November 20, 2011

The Complexity of Syria.

A dangerous and complex situation in Syria, very dangerous indeed. But then so are all situations when it comes to the Arab world.

This is an attempt to make sense, and to infuse some light into what will prove to be a dark chapter of Syrian history. I am not sure I will succeed but I will try. I shall base my analysis on my various readings plus testimonies from the Syrians I have encountered.

Nearly a 40 year rule by the Alawite clan of the Assad family. Alawites are a branch of Shi'ism, and very difficult to penetrate i.e to access full knowledge of their belief system. A strange combination of Shiism and Druze ideology. Alawites are a minority in Syria, originally from the lower echelons of society. Their rise to power under the Assad rule and their grip on key sectors of government was ensured by placing their own people in key positions, as one Syrian acquaintance said - they have infiltrated Syrian society like an octopus. This is how the Alawites of Syria were able to maintain power for so long seeing that they are a indeed a small minority.

True, secularism was the order of the day and Syrian society was a secular one. Denying that would be a blatant lie. However, when the regime felt that the noose is tightening around its neck, due to genuine popular protests against repression plus a dire economic situation where roughly 3 Million Syrians live in abject poverty and privileges are only accorded to the elite related to the Assad clan, the regime resorted to its inherent sectarianism, emboldened by its special ties to Iran and Hezbollah of Lebanon.

A regime cannot continue such a brutal crackdown on its own citizens unless it follows one of two options either : a) a nihilistic approach which basically says - on me and my enemies - a popular Arabic saying, translated as " we will burn it all down" or b) it pertinently knows that it will eventually get away with it.

The other scenario is a little more complicated and I think this is the one, one needs to reflect on. By persevering in its destructive course of action - the current Syrian regime which has been reduced to a small clique directing events - is actually inviting foreign intervention.

I personally believe that Bashar Al-Assad has lost control of his inner government. I say "inner" government because this is how things are in Syria. The key sectors in particular the armed forces and the security apparatus have an operating system of their own and are directed by the inner clique that is hardly ever public - back corridor operations.

It is said that the old partisans of Assad the father, are the ones who are controlling Syria today, that includes Maher Al-Assad, Bashar's brother.

I think that Bashar Al-Assad as a figure has become cannon meat. As we say in Arabic - he is placed in the mouth of the cannon and when that cannon fires, he will be the first to go. This does not mean that the whole regime will go with him, regimes when backed as in the case of Syria have amazing powers to shed skins and acquire new ones as we shall see later on.

But this is not sufficient of an analysis, because it does not take into account the other regional players - namely Iran, Turkey and Israel plus the other Arab countries in particular Qatar.

Since the fall of Iraq and now Libya thanks to Western intervention and occupation, it is clear that the Western Zionist agenda for the Arab region (Iran is not Arab) is first and foremost the doing away of secular, progressive regimes or what started off as progressive regimes. Regime change also means ERADICATING any ideological roots that are essentially anti-imperialistic (even if flawed) and born out of the colonial experience. That was the case for Iraq's brand of Baathism and Libya's popular Jamahiriyah.

These regime changes were followed by two distinctive traits 1) a replacement by parties that claim to be Islamic (i.e deriving their political ideology from Islam) and 2. a period of intense sectarian, ethnic, civil strife that completed the initial destruction triggered by these Western interventions.

In this Western agenda for these regimes (Iraq and Libya), there are other regional players that are also prominently competing for influence and power. In the case of Iraq it was - Iran and Israel, and in the case of Libya it was Turkey and Qatar. The preceding is an important point to bear in mind because you simply can't divorce the developments in any particular Arab country without placing them in a geopolitical context.

Getting back to Syria which is the initial subject matter. Drawing observations like the ones above from Iraq and Libya, one can also conclude that the West has an agenda for regime change in Syria. One can also add that regional players, notably Iran, Turkey and Qatar (again) are vying to either maintain, enhance or change the current regime.

This does not mean that the popular protests in Syria are all externally induced by foreign powers, nor does it mean that they are not justified, nor does that diminish the brutality of the regime crackdown, but it does mean that Syria is not an island and that regional attempts at power grabs are reflected internally.

Iran needs to keep its grip on Syria for several reasons, one of which is power continuity in Lebanon Iran will not give up Syria easily, hence the amazingly lax ultimatums that are given to the Assad regime by the Arab league and the International community. It is clear that meddling with Syria by flexing too much muscle will trigger Iran's (and Hezbollah's) wrath. Hence the "diplomatic" approach was favored which was clearly not the case for Iraq nor Libya where brute power was employed to achieve regime change.

Turkey and Qatar on the other hand are coaxing regime change in Syria. Not because they particularly care for the Syrian people, but since Iraq was generously given to Iran, by the U.S, Turkey in particular feels it's being thwarted in its plan for regional supremacy. The conflict or the competition for regional influence between Turkey and Iran is reflected in Syria.

Qatar on the other hand has also plans to become the major Arab player - superseding the role traditionally allocated to Saudi Arabia - and that too is part of the new American agenda for the region - the gradual isolation of Saudi Arabia.

One can see Qatar's rise to power through its machinations overt and covert in Lebanon (with its ties to Hezbollah) as the mediator of peace, with Israel as the first Gulf country who openly invited Tzipi Livni in 2006, with Bahrain where it's meddling in favor of regime change in collusion with Iran and the Bahraini opposition, in Libya where it openly supported and participated in NATO's operations, in Tunisia where it has extended a lifeline to the Ennhada Islamic party which is now in power after the fall of Ben Ali. Moreover, Qatar has excellent bilateral ties with Iran and nearly 40% of its economy is jointly owned with Iranian investors from the Islamic republic. And last but not least, Qatar is now the US Arab prodigal child to be nursed into full fledged political adulthood.
Qatar if you want is like a parasite trying to grow two legs. And the US will ensure it does.

So where does that leave Syria ?

All what I have mentioned above is reflected in Syria, be it within the regime or in the Syrian opposition to the regime.

Let's start with the Syrian opposition. The Syrian opposition has different voices and not one. Some want Turkish interference, some want Western intervention, some refuse categorically either. And one cannot deny the "Islamic" coloring to certain parties of the opposition. A reminder of the "Islamic" Shiite parties in Iraq and its Libyan variant.

Inside Syria, the same is true. Army soldiers are defecting including a few Alawites and Druze (as per the latest news) and are joining the protesters. Some of the protesters HAVE BECOME armed, allegations that they are armed by Turkey may have some truth in it, but the reality is that defectors from the Army are taking their weapons with them. That explains how a few protesters are armed today which was not initially the case when the protests/uprising started. However the majority of the protesters remain unarmed and are civilians.

What's happening on the regime front? Important developments to be well noted.

- First there is the local militia - the shabiha. Remember what I said earlier on, the Alawites are a small minority in Syria. The Shabiha receive reinforcement in men from the following a) Hezbollah of Lebanon 2) Iranian Quds Brigades 3)and this is the latest piece of news given by someone from Damascus - the militia of Jaysh Al Mahdi of Muqtada al Sadr arriving by bus loads into Syria. I need to remind the reader that Jaysh Al-Mahdi of Muqtada Al-Sadr is one of the biggest Shiite militias in Iraq and was responsible for massive sectarian cleansing of non Shias during the so-called "civil war" in Iraq that reached its apogee in 2006-2008.

- Secondly this reinforcement from Iran and its proxies make sense because of: a)army defection b)the need to keep Damascus in the hands of the regime - notice most of the killing is being done on the periphery of the capital and not in the capital. One reason for this is that (again according to my Syrian sources) the bulk of the Shabiha are spread throughout the capital and are quick to nip any protests with a swift crackdown without having to move tanks and men. c)it is a known strategy in warfare that if you lose the capital you lose the battle, hence the necessity to keep a tight control over Damascus.

- Thirdly the reinforcement by Iran means a preparation for a sectarian war. Is it in the interest of Iran to have a civil war in Syria ? My answer is yes it is. Just like it was in the interest of Iran to have a civil war in Iraq in which it guaranteed the outcome through its 33 armed Shiite militias plus its own revolutionary guards. It's called power leverage. Hezbollah a few days ago was on high alert and asked for mobilization of its men. Today we hear that Jaysh Al-Mahdi is arriving in Syria. These are two sure signs that something is about to be prepared on a full scale.
Is it in the interest of Israel to have a civil war in Syria ? Naturally it is. Ehud Barak for the first time today after a relatively long silence on Syria stated - "Bashar Al-Assad has only a few more months, his fate is that of Hussein and Gaddafi."

- Fourthly, the question to pose is what about Turkey ? Will it find itself relatively excluded again like it was in Iraq or will it be able to also have a piece of the pie but this time without NATO intervention like in Libya ?

As I said, am trying to shed some light and I don't have all the answers. I am also aware I did not cover everything like for instance the repercussions of a highly possible sectarian war in Syria on Lebanon and Iraq and I also have left out Russia.

However, despite the limits of this post, something rings true - and I must give credit where credit is due - someone on Twitter said to me, in reference to Syria - Iran will not be happy until the word Arab is erased from every Arab country's dictionary. He is right on that count. What he forgot to mention is that the same goes for Israel.


N.B: What is also interesting to note and keep in mind - from U.S occupied Iraq, through one of its puppet spokesman H.Zebari, Foreign Minister, pledging unconditional support for the Assad regime. Bear in mind that U.S/Iran installed Iraqi puppets are vehemently anti Baathists, yet U.S/Iran installed Iraqi puppets have no qualms supporting the Syrian Baath regime.