WHY ISN'T ANYONE HELPING THE ARAB SPRING IN SYRIA?
The question is legitimate if we compare the
recent international military intervention againt Geddafi's Libya and
the unwillingness to do the same against Bashar Assad's regime. A
bloodthirsty dictatorship the first, as violent the latter. A typical
example of double standards.
Any military intervention is part of a
nation's foreign policy and - as it is easy to imagine - only
theoritically are what we would call principles the basis for any
decision. Interests - be they strategic or economic - are what
decisions are based upon. This assumption is worth especially for
countries aspiring to play a key role in the world affaires. Exporting
democracy - a theory dear to the Bush doctrine - is a good slogan when
other opportunities come to surface.
It is in such cases that we assist - as in this moment in the Arab world - to a NATO military intervention in Libya, but not in Yemen and Syria. The Saudi military intervention - with the support from the Emirates - in Bahrein to protect another dictatorship is justified, while others are not even taken into consideration.
There is an international justice that apparently takes on the sufferings of the Libyan people, but at the same time it does not deem necessary to intervente in Damascus or Sana'a. Statements are made against dictators and human rights violations, but actions are limited to declarations and menaces of santions that will produce no effect.
It is thus interesting to understand why the international community is so reluctant to get involved in a military confrontaion with Syria. Here are some of the reasons:
• Syria has a population of about 23 million inhabitants (5 million of which could be called up by the military), limited gas and oil reserves and a military apparatus with all respect. That is: it is a dangerous military objective that would require a prolonged and qualified international military effort (giving for granted the final success of an international coalition), but without the relevant economic interests that backed the attack on Libya.
• Syria is geographically placed in an area with strong instability. The fall of the regime in Damascus and the creation of a military void could trigger a series of negative side effects in the region whose outcomes are unpredictable. The military weakening of Syria could favour the hegemonic and expansionistic aims of Iran (as has already happened with the war in Iraq, an aspect that had been underestimated by the U.S. at the time). It would once again dangerously increase the role of the Shiites and would put in danger the monarchies in the Gulf States. We would witness a contiguity of interests in favour of the Iranians against Israel.
• Iran and Syria are tied by military agreements. They signed in 2005 a pact of mutual defence. In December 2009 such links were reinforced. Surely enough an attack against Syria would see Tehran intervening in support of Damascus and an Iranian direct intervention in a conflict is not to be excluded. This means the war could spread to neighbouring countries in the region.
• In the case of a war, Syria could istigate other non-conventional forms of fight such as terrorism. They have a strong know how in this sector accumulated over decades. They also have a vast manpower - real and not potential - to rely on: the Palestianian radical groups that are hosted on its territory and that have Syria's support in Lebanon, the Hezbollah, the curds. As in Iraq, Al Qaeda operatives could flood the country in case of a conflitct.
• The destabilization of Syria is not in Israel's interest even though they are one of the arch-enemies of Tel Aviv. They are currently a threat, but one under strict control. It is sufficient to remember the aerial strike against the nuclear site of Deir Alzour on September 6 2007. Israel's greatest fear is who could be taking over the regime in Damascus in case Bashar Assad is kicked out. The Muslim Brotherhood, who clashed with the regime and was wiped out by Hafez Assad in Hama in February 1982, is the most probable pretendent to the throne. They represent - even for Syria's weak internal opposition - the strongest force on the ground. This hypothesis is of great concern to Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood have increased their influence in Egypt after Mubarak was dethroned (and the first negative consequences on the relationship between Cairo and Tel Aviv have already taken shape), they are strongly connected to Hamas in the Gaza Strip (with Hamas being the Brotherhood's branch in Palestine) and they could take over in Damascus. The movement's politcal and religious radicalism could surround Israel's borders and this is something Tel Aviv wants to avoid. Israel's main priority is national security even if this means having to deal with a bloodthirsty dictatorship. Over the decades Damascus and Tel Aviv have always had an indirect dialogue and have always come to terms on common issues. Israel is now facing a greater threat: Iran. It cannot disperse its forces on other theatres. As the Iranian nuclear program advances the probability of an Israeli military strike on those sites is on the rise.
• Turkey is another country not interested in the destabilisation of Syria and the consequences there of. Ankara prefers having reliable partners while it attempts to extend its influence over the Arab world. Damascus and its regime are already an integral part of Erdogan's geo-strategic interests. Not to mention the Kurdish question, once again in the spotlight after the series of attacks by the PKK against Turkish garrisons last October. Even though these attacks originated from Iraqi Kurdistan, it is also true that the Kurdish issue geographically spans from Turkey to Syria, from Iraq to Iran. In 1998 Syria was supporting the PKK, but had to stand back in front of the menace of a Turkish military intervention and had forced the then PKK leader Ocalan to leave the country. If Syria were to dissolve in a civil war, Kurdish armed groups could find new sanctuaries and bases in this country.
• Saudi Arabia had recalled its ambassador in Damascus last August protesting against the ruthlessness of the Alawi regime. This does not mean King Abdullah does not fear a regime change in Syria. The recent deals between Damascus and the Arab League - brokered by Ryad - go in this direction. It is an attempt to come to terms with Syria's intransingence. But around the corner are also Saudi fears of Iran taking advantage of the situation. We should not forget that around 15% of Saudis are Shiites.
• From a political point of view, a NATO or Western military intervention would resemble much an act of neo-colonialism or imperialism and a direct support to Israel. This interpretation of events would not help the marketing of an attack, especially because the current Israeli PM Netanyahu is holding on to extremist positions in its negotiations with the PLO. Furthermore, as already mentioned, there is the possibility of an attack against Iran with the sure support of the Anglo-Americans.