EDITORIAL: Syria and the balance of power
AS THE SITUATION in Syria continues to simmer, there are many questions that bedevil this peculiar impasse, inconsistent with the fate of most dictators following the Arab Spring.
It is therefore prudent to examine the difficulty with the Arab League and Annan plans.
There are several reasons why this case may be dragging out, and may more likely to result in a cessation of violence and reforms, rather than an ouster of President Bashar al Assad or regime change.
A cursory look at the international vested interests at play, and the strategy considerations and alliances should give some idea about what is prolonging the Syrian conflict. It is instructive that not a single key regime figure has defected to the opposition.
What implications, then, does a destabilized or even an Assad-free Syria have for its neighbours? What would be at stake for Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, the principal regional players in the Middle East?
Syria does have major supporters (unlike Libya). The potential collapse of the Assad regime would disturb the balance of power at the expense of Iran, leaving it virtually alone among an array of bitter archrivals such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
In spite of an Arab League mission sent to observe Syria’s implementation of a League peace plan, the level of violence has remained high with no sign of a let-up in the crackdown by Assad’s forces.
Russia has maintained a stable friendship with Syria, selling arms to this loyal oil-rich customer, and doesn’t want it to incur the same fate as with Libya and Iraq which were large customers of Russian munitions until regime change put paid to business.
Further, Russia’s only external military base is in Syria and it still blocks all sanctions against Syria in the United Nations.
Palestine’s Hamas and its various other radical groups are loosely grouped into this Syria-Iran-Hezbollah strategic alliance.
All of them reject peace on Israeli or United States terms.
Together, these regimes feel more confident to pursue their foreign policy, buoyed up by Syria and Iran than they would if one or other fell. What is particularly interesting is that both Israel and Turkey do not back Western and Arab calls for Syria’s regime to step down.
Israel, fearing a more bellicose government to follow, would prefer Assad. Turkey dreads Syria spilling into sectarian strife similar to Iraq, especially mindful of its own Kurdish problem.
Saudi Arabia, keen to keep its Shiite rival Iran isolated, would gladly see the back of Bashar Al Assad. In line with Western powers, Saudi Arabia merely calls for him to step down mindful of its own repressive Bahrain intervention.
The stark political reality in Syria is that despite the rhetoric from the United States and others, the policy is that it is better to stay with the devil you know.