Who Has Fallen Into the Trap? |
Al Hayat - 24 July, 2012
Author: Ghassan Charbel
Which side has fallen into the trap, in the ongoing tragedy in Syria? Is it the West, which has discovered the limits of its abilities and also the Russian desire to take revenge for its interests, prestige and weaponry, from the streets of Homs all the way to the Security Council? Have the regional sponsors of the Arab spring fallen into the trap, and found out that what worked in Libya, cannot possibly work in Syria? Or will developments on the ground turn the picture upside down, and reveal in the end that Russia – which is seeking to punish the West, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood that has dominated the Arab spring –, is the one that has fallen into the trap?
The open-ended massacre in Syria raises many questions like these. Yet, we must increasingly keep our answers up to date in light of developments in the field, including the fact that both Damascus and Aleppo have now been drawn into the battles taking place, not to mention the bombing that eliminated many of the regime’s guards.
President Vladimir Putin explained to those he met in the past few weeks the position of his country on the tragic events taking place in Syria. He said that reading Russia’s position from the sole perspective of the future of its naval base in Tartus or Syria’s arms purchases from Russia is at once incomplete and oversimplified. Instead, Putin emphasized the particularity of the Syrian situation: a country with many ethnic, religious and sectarian groups, located at the heart of the Middle East, and bordering Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon.
Putin said that what is happening in Syria concerns the security and stability of the whole region. He noted that the implosion of the Syrian composition because of a devastating civil war would send a bad and dangerous message to neighboring countries. Putin also pointed out that Syria has an arsenal of missiles and chemical weapons that can quickly become a major threat, if the Syrian army loses control of them.
The Russian president stated that the approach of the Western countries to the Syrian problem is unrealistic. He stressed that his country does not accept to wake up one day with the Libyan scenario having been replicated in Syria and that, for this reason, Russia opposes any international resolution that the West can interpret as a mandate for military intervention there. Putin then warned that such an intervention would ignite the whole region, creating fires that would spill over the borders, and spreading extremism and destabilizing countries.
Vladimir Putin criticized Turkey’s alacrity over the Syrian issue, and found it odd that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is so adamant on toppling Bashar al-Assad, when, and for years, he had been his friend and spared no occasion to shower him with praise. He also discounted a Western military intervention for many seasons, and affirmed at the same time that Russia does not draw up its policies on the basis of the future or fate of one person. Instead, Russia believes that the solution should be a political one, and that the Syrians must decide the future of Assad by themselves.
One of those who met with Putin said that the latter is behaving as if the West and Turkey had fallen into the trap of the Syrian crisis. This is as these two sides have launched stances but have been unable to intervene militarily, or use the Security Council to topple Assad. Thus, Putin’s interlocutor came out with the impression that Russia wants to continue exploiting the fact that its opponents had fallen into a trap. He also paused at Putin’s remark that minorities in Syria are not small in size, and that Moscow therefore cannot accept for these minorities to be slaughtered or displaced.
Putin’s Russia, to begin with, is averse to human rights groups and Western sponsorship for the right to protest. It fears for itself and is concerned by the possibility of unrest spreading to its Muslim population. The same applies to China in fact. Furthermore, Russia might perhaps be seeking to remind the United States of the need to redraw the two countries’ zones of influence and address pending issues such as the missile defense shield.
Yet field developments in Syria portend to upset the Russian investment of what it believes is the quandary of others. It is clear that the regime in Syria is still able to fight; however, it is no longer able to exit its predicament. What is taking place in Damascus and Aleppo may well change the picture.
Russia was demanding that the West pay the price for a solution. But now, developments may force Russia itself to pay the price for opening the door. Perhaps Russia will discover that it has fallen into the trap of a lost wager in Syria, and the trap of clashing with Arab, Islamic and Western aspirations at once.
Iran in turn will discover the magnitude of the trap it had fallen into. Its position on the Syrian crisis compounds its Arab, Islamic and international isolation, and exposes it to even more threats in a region rife with surprises.
Iran had reaped the rewards of the Americans falling into the Iraqi trap, but it may now pay the price for falling into the Syrian trap itself. Hezbollah, too, is concerned by this, and must analyze the price for leaving the trap.