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How safe, a safe zone?

Feb 01,2017 - Last updated at Feb 01,2017

US President Donald Trump said last week that he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria”, intended to protect the displaced, vulnerable Syrians and, presumably, put an end to the flow of refugees to the West, the US included.

The departments of state and defence are now tasked with coming up with details and officials with producing “a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region” within three months.

Russia was not consulted on this US plan of action and, suspicious of the ulterior motives — read, regime change — Thursday said that “Washington must think about the potential consequences of establishing safe zones.”

Establishing safe havens in Syria is no Trump brainchild. It was long ago suggested by Turkey, but found no support from former US president Barack Obama.

Now, once again, Trump picked up the idea and made his policy announcement about it last week. 

Safe zones, not too safe as history shows, most chillingly in Srebrenica during the former Yugoslavia war, are no easy endeavour.

They need the protection of both ground and air forces, the latter by the imposition of no-fly zones, and that needs minute planning and considerable resources if the idea is to work. 

Then, would such safe zones be created through the United Nations and in agreement with other countries (chiefly Russia and Syria) or would they be a unilateral move?

If the latter, given the Russian presence and the hostility of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, that would require a significant number of US military forces.

Will Trump commit more troops to the ground or get embroiled in another Middle East war front?

Jordan welcomes any move to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian refugees and contribute to the settlement of the Syrian conflict, now in its sixth year, said Minister of State for Media Affairs and Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani on Sunday. 

He did not specifically endorse the US safe zones idea, but his words implied support, in principle at least.

Turkey backs Trump’s idea, but called for more details about its execution.

Russia, the only major player on the Syrian scene that committed men and acted decisively to affect the outcome of the fighting, would clearly have at least reservations.

Not being consulted by Trump before announcing the idea does not help. Yet it should not be a convincing reason to resist, since Russia never consulted the US, or any other power for that matter, on its moves in Syria.

The real problem with safe havens is that they could be used by terrorists to take refuge, themselves, or as permanent places to raid for supplies if they are not properly protected, which will most probably be the case.

They are a temporary solution that, if agreed upon by the international community and accepted by the Assad regime, could help resettle some of the millions of Syrians in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, relieving some of the pressure on host governments Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and even reducing the flow of Syrians to Europe.

But it is doubtful that Russia or Assad would agree to safe zones that they do not control.

Moreover, if the US pursues a safe zone in Syria without the Assad regime’s agreement, or that of Russia, Iran, Turkey, which have forces fighting in Syria, this zone could become a target for terrorists of all stripes, for Russian air strikes and for pro-Assad forces. 

Defending such a haven, provided there is enough security, has the potential to bring the US, or other governments’ forces, into conflict with Russia or Assad.

The idea sounds good on paper, but to put it in practice, there is need of serious deliberation, consultation, cooperation and good will.


Most of these ingredients seem to be missing so far.

64 users have voted.


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