Guns are still heard in the Middle East. Geography of armed clashes engulfs several countries of the region. Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Libya, Israel… Nevertheless Syria remains the hottest spot in the region. Recent developments in there and the attitude of large countries to the events indicate the aggravation of the situation. Presently, armed clashes are waged throughout the entire country. Contradictory information is feeding in from the capital Damascus. Undoubtedly, heavy losses will be inflicted upon the country as it struggles its way out of the predicament. Syria`s integrity could be at stake. It is not just external forces that are contributing to disintegration, but certain elements within the opposition are also yet to reveal their intentions.
In light of the Syria`s complicated situation notable become the harsh and merciless features of the Middle Eastern policy of large powers. Certain aspects are apparent here.
Firstly, inter-denomination relations within Syria are antagonized. There is information about armed clashes between Sunni and Shia groups. Most recently Western media reported news regarding the mass murder of the Alawites. There were both covert and apparent indications that the crime was committed by the Sunni groups. A mass murder of the Sunnis had preceded the event.
Thoughtfully, denomination clashes are occurring in neighboring Lebanon. Several armed confrontations took place there between the Alawites, supporters of Assad, and the Sunnis. Groups of the Lebanese have recently attacked the Alawites, accusing them of supporting Bashar Assad. Similar incidents were registered in Jordan and Libya. Experts do not exclude the possibility of such problems to arise in Turkey and Iraq.
Secondly, unlike Libyan opposition the one in Syria`s is not homogenous. Its composition includes groups with various ideologies and political objectives. One of those, “Al Nusra” is recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and is said to be closely affiliated with the Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, “Al Nusra” happens to be the most combatant wing of the Syrian opposition. Therefore, Syrian opposition contests Washington`s position on this issue.
Anyway, prejudice is growing within the ranks of the Syrian opposition. The rift is likely to grow in the wake of the regime collapse. Under the circumstances is difficult to imagine an environment free of contradictions in the post Assad Syria. Certain external forces may capitalize on the status of the Syrian opposition. Vested interests of some circles in the lack of stability in the country are beyond doubt. Broader look at the issue may reveal additional factors that may play a role here.
Regional leadership aspirations and the Syrian crisis
Domestic political-ideological contradictions appear ever more perilous in light of the leadership aspirations of certain regional players. Turkey, Iran, Israel and Egypt are aiming to capture the historical opportunity to boost their clout in the Middle East. Ramifications of clandestine and overt rivalry between them certainly affect Syria.
Apparently, Turkish efforts are consistent with the Western interests. The country possesses vast economic and military capability. Moreover, it shares historical bonds with the countries of the region. It is not incidental that Ankara actively participates in all Syria themed international events. Recent geopolitical developments indicate that Turkey has the means of handling the Syrian issue and leading global powers acknowledge the fact. Moscow too is obliged to reckon with various aspects of Turkey`s position on the issue.
Aforementioned only articulates Turkey as a serious factor in the Syria issue. However, Iran, Egypt and Israel are not to be ignored. They are acutely aware that Turkey`s regional leadership will fundamentally change the geopolitical picture. It is the precise moment when undesirable processes for those states may commence. Western position on Iran is clear. Sanctions against Iran are gradually tightened. In this context Iran may become jealous of growing Turkish influence.
It is not by chance that official Tehran has repeatedly voiced declared its support of the President Assad. Ankara in turn has raised this issue with the Iranian side. Iran may benefit from the diversity of the Syrian opposition and attempt to protract the chaos by capitalizing on the denominations factor in Syria.
Egyptian President M.Morsi`s aspirations for regional leadership were revealed during the recent developments in Gaza. Nevertheless, Morsi is a representative of the “Muslim Brotherhood” movement. Position of the West regarding political-ideological orientation of the group is far from unequivocal. This aspect is apparent in the analysis of the Egyptian events conducted by the Western observers. Thus, it may be naive to believe that the West will comfortably accept Morsi`s regional leadership role. Continuous demonstrations in Cairo are somewhat indicative.
It is from the very outset that the West aims to prevent Egypt`s influence to spread over Syria, after the Palestine. One of the distinctive features of the effort is Egypt not being frequently mentioned among the “Friends of Syria”. Anyway, it may be premature to push Cairo`s region related geopolitical ambitions aside. M.Morsi may merely take a respite. Possibility of realization of his Damascus related plans must be taken into account.
Israel is more ambiguous factor. Tel-Aviv eagerly wishes to strike Iran, and jealously monitors Turkey`s regional leadership activity. In the meantime, Israel`s right to ensure its security has to be recognized. In this regard, Tel-Aviv may not remain indifferent to the developments in Syria and intense geopolitical struggle pursued by the regional states. Israel is also cautious about “Muslim Brotherhood”, “Hamas”, “Al-Qaeda” and “Hezbollah”. Israel`s immediate interest is to curb military capability and political influence of those organizations.
These developments once again attest to the ongoing competition for regional influence among the stakeholders and its grave impact upon the Syrian crisis. However, it would be false to presume that this process is detached from the Middle Eastern policies of the large geopolitical powers of the world.
“Middle Eastern tango” of the large countries
Some media outlets were sarcastic about the recent meeting of the “Friends of Syria” group in Marrakesh (see Валентин Маков. Марокканские карлики. www.lenta.ru, 12 December 2012). Participants of the meeting were dubbed “Moroccan midgets”, implying that albeit mature the countries have limited outreach. Such harsh reaction coming from certain circles is understandable, because we are talking recognition of united Syrian opposition by 130 (!) countries. This means an actual end for the Assad regime. Those nervous about the situation may name the delegates to the meeting the “political midgets”. Reality however, implies serious contemplation over other serious aspects.
Russia and the U.S. have apparently reached a certain agreement on Syrian issue. Signs of that have become more obvious upon the Turkey visit of President Putin. Speculations are abundant about the future of post Assad Syria and the extent of influence exerted by a certain country. Washington has officially recognized the Syrian opposition and is planning to provide them with financial aid. Saudi Arabia has also pledged 100 million dollars of aid to the Syrian opposition. Other countries are likely to follow their lead.
These developments testify to the predicament the official Damascus has found itself in. In the meantime, large countries of the world have apparently taken a concerted step forward in the Syrian issue. However, the situation with Russia, Iran and China is yet unclear. They are surely not going to concede to the weakening of their geopolitical positions. Iran`s troubles trespass geopolitical ambitions, the country is worried about ensuring its security.
On the other hand the recognition of “Al Nusra” as a terrorist organization by the U.S. has lead to more questions. Syrian opposition leader Ahmed al-Khatib has denounced Washington`s actions in his speech during the Marrakesh event. There are no guarantees that this may not cause a serious rift in positions. The finale of the “Middle Eastern tango” is unclear.
Those contradictions are likely to deeply impact domestic situation in Syria. What would be the consequences of anti-American protests in the country? Undoubtedly, this will exacerbate the already perplex situation in Syria. Moreover, trouble would emanate from foreign intervention. Washington would hardly reconsider its position on “Al Nusra”. Perhaps Washington has learnt from the mistakes made in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Egypt. The U.S. backed political forces with Islamic orientation are eager to conduct an independent course. More so, ascend to power of an “Al-Qaeda” affiliated group may have dire consequences for the U.S. on the political level. In may entail undermining of the Western positions in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. For that reason Washington aims to usher into power the forces that align themselves with the West. Otherwise situation has to remain intense.
Emphasized aspects attest to the complexity of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East with regards to the Syrian conflict. There is plenty of obscurity in the regional processes. Presently, geopolitical and ideological factors arguably prevail over the military aspect of the conflict, due to almost universal acknowledgment that Asad will eventually leave, since his military capability is insufficient to wage a continuous warfare. Thus the primary concern is the prevention of inter-denomination wars in the post Assad Syria.
Intrigues between the religious denominations in the Muslim countries have deepened, and the threat of their transformation into armed clashes is vivid. Once guns go silent in Syria the possibility of inter-denomination clashes spreading to neighboring countries must not be excluded. May the sphere of influence of this particular process widen?
Another question related to the Syrian issue is the consequent geopolitical situation in the Caucasus and the Central Asia. The picture is rather vague. It is difficult to determine the instruments of choice in the geopolitical struggle of the large countries over those regions. Previous experiences indicate that they will not refrain from utilizing any method for the sake of achieving their interests. These matters oblige contemplation and already trouble the nations of the region.