Syrian Crisis

Shifts in “Hay’at Tahrir al Sham”: Reasons and Ends

EPC | 22 Mar 2021

The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, Organisation for the Liberation of the Levant), led by Abu Mohammad al-Julani, seeks to reproduce its image through the shifts it makes at the level of its political rhetoric, or through the tactical changes made by Julani, both by appearing in a modern outfit, abandoning the stereotypical image of the Mujahideen (Holy Warriors), and by wandering in Idlib's markets, unlike the jihadi leaders who live in isolation from the people and reside in unknown areas. Most of the interpretations have argued that this behaviour is as an attempt on the part of the HTS to reposition itself vis-à-vis the Syrian crisis, and to present itself as a moderate local player who deserves to be a party to the final settlement that determines the future of Syria. This paper tries to shed light on those shifts and determine their causes and the results expected to be achieved from them.

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The Future of Iran’s Presence in Syria

Nizar Abdul Kader | 24 Feb 2021

​Iran began its military intervention in Syria with the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. The main goal of this intervention was to defeat the Revolution and save Bashar al-Assad’s rule from falling, and thus maintain the “Alawite rule” which is a focal point in the Islamic Republic's long-term strategy aimed at establishing a “Shiite crescent” extending from Iran through Iraq and Syria, all the way to Lebanon. A full decade after the military developments in Syria, this paper seeks to foresee the future of the Iranian military presence in this country in the light of the intense competition for influence between the various regional and international players, especially the US and Russia, and in the light of the continuous Israeli military pressure on the Iranian presence to get Iran out of Syria.

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Dispute between the Kurdish Autonomous Administration and al-Asad Regime in al-Hasakah Governorate: Background and Possibilities

EPC | 15 Feb 2021

​The competition over areas of influence between the Kurdish Autonomous Administration (KAA) and the Syrian regime in the east of the Euphrates developed into direct tension with the beginning of 2021, as the two parties exchanged sieges on areas belonging to the other side, or related to the environment supporting it in Hasaka (also Hasakah) Governorate. While the two parties, with Russian mediation, reached an agreement on 2 February 2021 to lift the mutual siege on their respective regions, the agreement does not constitute a complete and final solution to the outstanding problems between them, which foreshadows new rounds of dispute.

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Russian-Iranian Agreement in West of the Euphrates: Objectives, Interests and Outcomes

EPC | 11 Jan 2021

For the first time since their intervention in Syria, the Russian forces have reached the Iraqi borders at the Albu Kamal crossing in December 2020. This area is considered to be purely under Iranian influence since control over it was regained from the Daesh (Islamic State, ISIS) organisation in 2018. There are indications of an unannounced Russian-Iranian agreement, many of whose details are unclear. This raises questions about the considerations that prompted the two countries to conclude this agreement, and whether it constitutes a prelude to changing the conditions of the players in the Syrian-Iraqi border area. This paper sheds light on the current developments in the region of West Euphrates and explores the potential prospects for them.

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The Biden Administration and Expected Policies on the Syrian Issue

EPC | 08 Dec 2020

​The local, regional and international actors involved in the Syrian conflict are anticipating the policies of the US President-elect Joe Biden's administration and the strategy by which he will deal with the Syrian issue and the actors therein. This paper sheds light on the Biden administration's potential policy toward the Syrian conflict, its positions on the domestic and external actors, and the potential responses on the part of those actors.

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Resurgence of ISIS Activities in Syria: Motivations and Consequences

EPC | 19 Nov 2020

The Syrian Badia (Desert) region is witnessing intense and frequent operations by the Daesh (Islamic State, IS) organisation, which extend to vast areas and target multiple opponents. They are also characterised by speedy execution and striking specific targets. Despite the numerous campaigns launched by the actors being targeted by the terrorist organisation, this did not affect the offensive strength of the Organisation. Those operations raise a question about whether the Organisation, whose elimination was announced in March 2019 after liberating its last stronghold in the town of Al-Baghouz in eastern Syria, has regained its capability to operate, and the effect of this return in the context of developments in a region that abounds with problems and players.

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Portents of a Regional Conflict in Southern Syria: Influential Powers and Likelihoods of Escalation

EPC | 19 Oct 2020

Southern Syria is witnessing a multi-layered conflict involving a number of sides. In spite of attempts by the parties concerned to manage the conflict in order to prevent it from spreading into a broader arena, the intensification of messages passing between the sides has begun to threaten the fragile arrangements in a geostrategically important region fraught with numerous contradictions. This paper highlights the developments taking place in southern Syria, their dynamics, and the potential outcomes.

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Developments of the Russian Position in the Syrian Crisis: A New Approach or Redevelopment of Old Policies?

EPC | 22 Sep 2020

The visit of the Russian delegation to Damascus on 7 September 2020, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, and the meetings it held with regime officials, are of particular importance given the current pace of regional and international interactions on the Syrian issue. In addition, this visit is expected to constitute a turning point in the Russian policy towards the Syrian crisis, and to give indications of the directions of Russia’s policy towards the region, and the form of its relations with the international actors therein. This paper attempts to explore the nature of the changes in the Russian policy against the background of this visit, and the new elements in this policy.

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Arab-Kurdish Tension East of the Euphrates: Causes and Outcomes

EPC | 01 Sep 2020

The Eastern Euphrates region has been witnessing tensions between the Arab and Kurdish components that warn of the possibility of collapse of the fragile implicit rapprochement that was built against the backdrop of the defeat of Daesh (the Islamic State, IS), amid Arab demands to strike a balance in the relationship and interests between the two sides and the competition between regional and international actors to gain influence in an extremely important region at the geopolitical level in the Syrian file. This paper sheds light on the events taking place in the Eastern Euphrates region and the interests and goals of regional and international actors.

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"The Caesar Act": Nature, Goals, and Potential Consequences

EPC | 23 Jun 2020

The US sanctions law against the Syrian regime, called the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, or the Caesar Act for short, entered into force on 17 June 2020. The Act targets several sectors of the Syrian economy and sanctions entities, businesses and individuals, both regional and international, that provide military and economic support to the Syrian regime. The Act is estimated to have significant economic and political impact that would change the balances among actors in the Syrian issue and bring about new dynamics that could affect the outputs of the promised political solution. This paper sheds light on the nature, goals and economic and political implications of this Act.

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Russian Measures to Expand its Political and Economic Influence in Syria: Reasons and Impact

EPC | 16 Jun 2020

The recent Russian steps in the Syrian file have raised questions about their significance and objective, especially that they coincide with local, regional and international developments in the Syrian file. On 25 May 2020, the Russian President Vladimir Putin appointed the Russian ambassador to Syria Alexander Yefimov as a special presidential representative for developing Russian relations with Syria. On 28 May 2020, Putin also signed a decree in which he delegated the ministries of defence and foreign affairs to start negotiations with the Syrian government with a view to handing over additional facilities to the Russian military and expanding their maritime control in Syria, provided that the new arrangements would be complementary to the agreement signed in August 2015 allowing for a military presence in Syria. This paper sheds light on those steps and explores their dimensions and impact in the Syrian context.

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Al-Assad-Makhlouf Dispute: Background and Dimensions

EPC | 18 May 2020

The current dispute between the president of the Syrian regime Bashar al-Assad and Syria’s top businessman Rami Makhlouf constitutes a new variable in the policy of the Syrian regime and its way of dealing with the problems that erupt within the narrow circle of decision making. While Rami Makhlouf is not a political figure and has no specific position within the Syrian power hierarchy, it is no secret that in addition to being a relative of Assad, he represents a strong economic centre that owes its status to the significant role played by the regime policy. This makes him organically linked to the Syrian ruling system. This is evidenced by the fact that Rami Makhlouf benefitted a lot from the economic transformation that occurred in Syria under Assad the son’s presidency, that is the shift from planned to market economy which required the issuance of hundreds of presidential decrees to rehabilitate the legal and political structure accordingly. This paper sheds light on the background of the dispute between the two men and Russia’s position thereon in its capacity as the most influential player in Syrian policies.

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Russia’s Media Campaign against Al-Assad Regime: Causes and Consequences

EPC | 30 Apr 2020

The recent attack by Russian media outlets close to the Kremlin against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has raised questions about whether it was reflecting the inclination of the Russian decision maker. It constitutes an introduction to shifts in his attitude towards the Syrian leadership and reflects, therefore, on developments of the Syrian crisis in light of the crises experienced on the international scene (the COVID-19 epidemic and the fall in oil prices) which threaten serious implications for the global economy that would also extend to the Russian economy.

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Russia-Turkey Tension in Northwestern Syria: Causes and Trajectories

EPC | 13 Feb 2020

Russian-Turkish relations are put to a hard test these days. The escalating tension between the two sides in Syria's Idlib province and the countryside of Aleppo threatens to undermine bilateral cooperation and coordination on more than one front in war-ravaged Syria. Recent military developments have brought about a dangerous shift in the rules of engagement between the two parties, and have opened the door for potential direct confrontation. This is particularly true as both countries embrace contradictory positions in justifying their actions. On the one hand, Turkey believes that the Russia-backed Syrian army onslaught on Idlib and the countryside of Aleppo will push about a million Syrians to Turkey's borders, threatening Turkish national security. In turn, Russia is sticking to the implementation of the Sochi Agreement, which obliges Turkey to dismantle extremist organizations, as well as Turkey's lack of commitment to handing over control over international roads to the Assad regime.

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Russia-U.S. Tension in Eastern Euphrates: Causes and Trajectories

EPC | 05 Feb 2020

Tensions are escalating between U.S. and Russian forces in areas east of the Euphrates, particularly in the Hasaka governorate in eastern Syria. These tensions are translated into scuffles between the two countries’ forces, as the United States tries to set the boundaries of its spheres of influence, while Russia seeks to expand its influence in that region. This threatens a collision, especially in light of the divergence in the two countries’ view of the final solution in Syria.

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Repercussions of Soleimani’s Killing on Iran’s Influence in Syria

EPC | 27 Jan 2020

The absence of Al-Quds Force's Commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Qassem Soleimani, engenders some sort of confusion to Iran’s influence in Syria, and that is due to his organic relationship with the developments that have taken place in this country, since Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000.

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The Russia–Turkey “Idlib Deal” and the American Response

EPC | 25 Jan 2020

A new conflict is emerging along the boundaries of the “fourth de-escalation zone” (Idlib and the area surrounding Aleppo). All indicators suggest that this is a multi-faceted conflict, given the complex situation and overlapping interests. Although Russia and Turkey declared a truce, it lasted for no more than two days. While a security meeting was being held between the head of Syrian intelligence, Ali Mamlouk, and his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, in Moscow, at the same time the US delegation, led by United States Special Representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey, met with the Syrian opposition in Istanbul.

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The Israeli Perspective on the Challenges and Opportunities Presented by the Syrian Situation

EPC | 26 Nov 2019

Israel’s recent raids on — primarily Iranian — sites near Damascus and in other parts of Syria appear to be designed to show Iran that any attempt to launch missiles against Israel will be met with a much greater response that Iran may have expected. In return, Iran has changed the rules of its engagement with Israel by adopting the principle of “bombs for bombs”, and Syrian and Iraqi territories have become Iran’s preferred arena for testing out that principle in practice. Some time ago, Israel started to push back against Iranian positions in Syria and Iraq, which it now seems far more determined to do. This paper will examine Israel’s policies and strategies for dealing with Iranian positions in Syria, discuss how Tel Aviv is interacting with actors on the Syrian political scene, and identify the greatest challenges and opportunities facing Israel.

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