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Updated: August 4, 2012 01:20 IST

The fog of war in Syria

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
Comment (24)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
The Hindu

Radical Islamists are waiting to rush into the vacuum that will be created by Assad’s fall

The end game in Syria has commenced. The king has lost several of his pieces and is cornered, with little prospects of escape and win. The best he can aspire to is an honourable draw and even that would appear to be too much to hope for. The alternatives for the king or the President are: offer a draw which means exile to another country or fight till the bitter end.

Complete surrender

The western powers and their allies in the region have made their intentions clear: they will not settle for anything less than complete surrender and perhaps a trial for crimes against humanity either in Damascus or in the International Criminal Court. It has been known all along — and this writer has mentioned it frequently — that the real target was Iran. This has been confirmed by the latest reports of the Americans consulting Israel about the post-Assad scenario. Israel would appear to be willing and prepared to live alongside a radical, Muslim Brotherhood-al Qaeda regime next door, so long as Iran loses its most influential ally in the region; it still will have Iraq as an ally.

The course of the conflict over the past 18 months has raised serious doubts about whether all those who instigated, financed and equipped the rebels were ever ready to countenance a compromise, whereby Mr. Assad would survive in office in return for implementing his promises of reforms. That would have kept the Damascus-Tehran relationship intact and, hence, was not acceptable.

Is it too late to try for a “political” solution? Is it worth considering a formula whereby all the parties — rebels, principal stakeholders which would include Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and others, P-5, Iran, the U.N. the Arab League, etc. — are brought together face-to-face with Mr. Assad or his deputy in an effort to hammer out a compromise? Keeping Iran out at Geneva was clearly evidence enough that a peaceful, political settlement was not a priority. Perhaps, the anti-regime players, by announcing at the very beginning of the revolt that Mr. Assad had to go, made the ostensible search for a political solution unconvincing.

Mr. Assad will certainly keep fighting till the bitter end; he might think he will succeed in defeating the combined might of the rebels, who by now are better organised and armed, and their backers who have announced publicly that they intend to increase their assistance to the rebels. It is open war. Mr. Assad surely knows the odds against him but he might prefer to go down fighting rather than face a Qadhafi-like end. He still has considerable stocks of conventional and chemical weapons as well as missiles. The Hezbollah in Lebanon has thousands of missiles aimed at Israel and Hassan Nasrallah has pledged support to Mr. Assad. Iran, which has more stake than any other country in the regime’s survival, will go to any length to support him, by itself and with Iraq where Malliki is openly supportive of the Assad government due to sectoral affinity. So, more, much more violence should be expected, with the war spilling over to the neighbourhood.

Who will benefit from all that violence? Surely not the people of Syria in whose name the fight is being fought! Radical Islamic elements will be the only beneficiaries. Is this what the international community wants? From all accounts, the sanctions imposed by America and Europe are badly hurting the Iranian regime and Iranian people. Iran will be further weakened but it might also unite the Iranian people behind the regime more. If the desire to avoid further bloodshed is genuine, it might still not be too late to consider something along the lines of the suggestion mentioned in the previous paragraph.

There are some principles involved in the Syrian civil war. The principle which Russia and China cite for their otherwise realpolitik motivated position is that any regime change must happen solely as a result of an agreement among the people of the country and outsiders should have no say in it. Russia insists that it is not holding any brief for Mr. Assad, but says equally firmly that the principle is important. The Libyan case is still fresh in the minds of everyone and is definitely a factor in the general reluctance to support the increasingly loud demand for the President to abdicate.

But the situation in Syria also touches on at least two other principles. One has to do with the sanctity of human life and the other concerns national interest. The almost daily massacres of scores of people do pose a challenge to individual and collective conscience: can one remain silent in the face of such events? Of course, since the world is fed exclusively by the western media, one gets the impression that the regime alone is responsible for all the mayhem, which is not the case at all. We are told frequently by the U.N. sources that “armed groups” are equally engaged in the killing sprees. Kofi Annan is careful in demanding that “both sides” stop the violence. Nevertheless, since the regime is far better equipped in terms of lethal weapons, even as the opposition is getting more and more deadly arms from various, known sources, the onus is particularly heavy on the regime. While condemning the bloody violence in the country, there is no need to strike a balance between the two sides. The regime will have to be singled out as more responsible, just as we are more critical of the Israeli government for the disproportionate use of force in retaliating against Palestinian attacks.

The principle of national interest has two aspects: the forces of history argument and hard national interest. It is best when the two converge as they do in the Syrian case. It is good to be on the right side of history, though it is not always evident what the right side might be in every situation. It is more important to be on the winning side and there is little doubt about who the winning side will be. So many countries have invested so much in this conflict that they simply cannot afford to fail or back out. It is only a matter of time before the new President of Egypt, Morsi, comes out on the side of the Syrian opposition. He recently went to Saudi Arabia where he was offered significant aid and whose king would have certainly asked him to join in the battle or war to protect fellow Sunnis in Syria.

It made good sense for India to have voted in favour of the resolution that was vetoed by Russia and China. Of course, we would have felt ‘good’ to have abstained, but more important than feeling good is to think of what is good for us. Our interests go beyond Syria since we have enormous stake in the stability of the whole region — energy, six million strong Indian workers, their remittances back home, to name a few. Syria’s neighbours, determined as they are to get rid of Mr. Assad, will certainly not forget who their friends were at the time of their need. Kuwaitis have still not forgotten India’s ambivalent position at the time of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to swallow their country in 1990, though it has not come in the way of healthy relations with India (which is partly at least a factor of our improved relations with Saudi Arabia).

Other countries are not so large hearted as India is; we did not harbour any grudge against all those countries that did not support us either at the time of Chinese aggression in 1962 or at the time of our crisis over Bangladesh in 1971.

Secular regime

Whatever else one might say about the Ba’ath regime, it was secular. It did not persecute anyone on the ground of being a Sunni or any other sect, except of course members of Muslim Brotherhood. The international community ought to be, but does not seem to be, concerned at the fate that would await the minorities in post-Assad Syria. Hardly a murmur is heard in the western media on this. The concern is genuine. The Muslim Brotherhood, the way it has been dealt with by the two Assad regimes, will surely wreak vengeance when the opportunity presents itself. This is already happening and will greatly escalate in future.

Sadly, one has not heard any reassuring voice from the opposition groups in this regard. Their sponsors should advise them to do so. It is not enough to include this sentiment in declarations drafted by “friends of Syria.” ‘After Assad, what?’ is a question that should engage the attention of all those who are single-mindedly bent on getting rid of him, not so much in terms of who will take over power as in terms of what awaits the minority communities in Syria. How will the U.N. guarantee protection to them? Surely, the international community must live up to its responsibility to ensure their safety. It would be appropriate for India to highlight this aspect.

(The author, a former Permanent Representative of India at the United Nations, is a commentator on international affairs.)

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Now i'm looking both for blogs and forums which provide impartial, balanced comments at pretty much all troubles or simply blogs and forums who have the generous or simply left-wing slant. Thanks a lot..

from:  Louetta Anzures
Posted on: Aug 4, 2012 at 10:10 IST

Though this is a nice article the importance of Israel playing a big game in this civil war has not been highlighted.With Egypt getting a adverse the changes in Syria will be a threat to them.But Hizbollah is a much bigger and serious threat who are financed and supported by Iran through Syria.If Syria weakens Hizbollah will be isolated and it will be easy to drive them out.For Syria to stabilize it will take several years and they can deal with that at that time.

from:  Nasar
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 21:28 IST

The Question arises as who will be benifited if Assad will quit, it is none other than America and Israel.Because it is theri sponsered gaem of war.Rest Arabs are ppupets int he hands of USA and westerners. The general public and Arabs are going to lose at all corners.It will serv again watermelon for Westerners to burry down Iran's strong ally. Still the eqaution looms large, lets see who is going to win.Thanks to new Strategy of war to conqyuer the World. Thanks to West and America for licence holding to kill the inocents in the nmae of freedoma nd regime change.

from:  Asad Ahmad
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 17:50 IST

At this point, the only possible alternative to surrender or death for Assad is to gather his most loyal forces, and retreat into the Alewite governorates on the cost. There they might create a redoubt from which to defend themselves and receive support by sea from their Russian and Iranian allies. This would leave the rest of the country in the hands of the rebels.

from:  Walt Peterson
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 16:13 IST

Unlike in Libya and Tunisia and Egypt Assad regime has a political base supported
by minorities and the armed forces. It is also supported from outside by China and
Russia who are not committing the same mistake in UN as in case of Libya by
voting for US backed resolution which led to intervention by western powers. It is
very optimistic to think that everything will be OK once Assad leaves. It will lead to
hard core Islamist taking over and will lead to sectarian conflicts. It will also result
in spread of sectarian conflicts into Lebanon and Iraq between Shia and Sunnis .
Nations do not have long memories of voting pattern in UN . Do not forget the
repression of majority Shias by Bahrein govt and repression of Shia in Eastern
provinces of Saudi Arabia.The issue in Syria is jokeying for strategic dominance in
between Iran and US backed Saudi India does not have strategic and economic
interest in Syria .It needs to take a neutral position and not support US and Saudi
positions.

from:  Rajeev Nidumolu
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 06:55 IST

Well-written article which voices all the concerns of those who have
been following the Syria issue impartially. One strange thing is, the
US is actually with the Al Qaeda rebels in this war! It is clear that
they will go to any end to gratify Israel.

from:  Gayathri
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 00:58 IST

I wouldn't describe what is happening in Syria as the endgame.

The endgame will not be a simple occupation of Syria by more mercenaries, this time wearing the ensign of the Green Berets.

It seems that Turkey would intervene if the military situation of armed groups in Aleppo deteriorate.

The intervention of Turkey will not take place in vacuum. Syria has a Treaty of Mutual Defence with Iran. Both countries have been busy recalling it. Upon the return of the Syrian Foreign Minister from a surprise visit to Teheran,the Deputy Commander of the Iranian Army announced Iran's intention to come to Syria's rescue if a foreign country attacked it!

If that happened, the entire Middle East is lit. The outcome is unlikely to please the US or Israel. Whether the Syrian government is removed or stays in power becomes an academic question both Syria, Iran, Russia, China and even India, do not see the point of discussing.

Nor do I!

from:  Khaled El Bizri
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 00:51 IST

ANNAN was used by the US and her allies only to gather arms and
ammunition and Jihadis around the several middle-east countries to
dislodge legitimate Syrian Government. Saudi, Jordan and Turkey wanted
a Sunni regime in Syria; and the big brother wanted to secure Israel
further isolating Iran; they cooked this new war. And made Annan a
scapegoat for their hatched dirty game plan. Russia and China were
aware of this plan and so they continued their own game till to date.
Now with full and open backing,America is on the fore front of this
war, it is a matter of time for the regime of Assad to be over and
soon the drums of Iran WAR will start. America and Israel have already
signed off the blue print and waiting for the right moment or cooked
excuse to start fire work. It is too bad I was fooled by Obama, who
promised me that he will end all the wars but he started many more
under his watch.

from:  john dahodi
Posted on: Aug 3, 2012 at 00:43 IST

US and other western countries are making the same mistakes they had
made 20 years back when they supported the growth of al-qaeda like
organisations to fight their war with USSR in afghanistan.That ghost of
christmas past is still haunting them.Now when majority of the gulf
countries are ruled by muslim brotherhood,they'll be waiting for the
opportunity to increase their dominance and the one country that will
face their ire would be their creator 'uncle sam'.

from:  aakash vikal
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 21:53 IST

This is a timely question. The US is increasingly becoming part of the problem, rather than being the solution. Despite all their faults, the Baath party was not involved in ethnic cleansing. For the first time, the video of executions in Allepo confirm that revenge killings will be rampant and the Sunnis will have little tolerance for non-Sunnis. The daily attacks on Shias in Pakistan and now the concerted efforts of saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the Sunni agenda in the entire Muslim World is turning this battle in Syria to a larger war between the Sunnis and non-Sunnis. The US has tipped its hand for its own compulsions, which originate in Israel.

from:  gita
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 20:28 IST

Good article, and the question has to be asked as to who will take over after Assad. In Both Egypt and Libya Islamic shariya law was imposed by the new leaders. This does not bode well for the future peace of the world. This could spawn more terrorists and wars for the future. I hope all democratic secular countries are making plans for the fallout of this so called 'arab Spring'.

from:  vipul dave
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 19:56 IST

Whatever the causes of the Arab Spring it cannot be denied that there is a fervent attempt by US imperialism and its stooges to ensure that the do not let things slip from their grip. The illegitimate zionist occupation is a key ally to be upheld in this evil plan.
The fact remains that the US and its puppets in the arab lands are being increasingly challenged by the new world order that is rapidly emerging. And Syria will be no easy walk like Libya. The US is in terminal decline and will not win here.
As for India, it needs to remind itself of the ideals of its founding fathers.

from:  Sohail Zahid
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 17:58 IST

Excellent and well written piece. The collateral damage is going to be
too high for the west in this. They should expect the next 9\11 from the
forces who take over Syria after Assad. Remember Soviet Afghan War.
History surely repeats itself.

from:  Nadeem
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 15:13 IST

Profit in war, during and after the war, both strategic and wealthwise is what the West is
seeking. Also, a diminished and damaged Middile East would give comfort to Israel as well
from any immediate threat to them. West seems to have a blind disregard in propping up
Sunni regimens and in the past they created the Taliban,one wonders what is in stock for
them this time around. None of the countries that are blown up so far had any thing to do
with 9/11. Of course, post distruction reparations would pay handsome dividends and prop
many of those sagging economies, while the democracy is the 'red herring' in the equation!
The madness continues, profitable though !!

from:  Saratchandran
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 14:50 IST

India did great by voting in favour of the Resolution. What will happen
after Assad , will there be a harmony between communities,who will take
over post Assad and who is it going to benefit?? All this is too early
to presume anything. Need of the hour is to take out the Savage Assad as
early as possible and protect the innocent civilians from this
Bloodbath.Had enough of this Assad heinously killing scores of innocent
people.It's high time he brought to Justice.

from:  Ankit Trivedi
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 12:50 IST

All the western country as well as US are keen on the resources lies
in the arabian countries. they are looking to fulfill there greed for
themselves. The author have correctly pointed out the weak points of
regime as well as the opposition. Syrian peoples had suffered a lot
due to such turbulent conditions. As asad regime already warned to use
the chemical weapons against the foreign countries. if they were on
loosing side, then there frustration can lead to disastrous war. which
is not at all in favor of Arab as well other countries. UN need to
carry out there work to avoid such situation. US and western countries
needs to play more responsible role rather than choosing there
personal greed. India here can take more proactive step by playing a
role of mediator.

from:  Sandeep Sharma
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 12:32 IST

The Syrian crisis,as the earlier ones from the so called Arab spring,will spawn response from different nations based on their immediate self interest as they perceive.The rhetoric of a secular regime being more desirable than the brotherhood is not understandable,and is neither taken note of by any player in the ring,whether be it Russia or china or the great champion of Democracy the USA.Even the people fighting the war in Syria and are indeed making great sacrifices,do not consider 'Secularism ' a real issue.
I therefore request the great Indian journalist fraternity to get real in their assessment of real situations and not hark on the dead issue of secularism ala NEHRU.Perhaps getting real will also help the Foreign policy makers in taking decisions in national self interest and promote our National image as a strong International player rather than a feeble country which often abstains on major issues and is seen as a big country with confused foreign policy.Thanks

from:  krishna kumar sinha
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 11:43 IST

Over all confused write up..On the name of radical Islam and democracy
many autocracy is happening on the surface of earth. Libya and Iraq are
worse sufferer.This is very serious game plan,writer mention Iran is
next.Iran could be next but not last than who is next my query to
writer.In context of Iran these are happening and who is behind these
all? it is very dangerous and time is waiting for a heinous history
writing.Equations are many but goal is one.West has given sectarian
color to cover up Iran.In this piece of writing i did't get sense of unbiased humility, writer wrote this piece of writing under history
legacy.

from:  REHAN
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 11:39 IST

India MUST highlight the issue of safety of the minorities in a post-Assad scenario as the author says. There will definitely some powerful nations in the West and elsewhere who would respond in a positive and responsible way regarding the safety of the minority communities. if the issue gets highlighted.

from:  Yashwanth P
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 10:39 IST

a very balanced article. opinions by westerners are mostly one sided and do not show the true picture of the happenings in Syria. The international community should do much more to highlight the plight of the common man in syria and not be mute spectators on the carnage being perpetrated on them by radical elements with the covert support of outsiders.

India should stop being a gate watchman on middle east issues and should play a more constructive and meaningful role if it wants to protect its interests in the middle east and showcase itself as a responsible member of the international community.

from:  harish kolla
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 09:45 IST

A important question is being asked here..What's there after Assad? What started as Arab spring has spread to many countries. However, to say that regime change has brought any goodies to common people of country, would be unfair. After each regime change, radical Islamists have taken over the power. American policy has helped polarize the radical ismalamists around the world. No one is thinking, and the author is right to point out, about the people on whose name this was is being fought.

from:  Manish Kumar
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 09:23 IST

Its happening and how , nothing new syria is going the libya way unless Mr.Assad bails himself out for an exile. But whats more intriguing is the way secular integrity is been mocked by the Western Allies. Yes a political vaccum awaits but the backdoor games of Isreal along with US seems to score an owngoal. The Rebels in syria like the ones in libya have no proper structure to lead a post assad syria, who inturn are made to look like heroes by the biased west controlled media. Human Lives are atmost important and i hope mr.Assad realises his upcoming defeat and spare himself and the lifes of thousands of innocents by stepping down , him to believe winning the war would be delusional in context of the never ending instigation and support provided to the rebels by the western allies. Meanwhile Isreal with support of USA in hope of reducing the influence of Iran is creating a Fundamentalist artitecture in syria . The Arab Spring has actually reaped friuts for the Muslim Brotherhood.

from:  Matheen
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 08:28 IST

But I disagree with the author's view that the endgame is fast
approaching in Syria. The situation may not be as bad as some news
channels are presenting it. Plus Russia has a lot at stake here -
Syria houses Russia's only foreign naval base, and Putin, freshly
scarred from an election that saw his support base reduced
unexpectedly, will do his best to present himself as firm in matters
of foreign policy and power projection in the face of the "West". Iran
needs every ally it can get; Lebanon has a large Christian population
as well as the "Hezbollah factor"; Iraq faces repeated violence
against its Shia majority and would not want a country with a Shia
leadership to fall to the bearded Sunni and Salafi mob. China is a
wild card, but it does suffer from an aggressive anti-Western syndrome
and so would take an opportunity to show the "West" that its say over
world affairs has been reduced greatly. In short, the endgame may be
farther than and also different from what the author thinks.

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 03:13 IST

An extremely refreshing analysis...however the author has left out the
complaint that Dr Assad is trying to warp the picture by over-
emphasizing his credentials as a protector of minorities at times at
the cost of the Sunni majority. I think that such a notion is
misplaced. The Middle East is not the same as Europe or the USA. One
cannot judge everyone by the same parameters. Religious fanaticism is
present at very high levels in the Middle East. Consequently the govt
there has to exert a greater level of control over society - those
govts that see fanaticism as a problem. There is a very fine line
between heavy-handed brutal policing and an efficient police force
that ruthlessly stamps out crime from society it polices. The more
rights a society enjoys, the harder it is to police it. Add to that
the religious fundamentalism prevalent among Sunnis in the Middle
East, and you know why they, roughly 75% of Syrians had restrictions
that the remaining 25% Syrians did not.

from:  Aritra Gupta
Posted on: Aug 2, 2012 at 03:00 IST
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