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Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Those who fail to observe the lessons that History teaches us are bound to continue making the same costly mistakes over and repeatedly. The operative lesson for today is this: ADVERSARIAL RELATIONS BETWEEN NATIONS ARE NEVER PERMANENT. This lesson ought to be foremost in our minds as we look for solutions in the Middle East.

What does the playing field look like?

It appears that Syria, ISIL and Iraq are the major Middle Eastern players, but then there are Iran, The Kurds, Turkey, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, The Palestinians, and Hamas. And then there are the Major Powers: USA, Russia, France and their allies and satellites.

What are the objectives?

The USA wants to remove Assad from power in Syria, to defeat ISIL, and to see a new preferably democratic government take root in Syria. The USA and Turkey are NATO allies, and supposedly have the same interests, but the Kurds are the most dependable USA fighting allies, which complicates matters for the USA with both Turkey and Iraq, both of whom have territorial disputes with the Kurds.

The support of Iraq’s Sunni Muslims would be an important asset to the USA in its fight with ISIL, but this is dependent on The Shiite Muslims’ willingness to grant some form of power sharing in the government of Iraq with their Sunni brethren. The Iraqi government seems unwilling to do this, and to that extent The USA cannot count on Sunni support.

Iraq cannot afford to see a viable Isil, for Isil’s objective is to take over both Syria and Iraq and convert themselves into a truly viable economic Caliphate. But Iraq wants others to fight its battle.

Iran at this stage has a very strong hand to play. Iran has more influence with the Shiite Government in Iraq than does the USA. Iran is also fighting Isil along with the USA, Iraq, Syria, and the Kurds. Iran has to date been Assad’s strongest backer. Iran also has a very strong influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon, over Hamas in the Palestinian territories, and more significantly, Iran has a very good and close relationship with Russia, with whom it does tremendous business.

Russia has continued to be a strong supporter of Assad over the years, some say because Syria grants them permission to maintain their only warm water naval facility. Russia has now openly joined the fight by placing aircraft on Syrian soil, and by bombing all areas not controlled by the Assad government.

Recent events in France have brought France into the fight, but it is fair to conclude that France’s primary objective is retribution against Isil, and not the removal of Assad.

Saudi Arabia, even though mostly Sunni, has no common purpose with Isil, cannot work with Iran, and is not truly committed to getting Assad out of power.

The intransigence of the Israelis, and the Palestinians, in making constructive progress towards a workable State solution, continues to complicate political solutions in the Middle East.

It is this writer’s contention that we have to look to the Big Players to find a modus vivendi in the Middle East. Assad is probably more secure now than ever, barring assassination by an inside element. It would be my contention that we will see The USA and many of its NATO allies, Russia, and Iran come together in an alliance to solve the problem of Isil. The bargaining will be long and messy, but don’t count Assad out, for he is far from being on the mat.

Irvine Weekes.

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