Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Syrian Deadlock and its Future Repercussions

Smoke billows from the Al-Arshani water station, after it was reportedly hit by a Russian airstrike, in the village of the same name, north of the rebel-held city of Idlib, on January 2, 2022. (Photo by OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

Ghazi Dahman 

The admission of Geir O. Pedersen, the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria, that the Syrian crisis has reached a deadlock, came long overdue after the facts and events that have shaped the crisis recently. In fact, the deadlock had reared its ugly headway before the so-called solution makers became aware of it. By the time they realized what was happening, the deadlock had already become rooted and permanent, requiring massive diplomatic efforts to untangle it, potential new rounds of conflict, and even redefining the crisis and finding new implementations to the political solution. The latter is in no way similar to the demands of Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime, which call for the necessity to take into account the changes in the field. On the contrary, they look at the implications of the impasse and how to put an end to what is causing it. If allowed to persist, those causes could lead the crisis into scenarios unlike anything imagined by the players on the inside and the outside. 

The elements of the deadlock

To begin with, a deadlock, in this case, means the Syrian crisis reaching an impasse and becoming an unshakable reality filled with dangers that might not be purposefully created but could become quickly unmanageable and uncontrollable. The elements of the Syrian deadlock appear as follows: 

Making the conflict sectarian

This type of conflict is rarely affected by wins and losses; it is also not open to compromises. In other terms, it is a zero-sum conflict that must ultimately lead to the opponent’s defeat or a radical demographic change. However, despite Iran’s implementation of ethnic cleansing policies, displacing large numbers of Sunnis, and its attempts to force conversions to Shi’ism, all its endeavors to turn the vast Sunni community into a minority will fail. 

Iran, which holds a powerful influence over the Syrian regime, refuses any peaceful solutions in its belief that the demographic balance in Syria has yet to be altered and that there is still time, God knows how long, to achieve this change. The latter is considered unrealistic in the eyes of many political experts, given its gigantic human and material cost. However, driven by their obsession with creating large areas of influence in the Levant, Iran’s backyard, the Iranian decision-makers are relentlessly pursuing their agenda while relying on political considerations mainly represented by Russia’s support for Iran’s geopolitical plan. According to the Kremlin’s calculations, this plan will pave the way for Russia’s dominion over the region, including Iran and the Arabian Gulf. The latter will be affected by those conflicts and will not find anyone to turn to, after the withdrawal of the United States from the region, except Russia to play the role of moderator and manage the game of war and peace among them. 

Conflict management vs. exit strategy 

International and regional players all took part in managing the conflict while waiting for changes that might drive their opponents to alter their position. This strategy led to the obstruction of every solution-based approach, including the implementation of the UN Security Council Resolution 2254. It was also followed by the stabilization of the engagement among the perpetrators, replaced by a focus on cooperation and the waning of conflict indicators. 

Consequently, the parties involved entered a waiting period. They even neglected the Syrian crisis lately, as the USA and Russia turned their attention to the Ukrainian crisis, which seemed more pressing. There are also projections indicating that the Ukrainian crisis, no matter its result, will affect the Syrian conflict by worsening its deadlock. 

Stagnating lines of conflict 

The stability of the current lines of conflict indicates that the situation might be long-lasting and could become final as time goes by. The reason is that the situation is subject to the rules of engagement agreed upon by the parties at play and that this reality was brought upon by certain understandings, whether explicit or implicit. 

More importantly, the current situation aligns with the players’ interests and fits well within the complex international relations during this period. This fact appears clearly in the ongoing understanding between Russia and Turkey in Northern Syria, wherein those relations fall within a wider range of interests among the two parties. Therefore, keeping the balance and guaranteeing the safeguard of their interests require preserving the status quo in Northern Syria. 

A regional and international conflict zone 

One of the worst aspects of the Syrian deadlock is, without a doubt, the fact that the country has turned into a battlefield for regional and international powers. The world order is currently going through a transitional phase; it can be described as being in motion, slowly morphing into a new architecture. Conflict is also raging on many fronts, and through that, international powers are attempting each to gain a better position in the new world order. 

The Syrian crisis provides those players with a chance to be engaged in a low-risk conflict, as most of the parties at play are already facing one another in different battlefields: Russia and Turkey in Libya and Central Asia, the USA and Russia in Ukraine, the USA and Iran over the nuclear dossier and their stances on the security of Israel. Global powers realize that direct conflict over those issues carries major risks, which is why they choose to use the Syrian field as a mailbox to deal with their pending issues. 

Potential repercussions

Two types of danger have started to emerge among the many repercussions resulting from the current deadlock: 

The first danger resides in the current geographic partition, which is becoming permanent in time. It seems that the parties involved have started to build infrastructure to consolidate said partition, meaning that pre-2011 Syria no longer exists and that officially announcing this new reality still awaits the appropriate circumstances. 

The second danger lies in the demographic destruction of Syria, as the country pushes out its citizens due to the difficult economic situation and the lack of stability. Reports show that Syria has suffered a severe loss in human capital, both in the areas inside and outside of the regime’s control, so much as that the official number of 12.000.000 Syrian immigrants (due to the war) has become outdated, and the real numbers have exceeded that by far. 

Is there a light at the end of the Syrian deadlock tunnel? It does not look possible in the near future, as long as the issue depends on foreign parties’ personal interests and projections.



The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.

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