Stratfor sees good news in Syria: a possible win for Russia’s diplomats

Summary: This analysis by Stratfor shows the complexity of the situation in Syria. While we seek to influence events with bombs and proxy armies (two of America’s trinity of COIN), Russia uses diplomacy. So far our efforts have failed. There are signs Russia’s diplomats might be succeeding.  {1st of 2 posts today.}


Opportunities for Change in Syria

Stratfor, 19 August 2015

Stratfor receives insight from many sources around the world, along with reports not available for public consumption. It is important to caveat that many reports are unconfirmed or speculative in nature, though they provide valuable context. Interpreting information and compiling multiple data points to build a picture is part of intelligence analysis. Any and all reporting is carefully filtered before being disseminated by Stratfor, yet some insight is worth sharing on its own merits, such as this account from Syria, below.

Russia is heavily invested in the Syrian conflict and has a significant stake in shaping any enduring peace. Stratfor sources indicate that Moscow may have finally been able to get Damascus and the mainstream rebel opposition to broadly agree on elements of a political transition of power in Syria. Russia has long insisted that present Syrian President Bashar al Assad must remain in power during any transition. This is a sticking point for many of the rebel groups, but Moscow appears to have been able to negotiate a middle ground. As Stratfor previously noted Aug. 7…

A flurry of meetings is taking place as stakeholders in the Syrian conflict attempt to work out a power-sharing agreement to replace the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Russia has been driving the negotiation, while Oman acts as a neutral mediator relaying messages to and from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and the United States. Though the diplomatic activity is picking up, it is still an outside effort divorced from the reality of the battlefield, where Syrian rebels are fighting the al Assad government on their own terms.

According to reports received by Stratfor, al Assad will remain in power during a transition, then cede his political responsibilities to Farouk al-Shara, who will assume the role of Syria’s prime minister during the changeover period. In exchange for remaining as a politically neutered figurehead, al Assad will have to let go Syrian National Security Bureau chief Gen. Ali Mamlouk.

The opposition will then choose a replacement for Mamlouk — a person that is acceptable to al Assad. The role of army chief of staff would be awarded to an unspecified Alawite and, in addition, the minister of defense portfolio would go to a former brigade commander from the Syrian Republican Guard, Manaf Tlass, who defected to the West in 2012. Stratfor had earlier received word from sources that Tlass, a Sunni, whose family has a long-standing alliance with the al Assad clan, was preparing to re-enter the political scene after spending much of the civil war in Paris.

After a highly publicized defection in 2012, Tlass has been in Paris, keeping a low profile and waiting for the right time to insert himself into negotiations. The Tlass family has a long history with the al Assad family: Manaf’s father, Mustafa Tlass, helped rally strong military and Sunni support for al Assad when he took power in 2000. In 2012, we noted that the two families were likely to strike a deal to enable the Tlass family to leave Syria, and we forecast that Manaf Tlass would eventually return to play a role in a power-sharing arrangement.

Given that Tlass is a Sunni with a military background who has also maintained close links with the al Assad administration, it is little wonder that he is now allegedly being proffered as a suitable candidate for defense minister in a new Syrian government.

Though Stratfor is unable to confirm the specificity of this insight, there is nothing that is particularly implausible. Farouk al-Shara is one of the more acceptable candidates for the opposition: He is Sunni Muslim, a known nationalist, and publically sought a negotiated solution to the crisis rather than a military one. He also has strong family ties to the rebel-dominated Daraa province.

On the other hand, he is staunchly loyal to the al Assad government and is deeply embedded in the Baath Party. Tlass meets the criteria of being a Sunni, but it will be difficult for him to win the trust of the broader Sunni rebellion, which perceives him as being too close to the al Assads. He will also be regarded as out of touch with reality on the ground after spending years in Europe instead of joining the fight.

"I love Syria" Teddy Bear
The new Russian bear?

As Stratfor previously noted, any agreement between Moscow and the Syrian National Coalition is largely irrelevant if it does not have tacit support from fractious rebel groups. The Syrian National Coalition does not speak for the majority of rebel factions, many of which are achieving limited tactical success against Damascus and the Islamic State. This may influence the rebel’s willingness to accommodate a political transition, or not.

Stratfor closely monitors the behavior of all components of the Syrian conflict and is alert for any change in the political dynamic that could lead to a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Opportunities for Change in Syria is republished with permission of Stratfor.


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2 thoughts on “Stratfor sees good news in Syria: a possible win for Russia’s diplomats”

  1. Syrian opposition leader: ‘Russia isn’t clinging to Assad’“, AP, 14 August 2015.

    Just doing a little googling. There was a meeting, Khaled Khoja says that ‘Russia isn’t clinging to Assad’ — and everyone, Startfor included, tries to parse this. Washington is always eager for ‘Assad is about to go’ news, so that’s played up a little.

    Maybe the key is this. “Assad will remain in power during a transition” — and then the transition, how long does that take? Get it? Gives Washington some face saving so they can actually pretend like they won.

    Wikipedia has a map of the Syrian civil war they keep current. Actually pretty interesting. Even if there was a deal, wouldn’t be the end of the war.

    1. Cathryn,

      Thanks for the info, esp the AP story!

      “Even if there was a deal, wouldn’t be the end of the war.”

      Perhaps. Reliable predictions are difficult to make. The hope — which I consider reasonable — is that a settlement among some major players will produce a tipping point, around which others will coalesce. For example, after a generation of war the Taliban quickly brought peace to Afghanistan by providing such a group around which others coalesced. Nobody in the West saw that coming!

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