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Syria Today – Assad Fails to Normalize his Regime

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – Assad Fails to Normalize his Regime

In recent years, the illicit trade of Captagon, an amphetamine-type stimulant, has become a pressing concern in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. This, among other factors, caused Assad’s recent diplomatic efforts to fail. 

Is Captagon going to halt the Arab normalization deal with Syria? An expert weighs-in

In recent years, the illicit trade of Captagon, an amphetamine-type stimulant, has become a pressing concern in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. Its proliferation and impact on the region have prompted discussions among experts, policymakers, and regional governments. Amidst these conversations, the intersection of Captagon trade and the broader geopolitical landscape has taken center stage, with questions arising about its potential to affect Arab normalization efforts with Syria. To delve into this multifaceted issue, we turn to Caroline Rose, the director of the Strategic Blind Sports Portfolio at the New Lines Institute, who offers expert insights on the history of Captagon, its production in Syria, and the complex dynamics surrounding this crisis. This interview, conducted by MENASource editor Holly Dagres, provides a comprehensive examination of the Captagon trade and its implications for the Middle East region.

In the interview, Caroline Rose, an expert from the New Lines Institute, sheds light on the history of Captagon, its production in Syria, and its impact on the region. The discussion covers various aspects, including the involvement of different actors, reasons for its consumption, and efforts to address the crisis.

One notable point from the interview is that the trade of Captagon has become a topic of concern in the context of Arab normalization with Syria. Some regional countries, like Jordan, expressed their concerns about the worsening Captagon trade since the normalization began. However, despite promises to address the issue, the trade continued, leading to a shift in regional approaches, including a focus on collaborative efforts and intelligence exchange to combat the Captagon trade.

Additionally, the interview emphasizes the importance of international cooperation and initiatives in addressing the issue. It mentions the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats and Congressman French Hill’s legislation in the US Congress as potential avenues for addressing the Captagon trade.

Overall, the interview provides insights into the Captagon crisis in the Middle East and the efforts being made to curb its illicit trade.

Forgotten Front: Why Syria Is Becoming a Headache for Russia

A Carnegie report titled “Forgotten Front: Why Syria Is Becoming a Headache for Russia” sheds light on the evolving dynamics in Syria and their implications for Russia’s strategic objectives in the region. The report highlights several key points:

Russia’s primary objective in Syria, in collaboration with Iran, has been to counter U.S. influence and presence in the region. However, recent developments, including Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine and closer ties with Iran, have inadvertently contributed to an increase in the U.S. military presence in Syria. This has complicated Russia’s mission in the region.

The report discusses the growing tensions between Russia and the United States in Syria. Russia has been conducting aerial activities that challenge U.S. forces in the country, and these incidents have increased in recent months. Simultaneously, there have been clashes between American troops and Iranian proxies in Syria, as Russia and Iran coordinate their efforts to counter U.S. presence.

Russia and Iran’s attempts to push the United States out of the Middle East have had unintended consequences. Instead of reducing the U.S. presence, it has led to an increase in American forces, with the deployment of additional troops and military assets to the region.

The report says that the United States has responded to Russian provocations by deploying advanced aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor, to Syria. The report suggests that these deployments are aimed at deterring unprofessional behavior by Russian pilots.

The U.S. has also made efforts to unite various allied forces in Syria under its leadership, including Arab tribal groups and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While creating a unified front is challenging, it indicates Washington’s determination to resist Russian and Iranian pressure in Syria.

Beyond the U.S.-Russia rivalry, the report highlights the challenges within Syria itself. Despite the Syrian government regaining control over most of the country, issues like hunger, corruption, and economic problems persist, leading to protests and instability in several areas.

The report mentions the challenges Russia faces in integrating the Wagner mercenary army into its military forces in Syria. The complex structure and tasks previously handled by Wagner, such as developing oil deposits and establishing local connections, are proving difficult for the Russian military to replicate.

While Russia’s position in Syria is not yet critical, the report suggests that challenges are mounting. Syria, instead of becoming a secure base for Russian forces, is generating its own localized crises.

In summary, the report underscores how Russia’s involvement in Syria is becoming increasingly complicated due to its own actions, the expanding U.S. presence, and the internal challenges within Syria. These factors have raised questions about Russia’s ability to achieve its strategic objectives in the region and maintain a low-key presence in Syria while focusing on its interests elsewhere, such as in Ukraine.

Assad’s Diplomatic Gains Aren’t Paying Off for Syrian Reconstruction

A report by Jonathan Fenton-Harvey, titled “Assad’s Diplomatic Gains Aren’t Paying Off for Syrian Reconstruction,” provides a comprehensive analysis of the evolving situation in Syria, particularly focusing on the challenges faced by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in securing financial support for the country’s reconstruction. Here’s a breakdown of the key points and the analysis of the report:

The report begins by highlighting President Assad’s recent diplomatic efforts, especially his visit to China, which marked a significant moment in his quest to end Syria’s international isolation after a devastating 12-year civil war. China’s support, including the declaration of a “strategic partnership” with Syria, demonstrates growing solidarity with Assad.

Despite the warm diplomatic reception, the report points out that Assad’s visit to China did not yield substantial financial commitments for Syria’s reconstruction. This is a significant setback, considering the extensive damage to Syria’s infrastructure, with reconstruction costs estimated between $250 billion and $1 trillion.

The report argues that expecting China to make substantial investments in Syria was unrealistic from the start. China has reasons to be cautious, given the ongoing hostilities in Syria, concerns about the safety of its personnel and investments, and a potential slowdown in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The report discusses China’s limited influence in regional conflicts, using the Israel-Hamas war as an example. While China has called for a cease-fire, its ability to mediate in such conflicts remains minimal, which affects its ability to manage spillover in neighboring countries like Syria and Lebanon.

Assad’s recent diplomatic gains, such as the Arab League’s decision to reinstate Syria’s membership, come with conditions. The Arab League, led by Jordan, is concerned about Syria’s failure to address issues like the captagon drug trade and the slow pace of refugee repatriation.

The wealthier Gulf states, which could potentially contribute significantly to Syria’s reconstruction, have remained hesitant due to Syria’s unattractive investment environment, corruption, and instability. This caution is further exacerbated by U.S. sanctions.

The report explains the complexities of the U.S. stance on Syria, where the focus has shifted from opposing Assad to countering extremist groups. However, the U.S. has maintained its position that cooperation with Damascus is contingent on Assad’s departure, adding pressure on regional partners.

It concludes by emphasizing that despite diplomatic gains, Assad faces a critical challenge regarding financial support for reconstruction. Without investment, Syria cannot achieve stability, but without stability, attracting investors remains a daunting task.

Jonathan Fenton-Harvey’s report provides a detailed analysis of the complexities surrounding Syria’s reconstruction efforts and the diplomatic initiatives taken by President Assad. It highlights the challenges in securing financial support from key players like China and the Gulf states and the delicate balancing act required to navigate international politics while addressing Syria’s pressing economic needs.

Ex-wife of IS ‘Beatle’ speaks out for first time

In this BBC News report, Dure Ahmed, the ex-wife of El Shafee Elsheikh, one of the IS “Beatles” responsible for gruesome atrocities committed by the Islamic State (IS) group, speaks publicly for the first time about her marriage to him and her time living in Syria. Here’s a summary of the key points in the report:

Dure Ahmed, a Canadian woman, reveals that she was “oblivious to what was going on” while her then-husband El Shafee Elsheikh was involved in IS atrocities in Syria.

El Shafee Elsheikh was part of a notorious IS cell called the “Beatles” known for their British accents, and they were responsible for abducting, torturing, and beheading Western hostages.

Ahmed claims that she was not radicalized but was just a “dumb girl in love” when she joined Elsheikh in Syria. She insists that she had no knowledge of the group’s jihadist ideology.

Elsheikh was convicted in the US in 2022 for his involvement in the deaths of several Western hostages, including journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and aid workers Kayla Mueller and Peter Kassig. He is serving eight life sentences in a US supermax prison.

Ahmed, along with her two sons, was repatriated to Canada in April 2023 after being held in a Syrian camp for more than three years.

Upon her return to Canada, Ahmed was arrested on a “terrorism peace bond” and granted bail with conditions. A court in Brampton, Ontario, is reviewing her case, with the Crown arguing that she may have been “steeped” in IS ideology.

Ahmed and Elsheikh met in Canada in 2007 when she was 17 and he was 19. They initially connected through shared interests and not religious radicalization.

The report sheds light on Dure Ahmed’s perspective and experiences related to her marriage to one of the IS “Beatles” and provides insights into the challenges and complexities of individuals connected to extremist groups.

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