Syrian Opposition Highlights Vested International Interest In Regime Transition
(Mint Press)– UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon made an ominous announcement on Friday stating he believes the May 10 bombings that killed 55 people in Damascus were carried out by al-Qaeda. The attacks in the Syrian capital raise the spectre of fundamentalist factions hijacking the populist movement for democracy and self-rule, further diminishing the likelihood that a negotiated political solution can be found to the ongoing conflict. Unlike previous, peaceful Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, Syrian protests have been marked by violence from the onset of protests in 2011.
Despite imposing strong economic sanctions, the joint U.S.-EU effort has failed to sufficiently isolate and weaken the Assad regime. However, the international consensus in UN bodies and the Arab League is such that regime change appears possible, if not inevitable. The determination of the post-Assad rule will depend largely upon the influence of outside powers as Syria appears to have become a battleground for proxy wars fought by regional powers.
The Annan peace plan fails then what?
A car bomb detonated on Friday in the Eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor only gives credence to the unfortunate shift in media rhetoric describing what is now arguably a state of Syrian civil war.
Earlier this year, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan developed a 6 point peace plan in an attempt to de-escalate hostilities. After receiving support from the U.N. Security Council, the Annan plan sought to end the violence by implementing a ceasefire and by trying allowing for peaceful protest. However, the cease-fire was short lived following its beginning on April 10. While much attention has been given to violence by government forces, the latest bombings by fifth column elements within opposition movements further complicates the daunting challenge of regime change in Syria.
Speaking in January before the implementation of the Annan plan, radical Sunni cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed gave an ominous warning, stating, “In two or three operations, [al-Qaeda] can make the Ba’ath party run away,” he added. “With self sacrifices operations – you call them suicide bombings, al-Qaeda will go to the Parliament when the Ba’ath are inside, he will explode and he will say ‘Oh God receive me. Oh God I am hurrying towards you.”
The suspected influx of al-Qaeda fighters has contributed significantly to the violence in recent months, as UN estimates now place the death toll at a staggering 10,000 people.
Highly restricted access by foreign media has raised questions as to who actually composes the Syrian opposition. However, accounts indicate a bifurcated opposition, comprised of two main groups: The legitimate composition of the Syrian opposition reflects the heterogeneous Syria is a heterogeneous country with varied ethnic and religious populations. While the protesters come from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds, Sunni Muslims and Kurdish Syrians comprise the majority of the two major rebel groups, the The National Coordination Committee (NCC) and the Syrian National Council (SNC).
A complicated relationship: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Russia
As a result, diplomatic and financial support has been robust from Gulf countries fighting what Sunni monarchies fear is the marauding influence of Iran in the region.
Speaking to Agence France Presse in March, an anonymous, high-level Arab diplomat revealed that Saudi Arabia had been shipping arms to the rebels through Jordan. Although Rakan al-Majali, a Jordanian government spokesman denied the charges, calling them “baseless,” public statements indicate that Saudi Arabia and Qatar openly support the opposition and even went so far as to say that they would ship arms to the rebels.
Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, no longer recognize the Assad government and closed their respective embassies in Damascus earlier this year.
Sunni monarchies are not the only nations vying for influence in the chaotic Levantine country. A United Nations diplomat commented Wednesday saying that Syria is the top recipient of illicit arms originating in Iran. Despite ongoing sanctions against Syria, a UN panel found two major arms shipments originating from Iran, likely sent in support of the existing government.
This is the latest in what many within the intelligence community have suspected is a long-running collusion by Iran and Syria to suppress the opposition. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a U.S. intelligence official commented earlier this year in an interview with MSNBC, “Over the past year, Iran has provided security assistance to Damascus to help shore up Assad. Tehran during the last couple of months has been aiding the Syrian regime with lethal assistance – including rifles, ammunition, and other military equipment – to help it put down the opposition.”
The support, the source continued, also included “monitoring tools” to help with surveillance of protesters.
Although not as strong in its support, Russia has proven to be a moderating force in the UN Security Council, frequently voicing concern over strongly worded resolutions that condemn the Syrian government. While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Moscow would not provide sanctuary to Assad should he flee Syria, he also expressed opposition to resolutions that present an ultimatum to Bashar Al-Assad, instead supporting political solutions to the ongoing hostilities.
Is a Libya-style intervention still possible?
The elaborate international alliances have complicated regional relationships and could have an immediate impact on global oil markets. Syria is not a major oil producer, creating just 190,000 barrels a day, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, major oil producers Saudi Arabi, Qatar and Iran have all taken stands on this issue, and should a broader regional war breakout, markets will surely be affected.
NATO leaders gathered this weekend in Chicago to discuss global issues affecting the member states of the organization. Although President Obama introduced a rural food aid plan for Africa, Syria occupied much of the discussions, as Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to push for a Libya style NATO intervention to prevent further violence against protesters.
On Friday, Erdogan took part in a trilateral meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in the Bulgarian city of Varna. The brief summit allowed leaders to discuss matters of regional security and the humanitarian situation in Syria.
Consistent with earlier statement on the situation in Syria, Erdogan made a strong public push for regime change and an end to hostilities saying, “I don’t care what Bashar Assad says. It is important how we will act in order to protect the population that is undergoing violence.”
The Turkish Prime Minister made his first direct calls for Bashar Al-Assad to step down in November, unequivocally stating, “Without spilling any more blood, without causing any more injustice, for the sake of peace for the people, the country and the region, finally step down.” This is one of the most direct verbal rebukes of the embattled Syrian leader since the beginning of the Syrian uprising.
While there have been few instances of cross-border violence, Turkey has absorbed nearly 23,000 Syrian refugees since the beginning of fighting last year. Additionally, the Free Syria Army and the Syria National Council both claim headquarters in the Turkish state.
The prospect of a coordinated NATO intervention styled after the Libyan mission. The NATO imposed no fly zone, created with the help of Qatar and Jordan helped Libyan fighters end the 40-year rule of despotic Muammar Gaddafi.
A similar mission could be forthcoming if Turkey makes a compelling case to other NATO members at the meeting this weekend. Should violence escalate along the Turkish-Syrian border, Article 5 of the NATO charter may necessitate coordinated action by allies. Under this provision known as a collective defense clause requires member states to come to come to the defense of a fellow NATO member should they come under attack.
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