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Syria: a regional conflict « Previous | |Next »
August 21, 2012

Bashar al-Assad's Alawi-based regime in Syria does not appear to be on the verge of departure. It will not go easily whilst Iran continues its strong support for Bashar al-Assad. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis have failed, the prospects for a negotiated transition have largely ended, and Syria now likely faces a long, grinding insurgency with few foundations for a viable post-Assad scenario.

CampbellPSyria.jpg Pat Campbell

The regime's military capability stands as demonstrated by its bloody reassertion of control over Damascus. Along with the support of Russia, its determination to survive at any price could draw out the endgame. Marc Lynch says that:

Diplomatically isolated, financially strapped and increasingly constrained by a wide range of international sanctions, al-Assad's regime has been left with little room to maneuver. It resorts to indiscriminate military force and uses shabiha gangs and propaganda to inflict terror....Day by day, through accumulating mistakes, the regime is losing legitimacy and control of Syria and its people. Nonetheless, it's premature to think the end is close

The Syrian opposition to brutal autocratic rule appears to be increasingly divided between Islamists and secularists. The US and its allies (eg., Saudi Arabia) seek al-Assad's removal but they fear a violent struggle for the succession where jihadist factions exert greater influence.

The conflict within Syria appears to be one of the Sunni Muslims of Syria taking back their country and pushing out the minority that have been oppressing them for generations. Spurred on by Iran and Hizballah and bolstered by Russian support, while facing an increasingly potent insurgency backed -- politically if not militarily -- from abroad, the chances are that the regime will neither survive nor “fall,” but gradually erode and mutate into militias fighting an all-out civil war.

The conflict has a regional dimension in that much of the funding for the armed Syrian opposition comes from Saudi Arabia and other western Gulf sources, though western security agencies are also involved. The more al-Assad’s regime is threatened, the more Iranian interests too are at stake. Tehran is hugely concerned at the possible loss of its partner in Damascus, which Washington (backed by its close Saudi ally, the main supporters of Syria’s rebels) is determined to see gone.

The agenda of a non-democratic Saudi Arabia is one of a very weakened Iran, either by years of Western sanctions or by a potential Israeli attack. The outcome of long-term violence in Syria would be acceptable to those Saudi's whose primary interest is weakening Iran, rather than protecting civilians or building a more democratic Syria.

The greater the involvement of regional players the less Syrians will remain in control of their destiny, despite the awakening of a broad popular movement, motivated by a sense of wholesale dispossession of their wealth, dignity and destiny.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:49 PM | | Comments (7)


"the awakening of a broad popular movement, motivated by a sense of wholesale dispossession of their wealth, dignity and destiny."

This awakening, in a sense, is precisely what the regime has been fighting.

"...Syrian opposition to brutal autocratic rule appears to be increasingly divided between Islamists and secularists..."

Pardon my confusion Gary... can you please clarify what you mean by "Islamist" in this context? It is such an emotive word...

Primarily the conservative Islamic group, with links to the Sunni Arab powerhouses--- Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood was not well placed to claim the leadership of post-Assad Syria: it had no organised presence inside the country and was beset by long-standing rivalries.

However, the uprising has enabled it to bolster its credibility and re-establish a foothold among the domestic opposition. It is now on course to play a prominent role in the conflict — and the political system that follows the Assad family’s 40-year rule. The Muslim Brotherhood has been quietly building support amongst 25% of the population.

There are others--eg., the Salafists, the ultraconservative Sunni sect, who say that they are fighting a jihad against the Assads.

Whilst the overwhelming majority of the opposition are Syrians looking to shake off the yoke of Bashar and his father Hafiz’s decades-long Baathist dictatorship, foreign fighters now have a very real presence --less than 10% ---and they are not fighting to help establish a future state for Syrian nationals. Rather, they hope to annex it to be part of their grander aims of establishing emirates that will eventually lead to a reestablished Caliphate.

Christians and Shias are two minorities that are particularly alarmed by the rise of militant Sunnism and the arrival of elements from al-Qaida.

Assad will probably treat Syria as he did Lebanon and Iraq earlier. He will gamble that it is not a nation and will work to tear it apart; into a fractured where no one community can rule.

I'm hoping that, should Assad be defeated, the foreign fighters will get no support from the Syrian people. I seem to remember that the Islamist jihadis in Iraq couldn't maintain popular support for very long, once it became obvious that the US would withdraw most of it's troops.

It's nothing to do Islam, all to do with the strategic politics driven by ultimately by the USA and Israel trying to cut off Russia and Iran and ultimately China.
If the rebels are Wahabi type Sunni fundies, you could begin to wonder if their funding might come at least in part also from conservative Saudi Arabia, another US ally.

The Assad regimes were not the kind of government that I would find very acceptable, but I wonder whether the cost in attempting to remove the dictatorship, graphically represented here, in suffering, destruction and doubtless continuing violence beyond the foreseeable future was worth it, and whether it was the wish of the Syrian people.