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15 March, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 March, 2019 10:48:28 PM
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The aftershocks of Aleppo’s fall continue to shake the region

Hussein Ibish

In international relations, change is constant but often subtle. As in a moving kaleidoscope, the biggest patterns continuously, yet often almost imperceptibly, readjust themselves via delicate and discrete shifts. Occasionally, though, there is a dramatic twist and the whole constellation is suddenly rearranged.

Sometimes it’s obvious, as with the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. In other cases, the full significance only becomes clear over time. The fall of rebel-held portions of Aleppo to pro-regime forces in Syria in December 2016 is the most recent Middle Eastern example of a subtle political tremor that, perhaps surprisingly, has repositioned many key tectonic plates underneath the strategic landscape.

At the time, most observers understood that it was a big deal, signalling the practical end of the major fighting in Syria and, therefore, the comprehensive victory of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and its Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah backers.

But the aftershocks have reverberated so powerfully that it is now hard not to begin many conversations about Middle Eastern strategic realities without saying: "After the fall of Aleppo…"

Perhaps the most far-reaching impact has been the significantly transformed regional role of Turkey. Ankara was already moving away from a commitment to regime change in Damascus and focusing on containing Kurdish gains in northern Syria. But Aleppo made Turkey's altered profile practically irreversible.

From then on, Ankara no longer saw Tehran as a fundamental adversary, but reconceptualised Iran, along with Russia, as a necessary partner in ensuring an acceptable post-conflict stabilisation in Syria.

This intensified and accelerated the emergence of Turkey as a fully committed, leading regional power with its own distinctive orientation. And after the boycott of Qatar began in June 2017, it became clear that the Ankara-Doha axis was emerging as a third regional bloc, simultaneously competing with both the pro and anti-Iranian camps.

Aleppo was the decisive turning point in transforming the Middle East from a binary to a ternary competition

Aleppo was, therefore, the decisive turning point in transforming the Middle East from a binary to a ternary competition, a new reality that is close to pervasive, albeit sometimes subtly, from Morocco to Iraq.

And because Egypt is so categorically opposed to the pro-Islamist orientation of this Turkish-led third camp, Cairo has increasingly emerged from its crisis-induced introversion and back into broader regional engagement.

As the victorious parties – Russia, Iran and Turkey – established the Astana conferences to try to negotiate the arrangements necessary to consolidate their gains, Ankara and Moscow, in particular, developed new levels of co-operation.

However, as Syria has more firmly entered into a post-war era, it is obvious that both Turkey and Russia are beginning to wonder if, and even when, Iran's more far-reaching ambitions in Syria will begin to undermine their own, vital but more limited, goals in the country.

In other words, the long-term impact of Aleppo and the end of the war could, however counterintuitively, signal at least a gradual erosion of the Russian-Iranian alliance that secured that victory in the first place. The writer is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington

 

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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