The bombing by the Syrian rebels of the national security building on July 18, which killed 3 members of Assad’s inner circle, marks an important transition in the Civil War in Syria. The rebels have attacked security buildings before but these attacks prior to July 18 did not require a lot of intelligence gathering, they were carried out with automatic weapons, RPG’s and car bombs being detonated in front of buildings. The attack of July 18 is different because the rebels were able to actually get a bomb inside the security building. This made the attack much more harmful then previous attacks. The rebels were able to get a bomb past the heavy security( possibly with inside help?) and knew exactly where and when the meeting would be held in addition to who would be attending it.This points to significantly increased intelligence capabilities which means that there is a lot of potential to further damage Assad’s inner circle in the future, bringing the regime closer to the edge.
Russia has said that the attacks show that the West is not putting enough pressure on the rebels to decrease the violence. Therefore Russia will not support the UN resolution about sanctions and a possible military intervention. The Foreign Minister of the United Kingdom on the other hand said that the attacks give even more reason to pass the resolution to increase the pressure on Assad. The different interpretations of the attacks by world leaders clearly show that different countries have very different interests in the Syrian conflict.
I want to use the rest of this article to create an overview of the interests of the different parties and look at how these interests are defended. This list of parties is not exhaustive but it covers most major players that are involved in the conflict.
The alliance between Iran and Syria has existed for decades. Iran is a predominantly Shiite country and Syria is run by an Alawite minority(The Alawites are a Shiite sect). The alliance emerged out of cooperation against common enemies. Over the years they teamed up against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the United States and Israel. At present the alliance with Syria is of importance to Iran because it allows Iran to support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. These groups able Iran to exert influence throughout the region.If Assad would be replaced by an anti-Iranian regime then, without a physical border with Lebanon or Palestine, it would be a lot more difficult for Iran to support Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s influence in the region would be severely decreased.
Esmail Ghani, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards Corp has confirmed that the Revolutionary guard is operating in Syria to support the Assad regime. Also fighting on the side of the Syrian army are Hezbollah and Palestinian groups. Besides military support Iran also helps the Assad regime with propaganda and economic support.
The United States
The United States has an interest in Syria because it wants to prevent Iran from acquiring regional hegemony. In 2003 the United States and its allies invaded Iraq. The Iraqi army was beaten in just 21 days. By toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein the balance of power in the region was disturbed. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the nation that countered Iranian influence in the region. After the United States and its allies left Iraq a power vacuum emerged. This vacuum has been gratefully filled by the Iranians. If the Assad regime survives then the Iranian sphere of influence stretches from western Afghanistan to the Mediterranean (The latter through Hezbollah).
So the United States considers it fundamentally important that the Assad regime falls.
To achieve this the United States is using diplomatic measures and United Nations’ resolutions. The United States is doing more than just diplomacy though. The CIA is helping Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar providing weapons to the Syrian rebels in the south of Turkey.
Human rights violations
So what about human rights violations? Personally I don’t think that the human rights violations in Syria play a big role in the American policy. The role that these violations have is that they provide a justification for the policy of diplomacy and arming the rebels. But I don’t think that it is the main reason for this policy. The best argument that I have to back up this statement is the situation in the Bahrain.
Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni Muslim family. Since February 2011 peaceful demonstrators in Bahrain have been asking for more political freedom and equal treatment for the Shiite majority in the country(with the latest demonstrations as recently as July 2012). These demonstrations have been suppressed by the Bahrain government with censorship, repression, expulsion, incarcerations and torture. The Shiite majority has stronger ties to Iran than it has to the West or the Gulf states and the Sunni government is a Western ally. Also the United States has an important naval base in Bahrain.
That’s why we haven’t heard Western leaders asking King Hamad of Bahrain to step down. The situation in Bahrain is barely covered by Western media. And even when Saudi Arabia sent its army to Bahrain to help the government crush the peaceful uprisings this was barely condemned by the West.
Part 2 can be found here.
“The next decade” by George Friedman