Tahrir al-Sham official on Turkey’s intervention to implement Astana: “That’s not the reality.”

Below is a translation of a 13 October Telegram post by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (previously Jabhat al-Nusrah) media official Muhammad Nazzal (“Abu Khattab al-Maqdisi”).

This post represents the purest distillation I’ve seen of how Hayat Tahrir al-Sham seems to be justifying the limited entrance of Turkish forces in the northern Idlib/western Aleppo countryside, including the various pragmatic considerations at work and the mutually agreed-upon, explicit conditions of the Turkish presence.

What Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has agreed to, per Nazzal and other prominent Tahrir al-Sham figures, would seem not to satisfy the expected terms of a tripartite Turkish-Iranian-Russian agreement in Astana. Nazzal is emphatic that Turkey is taking up positions opposite the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, an enclave north of the insurgent-held northwest, and not deploying further south to police the line of contact between Tahrir al-Sham and the Assad regime. It’s tough to imagine how this would address the concerns of Turkey’s co-guarantors in Astana – unless there is another big shoe to drop, one these Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leaders don’t know about or won’t acknowledge. Nazzal’s contention is that when the Turks claim to be implementing the Astana de-escalation, they’re basically just fudging it.

These sorts of claims from Tahrir al-Sham only raise more questions about a Turkish intervention that is, frankly, bizarre. For a NATO member state to enter Syria with an armed escort from a sort-of al-Qaeda affiliate is, um, non-standard. It currently seems impossible to say how far Turkey’s intervention will go, or where it will end. Maybe Hayat Tahrir al-Sham leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani has deceived his own rank-and-file about the scope of his agreement with Turkey, or maybe Turkey plans to unilaterally amend or abrogate the terms of the agreement it’s reached with Tahrir al-Sham. If the deal between Turkey and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is less explicit or mutually understood than Nazzal says, then an armed showdown between the two is likely on the way, whatever the Turkish government has claimed publicly about a non-combat observer mission.

And if Turkey and Tahrir al-Sham turn on each other and this does get violent, then – as Nazzal makes clear at the start – Tahrir al-Sham has options.

Translation and original post follow, below the jump.

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Foreign Affairs: “Don’t Fund Syria’s Reconstruction”

New from me from for Foreign Affairs:

“Don’t Fund Syria’s Reconstruction”

As the regime of Bashar al-Assad draws closer to a victory on the battlefield, domestic Syrian and international attention has turned to the next fight – the terms of Syrian reconstruction. The opposition’s Western backers have supposed that reconstruction funds are their last useful means of extracting concessions from the regime, while experts have theorized how reconstruction efforts can be insulated from the politics of re-legitimizing Assad.

My take – well, I guess it’s in the article title.

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المدن: “مسألة البادية وانهاء الجيش الحر”

مقالتي الأولى لصحيفة “المدن”، حول معارك البادية والموقف الأمريكي:

“مسألة البادية وانهاء الجيش الحر”


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حلب اليوم، “سورية في أسبوع”: “هل تغيرت أولويات الغرب في سورية؟ أم كانت مواقفه السابقة مجرد متاجرة سياسية؟”

مشاركتي في برنامج “سورية في أسبوع” على قناة “حلب اليوم” حول أولويات الغرب في سوريا وآفاق القضية السورية:

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The Century Foundation: “Desert Base Is Displaced Syrians’ Last Line of Defense”

New from me for The Century Foundation:

“Desert Base Is Displaced Syrians’ Last Line of Defense”

In the Badiyah desert, the Syrian regime’s eastward advance has jammed together America’s covert war in Syria, its overt campaign against the Islamic State, and two camps holding tens of thousands of vulnerable displaced people, all in one shrinking space.

The United States and Russia reached a “deconfliction” arrangement to protect U.S.-led Coalition forces in the Tanf base – but now the Coalition presence at Tanf is all that protects the camps from advancing regime and allied forces.

The Coalition isn’t there to protect civilians, it’s there to fight the Islamic State – and around the base, there’s no more Islamic State. The U.S.-led Coalition won’t stay in this base forever, even if it’s unlikely to leave just yet. Now U.S. planners have to figure out how to safeguard these displaced Syrians and produce a solution for these camps, which have merged with America’s more hard-edged covert and overt efforts to become a single intractable problem.

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War on the Rocks: “A Deadly Delusion: Were Syria’s Rebels Ever Going to Defeat the Jihadists?”

New from me for War on the Rocks:

“A Deadly Delusion: Were Syria’s Rebels Ever Going to Defeat the Jihadists?”

Whatever else Syria’s rebels were, and whatever the reasons for backing them – they were never going to be a “counter-terrorism force.”

As combating al-Qaeda and the Islamic State gradually subsumed America and the rest of the world’s policy priorities in Syria, opposition boosters increasingly argued for backing Syria’s rebels in “counter-terrorism” terms. But this argument was never real. There were only sao many times rebels could work alongside (or under) jihadists, or stand aside while jihadists liquidated rival factions, before it became clear they would never be a useful counter-terrorism partner.

Yet because of outside policymakers and analysts’ simplistic sectarian logic and unhelpful repetition of opposition tropes, the policy debate on Syria got more and more disengaged from this reality. And in the end, there was no necessary reckoning over the opposition’s entanglements with jihadists until it was too late.

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The Century Foundation / Carnegie Middle East Center: “Reform, Revolution, Culture: How to Resist Arab Authoritarianism?”

Below is the video of our panel from the “Arab Politics beyond the Uprisings” launch event, held on July 13, 2017 at Beirut’s Carnegie Middle East Center. The panel featured me, Asya El-Meehy, and Aron Lund, and was moderated by Michael Wahid Hanna.

For a full write-up of the event (including video of the second panel), see “Reform, Revolution, Culture: How to Resist Arab Authoritarianism?

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