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CUMALİ ÖNAL

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CUMALİ ÖNAL
March 04, 2012, Sunday

If Syria becomes like Libya, the ME region will be singed

The longer Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad tries to stay in power, the more about another scenario like the one in Libya is uttered. If things end up this way, the region will be singed.

It has been more than four months since Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown in Libya. However, it seems there is no hope for the maintenance of stability. On the contrary, the country keeps sliding into deeper and deeper chaos. Dozens of armed groups clash with rival groups for the sake of protecting their own interests.

The National Transitional Council (NTC), which was recognized by the international community, no longer has an impact on the country. None of the groups abide by the decisions made by the council, and the council itself is retrogressing day by day.

After causing the deaths of many people -- numbering between 10,000 and 30,000 -- Gaddafi was wiped from existence by a terrible murder. Assad is also going the way of Gaddafi. The clashes that have been going on for months are now confined to Homs. Assad’s forces are bombing the town in front of the entire world as he tries to lessen the power of the opposition. In doing so, he doesn’t even refrain from killing journalists.

 As long as the clashes continue, it is inevitable that many independent and even rival groups will come into existence. It is even possible that al-Qaeda may govern some of these groups. None of the countries in the region would want to even think of such a scenario. Although the instability in Libya continues, it isn’t possible for this instability to have a great impact on the region. This is because the history and geographical situation of Libya do not make a big impact and the country has a relatively small population.

As for Syria, it is a country that may have a deep impact on the region due to its historical, cultural and geopolitical ties with other countries. If the current divide between opponents of the Assad regime were to remain in place after its fall, it would affect primarily Syria’s neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, but also the entire region. A Syria that is on the edge of a civil war would be a new opportunity primarily for the terrorist organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is waiting for an opportunity to push Syrian Kurds to take the side of the organization. The PKK never refrains from embarking on a new venture, and the Kurds who are affiliated with the party suffer because of this. Separatist groups led by the PKK will seek ways to agitate Turkey, Iraq, Syria and even Iran.

A Syria in chaos will surely have the deepest impact on Lebanon. Under such circumstances, religious and ethnic conflicts will be easily sparked again. It is highly probable that this country, which experienced a civil war for 15 years and is now coping with great political instability, will face with a similar scenario again.

As for Iraq, which is on the brink of fragmentation, it will decide its future based upon the developments in Syria. If the turmoil in Syria continues for a long time, the fragmentation of Iraq will be inevitable.

Turkey, the only democratic government in the region, is included among the countries that will be affected by developments in Syria. Trying to exert more influence in the region by means of its “soft power strategy” and economic ties, Turkey may leave this strategy behind and take bold action to protect its interests. Such action may cause two of the powers in the region, Turkey and Iran, to fall into a dispute.

Jordan will certainly be among the countries that are affected by the turmoil that Syria, Jordan’s neighbor to the north, is experiencing. In the case that Syria cannot overcome its crisis within a short time, it will be hard for the royal family in Jordan to remain in power in the long term. The fall of the royal family would bring a breakdown of the delicate balances in Jordan.

Although it doesn’t declare it blatantly, Israel is pleased with the Assad regime but is concerned about the turmoil in Syria. Israel has left its border almost deserted for the past several decades. However, because of the possibility of the Assad regime’s fall, Israel will have to increase its military budget to enable it to deploy more soldiers along its border with Syria. Maybe it will build a steel wall along its border near the Golan Heights, just like the one it built along the Egyptian border. If it does, Israel will be indifferent to whether the turmoil continues or peace settles over Syria. In either case, Israel will miss its former happy days.

It is inevitable that other countries in the region will be affected by the developments, even though they are not countries that neighbor Syria. If Iran, which is trying very hard to keep the Assad regime in power, loses Syria, it will also lose its dream of extending its influence to the Mediterranean. That will strike a big blow to Iran’s strategy towards becoming the primary power in the region. Iran’s weakening means that Saudi Arabia, its rival in the Gulf, will be strengthened.

Becoming more and more severe in their armed efforts to topple the Assad regime, the opposition, unlike that of Libya, does not much want the involvement of Western powers. According to them, the involvement of Western powers would mean the hidden involvement of Israel.

As a result, and being aware that he has reached a dead end, Assad would prevent all these terrible scenarios from becoming reality if he were to step down as soon as possible.

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