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July 20, 2012, Friday

Bloody Wednesday and Syria

Last week’s bombing in Damascus which killed three top figures of the Baath regime demonstrates perfectly the current level of violence in the country. This attack has proven that even President Bashar al-Assad’s life is under threat as the opposition now has the capacity to kill people from his inner circle. Through this attack, the opposition has sent a message to pro-Assad countries: Soon there will be no one alive in the Assad administration who you can support. Thus, if there are countries willing to receive Assad and his entourage, they will have to be pretty quick about it.

This bombing has another crucial meaning: The radical groups within the opposition, and especially those linked to al-Qaeda, have grown stronger. Thus, following the fall of the Assad regime, the chance for other groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to adopt moderate policies has weakened.

Debates on an eventual international intervention have occupied the front pages of newspapers in the wake of the attack. Russia is still opposed to a UN Security Council resolution, but things have gotten worse and Russia may finally be convinced to change its stance. Russia suggests that an international intervention will only help the US to limit Moscow’s influence in the Middle East. Moreover, Russian officials regularly point out that there are still people in Syria who support the regime and that the insurgents are, in fact, terrorists. Let’s look at events just for a moment from Russia’s perspective: If these people are all terrorists, then there is a huge security vacuum in Syria. That alone may justify an international intervention.

While the Western powers justify the intervention by evoking the necessity to prevent further massacres against the civilian population, Russia may be convinced to join in the intervention in order to put an end to the “terrorism.” Russia will thus get the opportunity to protect its old allies within the regime and the Alawite population when the Western powers try to make sure that the Sunni radical groups are kept under control. This will be a repeat of what happened in Yugoslavia when different foreign powers intervened together in order to preserve their own specific interests.

If such a joint intervention is carried out, Syria may face the risk of division in time. The coastal region, with its Alawite majority, may become autonomous under Russia’s auspices and Syria may split into two. This disintegration process may cause a broader change in the region’s borders, as everything that goes on in Syria directly affects Lebanon and Iraq. If borders change and new states emerge, these new actors will try to establish new alliances with the region’s influential powers such as Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and with the great powers, especially the US and Russia.

Russia and the US may decide at some point that it is useless to continue quarrelling over Syria and they will intervene there together. However, this will not solve everything as the antagonism between Iran and Israel is still palpable. These two continue to threaten each other, making it difficult for the US and Russia to come to an understanding. Iran doesn’t want to lose Syria and Israel doesn’t want to have to deal with two Syrias.

Contradictory interests and different actors’ plans have become so intertwined that the Syrian issue cannot go on like this anymore. As Russian authorities have begun to admit, the civil war in Syria may soon turn into a regional war. This is something no one desires right now. The negotiations with Russia will soon come to an end. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the bargain between great powers doesn’t mean that the struggle between people will come to an end, too.

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