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A Region of Upheaval and Many Foreign Doctors

A Region of Upheaval and Many Foreign Doctors

Monday, 14 January, 2019 - 09:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
We do not know how Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi welcomed the New Year in his hideout. He is likely plotting his revenge after his so-called “state” was crushed by strikes from various parties, starting with the US-led coalition. He has come to realize that terrorism cannot thrive when it follows traditional measures. This is why he has clearly started to rely on lone wolves.

The “state” has been crushed and several of its terrorists have been killed. Others sought fresh new arenas to go about their terror, while the rest remain surrounded and are awaiting their fate. Gone are the days when convoys of flags cross the Syrian-Iraqi border that were erased by ISIS. Gone are the days when cities and oil wells and fields can be seized. Gone are the days of bloody executions that are broadcast on television.

This does not at all mean that ISIS is no longer a dangerous organization. It is certain, however, that ISIS is no longer the main issue in the sick Middle East. It is no longer the primary danger. The bloody ISIS adventure revealed that the region has been storing a massive amount of ongoing and dormant conflicts. It revealed that the Middle East is passing through a period of collapses and change. The fuel to the fire did not only exist beyond its borders, but it lay within its maps, in countries that are living in an alarming lack of state authority.

The region is maneuvering around a series of sharp turns and it cannot seem to find a guide it can trust. It is passing through a period of fear, blood and uncertainty and border and existential crises. It is passing through a crisis with this era as it still clings to the past. Its countries are forced to live in borders that some believe no longer fit them. Its rulers fear change and seek to eliminate anyone who differ with them.

We would not be exaggerating in saying that the Middle East is in upheaval due to poverty, unemployment, corruption and lack of state rule. It is has been torn apart by countries that believe they have been punished by history and forced to remain confined in their current border. It is plagued by universities and schools that graduate bitter and frustrated students. The Middle East is marked by the injustice against not only the Palestinians and Kurds, but other peoples who are seeking a safe haven beyond their borders. It is suffering due to its tense relations with the world.

It has not been easy to endure what we have and are still experiencing. Syria has witnessed a series of wars, some of which do not appear to have an imminent end. We bore witness to a war between pro- and anti-regime Syrians. We then saw Syria transform into an open wound into which scores of extremists and terrorists poured into. This is when the conflict took on a new turn. We then saw all forms of intervention in a state whose borders have fallen and whose stability has been destroyed.

We saw Iran come forward to defend what it considers the Syrian link in its Iranian crescent. It is a vital connection that ensures that Iran is on another front in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It forms a necessary passage for rockets headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran has dispatched its “advisors” and militias. The Iranian interference in Syria led to more counter-interference, transforming the country into the primary battleground for sectarian or regional confrontations.

Very few sides took into consideration the Syrian fabric and the difference between the Syrian army and its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia. They were mistaken when they believed that Syria would be another episode in the “Arab Spring” drama.

Amid this tumult, Barack Obama refused to become embroiled in the Syrian conflict the night he spoke of “red lines” that should not be crossed if the regime carries out a chemical attack against its people. He gave the impression that the US does not believe that Syria was worth shedding American blood for. Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, had other plans. He saw the Syrian wound as an opportunity to advance his coup against what he believes is the United States’ unilateral approach on world affairs.

Putin had a score to settle in the “Arab Spring”. The Russian military intervened and saved the region, paving the way for a new chapter in conflicts on Syrian soil. Putin’s war was not limited to fighting ISIS and its affiliates, but it also included opposition factions, especially its fighters who hail from former Soviet states.

Turkey, which had opened the door wide for extremists to fight Bashar Assad’s regime, was soon lured into the country as Syria grew more fragmented. It sent its military to Syrian territories to thwart Kurdish dreams of a state. Ankara has now become a fixed figure at any negotiations table that would determine Syria’s future.

Under Trump, the US continued its battle against ISIS and its support of Kurds. It sought to strike some form of balance with the Russian military presence, which has the final word in Damascus. Israel has been meanwhile waging an ongoing war against what it says are Iranian attempts to establish a permanent military foothold in Syria. In return, Trump tore up the nuclear deal with Tehran and returned sanctions against Iran. This has consequently inflamed the situation in Yemen and fueled tensions in Iraq.

The Russian doctor does not have the entire cure to the crisis. Neither does the American. The Iranian doctor’s meddling has only deteriorated the patient’s health. The same goes to the Turkish doctor. Amid these wars, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the region to reassure leaders that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the region does not mean that he was leaving it to its fate. Pompeo’s extraordinary mission includes promoting ideas and vows, as well as handing out guarantees and bandages.

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