next four years is Trump, Biden or Sanders. 

Sadly, for Syrians, ceasefires in Syria have the horrific habit of simply being periods during which the Assad-Iran-Russia  coalition can recuperate and recalibrate, relying not on any great power it possesses, but rather the lack of political principle and moral weaknesses of its enemies.

Turkey asked the world to care. The world, despite moments of bluster, has once again declined.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.