From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Location of Idlib Province
Mains level : Usual turmoil in Syria
The nine-year-old war in Syria is currently raging in the northwestern province of Idlib, with rapidly escalating tensions between government forces of President Bashar al-Assad and the Turkish military.
President’s Assad’s forces are backed by Russia, who are clashing with thousands of Turkish troops south of its border with Syria.
Turkey has closed the border and is trying to seal itself from waves of displaced refugees as Assad presses forth with a brutal campaign to take back Idlib.
Why is Idlib important?
Assad has been pushing to recapture Idlib, which, along with parts of neighbouring Hama, Latakia and Aleppo, are the last remaining strongholds of the rebel opposition and other groups that have been attempting to overthrow Assad since 2011.
At one point, the opposition held large parts of Syria under its control, but that changed after Assad, with Russian military support, slowly regained control over most of the country.
In 2015, Idlib province was overtaken by opposition forces.
Now, Syrian government forces are attempting to capture the strategic M4 and M5 national highways that connect Idlib, Aleppo and Damascus, the capital of the country.
Idlib skirts the two national highways and lies between Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south.
It’s proximity to the Turkish border makes Idlib strategically important to the Syrian government.
Who controls Idlib now?
Since the province fell to opposition forces, there is no one group that controls Idlib, but rather, several separate factions.
International watchdogs say that the dominant faction in Idlib is the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a UN-designated terrorist organization set up in 2017, with links to al-Qaeda.
Also operating in Idlib is the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army, an armed opposition group. Included in the mix are the remnants of the Islamic State.
Watch groups say that other factions in Idlib strongly oppose the presence of IS fighters in the province.
Why is Idlib important for Turkey?
Idlib’s proximity to the Turkish border makes it not only important for the Syrian government, but also a cause of concern for Turkey.
Since the war started in Syria, thousands of displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey over the years.
According to the latest known figures, Turkey presently hosts some 3.6 million refugees and is feeling the socio-economic and political strain of their presence in the country.
More conflict in Idlib would only serve to displace more people, pushing them towards the Turkish border.
Turkey has been witnessing a surge in hostility among its citizens towards refugees and a fresh wave of refugees will only exacerbate the situation.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : West Asia Peace Plan
Mains level : Palestine & Israel conflicts
With West Asia Peace plan US plans to revive the stalled two-state talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who had earlier spoken against the two-state solution, has accepted the Trump plan.
West Asia Peace Plan
The West Asia peace plan unveiled by U.S. President Trump seeks to give the Israelis what they have long wanted — an expansive state with Jerusalem as its “undivided capital” and tight security control over a future Palestinian state.
What’s the plan about?
The Trump plan seeks to address most of the contentious issues in the conflict such as the border of Israel, status of Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements on the West Bank, land swap between Israel and Palestine, Israel’s security concerns and the status of the city of Jerusalem.
However US have proposed to almost all of these issues favour the Israeli positions.
For example, Israel would be allowed to annex the Jewish settlements on the West Bank as well as the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinian refugees, who were forced out from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that followed the declaration of the state of Israel in the historic Palestine, would not be allowed to return.
They could move to the future Palestinian state, be integrated into the host countries or settled in other regional countries.
Jerusalem: The undivided Capital
Jerusalem, perhaps the most contentious issue, would be “the undivided capital” of Israel, with Palestine gaining its capital in the east of the city — beyond the security border Israel has already built.
In return, Israel would freeze further settlement activities on the West Bank for four years — the time for negotiations.
According to the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into three areas and only one of them is under the direct control of the Palestinian Authority.
The plan proposes some land swap for the Israeli annexation of the West Bank Jewish settlements.
It seeks to enlarge Gaza and connect the strip with the West Bank through a tunnel.
The Arab towns in the southeast of Israel, which are close to Gaza, could become part of a future Palestinian state.
Curb on Hamas
During this period, the Palestinian Authority should dismiss its current complaints at the International Criminal Court against Israel and refrain itself from taking further actions.
It should also crack down on “terrorist” groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
US has also proposed $50 billion in investment over 10 years should Palestine accept the proposals.
In the final settlement, Palestine would get control over more land than what it currently controls.
Implications for Palestine
The Palestine position is backed by most of the world powers is the formation of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state based on the 1967 border.
It means the whole of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital including the Old City that houses Haram esh-Sharif, also known as Temple Mount, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews.
Issues like the right of return of the Palestinian refugees are to be settled in final negotiations.
But US has effectively rejected the Palestinian claims outright and asked them to make more compromises.
He seeks to give Jerusalem and about 30% of the West Bank to the Israelis and has denied the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.
And for this, the Palestinians should take action against militant groups, stop supporting Palestinian families of those jailed or killed by Israel and refrain itself from questioning the occupation in international fora.
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Nothing much.
Mains level : Paper 2- International relations
The recent targeted killing of Commander of Quds Forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by the US raised the tension in the region to a new high level. The imminent blowback from Iran could have several consequences for the rest of the world including India.
Different from past killings
Though the U.S. has carried out many such targeted killings in the past but this case bears two important differences to the past killings.
Unlike Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr, Gen. Soleimani was a state actor.
Unlike the above mentioned two, he was not past his prime.
Roles played by Gen. Soleimani
He was the founder-commander of Iran’s Quds Force-formed for extra-territorial operations.
He enhanced Iran’s influence in the Arab countries by leveraging the disarray in the region.
Arab countries with a significant Shia population such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen came under Iranian influence.
What could be the fallouts
Tit-for-tat between Iran and the U.S. could easily go out of hand and precipitate into a major confrontation.
Both countries have domestic compulsions- there are elections due in both countries.
These compulsions limit options for both countries to low-intensity skirmishes.
The fact that the killing was carried on the Iraqi soil also assumes significance.
The incident could increase the problems in Iraq which is rocked by three months of youth protests against undue foreign interference by both Iran and the U.S.
The event is also likely to re-polarise the Iraqi society along sectarian lines.
In the worst-case scenario Iraq could turn into the new Syria.
Potential fallout for India
Global oil prices have already seen a 4% rise in within hours of the incident.
India has already faced difficulty in maintaining relations with both countries because of the U.S.-Iran cold war.
While we want to be on the right side of the U.S., our ties with Iran apart from being civilisational have their own geostrategic logic.
With conflict turning hot, its adverse impact on India could magnify.
High oil prices will definitely increase our import bill and increase difficulties in supplies.
Safety of an estimated 8 million expatriates in the Gulf may be affected.
Iran could influence the U.S.-Taliban peace process in Afghanistan which in turn increases India’s woes.
After Iran, India has a large number of Shia population and some of them could be radicalised due to the event.
The event, if turn into a wider conflict between the two countries, could have many consequences for India from soaring oil prices and maintaining the balance between the two countries to the safety of expatriates in the Gulf.
An ongoing armed conflict between the Syrian government and the rebel forces within Syria.
It started in the spring of 2011 with the context of Arab spring.
To understand the conflict let us know the historical background of Syria. So, where is Syria?
Syria is one of the Arab Nations which shares its borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq.
Damascus – capital of Syria.
Syria became independent in 1946.
Democratic rule was ended by a military coup in 1949.
The military rule ended in 1954.
From 1958-1961 Syria and Egypt were part of a union called as ‘United Arab Republic’ with Cairo as capital and Gamal Abdel Nasser as President.
In 1961, Syria seceded from the Union after the Syrian Coup d’êtat – uprising by the Syrian Army officers.
The country was named as Syrian Arab Republic.
But the government was weak. Why? Due to the influence of United Arab Republic and a military coup happened in 1963 and 1966.
That’s pretty complex! But UPSC is famous for asking about the details. What happened then?
In 1970, in another coup General Hafez al -Assad, the Minister of Defence seized the power.
He became the P.M of Syria.
In 1971, he was declared the President of Syria (until his death in 2000).
Syria was a single-party state.
Syrians could approve the President by referendum until the government controlled multi party 2012 election.
The Syrians could not vote in multiparty elections for the legislature.
The ascension of Bashar Al-Assad and the Shia-Sunni conflicts
Son of Hafez al-Assad – Took over as the President of Syria after his Father’s death.
The Syrians wanted democratic form of government but, ah well!
The Assads belong to minority group Alawite (an offshoot of Shia which constitutes 12% of the total population).
They controlled Syria’s security services which generated resentment among the Sunni Muslims (majority in Syria).
Phew! That is a very complex history. What happened next that finally led to the war? It is important to cover the story comprehensively for an IAS Aspirant.
Well, the discontent was high against the government in poorer areas among Sunnis + High poverty and drought.
Socio-economic inequality increased after free market policies initiated by Hafez al-Assad.
Bashar continued those policies and only the minorities (Shias) and Sunni merchant class benefited through that.
Standard of living deteriorated + High youth unemployment rates.
Then there were a few violation of human rights and eventually an uprising!
In 2010 the protests from Tunisia spread across the Arab world. In 2011 Tunisia and Egypt experienced revolution. Libya had its own civil war. The Tunisia and Egypt revolution inspired the Syrians to protest against their government.
Wow, that escalated quickly. So how did the protests turn into an armed rebellion?
March 2011 – The initial protests were aimed at democratic reforms which started in Damascus.
Till April 7, 2011, the protesters demanded democratic reforms, release of political prisoners, more freedom, abolition of emergency law and an end to corruption.
On April 8, 2011, the protesters demanded Bashar’s resignation and protests spread across major cities in Syria.
On 4th June, 2011, the Syrian security forces guarding on the roof of a post office fired at a funeral demonstration.
The protesters set fire to the post office and killed the security officers and then seized weapons from a police station.
The soldiers who refused to kill the protesters were executed and that led to the inclusion of soldiers into the protests to protect the protesters.
And that led to the formation of the Free Syrian Army
Formed by 7 Syrian officers who defected the Syrian armed forces. The other soldiers joined them.
The aim was to bring down Assad government.
Then the fight started between Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Syrian Armed Forces.
The people protested one side, the Syrian Kurds, FSA, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) started armed rebellion against the Syrian government.
ISIL controlled a third of Syrian territory and most of its oil and gas production.
This led to a major twist in the Syrian civil war.
Due to the civil war in the country huge scores of people died and many were displaced.
Many people fled from Syria to other nations as refugees.
This led to a major migrant crisis in the Middle East.
UPSC will probably grill you down to your guts on how this issue will complicate situation in the middle east. These are the current themes doing rounds as the news evolves and you need to keep a tab on these developments for the IAS Mains.