Syrian crisis: Is peace coming soon?
Updated 21:36, 11-Jan-2019
Gong Zheng
Editor's note: At the end of last year, Trump stunned his allies with his announcement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria. Now, it seems that he is not even sure how the plan would go. Gong Zheng, an assistant research fellow at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, analyzes how the power game would unfold if the withdrawal happens.  
After seven years of war, it seemed that the Assad government with the help of Iran and Russia would win its battle against the opposition forces, and, that the war against ISIL would come to an end.
Foreign actors would maintain a fragile balance with Israel, Iran and Russia in the southwest, Russia and Turkey in the northwest and the U.S. and Turkey in the northeast.
But the intention to pull out U.S. troops, as announced by President Donald Trump, risks destroying this geopolitical balance.
Trump now seems to have backtracked and been persuaded to slow the drawdown, but with the ambiguity over the U.S. strategy, there remains a risk that a withdrawal would allow the remnants of ISIL a chance to breathe and regroup.
Now, in 2019, uncertainties remain. For Russia, Iran and the Assad government it is vital to recapture all of the territories in the northeast part of Syria that would be left by U.S. forces. 
That land is rich in oil, gas, water and farmland.
For Russia, some believe the best strategy is to strike an interest-sharing deal with Turkey while persuading Kurdish forces to return to their traditional areas. To make those ends meet, Russia needs to work with Iran and the Assad government closely. 
The sudden withdrawal of U.S. troops would also be a major victory for Turkey.
For a long time, Turkey accused the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces of trying to establish an independent state in northern Syria.
Erdogan has ordered the Turkish army to fight against the Kurds by invading Syria twice in the past two years. After Trump's announcement, Turkey immediately said it would "postpone the campaign in Syria" and wait until the U.S. withdrawal was completed.
For Turkey, the best strategy would be to sway between the U.S. and Russia.
It will help the U.S. to continue its counterterrorism campaign in Syria while communicating with Russia and Iran to advance the political reconciliation process among different Syrian parties.
However, Trump's sudden decision dealt a blow to Israel, making it more lonely and insecure in the region. It is foreseeable that after the U.S. withdrawal, Israel will fail to “do whatever it wants” as in the past, and might be forced to coordinate more with Russia.
For Saudi Arabia, the U.S. move is bad news. Its situation in the Middle East is difficult due to the impasse in the Yemen war and the pressure after the Khashoggi killing.
The Saudi government has indicated that it would help the United States rebuild Syria and even proposed to send troops to patrol with the U.S. and Kurdish forces.
Today, Saudi Arabia will have to build closer ties with Israel and alter its Syria policy to contain Iran's influence.
For Syria, the reconstruction will be difficult without stable economic support.
And achieving a lasting peace still requires the joint efforts of all parties.
Scriptwriter: Gong Zheng 
Animation: Pan Yufei 
Cover photo: Liu Shaozhen
Voice-over: John Goodrich 
Edited and designed by Li Linxi, Liu Shuo, Li Xiang, Zhao Yuanzhen
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