The Syrian Game, Winners and Losers
What is going on in Syria is not a “War”, nor a “Civil War”, it is a game being played by the major powers, principally the US and Israel, where the goal is to weaken the Shia and Sunni participants and perhaps, get an opening to deal a death-blow to Hizbollah. The willing players in this game, are the Shia and Sunni Syrians who are being goaded into an unbridgeable sectarian war with each other. Ultimately, the winners will be the Western powers and the losers will be everyone in Syria, plus Hizbollah in Lebanon.
When Hafez Al-Assad died in June 2000 and his son Bashar Al Assad took over, there was a brief period of hope that this British-trained Ophthalmologist would bring some freedom to the country and maybe a degree of democracy. After all, Bashar was a reluctant heir-apparent because it was his older brother Bassel, who was being groomed to take over, not him.
Bashar did bring in a little liberalization here and there, but people who held high hopes for the introduction of democracy and freedom in Syria were doomed to be disappointed. Things got tighter and tighter until March of 2011, when the people of Syria started a popular movement for the end of Assad rule and for a popular government rule in Syria. The movement was generally peaceful in the beginning, with people from all sects and religions participating against the Assad regime, but the regime successfully divided the people using fear of the “other” to gain greater support. At first, Bashar’s government sought support from their own sect, the Alawites of Syria. The government took advantage of the fact that about 70% of Syrians were Sunni while the country was ruled by the tiny Alawite Sect which is closer to Shia. The government portrayed the opposition as being close-minded Sunnis who would exact revenge on the Alawites for the tyrannical rule of the Alawite Assad family; it was a persuasive argument and the tiny Alawite minority felt they had no choice but to support Assad. The government’s next step was to approach the Christians and other minority sects who were struggling to remain neutral and tell them that an intolerant, pro-Saudi government can only bring brutal oppression on them.
In the meantime, the government took harsh steps against not only the opposition, but against their villages, their towns and against everyone who may be suspected as not supporting the Assad regime. The slaughter of tens of thousands of mainly Sunni Syrians attracted support from the Saudi regime in Arabia and from the Qatari rulers, along with much support from other neighboring Sunni Muslim states who allowed money, materiel and fighters to be provided to the Syrian opposition.
The battle had now turned into an open, bloody sectarian, civil war.
Syria is at a globally strategic location where the super-powers are interested in who wins the war (their man of course!) and neighboring countries including and Israel, have a major interest in the “right” people coming to power in Syria; the people of Syria have become expendable pawns in a global struggle for the control of Syria. As it appears right now, the Assad regime is destined to lose but at the cost of an immense amount of Syrian blood. At the rate the Selafist fighters are getting involved in the Syrian civil war, it also appears as if their members will take power and usher a different era of intolerance in Syria.
Iran has a deep interest in maintaining a pro-Iran, pro-Shia rule in Syria. This is largely due to the fact that the global Shia sect has no other country except Iran, where the Shia enjoy a peaceful existence.
Up until the 1979 US involvement against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Shias and Sunnis worldwide, lived in relative peace together, intermarrying and often participating in each other’s holy traditions and for the most part, seeing no difference between each other.
The US brought in Saudi money and Saudi fanatics to join the efforts against the Soviet Union. The US funded and encouraged the formation of hundreds of madressas in Pakistan where Afghan children were taught the straight Saudi Selafi Sunni lines of intolerance. These children grew up to be the Afghan Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” who finally ousted the Soviet Union, but the teachings that affected their thinking had also been spread into local Pakistan populations.
At first, the Selafists were content to attack the “unholy” Soviets, but then their ire spread against anyone who was not of their own line of thinking…the Shias in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and continuing to post-revolutionary Iran because the US saw Iran as a major threat to Israel and as an opponent to US policies in the Persian Gulf.
Today, the Shia sect is often in a battle for its very existence in countries where they range from about 12% in Arabia and 30% Pakistan, to about 40% in Syria and 70% in Bahrain; all countries where Shia-Sunni divisions were an anomaly. Other countries where the Shia are in significant numbers, but not in control of the government are Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen. Selafist violent intolerance for any school of thought other than their own, has created anti-Shia genocidal climates in all of the above countries.
Iraq is a 60% Shia country where the Shia are in tenuous power and Syria is a country where the Shia are in minority but control power for now. Other than these two countries and outside of Iran, there is no country where the Shia are not in a threatened state of existence. It follows therefore, that Iran would take an active interest in the matters of Syria, not wishing to lose a major ally in its struggle to survive attacks by the US, Israel and its Gulf neighbors. Iran sees itself as the last bastion of safety for the Shia peoples, it is also very unsettled by the spreading fires of anti-Shia violence. Having suffered massive losses in wars not of its making and fighting a continuous battle for survival, Iran is not very tolerant of foreign events where Shia existence might be threatened.
Iran has also been involved in an eight-year long war with Iraq which virtually destroyed the social and economic aspects of both countries. This was a war in which the US and Israel supplied both countries, in Israel the fact of two significant potential adversaries fighting each other was viewed with pleasure, “Goyim killing Goyim” was the sentiment of one Israeli leader and it was generally reflected throughout.
It is in this backdrop that Iran is paranoid about any undermining of its political support and influence base abroad. It is with this in mind that Iran decided to get seriously involved in supporting Assad in order that the Shia of Syria are not persecuted in the genocidal patterns of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain and Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, supplying men and materials to the opposition. Arabia has a 20% Shia minority in the East and in the South, but the rest of the Arabians are almost entirely Selafist Sunnis. The Shia in Arabia are ruthlessly oppressed, their access to power is limited and they are tightly kept in check. Arabia is in general, a ruthless tyranny ruled by the House of Saud, a minor tribe that was placed in power by the British after the Ottoman Empire fell. The rulers have left the field open for the Selafist groups to do as they please in the country even to the point of writing the laws of the country that govern what a person may or may not do…the segregation and control of women being at the top of the list. The rulers are keenly aware that their Shia minority which is along the Eastern border and across the Gulf from Iran, might openly revolt as would other tribes along the Southern borders. Thus, they view Iran as a major threat to their rule and by extension, any allies of Iran are also threats to the House of Saud. Coupled with the drive for spreading the Selafist creed, the House of Saud is keenly interested in the overthrow of the Syrian regime and its replacement by Sunni leaders who would themselves, be Selafists.
Lebanon. Hizbollah is a major power in Lebanon, so much so, that they successfully bloodied and repelled Israel when it invaded the Lebanon in 2006. Hizbollah is a Shia resistance organization that was created during Israel’s extended occupation of South Lebanon from 1982 to 2000. Being a Shia organization, Hizbollah gets its support from Iran via Syria, as well as from Syria itself. Should Syria be ruled by a Selafist government, Hizbollah will quite likely be reduced to a shadow of itself because its pipeline of supplies from Iran, will probably get choked. Besides, a Selafist-ruled Syria is likely to be looking for the destruction of Hizbollah and the establishment of one of their own in Lebanon.
It does not appear as if Hizbollah realizes that it is falling precisely into the role its global enemies want for it and that this involvement in Syria might bring about its own end.
Qatar is a tiny but wealthy sheikhdom in the Persian Gulf, led by a Sunni ruler. It is in its interest to keep the Arabians happy and at bay, by supplying money for the Syrian opposition. In the past, Qatar has been under attack by Arabia over oil-related border disputes where Arabia demanded certain parts of Qatar.
Egypt’s Selafist leaders feel a kinship to the Syrian opposition and support them in principle although not yet by providing men and materiel as Arabia has done. There is however a great Egyptian public support for the rebels.
Israel is the country that feels it has the most at stake in this civil war. In spite of occupying Syria’s Golan Watershed, Israel has maintained a state of suspended war with Syria where Israel freely conducts military operations within Syria without the fear of retaliation.
A regime like Assad’s is preferable because it allows Israel to continue its hold on the Golan Heights even as Syria repeats its claim for the same and Israel is reasonably secure in the knowledge that not only will Syria not launch an attack on Israel, Syria will also make sure no groups launch attacks on Israeli settlements.
On the other hand a Selafist regime will have the active support of neighboring countries and such a regime could well bring about new resistance groups that would be able to infiltrate and attack Israeli s in the Occupied areas such as the Golan.
In the past, Israel has actively provided military support for both sides of a war, well-known examples are the Iran-Iraq War and the Civil War in Ethiopia. Israel’s reasoning has not been to build future allies, but to allow the two parties to fight each other into a state of complete exhaustion, thereby neutralizing the potential viable threat to Israel.
Today, Israel views the war in Syria as an inevitable Selafist win and the best option under such circumstances is to ensure nobody emerges as the regional strongmen. With the participation of Hizbollah on the side of the Assad regime, Israel sees another opportunity to deliver a death-blow to Hizbollah, a seriously dangerous enemy on its borders. Hizbollah might be so weakened by the time this civil war ends, that Israel could launch another invasion of Lebanon to attempt to destroy the organization and their weapons once and for all.
It is not known yet, but it is highly likely that Israel may be providing weapons and encouragement to both sides, possibly through proxy suppliers, while limiting the natures of the weaponry that is allowed to enter the battlefields on the rebel side.
The USA. Inevitably, the US has a major role to play in the Middle East. Not only does it want to maintain control and influence in every country in the area, it also wants to ensure no country will have the possibility of openly hostile leaders because such a leadership could well bring about upheavals in their neighboring countries and thus, spread more hostility towards the US. An anti-US government could not only threaten US control of resources (Oil) in the region, it could also be a source of opposition to Israel’s occupation of Palestinians lands and since the US is completely committed to supporting whatever Israel does, the US would oppose possible anti-Israeli regimes in the area as well.
In the past, the US has also played the Israeli game of providing support to both sides of a war in the region, most notably the Iran-Iraq War. This time however, Russia is obliging the US strategy by providing weapons to the Syrian regime while American allies in the Middle East are busy providing fighters and weapons to the rebels.
As the blood-letting continues and each side of the Syrian Civil War takes an increasingly ruthless stand towards it opponents (combatants and non-combatants), it becomes more and more clear that the rebels will win and it becomes more and more clear that BOTH sides will lose; the real winners will remain Israel, the US and the pro-US Middle East regimes that support the fanatical takeover of Syria.
Syrians might well discover that while they got rid of one oppressive regime, another even worst one, has replaced it.