- FOCUS ON REGIONS
- ACTIVIST IMAGES
Written by Andrew Puhanic
Published on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
Iraq was like a microcosm of the Middle East, a mosaic in which virtually all the different colours were included. As for Syria, it is the active fault map of the Middle East, were all the internal and external tensions of the Middle East, and its lines of rupture, come together there.
Just as the beginning of the uprisings against the Ba’th regime and the opposition’s organizing, or its inability to organize, from the political and military standpoints, cannot be explained by domestic factors alone, the process from this point on cannot be analysed solely with the equation that exists between the opposition and the forces of [President Bashar] Al-Asad.
What will in large determine the outcome of the developments in Syria, which have cost the lives of thousands of people and which are gradually beginning to present the image of an even bloodier civil war, is not merely the balance of power between the Ba’th regime and the opposition. Just as the onset of the uprising was not independent of global influences and the regional turbulence known as the “Arab Spring,” similar power relationships seem likely to determine its outcome as well.
After so much bloodshed, it appears inconceivable for Syria, let alone the regime, to remain in its old shape. In this situation, the mutual interplay of the internal dynamics, as well as of regional factors and also global power plays, will determine the future of Syria. Even if no one is any longer speaking of Al-Asad’s being able to maintain his rule in its current form, calculations are being made in terms of what sort of administration, and who, will replace him, and what impacts this will have on the global strategic balances.
Even if the opposition has come to a point of no return, it has as yet been unable to develop a sufficiently unifying leadership in either the political sense or the military sense. Even if the failure of a common and inclusive representation to come about is an understandable situation, at least when the various foreign interventions are taken into account, a picture emerges that makes the future of the movement, and the future of Syria itself, unclear.
It is certain that the concern of the Islamist circles, which are quite fragile politically and only have a representative force, to keep themselves in the background, even if aimed at obtaining the support of Western countries, has made the coalition even more susceptible to outside influences.
Even if the opposition forces, which are fragmented in the military sense and consist of units that are isolated from one another, appear to have increased their fire power due to the increase in the numbers of those deserting the Syrian armed forces and to arms provided by foreign supporters, the latest incidents have shown that they are still not at a level to be able to withstand the power of the regime’s weapons.
The opposition, both due to being dependent on foreign support from the military standpoint and due to the concern not to frighten Westerners in the political sense, exhibits the image of having been taken hostage. The source of the weapons deliveries determines which forces will be influential in the outcome of the uprising. For this reason, the fact that the weapons deliveries are still at a level that lacks effective firepower is an indication both that those providing these supplies favour the war’s being sustained in the current form, and that they have not gotten sufficient guarantees in terms of the post-Al-Asad period.
It is evident that the situation in Syria is not the number-one priority of America as a global power. Both the different transformations in the region and the fact that the United States’ strategic concern has turned more towards containing the Far East, as well as the fact that, in terms of the domestic political balances, it has entered into a run-up to elections, have strengthened the likelihood of it not becoming involved in a crisis that is turning into a civil war. And most important of all, it has become exceedingly clear that America does not have the capacity to manage five or six simultaneous regional crises. Additionally, the moral issue that Europe and the United States have no rationale that would require them to become involved with Syria, if the issue of Israel’s security is kept separate.
It is just at this point that the Russia factor, perhaps for the first time since the Cold War period, has shown itself in the region in such a strong and evident way. Indeed, the situation of sides having been taken on a regional and global scale around the Syria crisis has turned into a rehearsal for a regional cold war. Russia has now conveyed the message that it as well is present in the region, and that this issue is not going to be able to be resolved without its views and opinions being taken into account; it has thus made its weight felt.
The Russia factor, the regional experience left over from the Soviets aside, by using the Europeans’ dependency on it, and also by exploiting the unhurried and indecisive appearance of the United States, has succeeded in turning the strategic relationship to its own advantage. This does not mean that it will stand with Al-Asad no matter what the cost; it has given the indication, however, that it insists on a solution that that will guarantee, to the maximum extent possible, its own strategic interests. Its decision not to sell arms to Syria was an approach that took care not to get the West and the Arab countries in the Middle East completely against it, but also dictated its own expectations.
There is no doubt that, among the regional forces, the most propitious environment for Israel lies in the current chaos. It means Syria going out of the picture militarily, and within the Lebanon equation, the weakening, to a significant degree, of the logistic support to Hizballah. The depth of Hizballah was a defensive line for Iran. The proposal for mediation of Iran, which hitherto had been against the opposition, should be read as an intra-regional initiative for the post-Al-Asad period.
A Syria-Lebanon equation in which Hizballah has been crushed means, for Iran, to struggle with America within its own borders.
It also means Iran, which is able to threaten Israel from Syria and from southern Lebanon, losing the advantage of keeping the military pressure on the regime, particularly with regard to its nuclear activities, away from its own territory. The security of Israel, even in the context of the connection at the most basic level, is important for America. For instance, [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton’s getting a promise from the brand-new Egyptian Head of State [Muhammad Mursi] “not to open the Camp David equation to debate” is an indication of what this priority means, particularly for the election period.
As for Turkey, it has, in this equation, despite its great ambitions, to date presented the picture of a country that is a party to the affair but whose expectations have not been born out. As the flames of the incidents rise higher, Turkey is going to feel this crisis much more deeply.