With all the antics of various political actors from the UN Security Council to Iran and the Arab League, it is a wonder that not many people have managed to discern precisely why Syria is such an important country, and why the domestic power balance is taken into careful consideration post-Assad, as is the only and clearly inevitable outcome. Let us first draw our attention to Iran. There is a reason why Iran is keen on a revolution succeeding in Bahrain, and not so keen on the same liberties that it is preaching but not practicing being applied on the Syrian people.
Syria is dominated by a Allawite Shia elite who, although different from Twelver Shi’ism, are closer to Iran in sectarian background than any Sunni on the face of the Earth. In return for Iranian financial, military and domestic “security” support (read: enhancing a domestic spy network), Syria grants Iran access to its land which acts as a geostrategic lynchpin between Iraq (an Iranian proxy) and Lebanon (in fear of becoming an Iranian proxy). It also allows them access to the Mediterranean Sea, which leaves them with a significant geostrategic position north of the Arab Sunni Muslim heartland for their other schemes such as Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia.
In the case of Iraq, now dominated by hardliners such as Maliki and other Iranian lackeys such as Sadr and his Mahdi Army, the Twelver Shia establishment greatly fears any uprising in Syria that will install the Sunni majority population into positions of power. Syria borders Iraq, and more specifically it borders the Sunni dominant province of Anbar which is home to some of the more better equipped and armed Sunni Awakening tribes. There has already been talk of Iraqi tribesmen crossing over into Syria to help kill Assad’s forces, and while this is unlikely to happen in the near future, we could definitely see a post-Assad Syria act as a strategic backdoor for an Iraqi Sunni military force in case of civil war. As Maliki seems to be hell bent on the path to civil war by targeting Sunni politicians, this is something that must be kept in mind.
The Arab Gulf states, primarily Saudi Arabia, have an interest in the current Syrian regime falling as it will mean Iran is weakened. However, the actions of the Arab League have been very stupid of late. People may wonder why the Arab League seems to be continuously giving Bashar al-Assad lifelines when it is in their interest to remove him and therefore weaken Iran. The answer is that if Assad is removed too quickly and if the Arab League is involved, it will open up any member of the Arab League to the same treatment. For example, if a revolt kicked off in Saudi Arabia and the government cracked down in a similar way to Assad, then it could find itself in a position where fellow Arab States would be advocating intervention. In other words, Arab League inaction is due to the fear of the same happening to them and it is preferable for them to clutch onto shaky thrones rather than weaken the Iranian threat.
Turkey, who once had rather warm relations with the Assad regime, has embraced the inevitable push of the Arab and Islamic liberation movement. Led by an Islamist party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, it is impossible for them to be seen supporting a violently repressive government. Instead, Turkey is acting as the Free Syrian Army’s strategic backdoor, and although there is no proof of this, it is not out of the scope of the imagination for Turkey to support them logistically as they operate against the Assad government. This Turkish support will likely increase as the armed resistance arm of the Syrian revolution grows and asserts itself more. Once Assad is gone, Erdogan’s frequent speeches against Assad will be remembered, as well as Turkish support for Syrian refugees and their overall support for the rights and freedoms of the Syrian people. This will further increase Turkish influence within the region, and might even see an increased Turkish interest in Iraqi affairs, especially considering the recent rhetorical escalation between the Iraqi and Turkish governments.
After all of that, and this article has not even addressed the UN Security Council members and their strategic interests in the region or even the internal dynamics of Syrian society and the various powers that could arise from the newly liberated social spectrum. That will be for another day. For now, it must be clear to all that the “Syria Effect” will cause ripples across the entire region. It could alter the power balance in an Iraqi civil war that is already brewing. It could begin to push back the growing neo-Safavid threat emanating from Iran across the Arab and Islamic world. It could even lead to further revolutions in other countries who will be further inspired by it as an example.
Syria’s importance is not in any natural resources, but the effect it may have on the fabric of the region itself. Syria will act as a heart beating in the centre of all the madness that is going on in the Middle East. With Assad’s inexorable defeat on the horizon, Syria will help to foster long term stability throughout the Middle East. For now, let us be realistic; although it lacks real momentum, armed resistance against Bashar al-Assad has already begun. If Assad does not stand down soon, then we can certainly expect violent resistance to increase dramatically. The longer he stays, the fiercer the hatred of his regime, and by extension the more momentum towards armed resistance there will be. One way or another, Bashar’s days on his father’s throne are numbered.
Author: Tallha Abdulrazaq.