Ben Levitas
Ben Levitas

Syria a geopolitical minefield

Emerging from the widely hailed Arab Spring revolutions is a new threat to world stability and security. The very breadth of the scale of the uprising, stretching across the whole of North Africa and into the Middle East, has ramifications well beyond the region. Traditional world powers like Russia and the US have suffered a diminution of power and influence in the formative new polities.

The alliances these superpowers formed with the ousted dictators, questionable as they were, at least provided stability and predictability across this vast region. Into this arena now enters a new generation of ambitious up and coming middle-range powers such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Each have their own agendas, some founded on solid realpolitik but the truly explosive element each injects into this area is their fundamentally different views of Islam and their visions of the types of society that will culminate from the disorder.

Iran, possibly, presents the world with the most challenges. Firstly, like Turkey, it is not Arab, which directly challenges not only the hegemony of Saudi Arabia, but its “desert Arab” version of Islam. Internally, Iran is a deeply divided society. Its great oil wealth has been squandered on bolstering its aggressive foreign policies — major arms supplier to various terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the disgraced Assad regime in Syria.

It has invested heavily in building its military into a powerful army that trains and equips various radical Islamist groups around the world. It has established military links with dictators as far afield as Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. It has acquired sophisticated anti-aircraft rocket systems from Russia, and with the help of North Korea has developed intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching any part of Europe. It is committed to an ambitious and incredibly expensive nuclear programme that has raised the ire of the world. Syria presents several major challenges to Iran. Firstly, President Bashar al-Assad and his military leadership hail from a minority group, (12% out of 22 million) the Alawites, which is resented by the majority of the Syrians, who consider them to be a heretic cult and this threatens to transform into a religious war.

Iran needs Syria as a proxy through which to exercise power in Lebanon, where it controls Hezbollah, which is the largest party in the government and so it continues to prop up Assad in Syria. Toppling Assad, which is increasingly likely, will therefore open up a Pandora’s box of issues: Iran will try to step into the void and possibly vie with Russia which also has good financial reasons for shoring up Assad. So will Turkey, which has worked assiduously at cultivating its ties with Assad. A religious conflict between Sunni, possibly supported by Saudi Arabia against the Shia, supported by Iran, could have unintended consequences for other minority groups like the Kurds, which comprise 10% of the Syrian population. The Kurds may identify with their ethnic counterparts in neighbouring Iraq and Turkey, which could radically destabilise all these countries. Turkey is already engaged in a decades-long war against the Kurdish PKK in Iraq — in which 40 000 thousand have died — and fears nothing more than a resurgence of Kurdish nationalism.

Over the past decade Turkey succeeded in forging alliances with the leaders of neighbouring Syria, Iran, and Iraq to target Kurdish rebels operating in their respective territories. But with all political changes sweeping through the region, Turkey’s relations with all three governments have deteriorated sharply and the conflict is spilling over the borders. With all the problems facing Assad, he has lost control of Syrian Kurdistan and allowed a de facto self-governing region to take hold, with the Syrian branch of the PKK raising the guerrilla movement’s flag over several predominantly Kurdish towns along Syria’s border with Turkey. Turkey is suspicious that Syria and its ally Iran are providing support to the PKK, although these charges are denied by both Damascus and Tehran. Turkey’s south-eastern region, around Bingol, has experienced almost daily terrorist attacks and Ankara has responded ferociously with warplanes and ground troops targeting PKK camps. This volatile situation may require Turkey to examine ways to resolve its domestic Kurdish problem which could entail the constitution to be rewritten.

In Syria meanwhile civilian deaths continue unabated and the death toll in the 18-month conflict is likely to exceed 30 000 people.

After his first meeting with President Assad in Damascus, Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, who replaced Kofi Annan as the peace envoy three weeks ago, described his task as “nearly impossible”. He told reporters after the meeting that “the crisis is very dangerous” and that it “is deteriorating and represents a danger to the Syrian people, to the region, and to the whole world”.

“They did discuss the fact that there would have to be movement on two tracks: the ending of the violence and the beginning of a political process.”

Assad’s forces and the opposition rebels have ignored appeals to end the fighting, which has continued in many of the country’s main cities, including Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Deir al-Zor.

Hassan Abdul-Azeem the leader of the opposition in Syria — the National Co-ordination Committee for Democratic Change — which includes Arab nationalists, Kurds and socialists, also met Brahimi. He said: “We support Mr Brahimi … and we will co-operate with him because the violence has reached [unprecedented] levels and the Syrian people are suffering from the killings, destruction and displacement.”

The on-going conflict is hindering the control of borders in the region, with refugees and weapons seeping through. In neighbouring Lebanon, its army seized a lorry loaded with weapons, hand grenades, rockets, and communication devices believed to be heading to Syria. The Pope on his recent visit to Lebanon said “arms imports must stop once and for all, because without arms imports, war cannot continue”.

The presence of substantial stocks of chemical weapons at about 20 sites in Syria, is a further cause for tremendous concern as the security situation continues to deteriorate. According to Adnan Sillu, a former Syrian general turned defector, Assad’s government had plans in place to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah. In an interview with The Times of London, Sillu said Syria also planned to use chemical weapons on the Syrian people “as a last resort.”

With the US and some European countries threatening direct military intervention should the chemical weapons be used and the possible chance of them being transferred to Hezbollah raises the possibility of Israeli intervention.

With the largest ever western military exercises taking place in the Straits of Hormuz and with Iran threatening to mine the straits if provoked, the region is a tinderbox. We need cool-headed, sanguine leadership on all sides to navigate a way through to a peaceful outcome!

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  • 19 Responses to “Syria a geopolitical minefield”

    1. Lennon #

      Ben: I agree with you. A peaceful solution needs to be found.

      However, the authors of “Which Path to Persia?” and those who gave them the task of writing it couldn’t care. If you haven’t read it, I suggest that you do.

      October 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm
    2. Brent #

      “We need cool-headed, sanguine leadership ON ALL sides to navigate a way through to a peaceful outcome!” – plus the principal of non interference in the affairs of another state!!!!

      Brent

      October 5, 2012 at 9:21 am
    3. The Creator #

      Vice-President of the South African Zionist Federation. Not exactly an impartial observer.

      Hizbollah is part of the elected government of Lebanon, and not a terrorist organisation. It did lead the resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation, so that explains why Levitas is lying about it.

      Hamas was the elected government of the Gaza Strip, and has received modest support from Iran for that reason (which is, of course, Iran’s right).

      The Ba’ath Party is the government of Syria. If the Iranians wish to offer it support against the foreign-funded rebels fighting against it, they are entitled to do so. One understands why Levitas doesn’t like that, since the collapse of Syria would certainly cement Israel’s illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip.

      Hugo Chavez is the elected President of Venezuela, and not a dictator at all. Presumably Levitas is lying about this because of the close tied between right-wing Zionists like himself and the mendacious reactionaries of the right in the US.

      Vast amounts of weapons are flooding into Syria to fuel the conflict, virtually all supplied by American allies in the Gulf or by Turkey, but Levitas doesn’t mention this, because it would entail telling the truth about something.

      Par for the Zionist course, I’m afraid. I feel dirty just having read this stuff.

      October 5, 2012 at 9:34 am
    4. The Creator #

      Oh, actually Vice-Chair. Doesn’t signify.

      October 5, 2012 at 9:35 am
    5. Jack Sparrow #

      Nice Thought but scary. This seems to be turning into a real global game of Risk. I battleto understand why these type of leaders (Assad, Mugabe and many more) don’t just hand over power and walk, run, scamper, scramble, flee etc. They’ve amassed unbelievable wealth and could live comfortably to a 1000 but insist on staying on, killing their own people and making life miserable for many more. Is it just a power thing?

      October 5, 2012 at 10:09 am
    6. Lesego #

      Although I trying to read with an open mind I couldnt read past this:

      “Its great oil wealth has been squandered on bolstering its aggressive foreign policies — major arms supplier to various terrorist groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and the disgraced Assad regime in Syria.”

      And I really think that these kind off articles should be censored cos really, lies like this could have a really damaging impact on some readers as history is so important that it shouldn’t tainted by political motivations.

      October 5, 2012 at 1:30 pm
    7. Brent #

      The Creator, are the so called ‘Zionist’ not allowed to openly put across their view? Just refute it with your ‘truths’ not attack the messenger.

      lesego, tell us then what is the 100% truth about how Iran spends it’s oil wealth outside of Iran.

      Brent

      October 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm
    8. Make$ #

      Boring.

      October 6, 2012 at 12:00 am
    9. george orwell #

      Ben, you write of Iran’s ‘aggressive foreign policies’.

      Iran has not invaded/occupied a foreign country for centuries.

      If we’re talking about ‘aggressive foreign policies’ let’s talk about the US which has invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and has a long history of aggressive foreign policy ranging from Vietnam to Cambodia, Somalia, Yugoslavia.

      Although nterventions are carried out in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” nearly all defend dictatorships controlled by pro-U.S. elites.

      US and its proxy Nato got rid of Gaddafi and installed their own puppet, who flew in from America where he’d been under sponsorship from oil firms for over a decade.

      Assad and Ahmedinejad, like Gaddafi, threaten the petrodollar and US hegemony, that’s why they have to ‘go’. The ‘Washington Consensus’ wants to prevail and uses massive arms trade and war to this end. Research the immoral drones

      God spare the world Disneyworld ‘interventions’.

      The U.S. defends economic agenda (protecting oil company investments) under the PR banner of ‘noble freedoms’.

      Ben you refer to Iran arming terrorist organisations.

      Ask why Obama did a $60billion arms deal with the ruthless, antidemocratic, misognistic Saudi Arabai a few months back – those US arms now funnelled to the AlQaeda-linked ‘rebels’ in Syria.

      Ask why the US has just given the green light to a terrorist organisation MEK? Ask why US defends its violent dictator friend in Bahrain?…

      October 6, 2012 at 11:07 am
    10. george orwell #

      Ben, here’s an apposite article, from Foreign Policy Journal:

      Syria: The Story Thus Far

      http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/10/05/syria-the-story-thus-far/

      Excerpt:

      “the Muslim fundamentalists in Syria, as in Libya, can have no illusions that America loves them.

      A half century of US assaults on Mideast countries, the establishment of American military bases in the holy land of Saudi Arabia, and US support for dictatorships and for Israel’s ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians have relieved them of such fanciful thoughts.

      So why is the US looking to forcefully intervene once again? A tale told many times — world domination, oil, Israel, ideology, etc.

      Assad of Syria, like Gaddafi of Libya, has shown little promise as a reliable client state so vital to the American Empire.

      It’s only the barrier set up by Russia and China on the UN Security Council that keeps NATO (aka the US) from unleashing thousands of airborne missiles to “liberate” Syria as they did Libya.

      Russian and Chinese leaders claim that they were misled about Libya by the US, that all they had agreed to was enforcing a “no-fly zone”, not seven months of almost daily missile attacks against the land and people of Libya.

      “The propaganda in the media has been overwhelming”. Use your critical thinking skills, people, or lose them.

      Read: How the US Govt’s Lies Become Truth

      http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/10/02/how-the-governments-lies-become-truth/

      October 6, 2012 at 11:27 am
    11. Jack Sparrow #

      @George; what are you going on about the US for? The Syrian government agencies are killing their own people; Syrians inside Syria (um, like Marikana). Or haven’t you noticed?

      October 7, 2012 at 3:28 pm
    12. Alan #

      Hasbara bullsh#t, all of it – and I fully agree with George Orwell and The Creator.

      Unfortunately, only those with ears will hear.

      October 7, 2012 at 5:16 pm
    13. george orwell #

      Jack – in case you haven’t noticed the ‘rebel’ groups are made up of local Syrians BUT their ranks are swollen by jihadists who have come in from Saudi, Iraq, and elsewhere, some with AlQaeda links. So the Syrian ‘rebels’ are not quite the organic ‘people’s revolution’ you think they are.

      Picture outsiders supplying the Marikana strikers with deadly arms (many USmade) and shipping in Angolans, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans and others to swell their ranks and start a deadly war going in South Africa. Then you start to get a feeling for the incredibly complex situation in Syria.

      As any fool knows, Syria is key to ‘getting’ Iran which Netanyahu is desparate to do.
      US also has a huge stake in ‘regime change’ installing US-corporate-friendly puppet regimes around the region where it is meddling.

      October 7, 2012 at 7:01 pm
    14. Chopper4 #

      @George…you gave the example of Marikana…of the employees at Marikana how many of them are true South Africans? I heard alot of the intimidation came from foreign workers. So your imagine thing really did happen.

      Please explain why getting Syria leads to getting Iran? As for your information every country that had the so called Arab Spring has turned that country into an Islamic state…and no closer to democracy…just look at what problems Egypt is having trying to make a constitution that does not include anything to do with Sharia.

      It is so funny…you complain when “western allies” send in “rebels” to fight against a brutal regime…yet you say nothing when it is those brutal regimes doing the sending of “rebels” to do their dirty work….seems like double standards to me. Very hypocritical too.

      October 15, 2012 at 3:31 pm
    15. Chopper4 #

      @The Creator “Vice-President of the South African Zionist Federation. Not exactly an impartial observer.” Just shows you can not even read…it says Chairman.

      “Hizbollah is part of the elected government of Lebanon, and not a terrorist org.” then why does it have its own security service, its own weapons caches, its own drones? How come Hizbullah does not Join the Lebanese Army or Police? Why does Hizbullah and not the government of Lebanon accept responsibility for border attacks?

      “It did lead the resistance against the illegal Israeli occupation” You make it sound as if they are not involved with dodgy cross border conflagrations..eg drone of last week. What illegal occupation are you referring to? Last time I checked the conquering of lands not belonging to anyone is not occupation

      “Hamas was the elected government of the Gaza Strip” You do know that Abbas the President of the Palestinians dissolved that government and installed a new government all in perfect harmony with the Palestinian constitution. “has received modest support from Iran for that reason (which is, of course, Iran’s right).” Oh no that is considered illegal under the constitution of the Palestinians as the only ones profiting from those funds are the illegal Hamas government.

      October 15, 2012 at 3:43 pm
    16. Chopper4 #

      “The Ba’ath Party is the government of Syria. If the Iranians wish to offer it support against the foreign-funded rebels fighting against it, they are entitled to do so.” I agree fully, so then why do you have a problem with the rebels being funded?

      “One understands why Levitas doesn’t like that, since the collapse of Syria would certainly cement Israel’s illegal occupation of the Gaza Strip.” The Gaza Strip is not under occupation not one IDF soldier or one Israeli citizen is inside, Borders with Gaza are open from Egypt and Israel. The maritime blockade is not illegal and the UN has stated that on many occasions so please elaborate, if you are even able to.

      “Hugo Chavez is the elected President of Venezuela, and not a dictator at all.” You kidding right…the guy has been in power for over a decade and will stay in power for at least until 2019…where have you seen democracies that allow a president to have at least 4 terms and on his fouth term suddenly states that will be 6 years instead of 4?

      “Vast amounts of weapons are flooding into Syria to fuel the conflict, virtually all supplied by American allies in the Gulf or by Turkey, but Levitas doesn’t mention this, because it would entail telling the truth about something. ” Yet you dont mention anything about Russia’s involvement? Then again just a few statements ago you said Iran has the right to give Syria support…you contradict yourself yet again.

      October 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm
    17. Chopper4 #

      @George,

      Those articles that you gave links to have many fundamental errors. If changing the regimes into puppets for the US, then how come they are now being governed by extremist islamist governments?

      Maybe you can share with me where ethnic cleansing of Palestinians occur? You do know that more Palestinians have been killed in Syria and Lebanon than Palestinians killed by Israel in the past good few years. You do know that more Syrians have been killed in a few months than all Palestinians killed since 1964. You might ask me why 1964? Before then Palestinians never existed. Maybe you can also tell us what the PLO wanted to liberate seeing as Gaza, Jerusalem and West Bank was not in Israeli control then…ethnic cleansing…what a load of BS.

      As for the Chinese and Russians claiming…that is BS too. They in the UNSC granted permission.

      There are too many holes in your theories…as for William Blum…he reminds me of Mordechai Vanunu…

      October 15, 2012 at 4:11 pm
    18. Chopper4 #

      @Lesego, If they are lies then I am sure you can bring some proof of that? Otherwise rather think you are a fool and say nothing than write a comment here and prove it beyond a reasonable dout.

      As for @Alan…I though Hasbara was only about Israel. Then again if you blindly agree with comments that have been refuted that can only lead me to believe that you base your opinions on other’s opinions…experience proves that makes one dig a hole for themselves.

      be careful who you tend to believe especially when you are not investigating the facts. If you do investigate and you still come to those conclusions then you are one gullible human

      October 15, 2012 at 4:15 pm

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