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Even as Palestinian refugees demand their right to return to native lands, and are massacred in the process, the Syrian crisis remains the focal point of events in West Asia. It almost seems that the crisis has been deliberately dragged on for so long so as to suit the interests of certain countries. In the process, thousands of innocents have lost their lives, priceless assets lost, antiquities stolen or damaged beyond repair—a country seemingly at war with itself. But all is not as it appears to the casual observer, for there are wheels within wheels at play.

What began as legitimate airing of grievances against an authoritarian regime was quickly hijacked by various interested parties that began to fish in the troubled waters. And troubled waters there was plenty. Decades of brutal Ba’athist rule had hardened people to an unimaginable level. They were subjugated, and even the appearance of young Bashir al-Asad didn’t herald the dawn that was once promised. Destiny didn’t deliver to the people of Syria as they’d hoped and prayed for. So some brave souls began to scrawl graffiti, raise slogans and pelt stones. When the Syrian security apparatus responded with a heavy hand, matters began to get out of hand.

This is when the external players began to step in, and upped their activities. Whether it was a Qatari television channel or neighbouring Turkey, and Israel, interference in Syrian matters reached a crescendo rather soon. As a result of which the Syrian state lost sovereignty over large swathes of land, to rebel groups and to transnational players. A beleaguered Syria turned to its allies, Iran and its ideological partner, the Lebanese group Hizbullah. And, subsequently Russia, with its airpower, naval and ground assets. While those like the Kurdish militias appeared to aid the state even as they controlled territory of their own.

The appearance of Kurdish power got Turkey even more involved, and their shooting down a Russian fighter aircraft and subsequent land operations created a most piquant situation. With a blatantly sectarian posture, Turkey can rightly be accused of creating more problems than helping solve the biggest issue, clearing aside the dreaded Islamic State. Daesh, as it is called in Arabic, had occupied large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, declared it a caliphate, and began committing the worst atrocities. And it attracted volunteers from all over the world.

Russian support to Syrian forces helped turn the tide in remarkable ways. In coordination with various likeminded groups, the countryside was freed from Daesh and other such millenarian forces. Even as Turkey played a double game it was the consistency of Russian policy that changed equations on the ground. Which is why the recent aimless American missile strikes make for a worrisome development. When the immediate target has to be to clear Syria of all Daesh type forces, any diversion will only help such groups. Even though United States has Special Forces on the ground, and achieving good results, other actions must also be concomitant with strategic objectives. Otherwise, this turf war over Syria may well set off another Cold War between Russia and the United States.


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