The Syrian uprising and the ensuing crisis is arguably one of the most complex issues America – “the savior of humanity” – has encountered in its war on Islam.
Two years on and there seems no end in sight to one of the most deadly civil wars in recent times. 70,000 people have been killed so far, with thousands more injured and close to a million displaced.
American led crusader campaign of the West has been cheered on in the past – Afghanistan, Iraq – by almost the entire world. However, there seems to be an “awakening” among certain sections of the society of the world, especially the West, which are condemning the actions of their governments and even lecturing Muslims on the nefarious designs of their nations. Such has been the absurd “awakening”, that they have also begun to lecture Muslims on whether they should fight or not and whom they should fight! It is just one of the many myriad absurdities plaguing the world today.
A significant number of people and countries in the world – Russia especially- have voiced their concern about the Syrian armed uprising being Western funded and the rebels being puppets of America. This is a gross misreading and over-simplification of the reality.
Syria has witnessed a phenomenon unlike any other seen in the Arab spring countries. The armed revolution has been spearheaded by an overwhelming number of Islamic groups, like Jabhat Al Nusrah, Liwa Al Tawheed, Ahrar Al Sham among others. The largely secular rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been more or less fringe elements in the fight against the tyrant Assad regime. The inability of America to find for itself powerful enough puppets to secure its interests has been one of the main reasons why the Americans have not yet intervened in this civil war. This, in turn, has been the result of the domination of Islamic groups who have taken the fight to the regime even with their limited resources. Jabhat Al Nusrah was banned last year by the US fearing its growing influence. The US and other Western powers have acknowledged that they fear arming the rebels lest it might fall in the hands of Islamic rebel groups.
Assad regime, along with Iran, is one of the last remaining allies of Russia in the Middle East. As such Russia has continuously vetoed resolutions in the UN Security Council against Assad. For Iran also, Assad regime remains its strongest ally in the region to counter the Arab block with which it has had historical animosity. Syria is also Iran’s only link to Hezbollah in Lebanon. As such Iran has vociferously supported the Assad regime, both diplomatically as well as militarily. The hypocrisy being evident when Iran cheered on the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, etc., but when the winds of change came to blow off the Alawi dictatorship of Bashar Al Assad, Iran changed its tone and described it as terrorism, while maintaining its support for the uprising in Bahrain where the majority of the population is Shia and the government is Sunni.
The Iranian foreign policy cannot be understood but in a historical context. Iran, even after it was conquered by Muslims during the Caliphate of Umar Bin Khattab (RadhiAllahu Anh), could never get out of its Persian nationalistic skin, which along with the heretic cult of Shiism, formed a formidable opposition to the greater Sunni world. The Saffavids came to power in the Persia in the 16th century with Shiism as thier state religion, and were in constant bickering with the Ottoman Islamic caliphate. It is because of this historical rivalry that Arab countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting the rebels in Syria. This support is a direct consequence of Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian support to Assad.
Iran’s aims do not go beyond forming a formidable Shia block in the Middle East in order to counter the Arabs. It is this objective that makes Iran support the Palestinian cause so vehemently, so as to gain an edge over the Arabs who are at ease with the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. All this historical animosity, coupled with achievement of regional objectives, form the basis of the Iranian support to the tyrant regime of Assad.
Iran also perceives Sunni Islamic revivalist movements as a threat to its objective of having Shia hegemony in the Middle East. Iran’s uneasiness with such groups can be gauged from its opposition to the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and its subsequent support of the Northern Alliance as well as the NATO forces.
Few weeks ago, Russia and the US agreed to host an International Conference on Syria in June, and the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, even asserted that a political transition was the way out. John Kerry called on Assad to “commit for peace”, as Hezbollah has now openly intervened and joined the Assad regime to fight the rebels. This new found convergence between the former Cold War enemies is surprising, though not totally unfounded. Significant gains by Islamic rebel groups led by Jabhat Al Nusrah in Syria have sent jitters through both Russia and the US. They maybe have their differences, but they are united in their fight against Islamic revivalist groups, especially the military ones. Russia and the US may collude to protect their greater interests and thwart the ever-increasing influence of Islamic military groups in the Middle East.
Protection of Israel forms America’s most important interest in the Middle East, and it continues to uphold it in any way possible. Israel, on its part, is already wary of the threat, which was evident in its recent strikes in Damascus which targeted a weapons R&D center and a weapons consignment bound for Hezbollah. Any military intervention in Syria by the West will be more against the Islamic militia groups rather than Assad. The Assad regime, or a similar setup with minor alterations, is a far better choice for Israel and America particularly, rather than witnessing an Islamist controlled Syria. It is pertinent to mention here that the border with Syria has been the calmest for Israel over the last four decades. A couple of days back, an Israeli intelligence officer said that Israel prefers the regime of Bashar Al Assad to continue, rather than see a takeover of the country by Islamic militant groups. More than the rhetoric of Iran, it is the on ground Islamic forces in Syria that are a worry for Israel.
The Syrian civil war is similar to the Afghan-Soviet war, in the sense that it has attracted Muslims from around the world to participate in the Jehad against the oppression of Assad. This Pan-Islamic appeal of the Syrian civil war is not unfounded. The Hadith (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him) about the end of times, concerning Syria and its role in the revival of the Muslims, has had a significant impact in bringing Muslims from different parts of the world -even Europe and North America- to join the fight.
America may try to impose the Yemeni model of changing the head of the regime while keeping the rest of the set up in place. This will be difficult considering that the US would need to convince Russia. Another possibility may be that of a Turkish-led intervention in Syria. The recent bomb blasts in the Turkish border town of Rehaniyeh also soared the tensions between the two countries and might be used by the US to its advantage.
The Syrian civil war and its result will decide the future of the Middle East. The US, Russia and Iran may have apparently conflicting interests, but they would definitely not hesitate in joining forces albeit temporarily in countering the rising influence of the Islamic groups in Syria. Aleppo is already controlled by Jabhat Al-Nusrah and has restored some semblance of normalcy with some Shariah laws already in place.
The recognition of the Syrian National Council as the “true representatives of the Syrian people” by the UN general assembly, a few days back, is a testimony to the fact that the Western powers have now grown wary of the Islamic groups working in Syria. The US-led West does not want a repeat of the Taliban in Syria.
Syria is the latest battlefield in the war between Islam and the West albeit a little more complex. The outcome of this war in Syria will be decisive for the Middle East and the Muslim world, and indeed for Islam.