The Syr­ian Im­broglio

The sup­port to Syr­ian rebels fight­ing the As­sad regime is from the Sunni Arab na­tions, Saudi Ara­bia, Pak­istan and the US. The irony of the sit­u­a­tion is that the US which launched GWOT to fight Al-Qaeda is now us­ing Al-Qaeda to sup­port Syr­ian rebels in a b

SP's LandForces - - FRONT PAGE - Lt Gen­eral (Retd) P.C. Ka­toch

The sup­port to Syr­ian rebels fight­ing the As­sad regime is from the Sunni Arab na­tions, Saudi Ara­bia, Pak­istan and the US.

The war in Syria has both re­gional and strate­gic di­men­sions, lat­ter pri­mar­ily due to the US de­signs with com­plex cross link­ages

THE WORLD WATCHES WITH bated breath the de­vel­op­ments in Syria. At the mo­ment it ap­pears that the US which Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­scribes as the “an­chor of global se­cu­rity”, is rec­on­ciled to at least de­fer strik­ing Syria. How­ever, Obama’s con­straints are more be­cause of the se­ri­ous lack of con­sen­sus for at­tack­ing Syria by world lead­ers at the G-20 meet; Bri­tish Par­lia­ment vot­ing not in favour of Bri­tish par­tic­i­pa­tion against in­ter­ven­tion; ap­pre­hen­sions of a res­o­lu­tion within the US not get­ting through par­tic­u­larly be­cause of op­po­si­tion by the Repub­li­cans and from even dou­ble digit Democrats in the Se­nate; and above all lack of UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil (UNSC) ap­proval for in­ter­ven­tion/strik­ing Syria. Yet, the US op­tion to strike Syria re­mains alive as the US con­tin­ues ne­go­ti­a­tions glob­ally par­tic­u­larly with Rus­sia, as well as mus­ter­ing con­sen­sus within the US, be­sides, im­ple­men­ta­tion time of the Rus­sian pro­posal with re­spect to chem­i­cal weapons of Syria, ap­pears un­likely to suit im­pa­tient US.

The Syr­ian Tan­gle

The war in Syria has both re­gional and strate­gic di­men­sions, lat­ter pri­mar­ily due to the US de­signs with com­plex cross link­ages. The Syr­ian iden­tity it­self is an amal­ga­ma­tion of Sun­nis, Shias, Alaw­ites, Druze and mul­ti­ple Arab eth­nic­i­ties. The sup­port to Syr­ian rebels fight­ing the As­sad regime is from the Sunni Arab na­tions, Saudi Ara­bia, Pak­istan and the US. Pak­istan Tal­iban has opened their of­fice in Syria and is as­sist­ing the rebels. The irony of the sit­u­a­tion is that the US which launched GWOT to fight Al-Qaeda is now us­ing Al-Qaeda to sup­port Syr­ian rebels in a bid to change the regime in Syria. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has openly ac­cused John Kerry for be­ing un­truth­ful that Al-Qaeda was not present in Syria. In fact the US writ­ers had re­ferred to the US plans of bomb­ing Syria as the US sub­sti­tut­ing for Al-Qaeda Air Force. Then are many re­ports in the US me­dia that the US has been us­ing Al-Qaeda to as­sist the rebels in Syria. Paul Joseph Wat­son in his ar­ti­cle “Whether Amer­ica Shares Its Val­ues with Ter­ror­ists” wrote more than a year back that just as Al-Qaeda ter­ror­ists were used to oust Gaddafi, hun­dreds of Libyan rebels with AlQaeda will­ing mem­bers were be­ing air­lifted into Syria to aid op­po­si­tion in car­ry­ing out at­tacks against gov­ern­ment forces. So can the West re­ally ab­solve it­self com­pletely of com­plic­ity in the over 1,00,000 civil ca­su­al­ties in Syria? The game is not only about the Shia-Sunni strife but mul­ti­ple fac­tions fight­ing and above all con­trol of oil, and the next likely tar­get of the US be­ing Iran.

Chem­i­cal Weapons

On the vi­tal ques­tion of who re­leased sarin gas on the hap­less Syr­ian pub­lic, John Kerry told the US Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee that es­tab­lish­ing this is out­side the UN man­date but the US had proof that the Syr­ian regime was re­spon­si­ble. How­ever, Pres­i­dent Putin has called the US charge against Pres­i­dent As­sad of Syria hav­ing used chem­i­cal weapons “ut­terly ab­surd”. More sig­nif­i­cant is a re­port by the Fed­eral Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion (FSB) that Bri­tain De­fence, one of the largest pri­vate mer­ce­nary forces in the world, was the tar­get of a “mas­sive hack” of its com­puter files by an “un­known state spon­sored en­tity” this past Jan­uary. The FSB dis­closed a num­ber of crit­i­cal e-mails be­tween its top two ex­ec­u­tives, founder Philip Doughty and his Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor David Gould­ing, dis­clos­ing that the Obama regime has ap­proved a “false flag” at­tack in Syria us­ing chem­i­cal weapons and that Bri­tain has been ap­proved to par­tic­i­pate in the West’s war on Iran. One e-mail from Gould­ing reads, “Phil, We’ve got a new of­fer. It’s about Syria again. Qataris pro­pose an at­trac­tive deal and swear that the idea is ap­proved by Wash­ing­ton. We’ll have to de­liver a chem­i­cal weapon (CW) to Homs (Syria), a Soviet ori­gin g-shell from Libya sim­i­lar to those that As­sad should have. They want us to de­ploy our Ukrainian per­son­nel that should speak Rus­sian and make a video record. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums pro­posed are enor­mous.” There is much in the news about Syr­ian rebel al-Nusra be­ing in pos­ses­sion of sarin gas and Rus­sia seek­ing ex­pla­na­tion from Tur­key but who sup­plied the sarin may be dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish with­out an in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sion with all the pre­vail­ing sub­terfuge. Be­sides, ap­pre­hen­sions are nat­u­ral af­ter the US pre­sented false ev­i­dence of nu­clear weapons as an ex­cuse to in­vade Iraq.

Obama has also men­tioned that since Syria has ad­mit­ted pos­ses­sion of chem­i­cal weapons, it should be pun­ished but then western schol­ars are writ­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of Is­rael too hav­ing chem­i­cal weapons. For that mat­ter China, though sig­na­tory to the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion is known to be in pos­ses­sion of chem­i­cal weapons since many years, as does Pak­istan. Fur­ther, the record of the US it­self is nowhere clean, con­sid­er­ing what they un­leashed in Viet­nam.

US In­ter­ests

While as­sert­ing the ne­ces­sity to strike Syria, Obama stated that if ac­tion against Syria was not taken, Iran will fol­low suit, im­ply­ing Iran would de­velop and use chem­i­cal weapons as well. The ul­ti­mate tar­get ob­vi­ously is Iran. In­ter­est­ingly, Gen­eral Wes­ley Clark, for­mer Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der, North At­lantic Treaty Or­gan­i­sa­tion (NATO) had stated in March 2007 that while bomb­ing of Afghanistan had com­menced, I asked a Gen­eral of Joint Staff, “Are we still go­ing to war with Iraq?” And he said, “Oh, it’s worse than that.” He picked up a piece of pa­per from his desk and said, “I just got this down from up­stairs” — mean­ing the Sec­re­tary of De­fense’s of­fice — “to­day”. And he said, “This is a memo that de­scribes how we’re go­ing to take out seven coun­tries in five years, start­ing with Iraq, and then Syria, Le­banon, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan, and fin­ish­ing off with Iran.” He added, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about ter­ror­ists, but we’ve got a good mil­i­tary and we can take down gov­ern­ments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a ham­mer, ev­ery prob­lem has to look like a nail.”

In the same con­text, Dr Sub­hash Kapila, in his ar­ti­cle “US Strate­gic Blun­ders in South West Asia, South Asia Anal­y­sis Group (March 18, 2013), wrote, “Strate­gi­cally, the US can­not ex­pect to sus­tain a long-term and ef­fec­tive pres­ence in South West Asia by a con­stant and vi­cious de­mon­i­sa­tion of Iran… Iran com­mands the Shia Cres­cent ex­tend­ing from Le­banon, through Syria and to the bor­ders of Afghanistan… the cur­rent de-sta­bil- isa­tion of Syria through a US-Saudi Ara­bia con­trived war is more tar­geted at Iran than Syria.” By tar­get­ing Syria and Iran, the US wants to not only limit Rus­sian and Chi­nese in­flu­ence in the re­gion, but also aims at the Chi­nese Navy em­bed­ding on Ira­nian ports.

Syria has dis­cov­ered sub­stan­tial gas re­serves in its Qara gas fields and Syria lies on the gas sup­ply route to Europe. In ad­di­tion, di­rect sup­ply of gas by Iran through Syria, cuts out Qatari dreams to sup­ply gas to Europe di­rectly. The USA, a strate­gic part­ner of Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia, and the largest ben­e­fi­ciary of their oil rev­enues, is will­ing to back its part­ners to knock out Syria and Iran from the en­ergy equa­tion. In do­ing so, the strate­gic ben­e­fit would be to block Rus­sian and Chi­nese de­signs in this re­gard. The Syria-Iran-Iraq Gas Pipe­line, dubbed as the ‘Is­lamic Pipe­line,’ is a $10-bil­lion project that would sup­ply gas from the largest oil field in the world (Pars in Per­sian Gulf) to Le­banon and on­wards to Europe by 2018. Qatar that is also a claimant to Pars plans to sup­ply gas to Europe through an al­ter­nate pipe­line via Tur­key travers­ing Iraq that would by­pass both Iran and Syria. In Tur­key, this would be linked with the USbacked Nabucco pipe­line, car­ry­ing gas sup­plies from the Cen­tral Asian Re­publics. Both projects are strate­gic in na­ture but in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with each other and hence the se­ri­ous clash of in­ter­ests. The US with im­por­tant Cen­tral Com­mand (CENTCOM) bases in Qatar, back the Qatar-Tur­key pipe­line which is sans Rus­sian in­flu­ence.

In­ter­est­ingly, ac­cord­ing to a re­port, Prince Ban­dar bin Sultan of Saudi Ara­bia dur­ing his re­cent visit to Rus­sia pledged to safe­guard Rus­sia’s naval base in Syria if the As­sad regime is top­pled, but he also hinted at Chechen ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Rus­sia’s Win­ter Olympics in Sochi if there is no ac­cord. Con­cur­rently, Lon­don’s The Tele­graph News Ser­vice re­ported that Saudi Ara­bia has se­cretly of­fered Rus­sia a sweep­ing deal to con­trol the global oil mar­ket and safe­guard Rus­sia’s gas con­tracts, if Krem­lin backs away from the As­sad regime in Syria, an of­fer Putin turned down. In strate­gic terms, the Qatar-Tur­key pipe­line is ex­ceed­ingly im­por­tant for Europe and the USA as Europe can be freed from any Rus­sian con­trol of their gas sup­plies. At the same time this re­stricts Chi­nese pen­e­tra­tion in Iran’s en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture.

Cur­rent Sit­u­a­tion

John Kerry had ar­gued the case be­fore the US Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee that not strik­ing Syria will un­der­mine the US cred­i­bil­ity, en­dan­ger Is­rael and that the US aim is not war but de­grad­ing the mil­i­tary po­ten­tial of Syria. Later, Obama has stated that not pun­ish­ing Syria for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons would en­cour­age Iran to fol­low suit. More re­cently, Putin wrote about Syria in the New York Times that there are “few cham­pi­ons of democ­racy” in the civil war in Syria, “but there are more than enough Qaida fight­ers and ex­trem­ists of all types bat­tling the gov­ern­ment.” Rus­sia has handed over plans of Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons to be placed un­der in­ter­na­tional con­trol in four stages com­menc­ing with Syria be­com­ing a mem­ber of the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons. Putin has also warned the US against uni­lat­eral ac­tion against Syria with­out UN ap­proval. UN ap­proval ap­pears doubt­ful be­cause both Rus­sia and China would veto such move; doubts about who re­leased the sarin gas in Syria, col­lat­eral dam­age in case of at­tack(s), and that, any strike would cer­tainly not end the strife in Syria and within the re­gion.

What ap­pears likely is that the US will play along the Rus­sian plan for se­cur­ing Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons briefly but will want this done post-haste in an im­pos­si­ble time frame that would be near im­pos­si­ble to ac­tu­ally carry out be­cause of mul­ti­ple tech­ni­cal chal­lenges amidst a rag­ing civil war, be­sides dis­posal be­ing ex­pen­sive and re­quir­ing ex­perts—all of which would need months if not years. This apart, if the strike is planned pri­mar­ily for strate­gic rea­sons as dis­cussed, then the US will find a way to strike Syria and tackle Iran next be­fore the lat­ter goes nu­clear. Gen­er­at­ing another Sarin gas leak/ at­tack that would jus­tify uni­lat­eral ac­tion too re­mains a pos­si­bil­ity. On bal­ance, while the im­me­di­ate case to act against Syria is loudly made out as retri­bu­tion for As­sad’s pur­ported use of chem­i­cal weapons against Syria’s hap­less civil­ians and the ‘Free Syr­ian Army’, the strate­gic rea­sons are en­ergy sup­plies, regime change and re­duc­ing Rus­sia-China in­flu­ence.

Con­clu­sion

Pres­i­dent Putin has said that the mat­ter of bring­ing Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons un­der in­ter­na­tional con­trol has long been a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion by ex­perts and politi­cians but that Syria’s chem­i­cal arms han­dover will only work if the US and its al­lies re­nounce the use of force against Damascus. The US Se­nate sched­uled to vote on whether to au­tho­rise lim­ited mil­i­tary ac­tions is cur­rently on hold but that may not be for long if another ‘trig­ger’ can be ma­nip­u­lated.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, Stratfor’s “An­a­lyt­i­cal Guid­ance: The Syria Cri­sis” states, “In the wake of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s change of tack from a strike on Syria, the threat of war has not dis­solved…. There is no chance of an at­tack on chem­i­cal weapons stock­piles. There­fore, the at­tack, if any, will be on com­mand and con­trol and po­lit­i­cal tar­gets…. Re­mem­ber that all pub­lic state­ments now are meant to ob­scure real plans and in­ten­tions. They are in­tended to shape the en­vi­ron­ment.” This is in line with the new US for­eign doc­trine of sub­tle ma­nip­u­la­tion from back­stage. Ob­vi­ously such ma­nip­u­la­tion does not pre­clude pre­ci­sion strikes. Ab­sence of ‘boots on ground’ is a mis­nomer as this is be­ing achieved by prox­ies, Al-Qaeda in­cluded, and Spe­cial Forces as a con­se­quence to lessons learnt from con­flicts over the years in­clud­ing Iraq and Afghanistan. Hope­fully, bet­ter sense will pre­vail but the US cruise mis­sile strikes may still take place though ma­jor­ity sup­port at home may be unattain­able and with even France hav­ing sec­ond thoughts of sup­port­ing in­ter­ven­tion. Such a strike will cer­tainly have ad­verse eco­nomic con­se­quences for In­dia be­sides af­fect­ing the In­dian di­as­pora in the re­gion.

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