Words are important, so choosing the right word for the current situation in Syria is a way to anticipate my position. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a simple definition of deadlock is:
a situation in which an agreement cannot be made : a situation in which ending a disagreement is impossible because neither side will give up something that it wants.
As you know, we have a number of sides in this conflict. The national government with its Russian partners, Turkey in the northern part of the country, no less than three different armed opposition forces (each sponsored by a foreign state – Iran, Saudi Arabia, United States of America), the Kurds and, of course, the IS forces.
There are other parties on the field, mostly tribal groups and small criminal cartels. And there are a lot of very interested nations in the Middle East, also involved in this situation. Whatever will happen tomorrow to Syria will likely affect Israel, Lebanon and Jordan as well, not to mention the ever-troubled Iraq.
Each actor in this drama gets its own interest and pursue a private agenda for the future of this small country. Bashar Assad, president of Syria, is struggling to survive – this is not a metaphor – and his choices could be the real key to solving this deadlock. So far, he’s been successful to drain force from all his opponents, involving a powerful ally like Russia and playing a dangerous game of poker with Turkey and the Western countries. Should he choose to step down from power, that’s high unlikely, the whole government will fall down to pieces.
Russia gets a strong strategic support from Syria; the port of Tartus and the airport of Latakia are an ideal platform for establishing a presence in the Mediterranean Sea. So far, their military intervention has been quite efficient and Putin could be tempted to commit more troops and resources to force an end to the battle of Aleppo. That will set the stage for a direct confrontation in the north between Turkey, the Kurds and IS; with the United States of America caught between a rock (Turkey) and a hard place (the Kurds).
IS gets the worst situation in the field, by now. With the combined action in Iraq between the Kurds and the Iraqi army, they’re going to lose more territory and resources, including the city of Mosul. The risk is to be surrounded without a viable escape route, with the combined power of air strikes from Russia and US to cover the advance of Kurdish troops. Turkey is unlikely to grant any sanctuary to IS forces and no more support will likely come from other countries. The so-called caliphate is finally coming to an end.
The Kurds are in for the most dangerous situation after the end of the IS activities in the area. Turkish troops are already threatening their strongholds in the north and it’s unlikely that the US will go for a hard confrontation to defend them. The next American president, no matter who he or she will be, will have to choose wisely. It’s a paradox that the Kurds will be more and more in danger as soon as their final victory approaches.
Last but not least, the so-called rebels. For those who are directly or indirectly sponsored by Iran, the situation is unclear. There are a number of deals on the ground between Russia and Iran, between Assad and Iran, between local groups and the rebels. If the cards fall down, hence solving the deadlock, most of them will flee to Lebanon and this will drive crazy Israel. The others will probably set for reaching Jordan in small groups, ready to assemble again if needed. They will wait for a solution, if any, given by others. Their strategic weight is not that much, but their presence is like a flag waved in the face of Assad and Israel at the same time, with the grim face of Erdogan in the background.
So far, nobody is ready to solve this deadlock. Battle progress on the ground is slow for the Kurdish forces and everybody else is waiting for the next US president foreign policy to show up. Meanwhile, the carnage goes on and on.