Assad and allies commit war crimes in Aleppo, while US stands idly by
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Assad and allies commit war crimes in Aleppo, while US stands idly by

The Obama administration is watching as the Russian-Syrian-Iranian axis commits an unprecedented massacre, even by Mideast standards

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the village of Aziza on the southwestern outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016.
(AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)
Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the village of Aziza on the southwestern outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

On Tuesday morning, Syrian pro-government forces, accompanied by thousands of Shiite militias, began another ground operation in eastern Aleppo.

As of Tuesday evening, the operation hadn’t finished, but it was clear that the Syrian rebel forces were on the brink of defeat, and the citizens of eastern Aleppo were facing a massacre, at least according to reports emerging from the area.

Testimonies emerging from the city since Monday detail brutal atrocities being committed by pro-government Syrian forces. Arabic news outlets such as Al-Jazeera are broadcasting desperate calls from citizens who are trapped and crying out for help.

The UN on Tuesday warned of systemic murder being perpetrated by Syrian soldiers against citizens in neighborhoods that have been taken from rebel forces. According to UN reports, hundreds of people have been executed, and surviving civilians are being prevented from leaving Aleppo.

A picture taken on December 8, 2016, shows destroyed buildings in the Bab al-Hadid neighborhood, in Aleppo's Old City, after Syrian pro-government forces took control of the area. (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)
A picture taken on December 8, 2016, shows destroyed buildings in the Bab al-Hadid neighborhood, in Aleppo’s Old City, after Syrian pro-government forces took control of the area. (AFP PHOTO / GEORGE OURFALIAN)

Pictures emerging from the area show the results of Iranian and Russian involvement in the war. The eastern part of the city is in ruins. Aleppo will not be restored as the economic engine of Syria, at least not within the next decade.

Civilians on the city’s eastern side are trapped and facing destruction by the relentless airstrikes and bombings from the pro-Assad forces. For these civilians in areas still under rebel control — anywhere from tens of thousands to 100,000 of them — there is no food, water or supplies.

Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the Maysaloun neighborhood of the northern embattled Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)
Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the Maysaloun neighborhood of the northern embattled Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

The brutalities being committed by the Shiite militias, the Syrian Army, Hezbollah and the Russian air force can only be described as war crimes. But such Western rhetoric isn’t particularly threatening to Damascus or Moscow, given Washington’s ongoing impotence. The Shiites, Syrian Army and Russia are the ones carrying out the massacres, but responsibility also lies partially with the American administration, which failed to provide effective military support to the less extreme opposition forces. Now the Obama administration is watching the unfolding of an unprecedented massacre, even by Middle East standards, committed on the basis of religious origin, and still stands idly by, doing nothing.

Damascus will benefit most from the reconquest of Aleppo, but Moscow and Tehran will also be greatly boosted. President Bashar Assad will hail his grand victory, but he knows that without Russian and Iranian support, he and his supporters would have been forced to seek refuge in Russia or Iran long ago. For Tehran, Aleppo constitutes a dramatic victory, in contrast to its failure to achieve decisive success in other parts of Syria.

Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the village of Aziza on the southwestern outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)
Syrian residents fleeing the violence gather at a checkpoint, manned by pro-government forces, in the village of Aziza on the southwestern outskirts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on December 8, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Youssef KARWASHAN)

Hundreds of Iranian soldiers have died in this ongoing war. Hezbollah has lost some 1,600 fighters. But the decision by the Shiite axis fighting in Syria remains to sacrifice whatever is necessary in order to keep Assad in power. The Iranians sent three divisions to Syria: two of them came from Afghanistan and Pakistan, made up of mercenaries, and a third manned by fighters of Iraqi origin. These forces banded together for the war against the Sunni opposition; several thousand of them fought in Aleppo, making the conquest of the city a huge achievement for Iran.

Syrians search for victims at the scene of a reported airstrike on the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on September 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)
Syrians search for victims at the scene of a reported airstrike on the rebel-held northwestern city of Idlib on September 10, 2016. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)

For the Russian-Syrian-Iranian axis, the central mission now is to completely destroy the opposition in Aleppo — which, notably, does not identify with the Islamic State. Once that is done, the next goal will be to continue the military campaign to the northwestern city of Idlib, and take that back from opposition forces. The aim will then be to take control of the entire northwestern region of Syria, and over the strip of land that runs south to Damascus, in order to establish a degree of stability for Assad’s force and the Russian army.

The western part of Syria is less important strategically to Assad. IS has reconquered Palmyra in the past two days, in western Syria, and it doesn’t look like anyone in Damascus is much bothered by that. For pro-government Syrian forces, apparently, it’s easier to deal with the less extremist opposition first and then, afterwards, to deal with IS and its supporters.

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