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Is Syrian Crisis Will Lead to Third Word War?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]yria has been passing through the throes of civil war. Due to this crisis, out of approximately 23 million Syrian population, about 500.000 people have been killed. The Syrian refugee crisis has been conceived more critical in the post-World War-II era. About 7 million people have been displaced internally, and about 3 million people had left the country,

Turkey being the largest refugee-hosting country. Currently, Syria has lost infrastructure, economy, along with exponential increasing poverty sans basic necessities. Although, the Syrian crisis has started at the local level, but now it has taken the shape of a global problem.

Currently, the Syrian War has been divided into major two groups, one led by the US and the other one by Russia. Most of the countries from the Middle East Asia have joined the US group, and some of the countries from the same region have joined the Russia side to oppose and support the Syrian regime. On 6th April 2017, the US attacked Syria’s Shayrat Airbase by 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Russia has warned the US with grave consequences if these attacks will continue. Many electronic and print media reports anticipating that it could turn into a World War-III. The main focus of this piece is to see, what shape it could take and how it can be sorted out?  

What is a Syrian Crisis?

Though the Syrian minorities had played a pivotal role in the liberation of it from the millennium subjugation, but these minorities (Sunni Islam -68.4%; Shia Islam -3.2%; Alawism -11.3%; Druze -3.2%; Nusayrism -1.3%; Alevism -0.7%; Yazidism -0.2%; Christianity -11.2%; Others -0.5%) have felt betrayed upon taking over the Assad regime by the Baath Party under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000). Assad’s long reign of authoritarianism and totalitarianism since the 1970s, characterized by the lack of political freedoms, high unemployment, limited opportunities for upward mobility, corruption, nepotism, and exponential growing poverty which had fuelled the public disgruntlement. The Sunni people (74%), have been ruled by an Assad family belongs to a minority -the Alawites (11.3%), a part of the Shia sect. Moreover, Arab Spring and successful boisterous demonstration and protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and in other neighboring countries have encouraged the Syrian people to rise against the authoritarianism regime. The peaceful demonstrations against the incumbent regime of Bashar al-Assad (2000-till date), has been started in March 2011 as the Syrians were encouraged and inspired by the successful protest marches against the governments of Egypt, Tunisia, and several other Arab states.

Syrian War –A Humanitarian Crisis

The unrest has been started on 15 March 2011. The boisterous demonstrations and protests have organized by the rebel groups, demanding the oust of the President Bashar al-Assad along with the relinquishment of political power by the Ba’ath Party, which has been ruling Syria since 1971.

To pacify the protests and demonstrations by the rebels, the Syrian Army was deployed in April 2011. In reciprocation, the Syrian Army has opened the fires on civilian protesters. As the suppressions ensued, some of the Syrian Army officers had formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It was formed with the objectives of protecting the Syrian people from the Assad regime’s suppression and repression and overthrowing the totalitarianism government. The law and order situation had deteriorated into a complete armed rebellion. Now, the Syrian crisis has been involving two groups. On the one hand, the incumbent government led by Bashar al –Assad has been supported by the Russia, Iran, China and Hezbollah (Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon ) and wheras on the contrary, liberal groups like Free Syrian Army, Southern Front Forces, Army of Islam, and Kurdish Forces fighing against the Assad regime supported by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries. The terrorist groups like Al-Nusrah Front (A Syrian Al-Qaeda branch) and ISIS have also been fighting against the Syrian regime

After the World War-II, the Syrian crisis has been known as the biggest humanitarian crisis. More than half of the population has been one or the other way has been affected by the crisis. As per the reports of the UNHRC, the war crimes have been committed against the Syrian people. The violations of human rights and crimes against the Syrian people included such as murders, atrocities, rapes and enforced disappearances. The civilian peoples have been denied the access to the food, water, and health services along with sexual violence throughout the war by the rebels as well as the authoritarian regime. There are an approximately 1/3 of the Syrian population have been displaced internally. About 4.1 million people had fled to neighbouring countries, including Jordan and Turkey, to escape the violence since 2011.

Is it a Beginning of the Third World War?

Now the major question arises, does the Syrian Civil War become a launching platform for the World War-III? The US has been standing with the Syrian rebel groups with a programme of “train and equip.” The countries such as the UK, France, and Saudi Arabia are standing with the US side. On the other hand, Russia and Iran have been supporting the Syrian government with strategic support. China is also helping Syria and supporting countries by providing diplomatic support.

A chemical attack by the Assad government in Idlib province in which 80 people have been killed, invited the US missile attack on 6 April 2017. Even the US President gave future actions indication by saying that “something should happen” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being responsible for the heinous attack. It shows the paradigmatic shift in the Trumps’ Syrian policy. It was further substantiated by the statement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, wherein he said, Assad would have “no role” in the Syrian government and “steps are underway” to oust him.

The supporter countries of the Assad regime took a serious note of the US missile attack on 7 April, 2017. Russia has issued a stern warning to the US by saying that further such actions would seriously challenge the global security. Moreover, the Russian FM Sergey Lavrov hosted his Syrian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow to review the prevalent situation. Lavrov said, “We call on the US and its allies to respect Syria’s sovereignty and refrain from actions similar to what happened on April 7, and which have serious ramifications not only for regional but also global security.”

Some strategic thinkers and senior journalists are of the opinion that involvement of the major powers in the Syrian conflict could turn into to a third world war. Turkey was of the firm opinion that the world would entrap into a global conflict, had America and Russia not restricted themselves in the Syrian conflict. The Daily Mail quoted Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, wherein he said, “If this proxy war continues, after this, let me be clear, America and Russia will come to the point of the war.” Many strategic thinkers, commentators, politician etc. have expressed concerns over the engagements of major powers in Syrian crisis and consequent evolving situation.

At last, it is concluded that if this crisis lingers on, then it would have serious consequence not only the regional security but at the global level as well. It has also been affecting seriously the Syrian people, who have been obligated to lead a miserable life. They have been living a life of refugees, a life sans education, health, and many other basic needs. It is, therefore, recommended that the major powers should try to ferret out the solution to the crisis through the dialogues and deliberations. Use of the military option (missile attack/s is/are not the solution. Double standard policies by the major powers related to political regime/counter-terrors to be avoided. Like a war, if Syrian crisis turned into, would have grave consequences for regional security. Thus, the neighboring countries are exhorted to restrain the geopolitical entanglement in the crisis. A regional approach to the crisis would be an option. Moreover, the Syrian government should make some adjustable changes in the political system to avoid the unwanted interferences on the part of the major powers. A solution to the Syrian crisis could avert the probability of turning it into a major war!!  

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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