Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tough Times and Sweet Talk

Oh it's true! Despite non notable Syrian Al Ba'Ath party notables in Basharopolis entertaining Great Satan less than 6 kilometers away from where a super sweet sexyful 'mystery blast' magically blasted one of Great Satan's sworn arch enemies - (just in time for St Valentine's Day! How romantic), things may seem to be looking up for the Lion of Syria - Dr General President For Life Bashar al Assad.

Sure hope not - though to be fair - the last few years have totally sucked for the Lion of Syria:

"Syria lacks the size of Egypt and the resources of Saudi Arabia. But it has been able to project power and influence in the region because of its willingness to support radicalism, act as a disruptive force and thus create a situation in which it cannot be ignored. Thus, Damascus backs a host of Palestinian groups opposed to a peaceful settlement of the conflict with Israel - including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP-GC and others. Syria offered significant support to the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. And most importantly, Damascus maintains influence in Lebanon - following its ignominious departure in 2005 - via its relationship with the pro-Iranian Shia militia, Hiz'B'Allah

The ability to foment chaos and project influence in Lebanon is key for the Assad regime. The expulsion from that country was a personal humiliation for the young president, and its loss is exacting an economic cost on Damascus. Furthermore, the regime seeks to prevent at all costs the commencement of the work of the tribunal into the killing of former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. Its chosen method for doing this is the fomenting of instability in Lebanon and the instrument it chooses to use is Hiz'B'Allah

The mainstream Arab states - most importantly Egypt and Saudi Arabia - are frightened by the growth of Iranian influence across the region. They are furious with Syria for its backing of non-Arab Iran. But only by backing the radical power in the region can Syria maintain its powerful role as mischief-maker. No Iran means no more fomenting radicalism, no more reaping the benefits of having to be bought off, no more pro-Iranian militias to help out in Lebanon, no return to Lebanon, and the nightmarish possibility of seeing major regime figures collared for the killing of Hariri.

It is a near certainty that the regime will prefer to maintain all of these - with the additional mobilising charge of the "occupied Golan" into the bargain - rather than give it all up and become a minor, status quo power."

Simply Put:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is driven by more geostrategic ones. Simply put, Syria has had a bad run in the last year, and that bodes ill for a tyrant whose survival rests on an image of omnipotence.

Syria now faces pressure along several fronts, in addition to the ones noted in Israel’s press, for which it would need to “change the subject” to buy a strategic respite and counteract international pressure. Syria came out of the 2006 Lebanon war with a newfound confidence (and belligerence), a strong suspicion that Israel as a regional force was spent, and even threats to take back the Golan Heights by force.

But the two years since have not been good for Damascus.

In Iraq, the Sunni tribes through whom Syria worked to encourage the insurgency have aligned with the United States. As a result, Syria is in danger of having the Sunni entities on its border view Damascus and its alliance with Iran as a greater threat than the United States. Indeed, many of those tribes have a large presence in Syria and constitute a sizeable chunk of Syria’s majority Sunni population. In short, while until now, Iraq’s Sunnis saw Syria as their protector, they may start seeing Syria as an enemy, leaving Damascus sitting atop a political powder keg.

Then, a few months later, came the defeat of the Fatah al-Islam terror group by the Lebanese army, which exposed a weakness in Syria and its strategy from which Damascus has yet to recover. Syria and Iran had hoped to pit the Lebanese government against the Palestinians, and therein split Lebanon’s Sunni ranks by unleashing the al-Qaeda-like Fatah al-Islam group in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp. What stunned the Syrians, and set back their plans to shore up this important flank in preparation for wider confrontation, was that Lebanon’s Sunnis universally sided with Lebanon’s government against the Palestinians.

Then there is Syria’s (now defunct) nuclear program. In the aftermath of Israel’s September 2007 air strike, Syria has been left in a precarious situation. The disclosure of Damascus’ clandestine program has exposed Syria to a dangerous set of inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and legally-binding actions by the UN Security Council that could ultimately leave it as beleaguered as Tehran, or even Saddam’s Iraq.

Syria’s woes are not solely external. A recent study by the U.S. government’s Open Source Center (formerly the Foreign Broadcast Information Service) has noted telltale signs of critical failures in a number of Syria’s economic sectors of late. The first is the food industry. Between April 16 and 29 the Syrian government halted exports of key food items: semolina, lentils, beans, wheat, barley, and tomatoes.

Just before that, the regime decided “to support the agricultural sector and encourage farmers to increase production.” It also took measures to ensure all produce “is sold to government marketing establishments,” suggesting Assad’s regime is worried about black market activity which wrests authority and power from the centralized regime.

Then there has been the spate of assassinations in Syria: Gen. Muhammad Suleiman, a top Assad adviser; Imad Mughniyeh, the operations commander of Hizballah; Muhammad Suleiman, a senior military officer killed last month in the port town of Tartus; and Hisham el-Badni, Khaled Mashaal's top aid, who was taken out of his car and shot in the city of Homs in December

In late September, meanwhile, a car bomb exploded near a Syrian intelligence agency office in Damascus, killing 17.

If all this weren't telling enough, Assad's recent crackdown on dissidents offers yet another sign of his growing insecurity. In May, Tarek Bayassi, aged 24, received a three-year sentence for publishing "false news" on the Internet. After reporting on riots in an industrial town near Damascus, Mazen Darwish, president of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, was given a short sentence for "defaming and insulting the administrative bodies of the state."

Essentially for Bashar - Syria track realises several points:

First, breaking bad with Iran would imply a break with Hiz"B"Allah as well. For Syria to turn its strongest asset in Lebanon into a mortal enemy would be a strategic blow of unimaginable proportions for Damascus.

Recogging Little Satan would also tear from Syria its leadership role on the Palestinian issue. Without these allies, Syria would be in a difficult position to continue to assert itself as the guardian of Arab pride and defiance, which continue to be the cornerstones of its governing ideology and the justification behind its militarization and sacrifice.

Bashar needs Iran's mullahopolis to simply survive. Indeed, it is so much so that it is inconceivable that Damascus would see any money or security assistance as capable, grand, or clever enough to counteract the deadly, massive and sophisticated Iranian structures which operate in Syria and have entrenched themselves over nearly three decades. It was one thing for Sadat to expel intrusive Slavs in 1972, but quite another for Syria to expel Iran’s agents of influence.

Fifth, Damascus is not as interested in the Golan Heights as it is in Lebanon. Bashar al-Assad labors under the burden of losing his father’s signal achievement—the successful takeover of Lebanon in 1975-1976. Trying to get the Golan back, which his papa never did, is a distant second priority.


Ultimately, the Syrian regime cannot escape its fate as an Alawite government in a Sunni land. The moment it fails the Sunni majority, it delegitimizes its stewardship and puts its stability in peril. Any move to acknowledge Little Satan's right to exist would trample on the key mechanism through which this regime (and the Alawite community upon which it is built) has justified itself among Sunnis since 1969: pan-Arab nationalism.

In short, Syria’s pan-Arab nationalist rhetoric is an essential part of its legitimacy to rule over its Sunni majority. The regime cannot cede pan-Arab or Sunni “rights” in the name of the Sunnis and still expect to be considered legitimate, let alone to survive.

Indeed, Syria is acting consistently with previous rounds. Its peace feelers today, as in the mid-1990s, are tactical diversions designed to restore to Damascus the initiative it has lost in recent months to pursue its strategic aims. And that, more than anything else, would explain why Tehran is signaling that “it is not worried by the talk about the resumption of talks between Israel and Syria over the Golan Heights.

Pic "The closest Bashar may ever get to getting his hands on Golan"


Skunkfeathers said...

A brilliant piece of analysis!

Khaki Elephant said...

I agree. You got it goin' on, girl. If only our wise leaders on the hill would spend less time stimulating and more time great sataning.