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Syria’s Developments and Iran's National Security Equation
What has been going on in Syria, especially during the past week, represents a kind of borderline situation. The dominant view on the Syrian situation in Western circles is that the game is near the end: the incumbent President Bashar al-Assad will step down or will be forced to do so. However, this is not a factual explanation of the situation. In other words, this is part of a heavy psychological war which is supposed to expound the entire political situation in Syria. This is why realities are carefully picked up by Western media and only those realities which are in line with the above explanation are reflected.
We are now faced with two important questions. Firstly, what is the real nature of what is going on in Syria and possible future scenarios? Secondly, what is the sum total impact of the Syrian developments on Iran's national security variables, especially Iran's strategic conflict with the United States?
Let’s begin with the first question. The current situation in Syria can be described in its most accurate form in the following manner:
1. The ongoing unrest in Syria is not popular in nature. People are either spectators or victims. Those people who had already taken to streets to show their support for President Assad’s government, have become somehow passive and frustrated because they think that the government has lost part of its power to do its two main duties, which are supplying people’s livelihood and maintaining security. Passivity in defending the government is by no means tantamount to supporting the unrest. This has been proved by the fact that during the past few months the Syrian opposition has not been able to organize even one single major demonstration and popular rally in its support. This is also exactly why the opposition rejects any solution based on elections and negotiations. The opposition figures are well aware that if the general atmosphere is calmed down, at least to allow for a free elections, and if people went to the ballot boxes, they would never prefer radical Salafi elements who have already proven their unmatched flair in crime, to the ruling Alawites. The Syrian opposition is by no means a popular force. On the contrary, the fear that the Sunni majority has of a Salafi minority is a very important, and often censored, reality about the situation on the ground in Syria. It is the same reality which has prevented the opposition to accept any form of negotiations or even free elections.
2. It is quite clear that the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and part of the country’s Islamist figures are also part of the anti-Assad unrest now. The important question is what are the Muslim Brotherhood’s main goals and why the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which is essentially very different from its counterparts in Egypt, Sudan, and Palestine, has decided out of a sudden to pave the way for the Zionist plots in Syria?
The fundaments of the Muslim Brotherhood’s behavior can be summarized as follows:
First – A certain part of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is actually pursuing to establish a new government in Syria which will implement the mandate of Sharia law – of course as perceived by Salafis – in the country. This is the part of the Muslim Brotherhood that even in case of Assad government’s fall, is very unlikely to enter into a compromise with Israel. Therefore, some analysts maintain that their motives for creating new conflicts in Syrian border areas which are adjacent to Israel are even more powerful than the Alawites.
Second – The second part of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has reached the conclusion that the future of the region is essentially at the Muslim Brotherhood’s hands. Therefore, they do not have to rely on governments which are not affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood. As a result, although this group of the Muslim Brotherhood is well aware of the historical support provided by Syria for the anti-Israeli resistance front, they believe that new anchoring points like the new government in Egypt will make them needless of maintaining past relations with Syria.
Third – The third group which probably constitutes the majority of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is basically using outward concerns about Sharia as a means of attracting support from the ordinary people and money from Saudi Arabia. They are in cahoots with secular elements that are constantly in contact with France and the United States as well as similar political groups like the March 14 Alliance in Lebanon and the secular government of Jordan. This part forms the spine of the armed opposition in Syria.
The bottom line is that even in a best case scenario, the Muslim Brotherhood is making a dire strategic mistake. In a worst case scenario, they have reached a clandestine deal with the United States. An inevitable reality – which is again among those realities which are intentionally and generally censored – is that even if Assad’s government falls, the Americans will not allow the Syrian government to fall into the hands of that part of the Muslim Brotherhood which seeks to continue and even give more depth to the existing conflict with Israel. Therefore, if this group has decided to waste its energy and potentials on toppling Assad, the final result for it will be new banishment from the power and this time, by those who are in complete collusion with the United States and Israel. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood should know that the sole way for them to enter the government is survival of the current state and achieving a final agreement on a new system of government based on elections. Otherwise, even if Assad goes, they will not have their anti-Israeli government. There is also a pessimistic view according to which parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have reached the conclusion that they should basically give up the resistance strategy, accept the existence of Israel and reach a strategic agreement with the United States in order to keep future regional governments under control. At the first glance, this may seem to be not only too pessimistic, but also too naïve. Unfortunately, however, it should be noted that parts of the Islamic currents in the region – which are still a minority – have apparently reached the conclusion that, for example, Qatar, the only Arab country which has official relations with Israel, is a better base for the anti-Zionist resistance than Syria which has been supporting resistance for 30 years without asking anything in return!
3. The next issue about the Syrian unrest is that this phenomenon is basically non-indigenous and has its roots out of the Syrian borders. This unrest owes its continuation to plans made by the United States and European Union as well as the Arab League and finally the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan. For example, since Annan’s peace plan has gotten underway and international observers have been based in Syria as part of that plan, the rate of violence has increased by more than 20 times. The reason is that behind its diplomatic façade, Annan plan is, in fact, a ploy to pursue a single strategic goal: to tie the hands of the Syrian army and give an opportunity to the opposition to regroup and rearm its forces. In addition, the plan lacked any specific political outlook from the beginning. That is, it never clarified in what way the crisis in Syria is supposed to hit its end. It was also silent on the future power structure in the country and specifications of the transition period.
4. Another important consideration is to have a clear understanding of the US and Israeli policies on the crisis in Syria. At present, firstly, the Americans have decided to leave Arabs and Turks to play the main role in developments on the ground with Washington and its allies staying back in the second line. The reason for adopting this strategy was that the US intelligence community believed that the United States Army cannot get involved in another direct conflict and a new crisis. Secondly, Israel was asked to completely hide its role in Syria and keep total lull on developments in that country, so that, nobody could incriminate the Syrian opposition to be Israel’s stooges.
5. The next point, which is not special to Syria and can be applied to the entire Arab Spring, is that from the very beginning of these developments, the Americans and Israelis, helped by the coalition between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, found a solution to contain the Arab Spring. They reached the conclusion that the best way for preventing Arab Spring developments to serve Iran's increasing power in the region was to turn the whole situation into a conflict between Shias and Sunnis. The archetype of Shia – Sunni animosity has turned into a tool in the hands of the Western states in order to distort the entire Arab spring. By doing this, they would be able to take the energy of the regional revolutionary figures and redirect it toward Iran instead of the United States and the West which are main masterminds of decades-old sufferings of the Arab world. As a result, the political forces released by the Arab Spring and Islamic revolutions in the region will spend much of their force on deepening Shia – Sunni rift in the region.
6. The last, but certainly not least, point about the realities in Syria is the necessity of having a correct understanding of the ruling system in the crisis-hit country.
a. The Syrian government has maintained its political, military and security integrity. There are, of course, small gaps created inside the Syrian society and there are sporadic activities among the military which aim at disintegrating the armed forces and submitting the country to the foreign elements. On the whole, however, even the most pessimistic observers believe that the Syrian government has stayed as a consolidated whole and is still in control of the country.
b. The Syrian opposition groups attempted in vain for a few months to get themselves a base along the Syrian border with its neighbors which would be copycat of Benghazi in Libya. This would have allowed them to repeat the Libyan scenario in Syria. However, during the past month, they have been given a new mission by the West’s intelligence services: they have been told to transfer their forces and facilities to the suburbs of the capital Damascus and get ready for a major operation in the city. The main premises of the opposition in their new plan was this:
- Firstly, they are not able to face the Syrian army outside Damascus;
- Secondly, due to physical and human limitations, the Syrian army will be less capable of facing the opposition inside Damascus;
- Thirdly, it is more possible inside Damascus to turn the conflict into a faceoff between Shia and Sunni Muslims; and
- Fourthly, any blow to the government, even a small one, inside Damascus will have a much bigger impact than even major blows dealt to Assad’s government in remote places.
Despite the above facts, the body of the existing evidence shows that during past days, as most locations in Syria were relatively calm and clashes in Syria were focused on the capital city, the Syrian army has had a remarkable upper hand. The recent suicide attack targeting the Syrian National Security Council in Damascus was exactly a direct result of the fact that the opposition has found itself in more dire straits that it originally expected. At any rate, it is beyond any doubt that Damascus is the last stop for the armed opposition. The government’s capacity to deal with such armed attacks has greatly increased due to three major reasons. Firstly, the true nature of the opposition has been revealed for the ordinary people. Secondly, people are backing the government stronger than before. And thirdly, the main figures of the opposition are now concentrated in a small geographical expanse.
Now, and following the aforesaid brief description of the situation in Syria, it is somehow easier to answer the second question. The second question is this: as long as the situation in Syria is concerned, in what direction Iran's national security indices are moving? The most prominent points to be taken into account when answering this question are as follows:
1. There is a high degree of confidence that the Syrian government will not fall in medium term. Perhaps it will be weakened or will become subject to more severe international pressures, however, the government in Syria will stay in place. As a result of this situation, firstly, the Syrian government will think of various security scenarios to take revenge of various parties that have been involved in the Syrian unrest as soon as it gets out of the current red alert security state. Secondly, its anti-American and anti-Israeli motivations will become hundreds of times stronger. This will certainly further strengthen the overall power of the anti-Israeli resistance axis in the region which will be of vital importance to Iran.
2. It is very unlikely that Russia and China will reach an agreement with the West over Syria. Both countries have already found out in Libya that the Americans have no plan to recognize or meet their national interests. On the contrary, the United States is trying to foment unrest in areas which are of vital importance to these two countries. Therefore, unlike the past experiences when the behavior of Russia and China was unpredictable and they were expected to forge an agreement with the United States at any moment, it is now clear that no deal will be reached between these two countries and the United States, even on Iran's nuclear dossier anymore. Creation of a reliable anti-West front consisting of Russia and China will be a strategic achievement for Iran.
3. It is obvious that the Western countries have attuned the schedule of their plans on Iran's nuclear program with the pace of political developments in Syria. If Syria gets out of the current crisis, the West’s diplomatic approach to Iran's nuclear energy program will totally change. The Western countries’ analysis is that Iran will only change its plans for going on with the nuclear energy program when it reaches the conclusion that its security index is going down and down. The fate of Syria is among few factors which can play a key role in making Iran reach that conclusion. Also, the high probability that Israel will fall into a state of chaos after Syria weathers the current dire straits is another factor which can make the West give major political concessions to Iran.
Therefore, despite what may seem on the surface, the strategic equation of the region as a result of the ongoing developments in Syria has by no means changed to the detriment of Iran. On the contrary, the outlook of future insecurity in Israel is clearly on the horizon and has made Western countries greatly concerned as of now.