In Syria; Fierce Battle for Strategic Space

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A great geo-political strategic struggle is now underway in Syria, with balance slightly tilted in favor of Syria and Iran with full support from Russia along with China. My assessment is that if peace is not brought to Syria and apolitical settlement sought, destruction of this crucial strategic key stone in Middle East will have very serious repercussions and strategic consequences not only for the region but also for the strategic balance and the economic and strategic health of the world for a long time.

Apart from other contentious issues including US led Western attempt to ignite the Shia-Sunni conflict as in Iraq, a link up of territories from the East of Caspian via Iran, Shia ruled Iraq, Alawite ruled Syria and Hezbollah dominated Lebanon will provide routes to carry oil and gas bypassing US led projects over Azeri and Turkish territories.

A major actor in the struggle is Russia's newly re-elected and invigorated Vladimir Putin, who saw how his motherland, former USSR was broken into pieces and up to US$ 1 trillion worth of Russian wealth transferred to Western banks and institutions .He has declared that enough is enough. Moscow has almost full support from China in this regard because weakening or breakup of Syria would very adversely impact Iran, which when feeling cornered or worse if invaded will hit out at NATO and its Arab allies in GCC led by Saudi Arabia. It would be then be a war with no holds barred, almost.

India which is pussy footing on this vital issue wrongly believes that the West plus Sunni Arab countries would come up trumps. New Delhi has six million Indians working in the region and billions of dollars are sent as remittances to India. The whole area would be in turmoil for long and borders would be rearranged.

If Syria feels that the regime is being destabilized , then its 10-12% ruling Alawite elite, it's Sunni supporters including so far security forces and the merchants, more than 10% Christian population and same percentage of Syrian Kurds would fight back ferociously. 

Ankara has been following a very dubious foreign policy under the sway of Saudi money and influence encouraged by Washington. Turkey’s border province of Hatay known as Antakya or Antioch in history, has a large Alawite population. This was perhaps one of the reasons why the ruling Sunni regime before World War II did not protest as much as it would now, when under a dubious referendum the province was transferred to Turkey by European powers hoping that Ankara would join them in World War II. But heeding Kemal Ataturk’s sane advice before his demise, Ankara stayed neutral during the War. In Turkey, the Shia Alevis comprise 15% of the population and are mostly the original Turkic migrants from Central Asia.

Syria and its Kurds provided a fertile soil for PKK, the Turkish Kurdish Marxist organization which has been fighting for autonomy in south-east of Turkey since 1980s, a rebellion in which over 40,000 Turkish citizens including 5000 soldiers have been killed. PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan now imprisoned near Istanbul was based in Syria with PKK training camps till 1999. Already PKK is restive again and both sides have indulged in violence, killings and reprisals. The Kurds comprise nearly 20% of Turkey’s population. 

The ruling Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) is beholden financially and supported by money from Saudi Arabia, where President Abdullah Gul worked in a Jeddah bank for seven years before returning to Ankara to join politics in 1992. Located at the interface of Europe, Central Asia, Middle East and Africa, if Turkey can influence its neighborhood, events and powers in its neighborhood can also influence Turkey. Additionally, under AKP, Turkey’s secular armed forces, a stakeholder in the nation’s emergence out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire and its modernization and secularization, have been insulted and humiliated. So a colonel’s coup cannot be ruled out sometimes in future.

It is true that in Syria, the majority Sunni population is ruled by minority Alawite elite, but the Arab Spring, actually was and hopefully remains Arabs revolt against US propped up the dictators like Hosni Mubarak and others. USA with its influence and Saudi Arabia with its petrodollars worried that the Arab Spring might flower in the mediaeval Kingdom ruled by Saud dynasty might lead to overthrow of the regime. So Riyadh and other kingdoms and sheikdoms in the Gulf have joined hands along with European and NATO states and Sunni Turkey with their military muscle to divert attention away from the people’s revolt, with obscurantist and extreme Muslim organizations like Muslim brotherhood Salafis, Al Qaeda and their kind being shoved and pushed into positions of power. For how long?

Since the re-inauguration of Putin's presidency, the Russian president has shown clear intentions of resisting U.S.-led Western encroachment on Russian space in Central Asia and in the Middle East where also its strategic interests lie. In this it has substantial support from China, which needs energy from Iran where it is investing heavily. The encroachment by NATO and the West right into the heart of central Asia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan was stopped by energizing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (in which Iran has Observer status)

A Reinvigorated Putin 

After declining to attend the G8 meeting at Camp David, Putin after visiting Belarus, an important piece in restoring the old core Russian order, went to France and Germany. Paris now under a socialist president Hollande is inclined to move away from the US hegemony which has been France's policy since the days of Charles de Gaulle. Germany under a Conservative Angela Merkel would be more difficult to persuade, although her two predecessors Schroeder and Kohl had tried to move away from American strangle hold with US troops still stationed in the country even though World War II ended in 1944. Both of them paid the price of Washington's anger and lost elections and power.

Intervention by NATO forces and some Arab and Muslim countries like Turkey in Libya after a blatant misinterpretation of the UN Security Council resolution has brought catastrophe on the people of Libya (Western corporate media is stunningly silent on the ongoing tragedy with Al Jazeera joining with gang of BBC, CNN and Fox News). While reportedly 5 to 10,000 Libyans were killed before the NATO’s shock and awe intervention, since then up to 100,000 people have been reportedly killed, its ruler Gadhafi killed like a dog much to the glee of the West and its supporters. The country lies in ruins and people are being killed daily, with Al Qaeda, Salafi and other extremist elements taking over power. In spite of this horrible example the West and Sunni Muslim countries are determined to do an encore in Syria. 

There are Syrian groups supported and even infiltrated from outsiders under various names which have refused to negotiate with the Syrian regime and the West and some of its allies are asking for open intervention. But the situation is quite different from Libya. Syrian ports are the only ones in Mediterranean where Russian naval ships can dock and refuel. The Russians have supplied to Syria top-quality missiles and other equipment to defend the country. The Russian presence itself should act as a deterrent to any foolhardy adventure which if it goes wrong like the simple attempt to rescue American Embassy hostages from Iran in 1980 could boomerang on Obama's re-election chances as that fiasco had on Jimmy Carter’s.

India’s Changing Stance on Syria 

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar wrote recently that India buckled under the combined pressure from Washington and the alluring charm of the oil monarchs of the Persian Gulf.  India’s Syria policy took a circle last week to return to where it all began at the ‘Friends of Syria’ meet in Tunis on February 24, notwithstanding a visit by Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi. The ‘Friends of Syria’ is a coalition of western countries and Saudi Arabia and Qatar that roots for ‘regime change’ in Syria. South Block had abstained on the resolution in the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 1 over alleged human rights violations by the Syrian government. India came out strongly supportive of the mission by the joint UN envoy Kofi Annan. An ‘inclusive’ Syrian-led, Syrian-owned dialogue. This phase ended last week with India voting in favor of the resolution sponsored by the United States and Turkey at the UNHRC demanding an international inquiry into the recent violence in Houla. India effectively rejoined the ‘Friends of Syria’.

The Indian vote is based on political expediency insofar as the US-Turkish resolution presumes that the Syrian government is responsible for the Houla massacre, and in spirit it contravenes the Security Council resolution on Syria.

India saw many exchanges with Gulf nations ; a Joint Commission meeting with Saudi Arabia(January 6); travel advisory on Syria (January 7); foreign-office consultations with UAE (February 8); defense minister visits Saudi Arabia (February 13); EAM’s visit to Cairo (March 2); visit by MOS for external affairs E Ahamed to Saudi Arabia (March 13); visit of deputy foreign minister of Saudi Arabia (March 30); state visit by emir of Qatar (April 4); joint visit by EAM and MOS Ahamed to the UAE (April 14); visit by UAE foreign minister (May 16); visit by crown prince of Bahrain (May 29) and travel advisory on Syria (May 30). India appears like a camp follower. Storm clouds are gathering over Syria. The systematic assault by the US and its Saudi and Qatari allies on Annan’s mission, debilitating and discrediting it at every point, is entering a crucial phase and an overt intervention in Syria is likely. Indeed, top US officials have spoken of intervention even without UN mandate. The specter that haunts the region is a Syria plunging into protracted civil war that could be far more catastrophic for regional security and stability than the bloodbath Lebanon went through for over a decade. 

Writing in Lebanon’s Al Akhbar of June 5 As'ad Abu Khalil raised “Some Questions on the Houla Massacre...and beyond,”

He said, “It is not known who perpetrated the Houla massacre. It is certain though that both sides (the Syrian regime army and the gangs operating under the banner of the Free Syrian Army) have a record of brutality and disregard for human lives to qualify them to do the job.

“What is certain is that Houla was a propaganda blitz that dominated Western as well as Arab (Saudi-funded and Qatari-funded) media. The romanticizing of the so-called “Syrian Revolution” (the deeds of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian National Council and the Muslim Brotherhood deserve the label of revolution as much as George W. Bush deserves the Nobel Peace Prize and as much as Bashar Assad deserves to serve as president of Syria) clashes with the actual record of the armed groups operating under the umbrella of the FSA.

“But it is time that we raise questions and we expose lies surrounding the Syrian uprising. Let us first remember that Western media basically surrender control of their editorial policies to their governments when they decide to go against a developing country. We remember that few raised questions about the wisdom of forming an army of militant Muslims in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The cause of what later produced al-Qaeda was championed. I remember Dan Rather in Afghan clothes riding a horse and reporting on the “heroes” of the fight against communism. Lies and fabrications and exaggerations were the symptom of the coverage of Afghanistan at the time. And when the communist regime fell and was later replaced by the Taliban, there were no demands for accountability and no one asked Dan Rather if he ever met Bin Laden during his media stunt in Afghanistan.

“When Western governments were preparing for the invasion of Libya (you were led to believe that only Qatari forces were on the grounds in Libya by the way, given their battle-tested experience), the West’s media yet again published unsubstantiated reports and claims about what was happening in Libya.

“The same media that stood silent when all Western leaders groveled before Gaddafi suddenly woke up to the reality of dictatorship in Libya. All sorts of claims were made: the number of 100,000 dead was thrown about casually (of course, it later proved to be untrue), and reports of foreign mercenary armies were a staple of the coverage (that was also untrue and the reports themselves fueled a racist anti-black campaign by the Libyan fighters after “liberation”).

“Whatever happened to that woman who made that claim about being raped by Gaddafi’s soldiers? Why was she deported from Qatar and what became of her? No one asked, and the media turned the page and started another campaign.

“It should be mentioned that some decent journalists may feel pressured to toe the line not only by the conventional wisdom of the establishment around them but also because the regime (whether in Libya or in Syria) is an awful dictatorial regime that does not deserve to last one day longer. But it should be stressed that the well-funded (mostly by Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia) press offices of the exile Syrian opposition constantly and daily feed the Western media a large supply of lies, exaggerations, fabrications, and wild scenarios. These media offices (like the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – and for everything else that propaganda requires) never have to account for their information or claims.

“They provide names of people inside Syria and Western correspondents merely Skype with them. Those whose names are provided by the press offices of the Syrian exile opposition merely confirm or reiterate or repeat verbatim whatever is being said by the exile offices. There have been videos shown on YouTube (since YouTube is the favorite source for Western media on Syria) in which injuries are faked and children are coached to speak about their experiences. All that never makes it into Western media.

“Even the obvious lies never get challenged. From very early on, there were many lies spread that have yet to be exposed. For months, Syrian opposition exile groups insisted that there were no armed opposition groups and they stressed that their movement is purely peaceful (and when pictures of armed men were displayed, they were dismissed as enemy propaganda).Yet, suddenly and without explanation, the same groups started to brag about and praise the armed opposition groups who ostensibly were leading a purely peaceful revolution. The propaganda agenda was clearly exhibited with the various statements (especially by exile opposition figures in Western and Saudi media) to the effect that the Syrian regime is being assisted by fighters from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, and the Mahdi Army.

“Similarly, the Syrian exile opposition also duped the Western press (and Western audiences in workshops, conferences, and panels) to think that the Syrian uprising is led by liberal peaceful feminists (and they would often name a woman or two), and would insist that the Muslim Brotherhood has nothing to do with the uprising in Syria. Of course, now we know better. Various leading figures in the Syrian National Council admitted belatedly that indeed the Muslim Brotherhood is running the show, and only after a year of the uprising did some in the Western press publish articles about the influence and clout of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The Houla story is still murky. No one knows what happened. We know that there are innocent civilians who were killed. We know that both sides are exchanging accusations and we know that both sides are habitual liars. But we can raise some questions: This does not settle it. We still don’t know what happened in Houla. But a healthy dosage of skepticism is in order in the case of Syria especially as Western governments seem to pushing in the direction of military intervention.

There are many sides of the story but the Western media is only covering one side. (Neil Mac Farquhar flat out lied when he claimed twice in the New York Times that Syrian TV does not mention the armed clashes in Syria). To be sure, both sides can’t be believed and their claims can’t be taken at face value, but it is high time that real investigation of the Syrian story be undertaken by people who are not beholden to governments – East or West.”

For Syrian Peace mission led by former UNSG Kofi Annan and its current fate and counter action against Western powers and Sunni allies being planned by SCO in Beijing watch this space.


More by :  K. Gajendra Singh

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