The conflict in Syria, with its human costs and destruction, is still far from being over and, although contained to a civil war, many ask when this will turn in an international conflict. Sitting in a region where religious and ethnic lines cut across several states, this civil war could generate a dangerous conflict capable of involving anyone who has links or roots to the conflict inside Syria.
To this moment the conflict managed to contain itself within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic; however, are not the mindless and irresponsible actions of both parts in the conflict, but the international community that create alarms of a possible enlargement of this conflict.
Phase 1: The Libyan and Iraqi Recipes
The first point that strike into the minds of the western powers leaders is the desire to stop a civil war, causing thousands of victims, by international intervention. The failing points of this strategy are:
- By intervention the US, UK and France intend their war
- No UN legitimisation due to Russia/China veto
- Moved by post-Assad desires of influence in the area rather than Syrians wellbeing
- Blind appeasement of the opposition.
To this aim the so called democratic powers used at first the same strategy tested with success in Libya, by granting the opposition the etiquette of Samaritans against the wolves of the regime. This calculation was soon fallacious due to:
- The fragmented opposition forces
- Emerging proof that the most active rebels are in fact ex Assad forces deserters, al Qaida linked and other islamist groups. Although Assad at first denounced this, along with Russia, derision in what was branded as propaganda was the response in western medias.
- Egypt revolution ended with a Muslim Brotherhood government
- Tunisia is in the hand of Islamic parties
- In Libya militias still run free and even the US ambassador was killed in Benghazi in an embarrassing security failure
- Afghanistan stability is like the search for El Dorado
- Iraq has practically daily attacks and bombs.
This block, after launching some threats such as intervention without UN legitimization, then moved to the next strategy: the Iraqi recipe/WMD scare. A continue accusation and revelations that Assad forces used chemical weapons, the threats of war if this were employed, an attempt to show to the world that Syria was the new mortal danger, entered our TV screens taking the clocks back to 2003.
Nevertheless, even the chemical connection failed: the UN took distance this time from any attempt of manipulation and reasserted its independence; it appears clear that either part in conflict likely used chemical weapons.
This strategy of interventionism started to collapse as details of massacres, human rights violations, used of WMD, and terrorist groups destroyed the romantic image of the rebels.
The complete disinterest of the western powers in proposing a real solution, rather than bring war into a civil war contest, has also being demonstrated by:
- Undermining any UN attempt of mediation, like the Kofi Annan plan for cease fire
- Undermining any Russian diplomatic efforts by stubbornly refusing to pressure opposition forces. Although it must be said in their defence that they simply cannot do that as it has become clear that the islamist and pro al-Qaida groups are hijacking the revolution
- Are preoccupied more to destroy Assad rather than think of the consequences for the area
This series of incapacity to run the conflict to their side made space to the plan B: proxy war/third party attacks.
Phase 2: Third Party Interventionism
If the humanitarian hypocrisy moved the powers to a war in Libya, this time we are going back to the old sphere of influence and power strategy, with the use of “puppets” for a proxy war that resemble more of a cold war era.
How to bring down Assad by using the military power of a country that is not easily accused of imperialism? The first name to come to their mind was Turkey. It all started with using the pretext of Syrian shelling along the border as an excuse to legitimise Turkey in a disproportionate response and threats of military intervention that seemed coming nearer day by day. All was going well until two big mistakes were committed: not taking into account Turkey’s internal politics and a hazardous move by Ankara. Turkey was pressured by US to act strongly, and PM Erdogan came under fire by its own citizen for supporting someone else desire for war and revenge. Turkey is also fighting internal insurgency by Kurds, so how to legitimise intervention for democracy when even internally they are not able to solve their own issues? To this we must add: risk of Kurds taking advantage in case of conflict to raise their actions against Ankara’s government; Turkey possible EU membership would be undermined as how appealing is to share a border with Syria and Lebanon, with a country in turmoil for Kurdish independence and whilst Cyprus status is still unresolved?
The second mistake, and a huge one, was when Turkey’s fighter jets blocked a Russian plane accused of transporting weapons for the Syrian army. This led to a diplomatic row with Moscow and angered President Putin to the point that Russia made it clear to be ready to defend its planes. How serious Russia was, no one can say, but we must remember that only one head of state was so silly to test Putin nerves: Georgian President Saakashvili in 2008, and we all know how it ended.
After going “cold Turkey”, the western powers relied on an even more dangerous card: Israel. Israel bomber twice Syrian targets in the past weeks, accusing Damascus to transport missiles towards Hezbollah bases in Lebanon. Whether true or not, Israel crossed a line that could have serious consequences if repeated:
- Transform the Syrian civil war in a Israeli-western backed aggression against an Arab country
- Split the pro rebel faction as the Arab League will have to find a very good reason to legitimise its position in staying in the same side with the Israelis
- Could bring into war other countries such Egypt and Iran
- All the Al Qaida linked terrorist groups, islamist factions, Hezbollah and Hamas will have a reason to enter the conflict.
Although Israel could have legitimate reasons on a war in Syria, like the one that is strengthening pro-Iranian Hezbollah and other hostile groups, taking out Assad by direct intervention could turn the civil war into an Arab war. Western powers, ignorant of history and basic diplomatic calculations, are failing to see the danger; during the Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein tried desperately to bring Israel into war by launching missile scuds against Tel Aviv. The then US president George Bush Senior, had to pull every string available to calm the hawks in the Israeli army; he knew that a strike by Israel would have took away any legitimation for intervention at the eyes of the precious Arab allies and created a mass of mujahidin ready to fight against the Americans.
This time, unfortunately for us, the arrogance of these current leaders is far more dangerous than the actual act from Israel and the risk of miscalculations is increasing day by day. This strong desire of the western powers, and especially US and Israel, to solve quickly the question is not dictated by benevolence towards Syrians but rather by national interests in the post Assad era. Their aim is especially to weaken Iran and its proxies. To many analysts Syria is the first step in a wider scenario intended to weaken Iran in preparation for a possible military confrontation. This is also seen as a test of Teheran’s political, diplomatic and military strengths. The problem with this calculation is that, bringing Israel into the arena will also generate tensions with Russia and China and how Egypt will move?
Conclusion: Echoes of Cold War and Sphere of Influence
The Syrian conflict is therefore starting to resemble more to a cold war scenario where powers are fighting to decide who will get hold of the area, but without taking into account that a false move will bring into war Lebanon, Turkey and the Kurds, Hezbollah, Palestinian armed groups, Hamas, Iran and so on.
Russia and China, who vetoed any resolution and back a different solution rather than intervention, are also moved by political gains and strategic calculation. China is more preoccupied about economic investments, and to keep hold of insurgency in Xinjiang rather than generating a dangerous example for intervention in internal affairs. Also, this will fulfil the task in “keeping busy” the American forces elsewhere, distracting them from the China Sea.
Russia on its side, counter any American move for the simply reasons of influence and strategic necessity, as losing ties in Syria and eventually Iran will be a major blow for Moscow. This will leave unsecured two crucial areas, potentially dangerous also for the proliferation of terrorist and islamic insurgences that could spill in the rebellious Caucasus region.
Based on the above is clear that until we will have nationalistic and strategic reasons leading the proposals by these powers, the result will be only war and more destruction rather than stability. Until now the Syrian conflict maintained its internal character, but for how long it will depend on the acts of these leaders, on whose shoulders will fall all the responsibility for their actions and consequences, or to paraphrase a celeb quotation from Fidel Castro, “History will judge… them”.