How did the Syria war turn the scales of the Middle East upside down? America is retreating, Russia is benefiting

No one would have imagined that the Syrian people’s desire for change and the fight against corruption and oppression on the part of the Assad family that has ruled the country for more than half a century would lead to a reversal of the balance of power in the Middle East upside down in the manner that happened.

The Syrian revolution, which began in the form of small protests in separate regions of the country, in January 2011, to denounce the arrest and torture of revolutionary activists and youth who had written some phrases against the suppression and corruption of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and the regime met those protests with more repression and arrests, which led Dozens were killed and thousands were arrested, and soon the demonstrations became massive and continuous, and attracted the majority of Syrians in all regions.

Demonstrators in Busra al-Sham in Daraa countryside commemorating the Syrian revolution, March 2016 / Reuters

In the period from March to July 2011, Bashar al-Assad’s regime launched security campaigns in which it used all the methods of bloody brutality to turn the path of the revolution into a battlefield that went outside the borders of Syria and the region, and participated in it, and still regional and international powers, but the price was paid. Opposite Al-Assad retained the presidential seat It was exorbitant, as Syria was reduced to ruins, hundreds of thousands lost their lives, and millions of people became displaced and refugees at home and abroad.

Syria’s fire burns alliances of the region

If the Syrians have paid and are still paying a high price for the regime’s president’s adherence to his seat, the balance of power in the entire Middle East region has witnessed dramatic transformations that many analysts attribute to what Syria has witnessed in the past decade.

Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Cairo have turned into what looks like remote areas, after they were at one time the political and cultural heart of the region, while the reins of decision-making shifted to other parties in the Middle East, and there is nothing more expressing this than the idea that the two main drivers of the region (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel) have only one Arab country, according to a newspaper report The Times British.

“People used to listen to Syrian and Lebanese music, and watch Egyptian films, but who does that now? Those countries no longer exist according to all social, political and cultural indicators,” Michael Stephens, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a research institute told the newspaper. And those countries cannot extend their influence, so the influence on them is being dropped. “

An expressive photo of US forces in Syria / Reuters

And if Bashar al-Assad has managed to remain seated in the presidency over the ruins of Syria, his regime is so weak that it has made the president a mere vassal of his supporters in Moscow and Tehran, while everything else has changed. As for Turkey, which is considered a role model for Islamic democracy in the region after its rise from decades of military dictatorship, it has thrown its weight behind the Syrian opposition.

Saudi Arabia and the rise of the crown prince

Whereas Saudi Arabia, which initially supported parts of the Syrian opposition as it struggled to quell the breeze of the revolution on its soil, has since implemented internal, albeit cosmetic, reforms that allowed women to drive, and sought to attract tourists with safe emancipation plans similar to Dubai in remote holiday resorts. On the other hand, however, the kingdom has become more authoritarian than ever before, coinciding with its quest to exert more influence in the region, according to the Times report.

As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the Kingdom, secured his rise in the ranks of the caliphate by getting rid of his rivals among members of the ruling family, and ensuring that there was no overt opposition to him by suppressing opponents, and in the context, the crown prince became in competition with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Transforming the kingdom into the new center of the Sunni Muslim world, instead of Turkey, according to the British newspaper report.

Lavrov in Saudi Arabia alongside Mohammed bin Salman, Archives / SPA

The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been at the forefront of the region’s issues in recent years, as Riyadh has drawn lines for its battles with the leading Shiite power in the region, despite its economic obstruction. Because of the US sanctionsBut Tehran exploited the Syrian chaos to extend its influence to the shores of the Mediterranean. It did so by supporting proxy militias in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and by obtaining major infrastructure contracts from the Syrian regime, and those contracts included managing the port of Tartus, which analysts believe is using Tehran to ship weapons to the country, according to the newspaper’s report.

Is Israel the biggest winner?

Despite the alarming military map in the region now, it seems that Israel is the biggest winner of what is happening. One decade from now, Palestine was the main issue in the Middle East, and Israel was on one side and the rest of the countries in the region on another.

But the Syrian war and the rise of Iran led to the emergence of another division in the region, which is the Sunni-Shiite division, which is clearly evident in the competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Israel benefited from that division, as Arab countries such as the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan entered into deals to normalize their relations with the Hebrew state, Events and statements indicate that more countries – including Saudi Arabia – may take the same step soon.

Netanyahu receives Emiratis at Ben Gurion Airport after the normalization of relations with Abu Dhabi, November 2020 / jpost

Israel followed a complex strategy to take advantage of the conflict in Syria, as it bombed targets inside Syrian territory, such as bases and militia groups affiliated with Iran or Hezbollah, and at the same time it also took initial steps in an effort to improve its position among the Syrians opposed to Assad, such as providing medical treatment to opposition fighters and wounded civilians near From its borders, as well as helping 98 White Helmets search and rescue volunteers and their families – whose numbers exceed 400 people – to flee Syria.

However, the question remains regarding the extent to which Israel is able or willing to build on the gains it has achieved so far and start winning the hearts and minds of the Arab peoples, which there are no indications that will happen so far, despite the pragmatic alliance with the Arab regimes that signed normalization agreements with Tel Aviv. Recently, the Arab peoples still see Israel as the number one enemy, according to multiple opinion polls.

The conclusion here is that after a decade has passed, it seems that the fires that were ignited by the brutal handling of the Bashar al-Assad regime with the popular revolution demanding change have not consumed Syria alone – which is now the ruins of the country it was in – but has spread across the region, breaking the old alliances and showing Instead, they are new alliances and rising centers of power that will likely last for a generation or more.

And the story is not confined to the regional powers in the Middle East, but it goes beyond it to World powersAnd, in particular, the United States, which had almost the sole influence in the Middle East, but found it a stubborn competitor: Russia, Which Bashar al-Assad gave her a foothold that enables it to fill the void left by Washington in Syria and the region, in addition to China, which has an influence and presence in the region that cannot be ignored.

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