Historically, the US presidential transition has always been the ideal time to deal with unfinished business on the international stage. The handover of power from the Obama administration to the new Trump government offers similar opportunities to create new facts on the ground in the Middle East.
A few days before Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009, Israel exploited the end of the 43rd US President’s term and the inauguration of Barack Obama to launch Operation Cast Lead on Gaza.
Similarly, Russia is now using the transition from Obama to Trump to do the same in Aleppo, Syria. This move results in Assad’s regime ability to recapture the entire city of Aleppo. In doing so, Syria marks its greatest victory since the civil war began in 2011. This fall of Aleppo also means that the syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be able to declare himself the president of the whole of Syria, according to Syrian experts.
The Russia-backed ground offensive, which began on November 26, followed an intensive aerial bombing campaign that knocked out most of the medical facilities, targeted civil defence and municipal vehicles and blocked roads with rubble.
The eastern Aleppo area has also been cut off from outside assistance since July by a government siege, according to western correspondents.
It’s important to remember that rebels captured the eastern half of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial capital, in 2012. This 2016 victory of Assad’s army marks the end of the rebels’ dream. A dream that foolishly depended on Hillary Clinton’s assurances to hang on until she came into power. Rebels had no plan B for a Clinton defeat. On the other hand, Assad seems to be a better player.
Below is a map of Aleppo, just before the city of Aleppo went under the control of the Syrian government. Courtesy: Al-Jazeera.
With Donald Trump inaugurating his presidency in less than 38 days, Putin and Assad clearly have managed to finish off east Aleppo. And with the fall of Aleppo being completed, The Russian President does not simply think that his ally Assad has just won the most important victory of the entire syrian civil war. Vladimir Putin also thinks that he has won the argument with the United States of America.
But this victory for Assad is just the beginning of a new chapter for Russia in the Middle East.
To support the areas destroyed by russian bombers, Putin will have to start putting hospitals and doctors on the ground. This effort is already in place in others part of Aleppo, according to the russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. With the entire city back under the Assad regime’s control, more humanitarian personnel will be required, which, in turn, will require russian boots on the ground, who will then become targets for terrorist attacks. Air power is useless in a guerilla urban war.
Will rebels learn or will they come back with a vengeance?
With the fall of Aleppo, there is no guarantee that the tables will not turn once again, as they did when Russia entered the war. Armed opposition forces will no longer be protecting areas from the assault of pro-Assad militias. They will instead mount classic guerrilla hit-and-run attacks on areas under government control.