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Sunday, June 16, 2013

Syria - Appraisal of a Failed State

Not necessarily in love, but certainly in the pursuit of peace, we start from the assumption that the human desire for an easy life will eventually overcome all barriers. The problem arises that many of our politicians are reluctant to view our enemies as being sufficiently trustworthy as to be creditable negotiators. Yair Lapid (currently Israel’s Minister of Finance) summed this up when he stated in a Jewish Chronicle interview (13th January 2012) that “people have different needs and wants, and for the Palestinians their desire to have their own version of nationalism is stronger than peace and love.”  Sadly, as a general principle, this applies to the Arab world.  If we are not witnessing the final disintegration of Syria it won’t be because this regime is guided by national unity.

 Logic does not always drive a regime’s activities. The need to survive steers government behaviour and it is history that informs the process.  Arab history is violent and built on a self-image of supremacy and right-to-rule.  The disconnect between perception and truth is at present, too wide to bridge, but also, discussion is rigidly defined through what is culturally acceptable.

Hassan A Barari wrote in his introduction to ‘Israelism - Arab Scholarship on Israel, a critical assessment’ that “Writing on Israel has not been objective and has been linked to the conflict prism, which has defined much of the epistemology (methodology -me) and ontology (fundamental truths -me) of Israel studies in the Arab World…”  it was a solid way to confuse his meaning and more simply it means that the conflict between Israel and its neighbours is reinforced by Islamic imperialist and racialist attitudes.  This intellectual malignancy is not restricted to attitudes towards Israel.

Syria is ruled by The Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party of Syria and has been ruled continuously by the Party, since the 1963 coup d’├ętat which brought the Ba’athists to power.  The ideology is authoritarian and expansionist.  It views its borders as being that of the resurrected ancient Syrian empire which would include parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and all of Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. The next largest party is the SSNP (Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party) which according to Wikipedia seeks the establishment of a Syria “spanning the Fertile Crescent, including present day Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus, Kuwait, Sinai, south-eastern Turkey and south-western Iran...”   It is instructive that non-Arab nations are included in this melange against their will, and Israel is Palestine!

This colonialist ambition is both Arab and Islamic. It is truly astonishing that it is wholly absent from any contemporary debate about regional instability afflicting this region of the world.

Like all the Arab regimes created through Franco-British collusion (after the collapse of the Ottoman [Turkish] empire in 1917) Syria is an authoritarian kleptocracy dependent on the goodwill of its partners for its survival. It is an unstable amalgam of mutually intolerant ethnic and religious groups: The Alawite minority put into power by France in 1946 was groomed to be dependent on the assistance of others by the precarious nature of its rule. The Alawites represent 12% of the total Syrian population.  They were positioned as the nation’s military elite; hence a client-master military relationship was cemented between France and Syria, and later, Russia and Syria.

The Alawite minority were dependent for their control of the nation on the good offices of other interested parties. Christians (10%) and Kurds (9%) profited from their relationship with the regime. Sunnis who make up the majority of the population (about 74%) were kept in an uneasy and inferior position within society by the active collaboration of the most powerful Sunni families.   It is this mix that determined the successful co-existence of the main groups based on the consensual terror of its Alawite rulers.

The Sunni elite were allowed their own share of the spoils of Alawite dictatorial rule.  The leading Sunni clan that supported Assad Senior in his rise to power was headed by Mustafa Abdul Qadir Tlass (former minster for Defence). Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Prime Minister Al-Halqi are both Sunni’s.

But in July 2012 the Tlass family defected to Turkey. They had formed the main pillar of Sunni support for the Alawite regime.  It is doubtful Junior Assad could have successfully taken control of Syria without the patriarch, Mustafa Tlass, standing at his side (according to Stratfor analysis).  In the same month, according to the newspaper Yediot Achranot “Syria: 8 signs that Assad is through,” 20 brigadier generals and colonels had defected to Turkey as had some 20,000 troops.  Almost a year later it was reported by Turkey's state-run news agency that 73 Syrian military officers, including seven generals and 20 colonels, had crossed the border into Turkey "seeking refuge" with their families. They were taken to a refugee camp that houses military officers who have defected from the Syrian army (Ynet news 15th June 2013).

President Assad lost his brother-in-law to a killer who managed to infiltrate his closest protective detail.  Assef Shawkat was the officer tasked with suppressing the civil war. He was assassinated along with two other top Syrian government officials on July 18th 2012.

The internecine conflict within Syria that began in February 2011 has been complicated by Iraqi refugees (almost one and a half million people adding a strain on the already weak Syrian economy) and the intervention of Iran on the side of the Alawite regime.

Why Iran? Iran is a Shiite nation and Shias are despised by the majority Sunnis.  Iran ‘accepts’ the Alawite with their lapsed Shiite status, for now they forgive them, for the sake of Iranian geopolitical influence they tolerate their ‘betrayal’ of Shiism.  And if we then inject Iranian and through Iran, Lebanese involvement into the conflict we create a momentum of escalating terror based on al-Qaeda’s (Sunni) involvement. In February 2012 Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in reference to the ongoing Syrian Civil War stated: “They have not murdered six million people in Syria, not half a million and not one thousand. Only a few people have lost their lives.” Leaving aside the moral turpitude of the statement it is clear that Lebanon’s undisputed Shiite ruler places no value on human life.

Nor are the Sunnis so forgiving. In a recent statement Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi, stationed in Qatar, (majority Sunni) declared that the Alawite were worse than the infidel Jews. He declared that an appropriate response would be to rid the world of all Alawite heretics. Iran, which in the past has not been shy about interfering in Qatar (24% of its citizens are Shia), may not be so well disposed towards Qatar in the future.

In opposition to Shiism, The al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra is an offshoot of al-Qaeda.  Their hatred for Alawites was undiminished even before the ‘moderate’, highly influential Sunni Qaradawi spoke.  So Muslim fighters, fresh from other Islamic conflicts are pouring into Syria in order to facilitate the end of the heretic regime.  When we inject Lebanon’s Hezbollah into Syria’s conflict in order to boost the Alawite regimes chances for survival, the potential for a blood-drenched future is increasing without pause.

And America’s contribution to the bloodbath is at best foolhardy and at worse, madness. Shoshana Bryen of the Centre for Security Policy could not have enunciated more clearly, the foolishness of this move.  The Muslim world does not need to be taught how to kill – they know it very well – perhaps better than we do. Therefore, to train them to kill using better weapons is simply short-sighted.  You don’t train people to kill their brothers and cousins.  They will neither thank us for it, nor ominously, will they forget our benighted generosity.

I will continue with Part 2 next week.

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