In Syria, Foreign Powers’ Scramble for Influence Intensifies by Sune Engel Rasmussen – Wall Street Journal
The demise of Islamic State is intensifying a scramble among foreign powers in Syria, raising the risk that diverging strategic and commercial interests could lead to a wider regional war.
In the past month, a U.S. airstrike in the eastern part of the country killed an unknown number of Russian military contractors; Israel hit Iranian military installations deep inside Syria; while Turkey waged a campaign against Kurdish militias in the north.
The volatile situation is a result of how the fight against Islamic State was conducted, with players seizing territory, arming proxies and aggravating long-existing ethnic and political divisions. The result: a series of flashpoints where clashes could erupt among major powers and spill over Syria’s borders.
“No one wants that war, but everyone is ready for it and expects it,” said Emile Hokayem, a Syria expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.
Russia has emerged as a dominant force, after intervening to turn the tide in the multisided conflict in favor of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Yet even Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in December declared victory but has kept his country deeply involved, has limited control.
With the backing of Russia and Iran, Mr. Assad has largely prevailed against rebels trying to oust him, relying on ferocious violence to recapture territory and cornering his remaining opponents in pockets like Eastern Ghouta on the outskirts of Damascus and in the northwestern province of Idlib…