Syrian expert: Russia is protecting Syria to save Iran

April 16, 2012, Monday/ 12:53:00

A prominent expert on Syria has warned that Russia's protection of Syria is built on Russia's close alliance with Iran, saying, “The [most important] reason for Russia to support Syria is its alliance with Iran. If Syria falls, Iran will be the next target.”

Joshua Landis, an expert on Syria and the director of the University of Oklahoma's Center for Middle East Studies, also told Today's Zaman on Thursday that Turkey can “only lose if it invades” the country unilaterally, saying Ankara could quickly find itself in a military quagmire from which it “would not be able to extract itself until the Syrian regime is toppled … and a substitute government assembled.”

The Syria expert suggested that that while Syria is a “moral and humanitarian disaster that begs for humanitarian intervention,” it is a rapidly worsening civil conflict in which outside powers may be hard pressed to bring about positive change through military intervention. He predicts that if Turkey intervenes, though it may win diplomatic support from the West, it may not be able to expect the West's help in footing the enormous bill for refugees and Syria's reconstruction.

The Syria expert said “the spread of jihadism and al-Qaida, civil war, the possible break-up of Syria and a rising death toll” are all reasons why outside powers look with apprehension at the possibility of a failed state in Syria and will likely refrain from intervening in the near future.

Syria's Kurds

Landis said one of the greatest “open questions” about the conflict in Syria is the issue of the country's Kurdish population. “It is not clear if Syrian Kurds live overwhelmingly in the north part of the country or whether they are dispersed throughout Syria. This is, of course, closely related to the question of Kurdish autonomy. Do you think that is there any possibility for Syrian Kurds to declare independence or seek a political status similar to the one in Iraq?” the professor asked. Landis asserted that if the current conflict worsens, “Kurds in the northeast would prefer to secede from Syria and join Iraqi Kurdistan.”

The result, he said, is that Arabs and Kurds will likely remain at odds over what political concessions should be given to the Kurds in a post-Assad Syria. Arabs fear that granting federalism and "national" rights might encourage secession. “They do not trust the Kurdish parties and worry that granting federalism would set Syria on a slippery slope that could end with Kurdish independence,” Landis said.

Troubled intervention

Landis also cautioned about the growing Turkish enthusiasm to launch a limited “humanitarian intervention” in Syria, stating that “Syria could become a Vietnam for Turkey.”

“It would be fair and just if the international community would pay its share for the Syrian refugees who have fled to Turkey, but sadly this is unlikely. The Syrians got little aid for the Iraqi refugees that fled to Syria. Turkey is unlikely to get much more, although if they demand help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other agencies, they may do better than Syria,” Landis said.

What is the biggest problem for Turkey? Landis suggested it may be the divided Syrian political opposition, which Ankara has worked to unify; he said it still lacks the necessary internal unity and national credibility to become a government-in-waiting. Without such a necessary political body, Landis said intervention and the reconstruction of Syria “would take a very long time.” Turkey, he said, should be cautious not to foot the bill alone.

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