Arab Spring blew away the long overdue dictatorial regimes of Ben Ali, Husni Mubarak, Ali Abdallah Saleh and Muamar Ghadafi leaving behind ashes of their brutal legacies. After tasting victory the winds of change sadly failed to remove a trained doctor and the current president of secular socialist (Baathist) Syria Bashar Al Assad. A man whose regime is credited with killing over 31,000 till date since the uprising began in 2011.
Syria is more complicated than Tunisia, Libya, Egypt or Yemen in all aspects. It is the central point of that complex political web from where the regional balance of power is anchored in the middle-east. This fact was best known to former empires, Umayads, Abbasids, Ottomans, French and the Soviet Union, all of whom controlled their middle-eastern holdings from Damascus.
Turkish retaliation recently in the southern border area is a grave danger to the entire region which stands to drag international powers in a direct confrontation risking further divisions in the volatile geography. Turkey also understands any unilateral full scale war would mean playing right into the hands of separatist Kurdish groups’ desire for carving out an independent territory called Kurdistan out of southern Turkey. Opening two war fronts is surely not in Turkey’s best interest. Better not to make the same mistake made by Saddam Hussein who supposedly attacked Iran on others’ behalf only to bleed in a devastating 8 year war.
Iran has been a supporter of the Baathist regime since the Islamic revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979. These two countries, Iran and Syria, are the alleged financiers and friends of Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, all of whom call for an armed struggle against Israel. Through its ally in Damascus and the loyalty of paramilitary groups based there Teheran keeps its levers on the wheels of power and influence in middle-eastern politics.
Arab kingdoms are eager to see the back of Assad and with that an end to the Iran-Syria backed threat of domestic revolt against their monarchies. Assad’s departure they hope will change the direction in the sphere of influence away from a pro Russian-Iran camp to a pro US-Gulf camp which should be friendly to Arab monarchs. The reward for making this strategic shift could be billions of dollars in aid packages for reconstruction and development work.
Russia and China have taken a strong position against any NATO intervention. For international powers Syria is the central point for projecting their superpower ambitions. Syrian port city Tartous hosts the Russian naval fleet in the middle-east from the Soviet era and Putin will put every pressure to protect his only regional base in the Mediterranean. China is also not ready to lose its strategic future in the region through another regime change. With two permanent UNSC members against military action NATO will most likely back off from immediate armed confrontation.
The country which should benefit the most from regime change in Syria is its arch enemy Israel. Syria with a sizable army of its own has a long list of die hard paramilitary groups experienced in combating Israeli defense forces. A pro US-Gulf regime in Damascus should make the situation more favorable to Israel’s long term objectives in the Arab world.
Syria today looks like former Baathist Iraq wherein a sunni minority controlled a shiite majority population until their leader Saddam Hussein was caught and hanged after Gulf War II. End of Saddam also spelled the end of the Baath rule in Baghdad. The Baathists of Damascus know that their survival too depends directly on Bashar al Asad’s survival and Bashar’s regime in turn depends on the minority Alawites’ majority control of the armed forces. The shite Alawites and secular Baathist control of Damascus are inter-connected which means the conflict against the secular Baathist regime ironically and sadly holds a certain religious element to it.
In this situation should the international community support war in Syria or should they accept the oppressive regime of Bashar Al Assad?