september 13–17, 2017

The Failure of Syria

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Vice Rector
Tel Aviv University

Professor Eyal Zisser is the Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and the holder of The Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He has written extensively on the history and the modern politics of Syria and Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his seven books on Syria, the latest Syria: Protest, Revolution, Civil War tracks the history of the Syrian revolution - its origins and roots, its initial stages, and finally, the decline from a limited protest to widespread popular uprising, and, eventually, to civil war, which ignited a regional conflagration supported by international players.

Map of the Military Situation in Syria, August 2017

REFERENCE: https://www.facebook.com/ozanalysis/photos/pb.1784816141796947.-2207520000.1493381262./1890428587902368/?type=3&theater

A War With Millions of Losers

“The war in Syria is coming to an end,” Professor Zisser told the Forum, “unfortunately, the dictator is the winner.” He attributed this outcome to the support of Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, and the lack of support from the US to the rebels.

At the start of the 7 years of Civil War, Syrian rebels opposing President Bashar Hafez al-Assad started a series of peaceful protests against corruption with calls for political reform. A brutal crackdown by the regime forces led to armed resistance, funded with money provided by Syrian businessmen and expatriates, and with time, foreign states. However, the rebels failed to unite and join forces behind a single political leader or military commander. Their factionalism allowed the revolution to be hijacked by radical Islamists, and their coordination and eventual integration with an al-Qaida affiliate, Professor Zisser reported.

In a video that Prof. Zisser showed the Forum, the war-torn Syrian cities had street after street of sagging five-story buildings with blown out walls and windows, bombed out neighborhoods, a landscape of twisted steel and debris, and no human life. The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad. As the international community pulls back from supporting the rebels and providing aid to the displaced, the future of the region and of its displaced people is deeply troubling.

And Two Victors: Russia and Syria

“For the past 40 years, the US strategy was to keep Russia out of the Middle East,” Professor Zisser remarked, “Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.” The outcome will have significant political and social impacts on Europe and the US.

Causes of the Collapse of the Middle East

Professor Zisser compared population growth in Europe with that in the Middle East. In 1960, Europe had about 400M people, today, the population is about 500M, including immigrants. In contrast, the Middle East population exploded from about 100M in 1960 to 400M today, and will reach 750M by 2020. Rapid population growth in the Middle East and lack of development has led to 50% unemployment, which forces migration. Migration, in turn, causes the collapse of states such as Libya and Syria, exacerbating social unrest as people struggle for survival.

Syria Reflects a Worldwide Disparity: Haves vs Have-nots

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization. In Syria, climate change and a 10-year drought devastated agriculture, forcing people to urbanize. Syrian farmers started the revolt, demonstrating against Damascus, claiming the government is “broken,” that is, not able to take care of its people. Similarly, in Turkey, farmers protested that Ankara, the government capital, is broken. In Leeds and Bristol, disillusioned people voted for Brexit, indicating the EU is broken. And in the US, less people voted in President Trump, a challenge against the “broken” Washington, DC establishment.

Three Stages of the Syrian Conflict

The first stage of the Syrian conflict was a limited protest, an internal challenge to the totalitarian regime by poor peasants, reacting to the social distress of 10 years of drought and the collapse of the agricultural sector. The oppressive military response from the government showed the people they could not count on their government for support, so they turned back to religion, to Islam, to seek help.

The Syrian Civil War grew into a regional conflict as Iran took advantage of the fragmentation of Syria to spreads its hegemony into the security zone between Iran and the Mediterranean.  Iraq formerly was a block, holding back Iranian incursion into the Middle East. The collapse of Iraq after US troop withdrawal opened the door to Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia poured billions of dollars into Syria to support the rebels. As the rebels became radicalized by highly organized Islamic units backed by Syria, the conflict expanded as Saudi Arabia faced off against Iran.

The third stage of the Syrian crisis spread to include Russia, as Russian Muslims from Chechnya joined ISIS. Then Mr. Putin committed Russia to support Assad by sending troops and with fighter jets, warships, and advanced weapons. Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran. Russian aviation said they had conducted 28,000 combat missions, and about 90,000 strikes as of late August 2017.

Where is the US?

As the fighting intensified, there was limited response from the US and its allies. Professor Zisser pointed out that the US has abdicated from its responsibility as a world power. The rest of the free world sees the US as the leader, he continued. The US must take a stand in the Middle East, determine its strategy and implement effective policies. After the war, ISIS will remain only as a guerrilla force in Syria, not as an effective political entity. It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

Q&A

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): Some stability seems to be emerging in Syria. Will displaced Syrians want to return home, or will they not want to return to chaos.

A: Prof. Zisser: Assad has said they are free, and they have to decide if they want to return, but he really does not want them back. Syria is divided about whether they want refugees back. Syria is a destroyed country, there is no economic growth, and a corrupt regime with totalitarian power controls its destiny. There is no home to return to.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): What keeps the West from having any Arab allies? What can the West do to remedy this?

A: Prof. Zisser: A thousand years ago, the Arab/Islamic world was dominant. It was the leading civilization and the most powerful political entity. As recently as the1950s, Egyptians were better off than South Koreans. But this is no longer the case. The Arab world is no longer dominant. The reasons for this are many: a failure to participate in globalization and advancing technology, and the suppression of women’s participation in the world. However, Arabs do not recognize their failure to cope with internal problems as a source of their decline. Rather, they believe the US and Israel are intentionally blocking their progress.  When the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 happened, Arabs cheered. They hate the US. But on the other hand, most Arabs want to live in the US!

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East. Russia, in contrast, took a strong stand with material support and weaponry, but also did not interfere with local politics.

Q: Mr. Kirchick (Presenter): Did Assad aid and abet ISIS in order to use the conflict for his own purposes?

A: Prof. Zisser: Yes. Assad was concerned about the moderate rebels in Syrian, but he supported ISIS against the US in Iraq. Arab alliances are complicated.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): What will be the long-term impact of Russia and Iran’s presence in Syria?

A: Prof. Zisser: Russia is the big winner in the Syrian civil war. Its military forces are deployed throughout the country, even in the south, near the border with Israel and Jordan. Surprisingly, Russian soldiers are often welcomed by the residents of the very villages that, until recently, were being bombed to pieces by Russian planes. The locals in the Middle East value power, and know what they need to do to survive in the impossible reality of our region.

But the Russians wouldn't have gotten as far as they have without Iran, which is still a vital partner in Moscow's attempt to preserve the fragile calm in Syria. It was the Iranians and their allies, Shiite volunteers and Hezbollah fighters who won the war. Iran’s goal is to expand Shiite influence in the region along the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon Shiite arc. Iran wants to maintain a logistics corridor, which would guarantee military and financial support for pro-Iran forces, first of all Hezbollah, in the region. Tehran is tightening its grip on the same areas that Russia has freed up for it. The Iranians will get a port on the Syrian coast and an entire military setup from Damascus to the Iraqi border.

Speaker Biography

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Eyal Zisser is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He is currently the vice rector of the university.

Eyal is the holder of the Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He was formerly the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies 2007–2010, and the head of the department of Middle Eastern and African History.

Described by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as “one of Israel’s best-known academic experts on Syria and Lebanon,” Eyal has written extensively on the history and modern politics of the region, and on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was a visiting professor at Cornell University and a visiting research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Eyal’s publications include: Assad’s Syria at a Crossroads (Tel Aviv, 1999); Asad’s Legacy – Syria in Transition (New York, 2000); Lebanon: the Challenge of Independence (London, 2000); Faces of Syria (Tel Aviv, 2003); Commanding Syria, Bashar al-Asad’s First Years in Power (London, 2006); The Bleeding Cedar (Tel Aviv, 2009); and Syria :Protest, Revolution, Civil War (Tel Aviv, 2014). He received his PhD from Tel Aviv University.

The war in Syria is coming to an end.

Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.

The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad.

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization.

Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran.

It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East.

Tom Finneran

Sen. Eduardo Bhatia

Eyal Zisser

CONTACT

Senate Presidents’ Forum

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Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

 

Tel: 914-693-1818

Copyright © 2017 Senate Presidents' Forum. All rights reserved.

september 13–17, 2017

The Failure of Syria

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Vice Rector
Tel Aviv University

Professor Eyal Zisser is the Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and the holder of The Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He has written extensively on the history and the modern politics of Syria and Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his seven books on Syria, the latest Syria: Protest, Revolution, Civil War tracks the history of the Syrian revolution - its origins and roots, its initial stages, and finally, the decline from a limited protest to widespread popular uprising, and, eventually, to civil war, which ignited a regional conflagration supported by international players.

Map of the Military Situation in Syria, August 2017

REFERENCE: https://www.facebook.com/ozanalysis/photos/pb.1784816141796947.-2207520000.1493381262./1890428587902368/?type=3&theater

A War With Millions of Losers

“The war in Syria is coming to an end,” Professor Zisser told the Forum, “unfortunately, the dictator is the winner.” He attributed this outcome to the support of Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, and the lack of support from the US to the rebels.

The war in Syria is coming to an end.

At the start of the 7 years of Civil War, Syrian rebels opposing President Bashar Hafez al-Assad started a series of peaceful protests against corruption with calls for political reform. A brutal crackdown by the regime forces led to armed resistance, funded with money provided by Syrian businessmen and expatriates, and with time, foreign states. However, the rebels failed to unite and join forces behind a single political leader or military commander. Their factionalism allowed the revolution to be hijacked by radical Islamists, and their coordination and eventual integration with an al-Qaida affiliate, Professor Zisser reported.

In a video that Prof. Zisser showed the Forum, the war-torn Syrian cities had street after street of sagging five-story buildings with blown out walls and windows, bombed out neighborhoods, a landscape of twisted steel and debris, and no human life. The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad. As the international community pulls back from supporting the rebels and providing aid to the displaced, the future of the region and of its displaced people is deeply troubling.

The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad.

And Two Victors: Russia and Syria

“For the past 40 years, the US strategy was to keep Russia out of the Middle East,” Professor Zisser remarked, “Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.” The outcome will have significant political and social impacts on Europe and the US.

Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.

Causes of the Collapse of the Middle East

Professor Zisser compared population growth in Europe with that in the Middle East. In 1960, Europe had about 400M people, today, the population is about 500M, including immigrants. In contrast, the Middle East population exploded from about 100M in 1960 to 400M today, and will reach 750M by 2020. Rapid population growth in the Middle East and lack of development has led to 50% unemployment, which forces migration. Migration, in turn, causes the collapse of states such as Libya and Syria, exacerbating social unrest as people struggle for survival.

Syria Reflects a Worldwide Disparity: Haves vs Have-nots

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization. In Syria, climate change and a 10-year drought devastated agriculture, forcing people to urbanize. Syrian farmers started the revolt, demonstrating against Damascus, claiming the government is “broken,” that is, not able to take care of its people. Similarly, in Turkey, farmers protested that Ankara, the government capital, is broken. In Leeds and Bristol, disillusioned people voted for Brexit, indicating the EU is broken. And in the US, less people voted in President Trump, a challenge against the “broken” Washington, DC establishment.

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization.

Three Stages of the Syrian Conflict

The first stage of the Syrian conflict was a limited protest, an internal challenge to the totalitarian regime by poor peasants, reacting to the social distress of 10 years of drought and the collapse of the agricultural sector. The oppressive military response from the government showed the people they could not count on their government for support, so they turned back to religion, to Islam, to seek help.

The Syrian Civil War grew into a regional conflict as Iran took advantage of the fragmentation of Syria to spreads its hegemony into the security zone between Iran and the Mediterranean.  Iraq formerly was a block, holding back Iranian incursion into the Middle East. The collapse of Iraq after US troop withdrawal opened the door to Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia poured billions of dollars into Syria to support the rebels. As the rebels became radicalized by highly organized Islamic units backed by Syria, the conflict expanded as Saudi Arabia faced off against Iran.

The third stage of the Syrian crisis spread to include Russia, as Russian Muslims from Chechnya joined ISIS. Then Mr. Putin committed Russia to support Assad by sending troops and with fighter jets, warships, and advanced weapons. Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran. Russian aviation said they had conducted 28,000 combat missions, and about 90,000 strikes as of late August 2017.

Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran.

Where is the US?

As the fighting intensified, there was limited response from the US and its allies. Professor Zisser pointed out that the US has abdicated from its responsibility as a world power. The rest of the free world sees the US as the leader, he continued. The US must take a stand in the Middle East, determine its strategy and implement effective policies. After the war, ISIS will remain only as a guerrilla force in Syria, not as an effective political entity. It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

Q&A

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): Some stability seems to be emerging in Syria. Will displaced Syrians want to return home, or will they not want to return to chaos.

A: Prof. Zisser: Assad has said they are free, and they have to decide if they want to return, but he really does not want them back. Syria is divided about whether they want refugees back. Syria is a destroyed country, there is no economic growth, and a corrupt regime with totalitarian power controls its destiny. There is no home to return to.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): What keeps the West from having any Arab allies? What can the West do to remedy this?

A: Prof. Zisser: A thousand years ago, the Arab/Islamic world was dominant. It was the leading civilization and the most powerful political entity. As recently as the1950s, Egyptians were better off than South Koreans. But this is no longer the case. The Arab world is no longer dominant. The reasons for this are many: a failure to participate in globalization and advancing technology, and the suppression of women’s participation in the world. However, Arabs do not recognize their failure to cope with internal problems as a source of their decline. Rather, they believe the US and Israel are intentionally blocking their progress.  When the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 happened, Arabs cheered. They hate the US. But on the other hand, most Arabs want to live in the US!

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East. Russia, in contrast, took a strong stand with material support and weaponry, but also did not interfere with local politics.

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East.

Q: Mr. Kirchick (Presenter): Did Assad aid and abet ISIS in order to use the conflict for his own purposes?

A: Prof. Zisser: Yes. Assad was concerned about the moderate rebels in Syrian, but he supported ISIS against the US in Iraq. Arab alliances are complicated.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): What will be the long-term impact of Russia and Iran’s presence in Syria?

A: Prof. Zisser: Russia is the big winner in the Syrian civil war. Its military forces are deployed throughout the country, even in the south, near the border with Israel and Jordan. Surprisingly, Russian soldiers are often welcomed by the residents of the very villages that, until recently, were being bombed to pieces by Russian planes. The locals in the Middle East value power, and know what they need to do to survive in the impossible reality of our region.

But the Russians wouldn't have gotten as far as they have without Iran, which is still a vital partner in Moscow's attempt to preserve the fragile calm in Syria. It was the Iranians and their allies, Shiite volunteers and Hezbollah fighters who won the war. Iran’s goal is to expand Shiite influence in the region along the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon Shiite arc. Iran wants to maintain a logistics corridor, which would guarantee military and financial support for pro-Iran forces, first of all Hezbollah, in the region. Tehran is tightening its grip on the same areas that Russia has freed up for it. The Iranians will get a port on the Syrian coast and an entire military setup from Damascus to the Iraqi border.

Speaker Biography

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Eyal Zisser is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He is currently the vice rector of the university.

Eyal is the holder of the Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He was formerly the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies 2007–2010, and the head of the department of Middle Eastern and African History.

Described by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as “one of Israel’s best-known academic experts on Syria and Lebanon,” Eyal has written extensively on the history and modern politics of the region, and on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was a visiting professor at Cornell University and a visiting research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Eyal’s publications include: Assad’s Syria at a Crossroads (Tel Aviv, 1999); Asad’s Legacy – Syria in Transition (New York, 2000); Lebanon: the Challenge of Independence (London, 2000); Faces of Syria (Tel Aviv, 2003); Commanding Syria, Bashar al-Asad’s First Years in Power (London, 2006); The Bleeding Cedar (Tel Aviv, 2009); and Syria :Protest, Revolution, Civil War (Tel Aviv, 2014). He received his PhD from Tel Aviv University.

september 13–17, 2017

The Failure of Syria

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Vice Rector
Tel Aviv University

Professor Eyal Zisser is the Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and the holder of The Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He has written extensively on the history and the modern politics of Syria and Lebanon and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Among his seven books on Syria, the latest Syria: Protest, Revolution, Civil War tracks the history of the Syrian revolution - its origins and roots, its initial stages, and finally, the decline from a limited protest to widespread popular uprising, and, eventually, to civil war, which ignited a regional conflagration supported by international players.

Map of the Military Situation in Syria, August 2017

REFERENCE: https://www.facebook.com/ozanalysis/photos/pb.1784816141796947.-2207520000.1493381262./1890428587902368/?type=3&theater

A War With Millions of Losers

“The war in Syria is coming to an end,” Professor Zisser told the Forum, “unfortunately, the dictator is the winner.” He attributed this outcome to the support of Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, and the lack of support from the US to the rebels.

The war in Syria is coming to an end.

At the start of the 7 years of Civil War, Syrian rebels opposing President Bashar Hafez al-Assad started a series of peaceful protests against corruption with calls for political reform. A brutal crackdown by the regime forces led to armed resistance, funded with money provided by Syrian businessmen and expatriates, and with time, foreign states. However, the rebels failed to unite and join forces behind a single political leader or military commander. Their factionalism allowed the revolution to be hijacked by radical Islamists, and their coordination and eventual integration with an al-Qaida affiliate, Professor Zisser reported.

In a video that Prof. Zisser showed the Forum, the war-torn Syrian cities had street after street of sagging five-story buildings with blown out walls and windows, bombed out neighborhoods, a landscape of twisted steel and debris, and no human life. The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad. As the international community pulls back from supporting the rebels and providing aid to the displaced, the future of the region and of its displaced people is deeply troubling.

The death toll from the conflict exceeds 400,000, with 6.1 million internally displaced people and 4.8 million seeking refuge abroad.

And Two Victors: Russia and Syria

“For the past 40 years, the US strategy was to keep Russia out of the Middle East,” Professor Zisser remarked, “Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.” The outcome will have significant political and social impacts on Europe and the US.

Now the US is giving Russia the keys to the Middle East.

Causes of the Collapse of the Middle East

Professor Zisser compared population growth in Europe with that in the Middle East. In 1960, Europe had about 400M people, today, the population is about 500M, including immigrants. In contrast, the Middle East population exploded from about 100M in 1960 to 400M today, and will reach 750M by 2020. Rapid population growth in the Middle East and lack of development has led to 50% unemployment, which forces migration. Migration, in turn, causes the collapse of states such as Libya and Syria, exacerbating social unrest as people struggle for survival.

Syria Reflects a Worldwide Disparity: Haves vs Have-nots

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization. In Syria, climate change and a 10-year drought devastated agriculture, forcing people to urbanize. Syrian farmers started the revolt, demonstrating against Damascus, claiming the government is “broken,” that is, not able to take care of its people. Similarly, in Turkey, farmers protested that Ankara, the government capital, is broken. In Leeds and Bristol, disillusioned people voted for Brexit, indicating the EU is broken. And in the US, less people voted in President Trump, a challenge against the “broken” Washington, DC establishment.

Worldwide, conflicts between populists and elites have highlighted the frustration of those who have not benefitted from globalization.

Three Stages of the Syrian Conflict

The first stage of the Syrian conflict was a limited protest, an internal challenge to the totalitarian regime by poor peasants, reacting to the social distress of 10 years of drought and the collapse of the agricultural sector. The oppressive military response from the government showed the people they could not count on their government for support, so they turned back to religion, to Islam, to seek help.

The Syrian Civil War grew into a regional conflict as Iran took advantage of the fragmentation of Syria to spreads its hegemony into the security zone between Iran and the Mediterranean.  Iraq formerly was a block, holding back Iranian incursion into the Middle East. The collapse of Iraq after US troop withdrawal opened the door to Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia poured billions of dollars into Syria to support the rebels. As the rebels became radicalized by highly organized Islamic units backed by Syria, the conflict expanded as Saudi Arabia faced off against Iran.

The third stage of the Syrian crisis spread to include Russia, as Russian Muslims from Chechnya joined ISIS. Then Mr. Putin committed Russia to support Assad by sending troops and with fighter jets, warships, and advanced weapons. Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran. Russian aviation said they had conducted 28,000 combat missions, and about 90,000 strikes as of late August 2017.

Hezbollah and Iranian fighters launched major ground offensives coordinated with Russian airstrikes, highlighting the links between Russia and Iran.

Where is the US?

As the fighting intensified, there was limited response from the US and its allies. Professor Zisser pointed out that the US has abdicated from its responsibility as a world power. The rest of the free world sees the US as the leader, he continued. The US must take a stand in the Middle East, determine its strategy and implement effective policies. After the war, ISIS will remain only as a guerrilla force in Syria, not as an effective political entity. It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

It remains to be seen if the final outcome will be a Russian or an Iranian Syria.

Q&A

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): Some stability seems to be emerging in Syria. Will displaced Syrians want to return home, or will they not want to return to chaos.

A: Prof. Zisser: Assad has said they are free, and they have to decide if they want to return, but he really does not want them back. Syria is divided about whether they want refugees back. Syria is a destroyed country, there is no economic growth, and a corrupt regime with totalitarian power controls its destiny. There is no home to return to.

Q: Sen. Eduardo Bhatia (PR): What keeps the West from having any Arab allies? What can the West do to remedy this?

A: Prof. Zisser: A thousand years ago, the Arab/Islamic world was dominant. It was the leading civilization and the most powerful political entity. As recently as the1950s, Egyptians were better off than South Koreans. But this is no longer the case. The Arab world is no longer dominant. The reasons for this are many: a failure to participate in globalization and advancing technology, and the suppression of women’s participation in the world. However, Arabs do not recognize their failure to cope with internal problems as a source of their decline. Rather, they believe the US and Israel are intentionally blocking their progress.  When the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 happened, Arabs cheered. They hate the US. But on the other hand, most Arabs want to live in the US!

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East. Russia, in contrast, took a strong stand with material support and weaponry, but also did not interfere with local politics.

The reason the US has no Arab allies is because of its lack of policy vis-s-vis the Middle East.

Q: Mr. Kirchick (Presenter): Did Assad aid and abet ISIS in order to use the conflict for his own purposes?

A: Prof. Zisser: Yes. Assad was concerned about the moderate rebels in Syrian, but he supported ISIS against the US in Iraq. Arab alliances are complicated.

Q: Tom Finneran (Moderator): What will be the long-term impact of Russia and Iran’s presence in Syria?

A: Prof. Zisser: Russia is the big winner in the Syrian civil war. Its military forces are deployed throughout the country, even in the south, near the border with Israel and Jordan. Surprisingly, Russian soldiers are often welcomed by the residents of the very villages that, until recently, were being bombed to pieces by Russian planes. The locals in the Middle East value power, and know what they need to do to survive in the impossible reality of our region.

But the Russians wouldn't have gotten as far as they have without Iran, which is still a vital partner in Moscow's attempt to preserve the fragile calm in Syria. It was the Iranians and their allies, Shiite volunteers and Hezbollah fighters who won the war. Iran’s goal is to expand Shiite influence in the region along the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon Shiite arc. Iran wants to maintain a logistics corridor, which would guarantee military and financial support for pro-Iran forces, first of all Hezbollah, in the region. Tehran is tightening its grip on the same areas that Russia has freed up for it. The Iranians will get a port on the Syrian coast and an entire military setup from Damascus to the Iraqi border.

Speaker Biography

Eyal Zisser, PhD

Eyal Zisser is a senior research fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. He is currently the vice rector of the university.

Eyal is the holder of the Yona and Dina Ettinger Chair in Contemporary History of the Middle East. He was formerly the director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies 2007–2010, and the head of the department of Middle Eastern and African History.

Described by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as “one of Israel’s best-known academic experts on Syria and Lebanon,” Eyal has written extensively on the history and modern politics of the region, and on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He was a visiting professor at Cornell University and a visiting research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Eyal’s publications include: Assad’s Syria at a Crossroads (Tel Aviv, 1999); Asad’s Legacy – Syria in Transition (New York, 2000); Lebanon: the Challenge of Independence (London, 2000); Faces of Syria (Tel Aviv, 2003); Commanding Syria, Bashar al-Asad’s First Years in Power (London, 2006); The Bleeding Cedar (Tel Aviv, 2009); and Syria :Protest, Revolution, Civil War (Tel Aviv, 2014). He received his PhD from Tel Aviv University.