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Syria’s ‘Competing Interventions:’ Much Ado Accomplishing Nothing

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The Syrian conflict has led to the failure of the Syrian state, which has had consequences for not only the Middle East, but a host of other nations with interests in Syria. This has prompted these states to intervene in the crisis in an effort to end the violence there.

Prominent international actors in the conflict include the US, Russia, Turkey, the European Union (EU), Saudi Arabia, and Iran. I will divide the policies of the aforementioned actors into two categories. These categories are determined by relative similarity between interests, policies, and goals. The first category will be the West, which includes the US and EU. The second will be termed the East for convenience, and includes Russia and Iran, as well as the beleaguered Syrian regime. It must be noted that some states, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as other inter-governmental groups like the Gulf Cooperation Council, play a role in the Syrian conflict. However, their role is less pronounced and influential than the West and East categories, and are largely idiosyncratic and circumstantial, placing them outside the scope of this paper.

West: Immigration Crisis, Counter Terrorism, and Human Rights

The US and the EU share a great deal in common in terms of interests in Syria. These can be summarized as attempts to deal with the refugee crisis, countering terrorism, in particular the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and the enforcement of human rights. These three interests have variably assumed priority among the Western states, with enforcing human rights taking the primacy of place at the outset of the conflict only to be supplanted by addressing the refugee crisis and most recently a concerted counter-terrorism effort. Importantly, the call for protection of human rights has included attempts to bring the conflict to an end by brokering a political solution and insisting that the Assad regime step down, placing regime change at the core of the Western position on Syria (Ollivant, 2013). This has also led the US and its allies to support certain opposition groups, deemed moderate by Western governments, including provisions of lethal aid (Entous, 2015). While this policy officially remains, the immediacy of the refugee crisis and the threat posed by ISIL has caused Western states to pay more attention to these problems.

The focus on countering ISIL and managing intra-EU squabbles over refugees has obscured the root causes of the conflict, as well as elements of Western policy which is at odds with the Eastern category involved in Syria. The refugee crisis will persist until the Syrian state is able to function again, rendering all attempts by the EU and its member states to deal with the influx of refugees ineffective. Admittedly, ISIL represents a threat to the security and stability of Syria and beyond, and neutralizing it is a prerequisite for reinstating a functioning government in the country. Thus, while there has been success in countering ISIL among Western nations, this has not been oriented within a broader policy approach to solving the problem of Syrian state failure. Furthermore, the Western approach, particularly the arming of rebels and insistence on regime change put it at odds with the Eastern bloc.

The East: Supporting an Ally and the Triumph of Realpolitik

Like the US and the EU, Russia and Iran share many interests in Syria. For both, the Syrian government represents a threatened ally in the region. Both pragmatically value the perceived stability of authoritarianism over enforcing ideals like human rights; both see Western calls for Assad’s ouster as providing a pretense to attempt regime change in Russia and Iran; and both seek to use the conflict to demonstrate their diplomatic and military prowess to validate claims to global and regional power status. These interests have resulted in similar policies toward Syria, but both are aligned against Western positions, with very little overlap between East and West.

While both continue to support the Assad regime, support from both has also begun to wane. In 2012, Iran courted a number of opposition groups, probably perceiving the Assad regime’s inability to govern, but has since decided to continue backing the Assad regime (Goodarzi, 2013). In Russia’s case, it was quick to come to the ailing Assad regime’s aid when it was losing territory to the various opposition groups (Ioffe, 2015). However, the relationship, already downgraded from the one enjoyed by Bashar al Assad’s father, has suffered from the Assad regime’s inflexibility in negotiating a political settlement (Slim, 2016). Yet despite these difficulties, both Iran and Russia remain committed to the Assad regime.

Russia and Iran both feel threatened by the West’s insistence on regime change. The Kremlin has long argued that much of what the West considers to be universal human rights violates state sovereignty. Since the “color revolutions” of 2003 and 2004, Russia has increased its emphasis on protecting its sovereignty, seeing those revolutions as consequences of the expansion of NATO (Smith, 2013). More recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the West of attempting regime change via the imposition of sanctions due to Russia’s involvement in Ukrainian unrest (Devitt, 2014). The Russian interpretation of protecting sovereignty has extended to accusing the West of violating the sovereignty of Russia’s allies, in this case Syria. In response to US plans to increase its military forces in Syria, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister stated that “it is impossible for [the Russian Federation] not to be worried that such an action by the [US] is being carried out without the agreement of the legal government of Syria,” claiming that such actions violate Syrian sovereignty (Al Arabiya, 2016). It is clear that Russia sees in the West’s attempt to oust the Assad regime a parallel: threats to its ally’s sovereignty are threats to its own. Therefore, Russia has established a hardline policy of support for the Assad regime.

Iran similarly fears regime change in Syria; surrounded by hostile Sunnis and its arch-nemesis Israel, and with frequent calls in the US for regime change, Iran is quite fearful of losing its principle regional ally. Thus, despite its reluctance, Iran has been forced to remain a steadfast supporter of the Assad regime. Iran’s alliance with Syria is based partly on its strategic interests, for example providing “a geographic thoroughfare to Lebanese Shi’a militia Hizb Allah,” but also on its “deep concerns about the composition of a post-Assad government” (Sadjadpour, 2013). This explains Iran’s support for the Assad regime, as well as its reluctance: should a successor suitable to Iran’s interests appear, it is likely that Iran would cease its support for Assad.

Conclusion

The Syrian state has failed. The conflict has expanded beyond Syria’s borders, drawing in members of the international community. Europe is beset by mass refugee migration; the US and Europe are united in the need to subdue the threat posed by ISIL; Russia and Iran face the loss of a strategic ally should the Assad regime fall. The Assad regime has proven incapable of governing Syria, necessitating international interventions. Yet the very countries best postured for these interventions have competing interests and thus competing policies for how best to end the chaos in Syria. On the one hand, the West seeks regime change, seeing the Assad regime as illegitimate due to its violations of human rights and inability to govern. This is unacceptable to the East, who both value the Assad regime as a strategic ally. Furthermore, Russia and Iran are concerned that Western-led regime change in Syria may be a precursor to similar attempts elsewhere. To this end they continue to emphasize state sovereignty. In some ways, the bloc politics taking place now inside of Syria have almost very little to do with the actual end game IN Syria and is much more about the politics and consequences that might happen OUTSIDE of Syria. Unfortunately, what these ‘competing interventions’ have shown first and foremost (and seems likely not to end or change anytime soon) is that the Syrian civilian population is only going to suffer more for the foreseeable future.

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Middle East

The secret behind Trump’s moves in eastern Deir ez-Zur

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Trump’s desire for Syrian oil has led observers to consider it as the beginning of occupying oil wells in other countries, including Libya, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf Arab states.

The obsession of the U.S. president with money and oil is obvious for everyone and that is why U.S. military commanders have used this temptation by Trump to persuade him to keep some troops in Syria.

On October 28, Trump said, “We are keeping the oil — remember that. Forty-five million dollars a month?  We have secured the oil”.

Last week, news sources reported that the U.S. president has agreed to develop military missions to protect oilfields in eastern Syria.

The Turkish Anadolu Agency reported that the U.S. has established a new military base in the oil-rich parts of Deir ez-Zur in Syria.

In this regard, Trump announced the settlement of some U.S. companies in Syria’s east to invest in and exploit oilfields. It was a move that drew Russian backlash.

Russian opposition to Trump’s oil ambitions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a statement in late October that the Syrian oil is the focus of U.S. attention. In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Lavrov said it was important to refrain from “steps undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Syria.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov also said, “This, what Washington is doing now — capturing and maintaining control through the use of arms over oil fields in eastern Syria — that is, to put it simply, international, state-sponsored banditry,” DW reported on October 26.

Konashenkov said tank trucks guarded by U.S. military servicemen and private military companies smuggle oil from fields in eastern Syria to other countries.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin also pointed to U.S. efforts to reinforce its presence in Syrian oil-rich lands, calling it an illegal act by Washington. Vershinin also said that Moscow will never accept the policy that the U.S. is pursuing in Syria.

The Russian Defense Ministry in recent weeks has also released satellite images of some areas in Syria showing that U.S. troops have created security guard to smuggle Syria’s oil. Earlier, images of eastern Syria were released documenting oil trucks were traveling across Syria-Turkey borders, an action which reveals the goals of those countries which support terrorism in Syria.

 Syria’s oil reserves

In terms of oil reserves, Syria is in 32nd place after Malaysia and ahead of Argentina, with 2,500,000,000 barrels. Syria’s known oil reserves are mainly in the eastern part of the country in Deir ez-Zor, the second largest Syrian province after Homs. The rest of reserves are in other provinces such as Hama, Ar Raqqah and Homs.

Before the beginning of civil war in 2011, Syria was extracting 385,000 barrels of light crude oil with an approximate value of €3 billion, which were being transferred to Homs via pipeline. 89,000 barrels of the extracted oil were being refined and used for domestic uses. The rest was being exported through port of Baniyas.

Lebanon has uncovered some oil and gas reserves in the Mediterranean. Syria can also explore some of these reserves as it has long coasts along the Mediterranean if it invests in its territorial waters.  

U.S. actions in eastern Euphrates

Now that the defeat of terrorists is clear to everyone, the U.S. is seeking to create an economic crisis in Syria by using oil as a tool against Damascus. This is the reason why it is seizing the country’s oil reserves and also pressures Damascus to accept Washington’s conditions.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Middle East

Middle Eastern protests: A tug of war over who has the longer breath

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Mass anti-government protests in several Arab countries are turning into competitions to determine who has the longer breath, the protesters or the government.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, countries in which the leader was either forced to resign or has agreed to step down, authorities appear to be dragging their feet on handovers of power or agreed transitional power sharing arrangements in the hope that protesters, determined to hold on to their street power until a political transition process is firmly in place, either lose their momentum or are racked by internal differences.

So far, protesters are holding their ground, having learnt the lesson that their achievements are likely to be rolled back if they vacate the street before having cemented an agreement on the rules of the transitional game and process.

Algerians remain on the streets, seven months after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down, in demand of a complete change of the political system.

Scores of recent arrests on charges that include “harming national unity” and “undermining the morale of the army” have failed to deter Algerians who refuse to accept the military’s proposed December 12 date for elections.

Lebanon enters its second months of protests with the government going through the motions but ultimately failing to respond to demands for a technocratic government, a new non-sectarian electoral law and early elections.

An effort to replace prime minister Saad Hariri with another member of the elite, Mohammad Safadi, a billionaire businessman and former finance minister, was rejected by the protesters.

We are staying here. We don’t know how long – maybe one or two months or one or two years. Maybe it will take 10 years to get the state we are dreaming of, but everything starts with a first step.” said filmmaker Perla Joe Maalouli.

Weeks after agreeing to resign in response to popular pressure, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mehdi appears to be increasingly firm in his saddle.

Much like what prompted US President George H.W.. Bush to first call in 1991 for a popular revolt against Saddam Hussein and then give the Iraqi strongman the tools to crush the uprising, Mr. Mehdi is holding on to power in the absence of a credible candidate acceptable to the political elite to replace him.

Mr. Mehdi’s position is strengthened by the fact that neither the United States nor Iran wants a power vacuum to emerge in Baghdad.

Backtracking on Mr. Mehdi’s resignation and refraining from appointing a prime minister who credibly holds out the promise of real change is likely to harden the battle lines between the protesters and the government.

The tugs of war highlight the pitfalls protesters and governments need to manoeuvre in what amounts to a complex game with governments seeking to pacify demonstrators by seemingly entertaining their demands yet plotting to maintain fundamental political structures that anti-government activists want to uproot.

The risk of a tug of war is that protests turn violent as happened in Hong Kong or in Lebanon where cars of parliamentarians were attacked as they drove this week towards the assembly.

Meeting protesters’ demands and aspirations that drive the demonstrations and figure across the Middle East and North Africa, irrespective of whether grievances have spilled into streets, is what makes economic and social reform tricky business for the region’s autocrats.

Its where what is needed for sustainable reforms bounces up against ever more repressive security states intent on exercising increasingly tight control.

Sustainable reform requires capable and effective institutions rather than bloated, bureaucratic job banks and decentralisation with greater authorities granted to municipalities and regions.

Altering social contracts by introducing or increasing taxes, reducing subsidies for basic goods and narrowing opportunities for government employment will have to be buffered by greater transparency that provides the public insight into how the government ensures that it benefits from the still evolving new social contract.

To many protesters, Sudan has validated protesters’ resolve to retain street power until transitional arrangements are put in place.

It took five months after the toppling of president Omar al-Bashir and a short-lived security force crackdown in which some 100 people were killed before the military, the protesters and political groups agreed and put in place a transitional power-sharing process.

The process involved the creation of a sovereign council made up of civilians and military officers that is governing the country and managing its democratic transition.

Even so, transitional experiences have yet to prove their mettle. Protesters may have learnt lessons from the 2011 popular Arab revolts that toppled the leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Yet, this time round, protesters lack the broad-based international empathy that 2011 uprisings enjoyed and are up against more than domestic forces backed by conservative Gulf states.

Powers like Russia and China make no bones about their rejection of protest as an expression of popular political will.

So has Iran that has much at stake in Iraq and Lebanon, countries where anti-sectarian sentiment is strong among protesters, even if the Islamic republic was born in one of the 20th century’s epic popular revolts and is confronting protests of its own against fuel price hikes.

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Middle East

Iran’s next parliamentary election hinges on economic problems, US sanctions effective

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It seems any faction focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections.

The eleventh elections of the Islamic Parliament in Iran will be on Feb 21, 2020 across the country. Seyed Salaman Samani spokesman of Interior Ministry said in an interview that has published on the official website of the ministry.

About 4 months have remained to the elections, but the politicians and parties have started to organize their campaigns and planning for victory.

The current parliament was formed from 41 percent Reformers and Moderates, 29 percent Principlists, 28 percent Independents and 2 percent Minorities, according to the ISNA News Agency.

In Tehran, capital of the country, all seats were gained by the Reformers, but some important cities such as Mashhad as the second city in the country, the Principlists were decisive winners.

But the majority of people and political activists are serious dissatisfactions concerning the function of the parliament, even some experts have emphasized on the famous slogan that says: “Reformer, Principlist, the story is over.”

This situation has formed, while Iran`s Parliament has been under control between two parties in the past years. So, some experts seek up the third faction for improving the country’s position, but so far the third faction has had not a leader and specific structure.

Due to the Reformers supporting of President Hassan Rouhani in the last presidential elections and lack of his rhetoric realization, the position of the Reformers has weakened increasingly. For example, Rouhani said during the contests of the presidential elections about 2 years ago in Iran television that If Iranians reelect me, all sanctions even non-nuclear sanctions will be lifted. But now, the sanctions against Iran have increased and the economic situation of the people has hurt extremely.

But recently, many celebrities of Iran have regretted concerning supporting Rouhani like Ali Karimi the former football player and Reza Sadeghi the famous singer, they demonstrated their regret on social media. So, some suggested that the victory of Principlists in the elections is certain.

“The Principlists need not do anything; they are comfortably the winner of the next parliamentary elections.” Sadegh Zibakalam, an Iranian academic reformist said in an interview with Shargh Newspaper.

“We have no chance for parliamentary elections and next presidential elections unless a miracle happens,” he added.

The Iranian Principlists are closer to Iran`s supreme leader and guard corps than the Reformers. A political face in the right-wing like, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf with the slogans “New Parliament ” and “Neo-Principlism ” has recalled young people to receive their ability to provide the elections list. Ghalibaf launched his third presidential campaign for the Iranian presidency on April 15, 2017, but on May 15, 2017, Ghalibaf withdrew, but he supported Ebrahim Raisi who is the current chief of Iran`s judiciary.

Another face is the former president Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad. Some experts say Ahmadinezhad has a great plan for the next elections but so far he has not spoken about it. Recently he criticized toughly from the government of Rouhani and Iran’s Judiciary. Recently, some of his close activists arrested by Iran’s Judiciary, and they are in Evin Prison now. Some analyzers say Ahmadinezhad has high popularity, just as the people have welcomed warmly lately on his travels across the country.

JAMNA or “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces” is another chance for Principlists in the next elections. JAMNA founded in late 2016 by ten figures from different spectrum of conservative factions, in the end, the party elected Ebrahim Raisi as a candidate for the presidential election but Raeisi defeated.

But Reformers are not hopeless, Mohammad Khatami as the leader of the Reformers, who served as the fifth President of Iran from 1997 to 2005 has said statements recently. He has wanted from the government to qualify the Reformers candidates for participation in the political event.

One of the Reformer’s big problems in the history of Iran `s elections has been the disqualification by the Guardian Council. According to Iran constitution, all candidates of parliamentary or presidential elections, as well as candidates for the Assembly of Experts, have to be qualified by the Guardian Council to run in the elections.

Some Reformers in reformist newspapers state that they will take part in the parliament elections on this condition the majority of Reformers’ candidates will be qualified by the Guardian Council.

Some analysts said the Iran parliament has not enough power in order to improve the country’s situation. Just as the parliament has approved the bill of “United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime” by a 126 vote in last year, but the Guardian Council has disagreed with it and its fate shall determine by Expediency Discernment Council, while the government has frequently emphasized on the bill. The government believes the approving the bill will cause to reducing the bans about the economic transaction with the world.

Generally, Iran`s economic position is very critical currently, tough sanctions by Trump administration and the defeat of the nuclear deal (JCPOA) has caused that Iranians to be under serious problems. The stuff prices and inflation are at the highest level since Iran`s revolution in 1979. So, it seems any faction that focuses on solving the economic problems, has more chance for victory in the parliamentary elections. Also, the more important issue is the participation rate of people. If dissatisfactions about economic problems will be continued, hope and joy between people would reduce the rate of Participation in the next elections. Some experts say based on experiences in Iran, when the rate of participation in the elections is reduced, the Principlists has a more chance for the victory, because the gray spectrum that is not black or white, usually has a willing to the Reformers. the spectrum includes younger people even teenagers in the urban society.

Some political observers say the gray spectrum has not very willing to participate in the next elections. Some suggested that the future situation, especially in the economic field is very important to make the willingness about the gray spectrum to participate.

Analysts said the winner of the presidential elections 2 years later is the winner of the parliamentary elections on Feb 21, 2020. The majority of the next parliament will affect the political space across the country. This procedure in Iran has precedent. Like the victory of the Reformers in the last parliamentary elections that it caused the Rouhani victory about 2 years ago.

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