Islamic State has largely been defeated, but peace in Syria has not been achieved. On the contrary, without a common enemy, parties involved are now pursuing their own interests, with each wanting a slice of the country.
What do a counterfeiter from Syria, an Iraqi-Afghan militia fighter under Iranian leadership and a Russian Cossack have in common? More than you might think. They all took part in a strange offensive involving around 300 men on Feb. 7 — an attack force that was bombed by the U.S. as it crossed a pontoon bridge over the Euphrates River in an effort to capture one of largest natural gas fields in eastern Syria for the Assad regime. Located near the city of Deir ez-Zor, the so-called Conoco field had been wrested from Islamic State (IS) last September by Kurdish-led troops — with the help of U.S. Special Forces who have been stationed in the area since then.
It’s a confusing story, but it says a lot about the increasingly bewildering and dangerous state of affairs in the Syrian war. The advance on the Conoco field, during which around 100 of the attackers are thought to have lost their lives in the American airstrikes, is just one of several clashes between military forces in the country. Indeed, Syria has become a battleground for global and regional powers — including the United States, Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel — who are using the country as a venue for the pursuit of their own interests. The danger of an unintended clash has become extreme. And the conflict has become even more difficult for outsiders to understand.
The various international parties to this war have all, almost simultaneously, launched massive attacks in the past few weeks. For much of the last 28 days, the Turkish army has been attacking the Kurdish militia YPG in the northern Syrian city of Afrin. And the Israeli air force launched a wave of airstrikes, which, it says, destroyed half of all Syrian anti-aircraft capability, after one of its warplanes had been shot down during a response to an Iranian drone incursion on Israeli airspace.