An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)
There is widespread speculation that the ceasefire actually marks the beginning of dividing Syria into "spheres of influence." The truce was announced just as Andrew J. Tabler of the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) has a piece in Foreign Affaris entitled, "The New Great Game: How Regional Powers are Carving Up Syria." Iran, Hezbollah and the Damascus regime are seen as backing an Alawite mini-state in Latakia. Then there is the "Islamic State Free Zone" or "buffer zone" that Turkey hopes to establish in Syria's north—actually more aimed at securing the area from revolutionary Kurdish forces than ISIS. Tabler notes that the US-trained FSA fighters that have crossed into Syrian territory from Turkey are led by ethnic Turkmen—suggesting that Ankara hopes to groom the Syrian Turkmen as proxies, and perhaps use them to secure the "buffer zone" in lieu of actual Turkish troops. We've noted that Turkmen have been pitted against the Kurds in the struggle for Syria's north. Jordan is also planning to set up its own "buffer zone" in Syria's southwest—a sphere of influence partially overlapping that of Israel, which is aiding rebel forces to the east of the Golan Heights frontier.
Iran is now pretty clearly a part of the Great Power convergence against ISIS, and we predicted that Tehran may be given a free hand in Syria in exchange for its efforts against the jihadists in Iraq. We've also long noted neocon designs to balkanize the Middle East, breaking up states that could pose an obstacle to Western designs. It would certainly be an irony of Iran were now embraced as a partner in this design.
There are also signs that Washington is retreating from the widely reported plan for a joint US-Turkish "buffer zone" in Syria's north. Reuters now quotes Turkish foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu as saying the two powers had agreed to create a buffer zone 98 kilometers long and 45 wide. Sinirlioglu indeed portrays policing of the buffer zone as farmed out to proxies, with US-Turkish air support: "The control and protection of this region cleared of [ISIS] will be conducted by Syrian opposition forces and the necessary air defense and support for this…will be provided by the United States and Turkey."
Asked about the report, however, US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said: "There's no agreement on some kind of zone." Toner said he had not seen Sinirlioglu's remarks and could not address them. "I'm not denying his claims," he added, in the usual bureaucratic equivocation. "We've been pretty clear from the podium and elsewhere saying there's no zone, no safe haven, we're not talking about that here. What we're talking about is a sustained effort to drive ISIL out of the region."
This of course contradicts all media reports up to this point. Perhaps the cognitive dissonance of the US position, and pressure on the White House by friends of the Kurds, are having an effect. No matter what Great Power intrigues are in play, our job as progressives is to do what we can to help assure the survival of the Kurdish autonomous zone (which is beholden to no foreign power) and continue to advance the aims of the civil resistance movement that started the Syrian revolution in 2011: democracy, pluralism and secularism—in whatever new order eventually emerges.