The Endgame in Syria

The Diplomatic Insight - - Romania - *S.A. Raza

The nightmare for As­sad regime in Syria is that it is about to wit­ness a re­peat of Libyan up­ris­ing that top­pled and fi­nally gave Kaddafi his qui­etus. Western pow­ers es­pe­cially United States are not will­ing to let this op­por­tu­nity die down. So they have made up their mind---- there is only way and that is to get rid of a power that has for so long played against the tide. The only ques­tion is how and­when to bring about this even­tu­al­ity. Why there is tem­pest in a teapot over Syria or does it re­ally mat­ter? In 1956 the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment signed pact with Soviet Union, giv­ing it foothold in the Mid­dle East in ex­change of mil­i­tary equip­ment. It was the year when Egypt had to fight with France, UK and Is­rael over the con­trol of Suez Canal. Bagh­dad Pact coun­tries Iraq and Turkey were un­easy with this de­vel­op­ment, as they had sided with Western pow­ers. The in­flu­ence of Soviet Union greatly in­creased dur­ing the rule of in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent's fa­ther Hafez-al-as­sad af­ter he took power in 1971. It was the same year when Syria and Soviet Union reached an agree­ment re­gard­ing the use of a naval fa­cil­ity in Tar­tus on the Mediter­ranean coast of Syria. Rus­sia con­tin­ued to hold this fa­cil­ity af­ter 1991, when Soviet Union dis­in­te­grated and Rus­sian power de­clined. The naval lo­gis­tics sup­port base in Syria is now part of Rus­sia's Black Sea Fleet. So im­por­tant is this base for the strate­gic in­ter­ests of Rus­sia that it for­gave US $ 9.6 bil­lion of debt that Syria owed to Rus­sia at that time. Rus­sian and Chi­nese have ve­toed Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions back­ing an Arab League plan for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Basher-alAs­sad to step down. The fall of As­sad regime will af­fect Rus­sian in­ter­ests ad­versely in the re­gion as they­would lose their only ally in this volatile but im­por­tant re­gion of the world. Fur­ther­more switch­ing side at this­mo­ment is not go­ing to change the fu­ture of re­la­tions be­tween Moscow and how­so­ever oc­cu­pies Tishreen Palace in Da­m­as­cus. So Rus­sians have some im­por­tant stakes in the con­ti­nu­ity of the present regime. They have to en­sure that fu­ture setup in Syria might not be an­ti­thet­i­cal to their in­ter­ests in the re­gion.

In­ter­est­ingly dur­ing man­date pe­riod (be­tween twoworld­wars) French man­date au­thor­i­ties en­cour­agedal­waites to take the reins of power. Al­waites are only 12% of Syr­ian pop­u­la­tion but make up the bulk of mem­bers of armed forces and gov­ern­ment func­tionar­ies. Al­waites are tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered to be a heretic sect within wider Shia com­mu­nity, which in it­self is a mi­nor­ity fac­tion of Mus­lim creed. Es­sen­tially Syr­ian Sunni pop­u­la­tion is be­ing ruled by more united, ed­u­cated and pow­er­ful Al­waites com­mu­nity. This is why their strength is di­rectly linked with that of regime they rep­re­sent. The con­flict in Syria is in­creas­ingly tun­ing into Civil war with sec­tar­ian tinge. This will also ex­plain why other Arab coun­tries es­pe­cially Saudi Ara­bia, Qatar and other Gulf Sheikhdoms want an end of a regime they no longer tol­er­ate. One of the rea­sons of con­tin­ued vi­o­lence in Syria by both gov­ern­ment troops and so-called rebels is strate­gic in­ter­est, re­gional and global pow­ers have in the fu­ture of power dy­nam­ics in­side Syria. It is im­pos­si­ble to think of rebel armed strug­gle of this scale against es­tab­lished armed forces of Syria, with­out ac­tive sup­port of those who have overt and covert in­ter­ests in pro­vid­ing strengths to rebels. It is also iron­i­cal that many are busy giv­ing jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties of the rebels in Syria whereas at other places like Afghanistan they are sim­ply la­beled as out­laws. Syria's fall would ac­com­plish a dou­ble blow to an­tiAmer­i­can forces in the re­gion. It would deny Iran in ex­tend­ing its in­flu­ence in Le­vant through As­sad regime. Iraq, af­ter the de­par­ture of Amer­i­can troops late last year, is con­sid­ered to be tilt­ing to­wards Iran. The arc of as­so­ci­a­tion (if not al­liance) of these three coun­tries, Iran, Iraq and Syria would be taken as dread­ful de­vel­op­ment. The past ex­pe­ri­ence of so-called Arab Spring is that Syr­ian regime has only one op­tion be­fore it--- to con­tinue fight­ing till the end. Had saner voices pre­vailed in­side the regime, there was pos­si­bil­ity of a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion to the con­flict. But af­ter rul­ing for more than four decades, it was a far cry. Regime forces squelched the pop­u­lace fur­ther and tight­ened its grip on ev­ery as­pect of the coun­try and so­ci­ety. Re­ac­tion from public pressed by decades of eco­nomic sup­pres­sion, po­lit­i­cal de­pri­va­tion and bru­tal op­pres­sion, was only a mat­ter of time. The signs are that this con­flict would be length­ier, costlier and blood­ier than ever be­fore. The dif­fer­ence of in­ter­ests be­tween As­sad regime and op­po­si­tion on the one hand and in­ter­na­tional back­ers of the regime and its foes on the other is toomuch to be bridged in the pre­vail­ing cir­cum­stances. *Thewri­ter­ism­philstu­dentin­de­part­mentofin­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions,na­tion­alde­fence­u­ni­ver­sity,islamabad.

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