Sense of relief on part of Netanyahu may be short-lived as flames engulfing Syria will spread to other countries
While the world watches with dismay the tragedy unfolding in Syria, the global and regional powers, instead of working towards peace, continue to fight a ruthlessly cruel proxy war, playing with the lives of millions of innocent civilians. Americans and their allies — Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE — are supporting the militias fighting against President Assad and also occasionally target the Islamic State (IS). The rationale being advanced is that Assad is the problem, and not part of the solution. The highly centralised family-oriented power structure in Syria that draws support from Assad’s Alawite clan, representing hardly 15 per cent of the population, has contributed to deep alienation amongst the majority of the people.
Russia is steadfastly standing behind President Assad, providing operational support, intelligence and weaponry. Recently, 50 fighter aircraft were dedicated for Syrian operations. Syria is one of the few countries left in the Middle East where Russia exercises influence and does not want to lose this leverage. On the contrary, the West is worried that Russia, for the first time after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is using its forces outside the country. These combat operations are providing Russia the opportunity to also test and validate its latest Sukhoi-34 aircraft and other military hardware and software. In coordination with the Russian military, Iran and Hezbollah militants are conducting ground operations and are poised to launch an offensive operation in the Syrian province of Alleppo.
While Russia claims that it is assisting Syria against the IS, the US and the West believe its real target are the militias fighting against the Syrian army, loyal to President Assad. Russia, however, claims that Assad is the legitimate ruler and supporting him is the only logical course available to stabilise Syria. The question of legitimacy, however, is questionable considering the way Assad and his father captured and retained power. Although these types of authoritarian rulers are a common phenomenon in the Middle East and in Muslim countries in general, yet even here times are changing and people are rising against tyranny and monopoly of power. In the backdrop of this power play, and caught in the middle, is the helpless majority of Syrians. They are faced with a choice of migrating from the country with the inherent risk of being exploited by organised smuggler mafias or face the constant threat of being killed by aerial bombardment or be caught in the crossfire as they move to safer lands.
No wonder the prevailing chaotic conditions have given rise to mass migration with more than 11 million people being displaced so far, a phenomenon not witnessed since Partition of India, or after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Tragically, the flow continues uninterruptedly and the impact on neighbouring countries and on Europe has been overwhelming.
What makes the situation more complex, as mentioned earlier, is that the Syrian civil war is being fuelled by outside forces to advance their geo-political interests and on the basis of sectarian fault lines in the garb of promoting stability and peace. Where will all this lead to with the IS having control of over 60 per cent of Syrian territory and Assad holding barely 20 per cent, which will shrink rapidly unless Russian and Iranian assistance reverses the inevitable collapse.
It is unlikely that President Assad will yield to a more representative power structure to save what is left of Syria. He and his father have lorded over the country for four and a half decades, instituting a one-man rule. If integrity of the Syrian state is ever to be restored, there has to be a unifying figure as the leader, as well as a more inclusive constitutional structure of governance.
The sad spectacle of Syria also betrays the insensitivity of the Muslim world and makes a mockery of the hollow sermons of the clergy and political leaders who urge unity and brotherhood. The Arab League is ineffective and redundant. It is no exaggeration to say that even during the three days of Hajj, the most sacred of religious events, there was no let-up in the ground fighting or aerial bombardment.
Israel must be gloating over the collapse of Syria. Despite all the weaknesses of the Assad regime, it stood steadfast against Israel’s expansionist designs. The sense of relief on the part of Prime Minister Netanyahu may be short-lived though as flames engulfing Syria are likely to spread in many other countries of the Middle East over time. This process could speed up if the oil economies start slowing down. Unless Muslim kingdoms see the writing on the wall and move towards democratisation, there is not much hope. For Israel to insulate itself from the impending turbulence may not be that easy.
Of the nearly four million refugees, most are now living in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Egypt and Iraq. They are unwelcome in other Arab countries, even if their resources and current levels of population could conveniently absorb them. As the ability to handle additional refugees in the Middle East gets saturated, migrants are heading in the direction of Europe. It is Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has been most forthcoming and is primarily responsible for awakening the conscience of the world towards the plight of refugees. Unfortunately, her sensible proposal to fast-track refugees for distribution in different European countries on the basis of their ability to absorb them has been met with resistance. But knowing her resilience and her own experience as a refugee from East Germany, she is likely to find ways of helping the displaced.
On the battlefront, the situation continues to remain bleak. By terrorising the population and being more organised, the IS has seized control over large parts of northern and eastern Syria. On the other hand, US-led air strikes have failed to degrade the strength of the IS. The US-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolution is weak and unable to influence the situation on the ground. All this benefits the IS and leaves no other option for the West and Russia, but to find a way to work together to defeat a common enemy and stabilise Syria.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 28th, 2015.
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