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The Scramble for Syria

Episode 15 of Altamar takes a close look at the Syrian civil war, and particularly, its rapid downward spiral into an all-out global conflict.

After a relative lull in late 2017, the first two months of this year have brought some of the most brutal confrontations since the war began. And the common denominator, it seems, is the steady escalation of involvement by foreign powers, chief among them Putin’s Russia.

To discuss why we’re seeing this now and what it could mean for the future, Peter and Muni talked to Joyce Karam, the Washington correspondent for Al-Hayat and The National, who’s been following this war since its inception.

Joyce says that Russia, whose role in the war has become increasingly consequential since its entry in 2015, may be in over its head.

“If you look at the last six weeks, with a Russian jet shot down in Idlib, Russian mercenaries killed in Deir Ezzor, and a fatal Russian cargo plane crash, this is becoming increasingly costly for Russia,” she says.

“And politically, it doesn’t seem that Moscow is able to capitalize on this growing presence in Syria—to cash it in, whether at the Security Council or to promote a political solution under its terms.”

Still, Peter wonders whether the US under this administration has the leverage in Syria, or even the will, to counter Russia—whose duplicitous tactics are exacerbating an utter humanitarian catastrophe in Eastern Ghouta.

“It seems to me that Russia doesn’t really want to end this war. It’s doing everything possible to instigate problems that presumably only it can solve,” he says, “but what’s the US to do when Trump is in political quicksand with anything that has to do with Russia?”

Beyond Russia, a host of other worrying fronts exist, and Muni voices her concern over a potential clash between the US and Turkey.

“US troops aren’t in Afrin, so there hasn’t yet been direct conflict between US and Turkish forces,” she notes.

“But Erdogan has threatened publicly to send troops to Manbij, and if that happens we’d be looking at military confrontation between two NATO allies, which would add an unprecedented new dimension to this conflict.”

Thankfully, Joyce deems that prospect unlikely. Despite Erdogan’s grandiose rhetoric, she says, “on the ground, I think Turkey realizes it’s dealing with very tough realities.”

However, she warns that the Iran-Israel front is, indeed, likely to heat up in the coming months.

“I think that’s the one indicator to watch,” Joyce says, warning that there’s a real chance for an escalation of fighting between the two countries in Syria, whether by proxy or directly.

The episode is available for streaming and download.


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