When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

SYRIA DEEPLY

What's Really Driving Assad's Assault On Aleppo

When the Syrian regime drops bombs on the country's largest city the other target is the negotiating table in Geneva.

A Syrian government soldier stands in the snow in central Damascus.
A Syrian government soldier stands in the snow in central Damascus.
Lara Setrakian and Karen Leigh

In the past three weeks the Assad government has escalated its aerial assault on Aleppo, dropping “barrel bombs” that have killed more than 500 people. Meanwhile, on the ground, rebel groups have been fighting each other, pushing internal refugees into rebel-held areas.

The regime offensive is part of a strategy to gain a stronger foothold in the city, which has been split into regime and rebel sides since fighting escalated in July 2012. Since then the battle for Aleppo has been at a stalemate. The goal for each side, analysts say, is to grasp as much territory as possible before the start of peace talks in Switzerland, scheduled for Jan. 22.

What will be the net effect of the Aleppo offensive, once the regime reaches the negotiating table? We asked experts to weigh in.

Riad Kahwaji, Institute for Near East & Military Analysis:

Barrel bombing is nothing more than regime’s version of strategic bombing — you bomb your enemy into submission. The purpose is to demoralize the community, send them into despair and get them to revolt against the rebels.

It’s significant because it’s the second biggest city in Syria. If you control Aleppo you control the north. But we know that’s not going to happen. The barrel bombings started right after the government’s northern offensive failed – the offensive that started at Sufair. They managed to capture that town and some villages around it, but when they reached the airport they were repelled and pushed back, and so the whole offensive failed. And when they were stopped there, they started barrel bombing, which shows that the regime’s military plan has failed – usually strategic bombings happen when they are incapable of scoring any true victories on the ground.

The offensive won’t lead them to win Aleppo. Because the struggle in Syria right now is ideological, the people who are being bombed are only going to hate the regime more. It’s not getting them to hate the rebels. And the regime is just asking for revenge.

The regime will be disappointed because in Switzerland, they will find that it’s maybe now given the rebels a strong case to demand a no-fly zone over Aleppo. It’s one possibility. But you cannot expect to have genuine talks for peace when you are bombing the other side.

It could be that enough damage will be created between now and then in Aleppo that the international community would demand a no-fly zone. Would Assad adhere to it? That depends on the strength of the international campaign for it. If there is a decision to enforce a no-fly zone, that would mean there would be jets up in the sky from a third party. If the U.N. calls for a safe corridor, it would have to come with the ability to enforce it. I don’t think the regime will benefit in terms of concessions from the rebels at Geneva II.

Chris Phillips, Lecturer, Queen Mary, University of London:

I don’t think anyone is suggesting that Assad’s going to take Aleppo – for him, it’s much more about reinforcing the notion, to the international community and various rebel groups, that the regime is winning. Moving into negotiations, if they actually happen, Assad will feel he’s in a stronger position if he can maintain the illusion that his side is winning the civil war. He wants to build and maintain momentum going into the talks.

What’s in it for Assad? The more Aleppo comes under assault, the more it will be perceived as having a negative effect on the rebels, increasing their disorganization. He wants to increase this narrative that encourages Western actors to reconsider Assad staying, to consider him the best of a bad bunch. The increase in attacks in Aleppo is about reinforcing that narrative.

No one is under any impression that the regime has changed its methods. The use of barrel bombs doesn’t surprise anyone. Bear in mind that the Western stance is such: they believe Assad has used chemical weapons, so the fact that he uses a new type of bomb isn’t going to change its view of him. If the White House and the West do decide to at least informally acknowledge the possibility that Assad might stay in power, it will have nothing to do with how brutal his hand has been in Aleppo.

Neither Assad nor the outside world seem to care about Assad’s image. If the West does cut a deal with him, it won’t be alongside some major facelift or PR exercise to improve his image – it will be with the acknowledgment that this guy is a brutal dictator, but we can’t do anything about it.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Geopolitics

For Erdogan, Blocking Sweden's NATO Bid Is Perfect For His Reelection Campaign

Turkey's objections to Swedish membership of NATO may mean that Finland joins first. And as he approaches an election at home, Turkish President Erdogan is playing the game to his advantage.

For Erdogan, Blocking Sweden's NATO Bid Is Perfect For His Reelection Campaign

January 11, 2023, Ankara (Turkey): Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the International Conference of the Board of Grievances on January 11.

Turkish Presidency / APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire
Pierre Haski

-Analysis-

PARIS — This story has all the key elements of our age: the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the excessive ambitions of an autocrat, the opportunism of a right-wing demagogue, Islamophobia... And at the end, a country, Sweden, whose NATO membership, which should have been only a formality, has been blocked.

Last spring, under the shock of the invasion of Ukraine by Vladimir Putin's Russia, Sweden and Finland, two neutral countries in northern Europe, decided to apply for membership in NATO. For Sweden, this is a major turning point: the kingdom’s neutrality had lasted more than 150 years.

Turkey's President Erdogan raised objections. It demanded that Sweden stop sheltering Kurdish opponents in its country. This has nothing to do with NATO or Ukraine, but everything to do with Erdogan's electoral agenda, as he campaigns for the Turkish presidential elections next May.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest