By Joseph Lerner
(Political and Intelligence Analyst)
The Arab Spring as a political phenomenon has given rise to various populist uprisings against the tyrannical regimes such as Egypt’s Revolution and Libya’s revolt. Few years ago, the Libyan people couldn’t even imagine capturing Tripoli and arresting two of Gadhafi’s sons. Who thought that one day Hosni Mubarak ally of the US to be put on trial in Cairo? It is true that the Arab Spring was inspired and started by the Tunisian populist uprising, but each case such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria’s populist uprising has a different and unique nature.
One of the most unique movements in the Middle East is the Syrian populist uprising. Syria, due to its geostrategic position, history and political culture has been always attracting various regional and international power players as a country to politically and economically invest in. The US, France, Germany, Turkey, Iran, Russia, China and other countries have been aware of the sensitivity and complexity of the issues when it comes to Syria, and the Syrian people’s aspiration for democracy and freedom. For this reason Syria has become the country where various parties such as Iran and Turkey are flexing their political and diplomatic mussels to gain leverage to influence Syria’s future.
When studying the events related to Syria, especially since the beginning of August 2011, one will realize that how important the Syria’s position is in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions. When looking at the map of the region Syria has a very sensitive and important geostrategic position. Syria shares its longest border with Turkey in the north, and then with Iraq in the east and south east, then in the south with Jordan, Lebanon and Israel. One of the most important geostrategic advantages of Syria is the access to the Mediterranean Sea from its western shores. Whoever or whatever regional or international power would have the most influence on Syria and its future will have access to all these geostrategic advantages. In addition, Syria is an oil and gas producer and has other natural resources. For this reason the Syria’s complex problems and challenges are being clinically addressed within the geostrategic, geopolitical, economic and diplomatic context amongst power players, rather than being addressed as Human Rights issue, considering the fact that President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party are killing thousands of the Syrian peaceful protestors. The link to Syria’s map: http://1.usa.gov/okuDIO
The next element to consider is the make-up of the population of Syria. Syria has over 22 million populations. 90.3% Arabs, Kurds, Armenians and other 9.7%. The 74% of the Syrian population are Sunni Muslims, then other Muslim (includes Alawite, Druze) 16%, Christian (various denominations) 10%. Source: http://1.usa.gov/bXTX22
“The problem is that, after several decades of U.S. envoys and policymakers making the pilgrimage to Damascus with the same evangelical purpose, the Assads (first the father Hafez and now the son Bashar) know how the game is played. The Americans want concrete results—like abandoning support for Hezbollah and Hamas, splitting from Iran, closing down the jihadist pipeline into Iraq—that would cost the Syrians too much. So instead the Assads promise much, give nothing, and profit handsomely from the prestige that comes to them merely from sitting at the same table as the Americans.” Lee Smith, The Syrian Crisis, Hudson institute, May 2011, link: http://bit.ly/kAFOlO
The Syria’s Baath Party is under the full control and influence of President Bashar Al-Assad and his family. In the past, Hafez Al-Assad ruled over Syria for three decades and now President Bashar Al-Assad his son is his successor. Most of the power structure and key positions are held by the Assad family and their loyal supporters. It is imperative to realize that Assad family is an Alawite Shiite family that has been ruling the country that has a 74% Sunni Muslim population. Syria is called “Syrian Arab Republic” but it has not displayed any either signs or behaviour of being a republic. The Hama Massacre was conducted by President Hafez Al-Assad back in February 1982 that about 10,000 Syrians were massacred. The Hama Massacre was intended to stop the Sunni Muslim population’s peaceful protests who were asking that their basic Human Rights and freedoms to be respected and honoured. Therefore, the Syrian populist uprising really started back in 1982, and was reignited by the Arab Spring in 2011.
Syria and Iran Relation
Syria has been one of the most loyal allies of Iran in the region. Furthermore, it is imperative to know the fact that the City of Damascus amongst the Iranian Shiite Muslims and Shiite Scholars is considered as a holy ground and one of destinations for the Shiite Muslims pilgrimage. Therefore, when it comes to Syria the Iranians are driven by three elements: a) religion b) geopolitics c) economy. This is what makes the relationship between President Bashar Al Assad, his family, the Syria’s Baath Party and Iran complex as well as historically and culturally very strong.
"Iran's ties with Syria go far beyond the countries' long-standing friendship in a region dominated by Arab suspicions of Tehran's aims. Syria also is Iran's conduit for aid to powerful anti-Israel proxies Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Should Assad's regime fall, it could rob Iran of a loyal Arab partner in a region profoundly realigned by uprisings demanding more freedom and democracy." Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press, August 27, 2011, link: http://yhoo.it/qq7lkn
President Bashar Al-Assad and his ruling family in Syria are considered as minority by the rest of the 74% Sunni Majority Syrian Muslim population. It is imperative to realize that the Iranian regime in Mediterranean and Middle East regions, where the Syria is geostratigically located has no other ally than President Bashar Al-Assad, the Syria’s Baath Party and Hezbollah in Lebanon. All these strong alliances and relationships are founded on the Shiite Muslim roots and ideology that the Iranians, President Bashar Al-Assad, the Syria’s Baath Party and Hezbollah in Lebanon historically and culturally share. Therefore, the survival of President Bashar Al-Assad as the Syria’s head of state and the Syria’s Baath Party is the only way for the Iranian regime to have strategic presence in the Mediterranean region.
Syria is the only geostrategic safe passage for the Iranian regime to have an entry access to Lebanon as well as the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, Iran has a lot to lose if President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the Syria’s Baath Party are gone and a new Syrian democratic government with a Sunni President comes to power. For this reason the Iranian regime will go to any extent to keep President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party in power.
Syria and Turkey Relation
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey opened his second term's victory speech in June 2011 by stating:
“…from Paris to Toronto, from Tokyo to Vienna, …. those in Baghdad, Beyrout, Baku, Bosnia… etc.” Aljazeerah reported, June 2011, link: http://tiny.ly/y6Wr
Whenever a Turkish Prime Minister uses such a strong rhetoric sharing his global vision in the media one needs to be concerned. Prime Minister Erdogan in his speech merely is sending a message to his supporters and allies in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, Toronto, Baghdad, Beyrout, Baku, Bosnia, Kosova, etc. His rhetoric suggests that Prime Minister Erdogan intends to influence the geopolitical and diplomatic behaviour of the other countries, through his alliances and supporters, in such a way that the other nations would favour his administration and its international political posturing. Furthermore, this sets a tone for his intentions that is: Turkey becoming the political and economic dominant power in the Middle East and Mediterranean region.
“All these features enable Turkey to become the most prominent actor of the region. It is defined as the ‘major regional power’ or ‘regional super power’ in most of the interviews made in the Middle East and there are a lot of articles emphasizing Turkey's active regional role as a mediator not only Israeli-Syrian case but also in Lebanon crisis, Iraq-Syrian crisis, Iran's nuclear efforts, Hamas-PLO dispute, etc. So that, especially after the Davos Summit, Mshari Al-Zaydi from the London based Asharq al Awsat wrote an article which emphasizes the new Turkish activism in the Middle East with the title of ‘The Return of the Ottoman Empire’.” Arı Tayyar & Pirinççi Ferhat, Turkey's New Foreign Policy Towards The Middle East And The Perceptions In Syria And Lebanon., Journal of Gazi Academic View, 2010, Vol. 4 Issue 7, p 6
In the past, Turkey’s military had great influence on Turkey’s politics. The people of Turkey always highly respected their military and Generals who were the guardians of the Turkey’s secular democracy as a republic. Prime Minister Erdogan whose party’s policies are aligned with his religious convictions and ideology as a Sunni Muslim has gradually defused the Turkish military’s political influence. The military and Turkish Generals no longer have any political power in Turkey. Therefore, Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have been able to fully stop the Turkish military, Turkish Generals and Commanders from being able to preserve the foundation of Turkey as a Secular Democratic Republic. These events have created many questions when it comes to understanding the true motives and intent of Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration. Prime Minister Erdogan has been mentioning about his great vision for the Middle East but he is yet to provide any details that what he has in mind. The questions to ask are: a) Does Prime Minister Erdogan have the motives and intent to give rise to a new Ottoman Empire (Ottoman Caliphate)? b) Does Prime Minister Erdogan see himself as playing a similar role as Suleiman the Magnificent of our century?
"The Turkish government has disregarded European values and Western interests in many of its recent foreign policy maneuvers. Often the justification put forth at these junctures is the sensitivities of Turkish society, reflected in opinion polls. The guiding principle of recent years’ foreign policy of zero problems with neighbors may in theory sound good but, in practice, this approach has many shortfalls. It does not serve Turkey’s overarching aim of European Union integration, nor does it contribute to the spread of democratic values from Turkey to its neighbors." KEMAL KOPRULU, Paradigm Shift in Turkey's Foreign Policy., Brown Journal of World Affairs, 2009, Vol. 16 Issue 1, p185
Since Prime Minister Erdogan has come to power the anti-western and anti-Israeli sentiments in Turkey has increased. Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have adopted the strategy of blaming Israel and Europe for most regional problems to distract the people Turkey from the Turkey’s internal problems. Turkey’s recent clash over Libya with France over air campaign is one of the highlights of Turkey’s international political and diplomatic posturing. The fact that Turkey has not been accepted to become a member of European Union has also contributed to its rather unfriendly geopolitical behaviour. Israel and Turkey use to have good relationship. Since the 2010 Israeli-Turkish flotilla incident Prime Minister Erdogan has used any opportunity that he has to express his anti-Israeli sentiments. It seems that Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration are using anti-Israel rhetoric as a tool to make new alliances in the region.
"Turkey has announced it is expelling Israel’s top diplomats in Ankara and suspending military ties with the Jewish state, as relations between the former allies reach new lows. Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister, told a hastily convened press conference in Ankara that all officials above the rank of second secretary would have to leave Israel’s embassy, with Turkey taking parallel steps at its embassy in Tel Aviv. Military agreements between the two countries – encompassing issues such as training and defence co-operation – would be frozen." High quality global journalism requires investment. Daniel Dombey & Vita Bekker, Turkey expels Israeli diplomats over Gaza raid, Financial Times, September 2011, link: http://on.ft.com/qPSCcS
The anti-Semitism and being against the existence of Israel, “The Jewish State”, have always historically and culturally existed in the Middle East. At this given point of history, Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration are using these anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments and rhetoric to gain leverage to build stronger relationships with the Arab and other Muslim states in the region and world. If these anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiments and rhetoric did not exist and were not embedded and installed in the Middle Eastern culture in the first place, then the individuals like Prime Minister Erdogan or Ahmadinejad would have never been able to capitalize on them to mobilize and rally the mass behind themselves in the region, and question the legitimacy of the State of Israel, “The Jewish State”. For this reason any possible anti-Semitic or anti-Israel rhetoric used or uttered by any leader or head of a state in the Middle East region is very dangerous, because of the fact that it activates the mass to blame Israel, “The Jewish State”, for the existence of any possible social, economic, cultural or political problems in their own countries. This is a dangerous game that Prime Minister Erdogan has been playing.
"Since 2002, the AKP government has been heavily influenced by the doctrine of ‘Strategic Depth’, a concept developed by Davutoglu, who became chief foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Erdogan after the November 2002 elections.1 The core idea of the doctrine is that a nation’s value in international relations depends on its geostrategic location. Turkey, Davutoglu argued, was particularly well suited to play an important geopolitical role due to its strategic location and control of the Bosporus." Steven Larrabee, Turkey's New Geopolitics, Survival, vol. 52 no. 2, April–May 2010, EBSCO Publishing, p158-159
Even if Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have been using the anti-Israel rhetoric as a political tool to gain leverage and build alliances in the region, this indubitably is a very dangerous strategy to adopt in the Middle East. Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration will not be able to undo what is already done. Prime Minister Erdogan has already established himself as an anti-Israel leader in the region and amongst his people. Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have already activated a dangerous monster that they will eventually be trapped by and follow this uncontrollable monster's directions. At this given point of time, even if Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration decide to defuse their own doings when it comes to their adopted anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric, they will have an extremely hard time to do so.
Rivalry between Turkey and Iran over Domination of the Middle East
Turkey and Iran both are trying to be the dominant power in the Middle East. Both countries have been aggressively focusing on developing strong relationships in the region. Although the rivalry between Iran and Turkey over domination of the Middle East has been presented as an economic rivalry on the surface, but in essence it is about the political, ideological and military domination of the Middle East. Both Iran and Turkey are aiming to become the super power in the region.
This is a rivalry between Iran as a Shiite Muslim country and Turkey Sunni Muslim country that both ruled the Middle East in the past. Both Turkey and Iran, in the past, were super powers in the region. The Persian Empire and Ottoman Caliphate under the Ottoman Dynasty for centuries dominated the entire region and parts of Europe. Both Iran and Turkey are using anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments and rhetoric to make alliances in the region. Both Iran and Turkey are fighting the Kurds over territories. Iran has been successful in defending and controlling its Kurdish territories. At some point of time, Turkey might possibly give up some parts of its land to the Kurds, and then in exchange take some parts of the Syria or even maybe Lebanon.
The whole rivalry between Iran and Turkey as two major dominating powers in the Middle East changes the geopolitical dynamics in the region. Even though when analyzing such a rivalry, it might seem that Iran and Turkey are balancing each other as two opposing powers, but the issue is far more complex than what it seems on the surface. When looking at the history, culture, religious and ideological elements that play a major role in this rivalry and power struggle between Turkey and Iran, one would acknowledge that we are dealing with a very complex geopolitical problem that could tip the balance of power in the Middle East at any given point of time. This unpredictable shift of balance of power could potentially pose the greatest threat to the stability and security of the Middle East and Mediterranean region.
Syria and Dynamics of International Relations
When considering the economic, diplomatic, geostrategic and geopolitical elements then it becomes clear that why Syria has become a political and diplomatic battlefield for the regional and international power players. This is why Turkey and Iran indirectly have been initiating diplomatic attacks and counterattacks when it comes to the Syria’s populist uprising. The Iranian regime has been consistently supporting President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party. Turkey has been consistently countering the Iranians by stating that President Bashar Al-Assad needs to step down and allow democratic process and free elections to take place in Syria. If Turkey achieves its goal and President Bashar Al-Assad steps down, then Iranian regime will be decommissioned in the Mediterranean region. Furthermore, there is one more important element that needs to be taken into consideration, that is the wounded and broken Israeli-Turkish relationship that needs mending and healing. A respectful and good relationship between Israel and Turkey is one of the key elements of stability, security and peace in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions.
Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration clearly know that the only way to achieve economic vitality and prosperity for Turkey is to be able to capitalize on trade in the Middle East. For this reason if Prime Minister Erdogan wants to leave a legacy as a leader he needs to sit down with the Israelis and his other neighbours, and begin to develop a constructive and positive dialogue. Turkey is a member of NATO. Turkey was a secular country that its people respect their traditions and religion.
However, the Democratic Secular Republic of Turkey is losing its secularism that is the foundation of its democracy as a republic. Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have managed to change the Turkey’s image in a negative way in the international community. Therefore, the greatest challenge that Prime Minister Erdogan and his administration have is restoring the Turkey’s positive international image. Furthermore, Prime Minister Erdogan needs to reinvent his own image in the international political arena as a reasonable leader of Turkey, but not a head of state who blames Israel, “The Jewish State”, by adopting an anti-Israel rhetoric.
Iran will continue to unconditionally support President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party for the reasons that were discussed previously. The Iranian regime’s foreign policy and geopolitical behaviour when it comes to Syria will not change regardless of how many innocent people President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and the Syria’s Baath Party massacre. The reality is that the Iranian regime has violently oppressed its own people since 1979 Iranian Revolution, and amplified its oppression after the 2009 post-election populist uprising by continually arresting and executing many innocent Iranians, who have been simply asking for their Human Rights and freedoms to be respected and honoured. Therefore, there is not much that could be expected from the Iranian regime but grief.
"In March, cultural ties were improved between the two countries with the visit of Russian culture minister Alexander Avdeyev who described how "Syria can show Russia its folk bands and paintings, while Russia can show Syria its intellectual cinema and museums". In addition to agreements in the fields of air services and information and communication technology, two more agreements on technical scientific and environmental co-operation, as well as a joint work programme to implement the agreement of tourism co-operation in 2010-2012, were signed at the Syrian foreign ministry." James Denselow, Russia shows US how to deal with Syria, The Guardian U.K., May 19, 2010, link: http://bit.ly/bIgf4g
It is imperative to realize that Russia has many interests and investments in Syria that intends to protect. The Syria and Russia’s relationship goes way back. Both countries have been co-operating and benefiting from each other on many levels going back to the former Soviet Union era. Therefore, any Syrian Opposition National Council and future government, at some point, needs to consider having roundtable discussions and negotiations with the Russian administration about the future of the Syria and Russia’s relationship.
"The upcoming visit to Syria by Li Changchun, a senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC), will consolidate and promote the traditionally friendly bilateral cooperation between the two countries. Invited by the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party, Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC's Central Committee, will visit Syria on April 1-3 to become the highest-level CPC official to visit the country in nearly five years." China, Syria steadily promote bilateral cooperation, Chinese Government Official website, Editor: Nie Peng, Source: Xinhua, March 31, 2008, link: http://bit.ly/oov5PF
China as an industrial and economic power and as a member of United Nations with the veto power plays an important role in this equation. Furthermore, China’s foreign policy and position when it comes to Syria at the United Nations Security Council is very important. However, China has not been saying much when it comes to Syria. This makes it very hard to either understand or learn about China’s position when it comes to President Bashar Al-Assad, the Syria’s Baath Party and future of Syria.
"Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown on anti-government protesters, Reuters reported Oct. 4. Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow’s veto was due to a difference in approaches between Russia and the European members of the 15-member council, while Chinese Ambassador Li Baodong said that China opposed interference in Syria’s internal affairs. Nine countries voted in favor of the resolution drafted by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, and four — South Africa, Lebanon, Brazil and India — abstained. The resolution’s sponsors had earlier removed the word “sanctions” from the measure in an effort to avoid a veto from other members of the council." Syria: Russia, China Veto U.N. Resolution, October 4, 2011, Stratfor
At this given point of history, when most of the Western media are focused on Libya, Egypt and other parts of the world, President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party are massacring the innocent Syrian people. As the Syrian children and youths are witnessing and being exposed to these atrocities they lose their innocence and hope. This loss of innocence and hope gives an advantage to the extremist jihadist recruiters who intend to brainwash and program these Syrian children and youths and train them as their future jihadist extremists and terrorists.
President Bashar Al-Assad and the Syria’s Baath Party are not likely going to change. Therefore, for the sake of the Syrian people, security of the region and fight against the international terrorism it is imperative for the NATO countries to step forward and actively help the Syrian people to choose their own destiny and leaders. If President Obama would be able to find a solution for Syria that empowers the Syrian people to choose their own leaders and destiny, this will be President Barak Obama’s long lasting legacy.