By Ali Imran
The international community is finally recognizing the real extent of dangers the three-year deep Syrian abyss now poses to the Middle East and the world beyond.
Amid an unabated spree of death and destruction in the Arab country, intelligence reports indicate much more deadly involvement of foreign elements and see wider implications of the conflict. Meanwhile, the UN push to address the situation remains inconclusive.
American Intelligence officials warn that the Syrian civil war has become one of the biggest magnets for extremists around the globe since CIA-backed militants fought to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s, a war that ultimately gave rise to al-Qaeda, the Los Angeles Times revealed last week.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, says that “7,500 or so” foreign fighters are in Syria from 50 countries, while another U.S. official says at least 50 Americans have joined the extremist groups fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
The BBC disclosure that hundreds of British nationals are reportedly in Syria to fight against government forces and that a British man may have carried out a suicide bombing in the Syrian city of Aleppo last week, point to the serious repercussions the conflict has for various parts of the world. One in 10 foreign militants is believed to be from Europe
In the meantime, Syrian suffering seems to have no end in sight with thousands of people living on grass in besieged Homs, bombs raining on Aleppo, the largest city of the country, thousands more including women and children starving to death in Yarmouk Camp, more than 130,000 already killed, thousands of activists jailed without fair trial, and millions more still pushed out of their homes to be left at the mercy of other nations and cruelties of sub-human existence.
Clearly, Syria has become a nightmarish tinderbox for the volatile Middle East and the world at large.
Assad’s brutal machinations, bloodletting by Hezbollah and al-Qaeda-linked extremists, influx of foreign fighters, exodus of the peaceful Syrian citizens, sectarian strife, and tyranny of the world’s misplaced focus on superficial issues is beclouding the real and sustainable way forward – treatment of the wound left open by years of unbridled rule with impunity.
Then there is the backing of chosen proxies by some Western and Middle Eastern states, Russia and Iran coupled with a constant supply of weapons to the Syrian groups that pose serious repercussions. The country is now feared to morph into another Afghanistan, a battlefield for competing ideologies, thugs, warlords and armed militias.
Given the time and space Syria is locked in, the emergence of another Afghanistan from the Syrian collapse may inflict a much more lethal mix of troubles regionally, for the Arab country is sensitively bordered by Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq and Jordan.
Some of the serious implications stemming from the conflict include: movement of al-Qaeda from Iraq to Syria; al-Qaeda gaining a foothold along the Turkish border; increasing Iranian and Hezbollah support for the Assad regime; Turkey’s backing of the Syrian Opposition; strained relations between Ankara and Teheran over Syria; emergence of a strong al-Qaeda in Lebanon; Israel’s strikes on Syrian military targets and its support for militants; paralyzing fallout for the Lebanese political system along sectarian lines; and inflow of Syrian refugees and weapons into Jordan along with the risk of militant infiltration into the Jordanian territory.
Internally, the trend to fight terror with terror threatens to plunge the country into a permanent cycle of violence between the Syrian civilian groups. The flawed deal on removing chemicals weapons from Syria might mitigate the intensity of the strife to some extent but it is the detoxification of the Syrian society that could ultimately rescue the country. And that can come through some kind of political reconciliation and formation of a pluralistic and inclusive government comprising genuine representatives of the people – a goal that looks distant at the moment.
If the civil strife festers, Syria faces horrible scenarios like permanent chaos and division. It risks becoming an epicenter of a regional conflagration, provoking a broader conflict among its neighbors.
The United States, meanwhile, has been trying to approach the complex Syrian standoff mainly diplomatically but many American critics say it is a case of doing too little and too late. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on the explosive Syrian trouble but he would not spell out a detailed plan for conflict management.
Some analysts interpret the absence of a cogent Obama comment on the Syrian situation as continuation of Washington’s retreat from action-oriented involvement in the Middle Eastern imbroglios.
Andrew Bacevich J Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations, argued in a Washington Post piece recently that due to a combination of domestic opposition to wars and international factors, Obama is revoking former president Jimmy Carter’s doctrine of military involvement in the Middle East.
Obama also emphasized in that the U.S. must shift away from permanent war footing. Washington seems determined to resist the temptation of any new military involvement, in the backdrop of vitiating implications of George W Bush’s Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Diplomatically, though, the Obama Administration has been engaged in an intensive diplomatic drive to find a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. But Tel Aviv’s decision on Jewish settlements on the occupied territories forestalls any meaningful progress. The Syrian conflict could also affect the long-running Middle East dispute equation.
As of now, experts see little hope in the UN-Arab League-brokered talks for a Syrian solution. Analysts believe a settlement would only emerge if one side in the conflict loses its will to fight and runs out of steam.
Meanwhile, will the United Nations allow Syria to bleed to death and stir up hordes of regional troubles? To prevent that deadly scenario, will the UN Security Council finally come together and take measures, perhaps under Chapter VII’s enforcement mandates and dispatch a fully equipped attack force (as in the case of Congo), composed of neutral countries, and restore peace in Syria?
This piece first appeared in Pakistan Today newspaper on February 15, 2014