Syria Boils Even as West and NATO are Confused
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Syria on the boil
Arab League imposes sanctions on Syria
Syria is boiling. Syrian President Bashar Al Assad is cracking down the rebels in order to cling to his post. In other words, Assad is following the footsteps of the erstwhile dictator of Libya, Colonel Qaddafi. In all likelihood, Assad will meet the same fate as that of Qaddafi. Arab League has okayed sanctions against Syria. This was an unprecedented move by the Arab League against a fellow Arab nation. Damascus has denounced the sanctions as a betrayal of a fellow Arab State and Arab solidarity. Syria considered itself as a powerhouse of Arab nationalism. 19 of the 22 members of the Arab League approved the sanctions in the vote. Lebanon and Iraq abstained during voting.
People come to the streets and fight only if they are repressed
The sanctions include halting of all projects in Syria, halting of all Arab League funds to Syria and cutting off all transactions with Syrian Central Bank. Syrian government crackdown has killed more than 3500 people since March this year. But the Arab League Secretary General also stated that the League will reconsider the sanctions if Syria agrees to abide by an Arab-brokered peace plan that includes pulling military tanks from the streets of Damascus and sending observers to Syria. Ever since the Arab Spring revolts began in Damascus, Syrian President Assad has been terming it as a foreign-inspired conspiracy to overthrow the people’s government. This has been the stand of all Arab dictators from Hosni Mubarak to Colonel Qaddafi. People do not come to the streets and oppose a dictator simply because a foreign country wants them to do it. People come and fight only if the repression crosses all limits and there is no other way for them to remove the government.
Russia moves its warships into Syrian waters
The violence that is growing day by day may also end up in a civil war. The only country that is overtly supporting the Syrian President is Russia. Russia has already warned against any outside interference in the affairs of Syria. Russia and China gave this warning when the Libyan riots were at its peak. But when NATO forces intervened in Libya in favour of the rebels, Russia and China proved to be paper tigers and watched the bombing of Tripoli in TV screens at home. Russian warships are already stationed in Syrian waters to defend President Assad against the people’s anger. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the Arab countries and the West of indulging in political provocation in Syria. The Russian warships are heading towards Tartus, Syrian port. Russia already has a naval base there.
Russia is prepared for a fight to the finish
Because of the Russian presence in Syrian waters, smuggling of any weapons to the rebels proves to be a difficult task. Rebels usually receive smuggled arms from Lebanon and Turkey. Apart from this, any Western plan to do a repeat of Libya in Syria will become complicated now. In Libya, the NATO forces did not meet with any opposition in dislodging Qaddafi. But in Syria, the NATO and the US forces will have to fight against the Russian soldiers, navy and airforce. Russia considers it a prestige issue to defend Syrian President Assad. Having lost its prestige in Libya and being termed as a paper tiger, Russia is determined this time to fight to the finish. Therefore the West will have to reckon to the possibility of the Territorial battle spilling out to a bigger war, It may even turn out into a World War. History shows that usually small conflicts escalate into large wars. The assassination of Prince Ferdinand Philip prompted Austria to declare war on Serbia, which later turned into a World War conflict.
Will the Russian military be able to manage?
It is a moot point whether Russian military is capable of handling the combined defence of the Arab nations and the West. But at the same time, the West and the other Arab nations will not obtain victory presented on a silver platter. The battle will drag on for months and maybe even years together. Russia will see it entrenched on Syrian soil much in the same way as it got entrenched in Afghanistan three decades back. Apart from the war the Russian soldiers have to fight against other Arab countries and the West, they also will have to face attacks from the Syrian people, who will be targeting the Russian soldiers. Russia may find Syria a hot potato to handle and eventually decide to leave the country, leaving Syria in the lurch to fend for itself. This was what the USA did in Vietnam several decades back as Hanoi piled up pressure on Saigon. Some high level officers have defected from the Syrian army, organised themselves into a coherent group and are staging attacks on government installations. This has complicated the situation further.
Russians have not read the writing on the wall
Apart from this problem of facing the onslaught from Arab nations, the West and the Syrian people, Russia also faces the possibility of being blacklisted by the Syrian government in the post-Assad period. It seems that Russia has not read the writing on the wall, which is very clear. The Arab Spring had dislodged the dictators in all the places where it had arisen. By the same logic and going by the past trend, it is a matter of time before Bashar Al Assad is dislodged from his post or killed. The new Syrian government will be very angry and upset with the Russians. Therefore it will be a better thing for Russia not to poke its nose into the matter and let events take its own course. By this, at least the Russian prestige will be salvaged.
West committed a mistake in removing Saddam Hussein
Unlike Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, Syria is in the centre stage of the Arab world. Whatever happens in Syria will have an impact in the Arab world. It is for this reason that the Western nations are hesitating to involve themselves in the theatre of conflict with their might. They have not come to a conclusion whether dislodging the Assad regime in Syria will help their cause. Israel is also not sure about this. Turkey is fully involved in arming the rebels to destabilise Assad. In Iraq, the people belong to Shia sect but Saddam Hussein was a Sunni and repressed the Shias. He hated Iran also. But the West removed his government with force, paving the way for Iranian interference in Iraq. This has proved costly for the West.
Israel may like Assad to fall
But in Syria it is the opposite. The majority people belong to the Sunni sect, but Assad is a Shia. It is the case of Shias repressing the Sunnis. Iran is a natural ally of the Syrian government because Iran is a Shia nation. Saudi Arabia likes the fall of Assad as that will pave way for the Sunnis to take over the government in Damascus. Dislodge of Assad will also reduce Iranian influence in the region. Iran, through Syria, has ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon. This tie will also receive a setback if Assad is removed. Therefore Iran will like to see the continuance of the Assad regime in Syria. Iran has become the biggest enemy of the West and Israel because of its nuclear programmes which threaten Israel. Therefore Israel will also eventually come to a conclusion that it is in its own interests to remove Assad from the Syrian throne.
Christians are happy under Assad
There is another factor that should weigh the minds of the Western powers. There is a sizeable Christian population in Syria (In India also there is a Catholic Syrian tribe among the Christians. In fact there is even a bank called Catholic Syrian Bank). The present regime headed by Assad is relatively secular and the Christians are living happily in Syria. They do not want a change in the regime which will result in Islamisation of Syrian society. If a pro-Islamic regime takes over Damascus, then it will start harassing the Christian community first. The West will not like that to happen. In fact the Chaldean Christians in Iraq very much supported Saddam Hussein who was secular, but are now suffering under the Islamic regime. The West committed a blunder in removing Saddam Hussein and throwing the floodgates open in Iraq. It will not like to repeat such a costly mistake in Syria.
A single nuclear bomb can destroy Saudi Arabia including Mecca
There are also suspicions that the Syrian regime may possess nuclear weapons given by Pakistan and China. Already the United Nations’ investigators have identified a hitherto unknown complex in Syria that foments suspicion that the Syrian government had worked with A Q Khan, Pakistan’s atom bomb creator. Earlier, Colonel Qaddafi was also trying to build nuclear weapons under the guidance of A Q Khan. The buildings in North Western part of Syria nearly match the design of a uranium enrichment plant in Libya. If indeed Syria has nuclear weapons, it will not hesitate to drop it on Saudi Arabia. A single strong atomic bomb can destroy Saudi Arabia beyond recognition including the holy places Mecca and Medina. This may cause a rebellion among the Muslims all over the world. When the pastor in USA burnt the Holy Koran in a Church, it caused resentment in Kandahar in Afghanistan and over hundred people were killed. But damage to Mecca will invite much more riots and death. Saudi Arabia will have to tread on caution in this delicate matter.
West can put Syria to serious difficulty by cutting off its oil trade
A civil war among the major tribes in Syria namely Alawite (Shia), Druse, Sunni and Christian will spell doom to the region. The civil war in Lebanon lasted for 14 years. It could last much more in Syria. Iran is opposed to any US interference in Syria. In fact Iran succeeded in driving out the US Ambassador out of Syria, the same way as it did against the US Ambassador in its own place in 1979. Now USA, European countries, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are discussing the matter deeply and planning a strategy to oust Assad from power in Damascus. It was reported that US President Barack Obama met the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on the periphery of the United Nations General Assembly Meeting in New York recently. 90% of Syrian oil exports go to European countries. If this sale is shut off, it could cripple Syrian economy. But at the same time, the European nations in need of oil will have to obtain it from other sources, preferably from Saudi Arabia.
Syrian government planning to use chemical weapons against the rebels?
One interesting thing that has happened in the Syrian theatre of conflict is that its close ally Iran has advised it to ease on the crackdown on the rebels. This advice was given by the Iranian Premier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This reveals the concern in Teheran about the stability of its ally Assad. Syria, earlier, was trying to buy dual-use products from Indian companies that could be used as chemical weapon against the rebels. The Bush administration alerted the Indian government on this and the deal did not take place. Already a UN Commission on Inquiry has passed an adverse judgement against the Syrian government for committing crimes against humanity. If chemical weapons are to be used against the rebels, it could kill innocent civilians also.
For India, China is the biggest enemy
India was expected to go along with US for imposing sanctions against Syria in the UN Assembly meeting. But India took a stand, supporting the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa) and opposed US’ move. This is a wrong strategy by India. China is India’s enemy. China had attacked India in 1962 and captured 32000 square km of Indian Territory. It is claiming further parts of India like Arunachal Pradesh. Chinese army is encroaching on Indian Territory in the McMahon line and creating problems for India. China is opposing India’s each and every move like its involvement in the South China Sea to extract oil with collaboration of Vietnam government. Therefore India should have opposed China’s stand and supported US’ stand. If China attacks India again, it is the US that can save India. India should build up a strong rapport with US. In the name of independent foreign policy, it should not damage its cause by angering the US. India went along the US in its oil deal with Iran. There is no reason why India should act differently this time.
Perhaps India is confident of its nuclear power to thwart off China
India and China have huge energy investments in Syria. India is reluctant to oblige US because of its commercial interests. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has already called on India to snap its oil ties with Syria. When Obama asked India to snap its ties with Myanmar, India resisted and did not yield. This time also India is trying to stick to its own path. Probably India has the confidence of using its nuclear weapons against China if the latter embarks on any misadventure against it this time.
After all 2011 is not the same as 1962. But India has advised Syria to rein in its troops and avoid civilian causalities. In one day, the Syrian army killed 100 people in Hama alone. Refugees kept on pouring in the Turkish border town of Reyhanli in the Hatay Province. Refugees are also pouring in another border town of Yayladagi. It is because of this refugee problem that Turkey is opposing Assad and wants his ouster. Before this, Turkey and Syria had flourishing friendly relations with each other.
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