Iran and Russia both claim they are helping to stabilize Syria, and are fighting terrorism. In fact, both countries have actually destabilized Syria by supporting an unwanted president, Bashar Assad, and have moved the country in the direction of civil war, followed by terrorist attacks, with half a million dead and many millions displaced.
Turkey’s involvement is another scenario. It has a long border with Syrian Kurdish territory — the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan calls the Kurdish separatists terrorists — and, of course, Ankara’s regional interests also involve it in Syria.
Amid this chaos, the presidents of Iran, Russia and Turkey met in Ankara last week to discuss Syria’s future.
As the war continues, with the armed opposition still determined to fight, fruitful peace talks seem unlikely. And Erdogan’s confrontation with the Kurds in northern Syria has simply created a new trouble spot.
The rest of the world was happy to use the Kurds in the fight against Daesh terrorists, but has now abandoned them to be crushed by Turkish forces. Erdogan wants to clear the Turkish border area of Kurds, who dream of a homeland stretching from northern Iraq into northern Syria.
No one has lifted a finger to help the Kurds — not Iran, not Russia, not even the Assad regime. Instead, the Russians opened the Syrian air space they control, so that Turkish jets could bomb the Kurds.
Given the sacrifices of the Kurds, and their role in the fight against Daesh, it is hard to understand why US President Donald Trump wants to withdraw from Syria, and abandon them. It may be that Trump wants to avoid a possible confrontation with Russian troops in Syria; Russia has been involved there for many years, has a base at Tartus, and arms the Syrian military.
For Iran’s leaders, the scenario is different. Their regional strategy, the so-called Axis of Resistance, covers both Lebanon and Syria, and is intended to threaten Israel. Bashar Assad is important only for serving the interests of Iran’s militias, and no more.
In many ways, Turkey is an unwanted partner for the Iranians in this conflict. Ankara’s relations with the US have also soured since the attempted coup against Erdogan three years ago, which Turkey accused the US of supporting. However, the US cannot confront Turkey, a fellow NATO member, and the more Turkey is upset by the West, the closer it grows to Russia.
For all these reasons, the world’s great powers want to return to their traditional power bases, to avoid any confrontation with the others.
But for Iran, the story is different. Tehran’s regional power expansion is rootless. Unlike Russia and the US, Iran has no strong fundamental base. Inside the country, public anger and frustration with the political system and its economic failures has been aimed directly at the regime’s regional meddling, and its insistence on wasting the country’s wealth on conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
And despite all this spending to buy support and allies, the Islamic Republic has still failed to achieve the enhanced regional status it craves. Even at the recent conference in Turkey, when President Hassan Rouhani asked Erdogan to return control of the Afrin region to the Assad regime, the Turkish president refused.
In the end, none of these noisy conferences and mutual handshaking will be able to end this devastating war and guarantee the peace and stability that Syria so desperately needs. This will happen only when the international community, in the form of the United Nations, takes charge, and ensures that the voice of the Syrian people is heard.
- Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008). Twitter: @CameliaFard