Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Who will take over in Syria?

Ted Belman

The best outcome for the conflict in Syria is for the Sunnis and the Kurds to be victorious in Syria. But they must do so aligned with Saudi Arabia and Israel. My recent article The Kurds and the Sunnis must be united to stop Iran from taking over in Iraq and al Qaeda in Syria spells it out and my argument was buttressed here.

Herb London reported a few days ago, U.S. Betrays Syria’s Opposition

In an effort to understand and placate Syrian opposition groups, Secretary Clinton invited them to a meeting in Washington. Most of those invited, however, have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen. According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails.One organization, the Syrian Democracy Council (SDC), an opposition group composed of diverse ethnic and religious organizations, including Alawis, Aramaic Christians, Druze and Assyrians was conspicuously — and no coincidentally — omitted from the invitation list.

Le Smith reports in Split Ends that the Obama policy is not doing too well. Thank goodness. A key reason it has failed isn’t for lack of ability to project power, but rather because it has become distracted by the fractured nature of the opposition—over what comes after Assad—rather than focusing on the far more manageable pursuit of bringing down a long-time U.S. adversary.

Smith goes into great detail about the growth of the various factions. What concerns the US is the need to avoid or prevent the same kind of civil strife that occurred in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Good luck with that. The countries are similar except that the Shiites in Iraq constituted about 60% of the population with the rest divided between Kurds and Sunnis whereas in Syria the Shiites/Alawites constitute only 20% of the population, the Kurds about 15% and the Sunnis most of the rest allowing for sizable minorities of Druze and Christians.

Obama wants to take control of Syria through Turkey and the MB. It is far preferable for Saudi Arabia and Israel to take control through the Kurds and Sunnis who hostile to the Islamists. Such an outcome would certainly strengthen the Kurds and the Sunnis in Iraq thereby reducing the power of the Shiites/Iran in Iraq.

Itamar Rabinovich, (Itamar Rabinovich has served as Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria and as Israel’s ambassador in Washington. His books include “The View from Damascus.” ) in the NYT writes about The Devil We Knew

Turkey is worried by the repercussions of instability and potential chaos in Syria for its own stability, particularly in the Kurdish context. It also feels uncomfortable with the role played by Iran so close to its southern border.

Turkey’s original policy of “zero conflicts” included an attempt to improve relations with Iran. But there could never be a comfortable relationship between a large Sunni state and a large Shiite state both vying for regional hegemony. With Iran seeking influence in Iraq and acting against Turkey’s policy and interests in Syria, an implicit rivalry is coming to the surface.

The other effort is Saudi Arabia’s. Several developments have combined to alter the kingdom’s role from a reluctant wielder of discreet influence to that of a manifest, more aggressive regional power: Egypt’s current weakness; American reticence; and the threats presented by the Arab Spring.

The Saudis intervened forcefully in Bahrain, are active in Yemen and are shoring up King Abdullah in Jordan.

But for several months they were passive with regard to Syria. Like other states in the region — and like the United States and Europe — they were unhappy with Bashar al-Assad, but essentially subscribed to a policy of “the devil we know.” Bad as Assad’s brutality was, it seemed preferable to the dangers of anarchy, possible fragmentation and an uncertain future, given the fact that the Syrian opposition is largely an unknown.

More recently, however, Saudi Arabia came to the conclusion that defeating Iran on the Syrian stage is the dominant consideration. This conclusion is shared by other Arab states, which explains the shift in the Arab League’s position and the extraordinary steps it has taken against the Assad regime.

It is also a prime example of how “soft power” can be used by countries, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, that may not be a military match for Tehran.

The roles played by Turkey and the Arab League are also a byproduct of the modest role played by the United States.

In the Libyan crisis, President Obama sought to “lead from behind.” In the Syrian crisis, Washington does not lead at all. Yes, the American ambassador, Robert Ford, played a courageous role; the administration imposed some sanctions, and has used strong words to denounce Assad. But Washington does not have a coherent policy, and seems content to have regional powers in the driver’s seat in this crisis.

Israel, it appears , no longer prefers the devil she knew.

Israel is passive as well. In 2005, when George W. Bush wanted to topple Bashar al-Assad, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon cautioned against doing so, using the “devil we know” argument. Assad was Iran’s close ally and Lebanon’s oppressor, a patron of Hamas and an anti-American actor in Iraq, but the alternative to his rule, according to the conventional wisdom at the time, was the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is not Israel’s policy now. After the discovery of Assad’s secret cooperation with North Korea, and given the threats to its national security by Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, Israel came to the conclusion that there is more potential damage in Assad’s survival than in his departure.

Deeply preoccupied with the Iranian threat, Israel is of the opinion that extracting the Syrian brick from the Iranian wall could usher in a new phase in regional politics. Clearly both Hamas and Hezbollah are treading more softly now.

For sure, I am not in agreement with his conclusion. What else do you expect from the NYT,

There seems to be no real prospect of external military intervention in Syria. But the policies of external actors will have a major impact on the position of the Syrian army and on the middle classes of Damascus and Aleppo that so far have been sitting on the fence.

The United States, France and other powers that traditionally played an important role in the Levant do not need to resort to military action. They have a full arsenal of diplomatic and economic assets that could tilt the current conflict in Syria, put an end to brutal suppression and bloodshed, and help the Arab Spring register another achievement.

Can you believe that last bit?

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is happy with the Islamists taking over. Hopefully they will take my advice :) ) and support a take over by Kurds and Sunnis loyal to S Arabia.

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