Complex dimensions of Syria crisis – By Syed Zafar Mehdi

syriaThere is an extraordinary tendency in some of our argumentative political analysts and commentators to at times go overboard and miss the larger picture. Going through Happymon Jacob’s column this week on Syrian crisis was painful, if not agonizing. A scholar and political observer of some substance, Mr. Jacob went out of his way to apparently give clean chit to western powers-that-be and put the blame squarely on the ‘Syrian dictator’ for the crisis in Syria. There is no love lost between me and Assad, and I don’t intend to sound like the votary of his repressive government, but the writer’s lop-sided analysis compelled me to set a few records straight.

The Syrian crisis has many complex dimensions and unless we don’t probe deeper with an objective and impartial approach, we will miss the larger picture. There is certainly more to it than meets the eye. That’s where Mr. Jacob’s analysis has failed to inspire. He believes the “internal civil war in Syria, going on since mid 2011, is a direct result of the Arab Spring”. If one were to buy this line of argument, then why haven’t the ‘rebel forces’ been able to topple Assad even two years after the crisis triggered off. How long did it take in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia? If it is actually a people’s movement in Syria against a ‘dictator’, it wouldn’t have taken so long for them to get rid of Assad. On the contrary, it’s an attested fact that the ‘rebels’ have only lost ground and it looks unlikely for them to achieve their goals.

Mr. Jacob makes a rather interesting observation. He says “the US and allies were hesitant to directly involve themselves in Syria till, of course, the Syrian government, allegedly, used Chemical weapons in rebel held areas killing over a thousand civilians.” In an indirect way, he suggests that Syrian rebels are not backed by US and its allies, including UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and they are fighting the powerful Syrian military on their own. It also seems to suggest that the US and its allies have not ‘directly’ intervened in Syria as yet. This is, at best, a preposterous and ill-informed statement to make.

Let’s make no mistake about it. The ‘rebels’ in Syria have been backed by the US and its allies from day one, and also let’s not fall into this vicious trap of ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ intervention. I assume by the word ‘direct’, the write means unilateral military strike, but it’s also true that the ‘indirect’ intervention by US and its allies has resulted in a deep mess. Any informed observer would vouch for the fact that the crisis in Syria was orchestrated by Western powers to topple Assad, an important ally of Iran and Hezbollah, and install a puppet regime that works for American interests in the region. It is also a ridiculous attempt at cornering Iran and Hezbollah, who unlike many others in Middle East refuse to accept US hegemony.

US support to the rebels became official in mid 2011, when a section of western media reported about the secret order authorizing U.S. support for Syrian rebels. Known as intelligence ‘finding’, it gave permission to CIA and other U.S. agencies to lend support that could help the rebels oust Assad and install an American puppet in Damascus. Free Syrian Army obtained a number of surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank weapons, and if reports are to be believed even chemical weapons from West. Apart from the secret order, Obama has unequivocally stated that his administration is supporting the rebels. The State Department last year announced a total of $25 million for ‘non-lethal’ assistance to the Syrian opposition, which becomes ‘lethal’ in Syria. Mr. Jacob concedes towards the end of his column that rebels have received arms and other assistance from west, but he puts it down to ‘indirect’ intervention, which becomes ‘direct’ only when they launch a belligerent unilateral military strike against Syria. And until then, we may chose to look the other way and blame Assad regime for all the problems in Syria.

Mr Jacob makes a case for US intervention in Syria by ‘alleging’ that government used chemical weapons against the rebels, killing over a thousand civilians. It’s actually the other way round as exposed by a noted Associated Press reporter Dale Gavlak, who said Syrian rebels, armed with chemical agents from Saudi Arabia, were responsible for the August 21st chemical weapons attack in Damascus. “As the machinery for a U.S.-led military intervention in Syria gathers pace following last week’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S. and its allies may be targeting the wrong culprit,” she wrote in Mint Press. Del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, in an interview with Swiss radio earlier this year categorically accused Syrian rebels of using sarin gas. “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.” The Russian foreign minister has said he will give concrete evidence to United Nations Security Council that implicates Syrian rebels in a chemical attack. Mr Jacob, wittingly or unwittingly, chose not to discuss that in his column.

Mr. Jacob acknowledges that the UN inquiry report stops short of indicting Syrian government over the use and abuse of chemical weapons, however he stops short of pointing out the loopholes in the lop-sided report that vaguely shifts the blame on forces loyal to government and seeks to build a case for US military intervention in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov termed the report “biased, incomplete, distorted and one-sided”, and rightly so. In a desperate bid to protect foreign-backed rebels from further embarrassment, the UN report steers clear of blaming either side. There is no evidence to blame government forces, and it cannot indict ‘rebels’ because they are backed by western nuclear powers who call shots at UN.

Mr. Jacob makes an interesting prediction, straight out of a Hollywood action-thriller. He opines the recent peace overtures from newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, despite resistance from Israel, “will enable the Obama administration focus all its energies on Syria and gain the much-needed support for a military campaign against Syria.” By that logic, Iran should betray Syrian government in lieu of good bilateral ties with the US and let latter attack the former. That’s too wishful and improbable, especially if you know the history of Iran and political dynamics in that country.

Rouhani being a ‘moderate’ does not mean he will compromise with the foreign policy and kneel before what his late mentor and leader Imam Khomeini called ‘shaitaan e bozorg’ (big satan). The latest peace overtures from new Iranian regime must not be taken as a meek surrender by Tehran. It should be seen as an open invitation to West to engage in a meaningful and result-oriented dialogue over the outstanding issues like Iran’s nuclear programme and Syrian crisis.

All said and done, I am not the supporter of Assad and his autocratic regime, but I am also fiercely against the foreign-backed ‘rebels’ funded, supported and coerced by US and its allies, and against those who speak for them. Let there be a democratic transition in Syria and let the will of people prevail, not the will of Obamas or Netenyahus of the world.

Writer is a Kashmiri journalist and blogger based in New Delhi. He tweets at @mehdizafar

In the reign of ignorance, awareness itself becomes a crime ~ Dr. Ali Shariati
Syed Zafar Mehdi
Journalist, Blogger, Activist – New Delhi