Ziad Majed | Associate professor at the American University in Paris, author in 2014 of Syrie, La Révolution Orpheline, or “Syria, The Orphaned Revolution,” and co-founder, then coordinator, of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
The war in Syria is not over. However, a phase in this war is indeed behind us, the one dominated by the regime (with its Iranian and Shi‘a and Russian allies) and the armed non-jihadi opposition, in all its diversity and contradictions, which Russia dramatically weakened and isolated in its two-year intervention.
The fragmented territory today, foreign military occupations, and conflicting political agendas might lead to new confrontations: In Idlib, where Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) is a potential target for different actors such as Russia, the United States, and local forces; in the north and northeast, where tensions between Turkey and Kurdish forces could escalate into armed conflict; and in the east, where the regime and pro-Iran militias on the one hand and Kurdish forces on the other might struggle for hegemony over large territories. This may be compounded in different parts of Syria by suicide bombings organized by defeated elements of the Islamic State, or by fighting around besieged opposition-held localities if the sieges are not lifted by the regime.
To this we should add four important processes through which the war continues: First, the regime’s periodic bombing of civilians and health infrastructures in opposition areas. Second, the enforced disappearance of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, more than 90 percent of them in regime jails. Third, the unresolved situation of millions of refugees and internally displaced populations. And fourth, the government’s urban organization plans that are leading to the destruction of neighborhoods and the confiscation of lands, a process that is gradually changing the social fabric of cities such as Damascus, Aleppo, and Homs.
Rula Jebreal | Professor of Communication at the University of Miami
Major military operations in Syria have effectively ended. This secured the near-term survival of an Assad regime whose position had at one point seemed precarious. To cling to power, the regime relied on assistance from foreign powers, including Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. But the real victor in the Syrian civil war is Russia, with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the star of the show after the Russia military tilted the scales in Assad’s favor.
This has also meant that Syria is today effectively owned by Russia, and Putin will broker any related political arrangements and serve as their guarantor. Even the Geneva “peace” talks will be shaped by Russia and it is delusional to think that the Syrian opposition can achieve through these talks that which they failed to achieve militarily on the ground.
The United States would be best served by simply admitting that it has abandoned its strategic goals in Syria. President Donald Trump has no interest in the country and he seems unwilling to contain or confront Putin. Therefore, as a practical matter, the United States has abandoned the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people.
So for now, Assad has won the strategic war. Yet, his victory may be pyrrhic in that nothing about the current situation ensures stability or peace. On the contrary, the Assad regime has fallen far short of achieving lasting control over the entire country. So, the insurgency will continue until Syrians are granted freedom, political participation, and social justice. Furthermore, in politics no outcome is inevitable and the last chapter of the Syrian civil war may be adjudicated someday by the International Criminal Court.
Joe Macaron | Policy analyst at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C.
The war in Syria is multifaceted and from it various parallel conflicts have emerged over the years. The civil war came to an end with the U.S.-Russian ceasefire agreement for southern Syria last July. The war against the Islamic State was mostly concluded this month with the recapture of all border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Continued tensions along the borders of Israeli-controlled territory and Turkey, if not properly addressed, might lead to asymmetric warfare between Israel and Hezbollah or between Turkish and Kurdish forces.
Rather than Syrian rivals voluntarily negotiating a deal, it was external factors that imposed a cessation of hostilities. Turkey’s realignment toward Russia and Iran, which led to a fragile nationwide ceasefire in Syria last December, and the U.S. decision last July to terminate arming the Syrian rebels, have closed the supply lines to the northern and southern front of the armed opposition. Washington also endorsed Moscow’s concept of deconfliction zones across Syria. While influential foreign actors are making long-term plans for postwar Syria, putting in place a stable and prosperous order is not on the horizon. The armed conflict is gradually shifting to a political battle that will determine what kind of Syria will emerge from the conflict and who will run the country’s security, politics, and economics.
Ibrahim Hamidi | Senior diplomatic editor covering Syrian affairs at the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper in London
The war that we have known for seven years in Syria is over, but new wars might start sooner or later. For the first time the bloody Syrian conflict is approaching what seems to be the beginning of its conclusion. It is very clear that Russian President Vladimir Putin is after a “quick fix” in Syria and would like to announce “mission accomplished.”
Syrians themselves are presently at the crossroads. What happens in the weeks and months ahead will determine the endgame in Syria. If there is a commitment to deep and serious change in the country, then it might bring hope for a new Syria, as the peaceful demonstrations in March 2011 first sought. If change is cosmetic and superficial, however, it will create an explosive situation that will usher in a protracted period of social, political, and economic unrest, topped by more extreme violence, radicalization, and a new version of the Islamic State. That could mean “a peace to end all peace.” Are the Russians going to repeat the same mistakes the Americans made in Iraq and Afghanistan?