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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Intervention in Syria risks blowback

 .

The West’s drive to escalate the war against Al Assad is intensifying the killing. Only negotiation can stop the conflict spreading

By Seumas Milne

 The signs are unmistakable. Once again, the West is preparing to escalate military intervention in the Arab and Muslim world. This time the target is Syria. Since the US presidential election, the warnings have multiplied. First, in a breathtaking reprise of the falsehood that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq, US and British leaders claimed the Syrian regime might be about to use chemical weapons against rebel forces, and threatened dire consequences.

Then the US authorised the stationing of Patriot missile batteries along the Turkish-Syrian border. Ostensibly intended to protect Turkey from stray Syrian artillery fire, they could rather more plausibly be used to help enforce a Libya-style no-fly zone. There has since been a flurry of media briefings about increased covert US arms supplies and rebel training, along with plans for intensified intelligence and special forces deployment, or even all-out air and naval power support. Direct intervention, US and British officials are reported to insist, is “now inevitable”.

Next Britain followed France in recognising the new opposition Syrian National Coalition, stitched together under Nato and Gulf tutelage, as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. Since the coalition clearly isn’t the sole representative of Syrians, the declaration (which goes beyond even what was said during the Libyan war) sets a precedent that is likely to come back to haunt them. But it was followed by only a slightly less sweeping statement from the US and about 100 allies.

What such support can mean on the ground is demonstrated in the latest real-life horror video circulating among Syrians. It shows two captured officers from President Bashar Al Assad’s Alawite sect being beheaded with a machete in the street, apparently by western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, one of them a child.


Intervention in Syria risks blowback

The West’s drive to escalate the war against Al Assad is intensifying he killing. Only negotiation can stop the conflict spreading

    By Seumas Milne
    Published: 00:00 December 21, 2012
    Gulf News

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    Image Credit: REUTERS
    Damaged buildings are seen in the city of Homs December 18, 2012.

The signs are unmistakable. Once again, the West is preparing to escalate military intervention in the Arab and Muslim world. This time the target is Syria. Since the US presidential election, the warnings have multiplied. First, in a breathtaking reprise of the falsehood that paved the way for the invasion of Iraq, US and British leaders claimed the Syrian regime might be about to use chemical weapons against rebel forces, and threatened dire consequences.

Then the US authorised the stationing of Patriot missile batteries along the Turkish-Syrian border. Ostensibly intended to protect Turkey from stray Syrian artillery fire, they could rather more plausibly be used to help enforce a Libya-style no-fly zone. There has since been a flurry of media briefings about increased covert US arms supplies and rebel training, along with plans for intensified intelligence and special forces deployment, or even all-out air and naval power support. Direct intervention, US and British officials are reported to insist, is “now inevitable”.

Next Britain followed France in recognising the new opposition Syrian National Coalition, stitched together under Nato and Gulf tutelage, as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”. Since the coalition clearly isn’t the sole representative of Syrians, the declaration (which goes beyond even what was said during the Libyan war) sets a precedent that is likely to come back to haunt them. But it was followed by only a slightly less sweeping statement from the US and about 100 allies.

What such support can mean on the ground is demonstrated in the latest real-life horror video circulating among Syrians. It shows two captured officers from President Bashar Al Assad’s Alawite sect being beheaded with a machete in the street, apparently by western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, one of them a child.

Article continues below

Of the tens of thousands who have died since last year’s uprising morphed into armed revolt, the majority have been killed by regime forces. But there’s also no doubt that atrocities have been committed on a large scale by both sides. And they have mushroomed as jihadist groups have grown in importance and Iraq-style ethnic cleansing, kidnapping, revenge killings and sectarian attacks spread.

Rampant torture and summary executions by opposition as well as regime forces have been condemned by human rights organisations, along with widespread rebel conscription of child soldiers. Last week Channel 4 News in the UK uncovered evidence that more than 100 Alawite civilians killed in the Syrian town of Aqrab may have been massacred by rebel forces rather than, as initially reported, by government troops.

Shaping the opposition

You might imagine the multiplication of such incidents and the advance of fundamentalist groups in Syria would give western governments reason to pause before bolstering their support for the rebels. But in fact that’s exactly why they insist they need to step up their involvement.

David Cameron told parliament this week that there was now a “strategic imperative” to act because the Syrian war is “empowering Al Qaida-linked extremists”. There is an “opportunity”, he says, for Britain, the US, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to “shape” the Syrian opposition.

Of course, both the US and Britain have been funding, training and attempting to funnel Gulf arms through Turkey and Jordan to their favoured factions for some time. Now the Obama administration has branded a leading Syrian jihadist group a terrorist organisation, to Syrian opposition fury. The aim is intervention for influence, both before and after the expected fall of the Al Assad regime — dressed up, as in Libya, in the language of “protecting civilians”.

It’s all of a piece with the rebranded war on terror. In the wake of the disaster of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, there were to be no more boots on the ground. Western intervention would again take the form of humanitarian air campaigns, targeted drone attacks and a return to the proxy and covert wars of the past.

But as demonstrated by Nato’s campaign in Libya — which helped boost the death toll at least 10 times and gave air cover to ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate killing — wars to “protect civilians” do nothing of the kind. Deeper western intervention in Syria will certainly escalate, not end, the killing, as well as taking Syria’s future out of the hands of its own people.

What began in Syria nearly two years ago as a popular uprising, brutally repressed by the Al Assad regime, has since increasingly taken on the character of a sectarian conflict and regional proxy war, as Saudi Arabia and its western backers have seen the chance to sink Iran and Russia’s main long-term Middle Eastern ally.

But the expectation that the government is about to fall is almost certainly premature. With neither side strong enough to prevail, the likelihood instead is that the country will go on bleeding, as external intervention deepens the conflict. Even if the regime were to implode or retreat to its strongholds, the civil war would very likely continue.

Which is why the only way out of an increasingly grim conflict is a negotiated settlement, with regional and international backing. This week, Syria’s semi-detached Vice-President, Farouk Al Shar’a (mooted as a possible transitional president), acknowledged that the army could not win the war, and called for a “historic settlement” and national unity government.

The western powers and Gulf regimes have so far underwritten the opposition resistance to negotiation. An attempt to sponsor a regional settlement by Egypt’s President, Mohammad Mursi, in conjunction with Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia was scuppered by the Saudis. But in one form or another, negotiation will eventually have to take place.

Meanwhile, not only will more intervention by the western powers increase the killing. It may not give them the control they crave either. Already the mainly Islamist rebel fighters are becoming more mistrustful of their foreign backers. Just as likely is that it will lay the ground for the kind of blowback that created AlQaida in Afghanistan in the first place — and risk engulfing the region in a still more devastating conflict.

http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/intervention-in-syria-risks-blowback-1.1121718


Assad's likely downfall won't help Syria  US President Barack Obama officially recognized Syria's new opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the country last week. This recognition is just the continuation of the steady US policies on Syria.

The US has long been supporting the Syrian opposition. As early as 2011, Obama stated that Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime had to step down. However, the most prominent former Syrian opposition group was the Syrian National Council (SNC), which is mainly composed of overseas exiles from the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama worries about the fundamentalist tendencies of this organization.

Currently, the SNC has been reorganized into a new opposition coalition and the status of the Muslim Brotherhood has been weakened. So Obama has expressed

US recognition of this new coalition. This action's symbolic significance is larger than its practical implications. US recognition cannot strengthen the capabilities of the opposition, and the US blacklisting of al-Nusra Front as a terrorist group will make the situation in Syria even more complex. The al-Nusra Front is among the fiercest opposition groups as a fighting force. Government forces' losses in areas such as Aleppo can often be attributed to this group.

The al-Nusra Front is the force which governmental forces fear most. Its being viewed as terrorist group will make the opposition more differentiated.

In fact, there's still a great disparity in strength between the Assad regime and the opposition. Although we often see governmental forces beaten by the opposition, as far as I know some of the military bases were deliberately abandoned by the governmental forces because these bases are useless or require too much effort to guard.

The Syrian conflict is not only a domestic issue, but is also a battlefield for outside powers. Currently, two parties in Syria have come to a deadlock. Russia and Iran will not withdraw their support for the current Syrian government. Similarly, although Western countries have long supported the Syrian opposition, they have not intervened militarily in this country.

From the perspective of Russia and Iran, Syria's current government can retain their national interests in this country. Since the Cold War era, Russia has had a close relationship with Syria. Russia's only military overseas port is in Syria, which provides an opening into the Mediterranean. If Assad loses office, Russia's capabilities of global deployment will drastically decline. Because Russia cannot find another client in Syria, it will not abandon the Assad regime and let Syria fall under US strategic control.

Syria is the only country which is ruled by Allawis, a Shiite minority. Iran is the biggest Shiite country in the Middle East. As such, Iran and Syria share common interests in religious affairs and a common anti-US and anti-Israel position. Iran will also not abandon Syria.

Western countries will definitely continue to support opposition groups because they believe that the changes in Syria meet the trend of the development of democracy. Furthermore, such changes create new chances.

However, most of these countries do not want to intervene militarily in Syria, save for France and Turkey. After experiencing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, especially after the killing of the US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, Western countries' military input in the Middle East is in a strategic contraction.

In addition, the US and EU are influenced by Israeli lobbyists. If opposition groups overthrow the Assad regime quickly, the new regime may be relatively extreme, as has happened in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Because Syria and Israel are neighbors, after the end of Syria's civil war, a new extremist regime could pose a greater threat to Israel. The current deadlock is more in line with Western countries' interests.

Even inside the opposition groups, the voices calling for Western intervention are gradually becoming quieter. Formerly, the loudest voice calling for Western intervention came from the SNC, now eclipsed by other opposition forces.

As a whole, the new opposition coalition is no longer asking for Western intervention. They have even said that they can establish a non-fly zone themselves if they get enough anti-aircraft missiles. Their military dependence on the West is declining.

Under such complex circumstances, the Assad regime seems like a man who is suffering from terminal cancer. It is merely a matter of time before it perishes, but for now, the deadlock and suffering are set to go on. The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Shu Meng based on an interview with Jiao Xiang, a reporter with the People's Daily stationed in Damascus, Syria.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/751154.shtml

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