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Syrian Conundrum: Options Beyond Military Intervention

Leaving the Syrian theatre to Western directors is not a good choice. Partnership with Turkey and the Arab League may avoid bad scenarios particularly the Libya styled military intervention.

OmairAnas for BeyondHeadlines

Bloodshed has not receded even after Arab League delegation has arrived in Syria last week. Countries of the BRICS (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) as well as Russia have preferred opposing or abstaining from all important voting in the United Security Council against Libya and Syria. China and Russia have vetoed UNSC resolution which ‘would have warned of options for action to be considered against the Government of President Bashar al-Assad if the unfolding situation warranted, including measures under the section of the United Nations Charter that allowed sanctions’.[1] Veto and abstaininghave different sets of motives and interests and reservations on Western plans. Perhaps veto power nations China and Russia are clearer in their interests than India and Brazil.

It can’t be said that India is following a principle line of non-intervention in a foreign country. Tunisia and Egypt didn’t pose much challenge as the revolution took very brief way to settle down. But international intervention in Libya and call for similar adventures in Syria has divided the world.Even NATO member Turkey itself joined the chorus of military intervention in Libya very lately. India’s position at best can be described as ‘wait and watch’. Both India and Brazil and South Africa have little to do anything on ground. India’s mainproblem of foreign policy is its historical baggage of non-Alignment and its ambition to become strategic partner of Israel and the United States. China and Russian federations are also aware of rapidly changing public opinions and have tried to position themselves within these changing dynamics. China is stressing for resolving the crisis within Arab League while Arab League itself is strongly willing to go beyond. Russians have blamed on external forces for creating a civil war like situation. One Russian delegate after visiting Syria recently commented that the Arab League disliked Syria’s liberal policy: hardline Islamists wanted to gain control over Syria. Fundamentalist religious fanatics had been financed and armed to stage an uprising against the administration. He even called that the “opposition” does not enjoy support amongst the people.[2] However many of these fears and predictions of instability are based on calculated exaggeration and civil war discourse is being used as pre-emptive excuse for systematic killing of opposition groups and people. With this position, public opinion in these countries is suspicious of NATO’s and Western intentions in Libya as well as in Syria. Secular state institutions and culture, women’s status and protection of minority rights and Palestinian causewill be among badly affected had Bashar Al Assad regime been ousted. However most of the excuses are unfounded and exaggeration is aimed to create more confusions rather than recognizing the change.

Regional Stability

Syrian president has issued warning of earthquake in the region if west intervenes in Syria. “Any problem in Syria will burn the whole region. If the plan is to divide Syria, that is to divide the whole region. Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistan?”[3]The USS George Washington (CVN-72) is already sent to in Syrian coast.In reaction, Russia has also sent a warship to signal seriousness of its commitment to not allow any Libya styled intervention. The region’s vulnerable security may become an excuse for Assad to prevent revolution. However Both Russia and China have vetoed October 4 proposal at UNSC which “would have warned of options for action to be considered against the Government of President Bashar al-Assad if the unfolding situation warranted.[4]The representative of the Russian Federation warned UNSC while exercising veto that the collapse of President Assad’s Government could destabilize the entire region.[5]But the two countries are doing little to engage President Bashar Al Assad to respond opposition’s demand and open the way for democracy. The two countries have also responsibility to stop violent crackdown on protests. Protesters are being killed and a situation like 1982 massacre in Homsis slowly being repeated. Syrian regime has declined to respond initiatives of Arab League, GCC as well as requests from OIC members which have demanded to end violent suppression of protesters. To create an earthquake, it is highly doubtful that Syrian army will join Bashar Al Assad’s any military adventure plans. Iranian leadership is also said to be considering options beyond Bashar Al Assad as change seems imminent. Also Iran has an opportunity to review its fragile relations with Arab states by engaging with Arab League and regional powers like Egypt and Turkey.

Rise of Islamism and threat to secularism

Rise of Islamists,following the Arab spring, is projected as worst scenario by many commentators. Columnists in Indian media and other countries are suggesting that ‘Islamic Winter’may allow hardline Islamiststo take over the charge and turn the region in Taliban ruled Afghanistan.The Economist on 22 October offered its unreserved apology to RachidGhannauchifor reporting false statements on his behalf saying that his Nahdha Party will oppose Tunisia’s liberal code of individual rights and other laws. “If the Islamic spectrum goes from Bin Laden to Erdogan, which of them is Islam? Why are we put in the same place as a model that is far from our thought” says Ghannauchi. Noted thinker and writer on Islam John L. Esposito hasalways been warning for not mistaking Islam. Israelis were projecting emergence of National Islamism in Syria with help of Hamas and Hizbullah and Iran which intends to wipe out Israel.[6] Now the same chorus is being tuned by pro Assad camps citing Assad’s ‘reliable secular credentials’ and justifying his survival for the sake of gains made by Syria’s secular state institutions and culture.[7]Denying Muslim Brotherhood from Syrian politics is not going to work. Both Islam and Muslim Brotherhood are part of Syrian politics and culture. Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition figures have been systematically harassed by Asad regimes andBashar Al Assad has missed the opportunity to set any preconditions for national dialogue and has lost legitimacy to dictate whom to be invited. He must allow Syrian people to decide whether Muslim Brotherhood deserves their support or not.

Palestinian problem

Syrian diplomats are also defending Syrian regime because of its commitment to Palestinian conflict and its consistent struggle against Israeli occupation in Golan Heights. Though Syria’s efforts for Palestine are recognized but failure of Arabs to get Palestinian issue resolved is a collective failure which many Arab states are trying to solve at bilateral level. Syria like many other Arab states was secretly involved in Turkish mediated negotiation with Israel United States. In absence of any desirable outcome, Syria has preferred maintaining status quo. There are opinions that Syria’s frustration has originated from its failure to implement the so called Assad Doctrine which aimed at creating Greater Syria having parts of Palestinian territories under Syrian control. The principle that Arab nations could extract maximum concessions from Israel only by acting in concert, has actually not worked rather it has failed over the decades. Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas have not come in open support of Bashar Al Assad. Given opposition parties’ earlier take on Palestine, there is no possibility that settlement of Palestinian problem will go against the interests of Syrian and Palestinian people. Rather, grammar of peace talk is likely to change and American desperation to engage with Islamic political parties, as Chinese commentator TianWenlin rightly observes, is to avoid becoming the biggest loser in the “Wave of the Middle East”.[8]  Syrian people are enough competent to protect Palestinian interests without help of Bashar Al Assad and his tactic to play Palestinian cardis not going to work.


Following the series of sanctions from Arab Leagues, Turkey and European Union which have banned all senior Syrian officials from travelling to member states of Arab League and ban on major commercial and economic transactions has narrowed options before Bashar Al Assad. There is no doubt that Arab League, OIC and United Security Council is very serious about the crisis and the crisis may not be allowed to prolong.[9] Every day Bashar Al Assad is losing his support and control on his power. He has also ignored most of the suggestions from his international friends like Iran and China and many other friends like India are sceptic about the future of current regime and are in “wait and watch” mode.

Turkey has greatest stake in Syria as it has longest border with Syria, military intervention in Turkey’s another neighbourhood will certainly weaken Turkey’s security environment and hence Turkish officials are not ready for any such option. Since last five years Turkey was advocating Zero Problem policy with neighbours. Turkey has emerged as key player in the Arab Spring and its soft power is enhanced by its ‘Zero Problem’ policy and moderate Islamic parties are actively subscribing Turkey’s ruling party model of balancing Islam and politics. Formation of Syrian National Council in Turkey reflects Turkey’s desire to allow all possible voices from Syrian political landscape to be included in the forum so that dialogue for national consensus be formed within Syria, instead of being imposed from outside. At this point, China and Russia should commit for peaceful change in Syria and their cooperation with Turkey to avoid all bad scenarios will indeed be of historical outcomes. All major third world countries along with Russia, China and India have greater stakes in the Arab world. Neither they can sustain west’s hegemony over the energy rich region nor can they ignore people’s aspirations for change in the wake of Arab Uprising.  Leaving the Syrian theatre to Western directors is not a good choice. Partnership with Turkey and the Arab League may avoid bad scenarios particularly the Libya styled military intervention. 

(The writer is researcher at JNU New Delhi and he is working on Transnational Arab Media Culture. He can be contacted on [email protected]. The views expressed in this article are writer’s own, and it does not necessarily reflect BH’s editorial policy)


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