Saturday, October 29, 2011

India and the Syrian Imbroglio: Part 1

India and the Syrian Imbroglio

President Assad has been a good friend of India, as was his father Hafez Al Assad. Both Syria and India are secular countries, have been partners in NAM and have shared several common interests (economic and diplomatic). However, India has expressed its concern over the current situation in Syria and that too with good reason. According to the UN over 3000 people have been killed since unrest broke out in March.


India along with several nations (Brazil and South Africa) have sensed that another military intervention by is in the offing. In order to prevent another Libya like situation, India along with what is termed as IBSA – India, Brazil and South Africa, visited Damascus and had told President Assad that he needs to implement multi party reforms and thereby alter article 8 of the Syrian constitution which states that only the Baath party can select its leader. In return, Assad told his Indian interlocutors that he did make some mistakes when handling the situation and a national dialogue was in process to solve the prevailing problems. Many analysts have opined that this is at best a stall tactic for Assad to retain power.

The Syrian protests are being done for genuine economic and political reasons, however, there are nations in the region who see it as in their interests to remove Assad and are taking advantage of the prevailing situation. The Assad regime has been allied with Iran over several issues – Iraq, continued support of the Palestinian groups such as Hamas and military support to Hezbollah. Iran has deployed extensive military support to Hezbollah via Syria.

Iran sees the protection of the Syrian regime as part of their strategic interests. As part of this process, Iran has sent police forces, militia, advisers and has brought in Hezbollah militiants to help Syria deal with the current unrest. The aim is to utilize and apply the experience learned in dealing with the unrest in Iran after Pres. Ahmadinejad’s victory.

The GCC along with an alliance of other countries were formed around 5 years ago to coordinate against what was seen as growing Iranian expansionism. The GCC had felt threatened as Iran had extended its influence throughout the region. In Iraq – today the GCC views the Iraqi PM as an “Iranian stooge” and for example Iranian backed shia militants who are extremely powerful in the south of Iraq have fired scud missiles into Kuwait. Lebanon has now a Hezbollah dominated government which is naturally aligned with Iranian interests. In Yemen, Houthi rebels who are in the Northwest of Yemen were battling Saudi troops as well as the Yemeni government troops and had seized several villages on the Saudi border. The GCC as well as Yemen had accused Iran of funding and arming the rebels. With the ongoing unrest in Yemen, there are fears in Riyadh that Iran could take advantage of the situation. In Egypt, Iran has attempted to build relations with the government as well as pro-Iran groups. Lastly, the GCC had also accused Iran of backing the unrest in Bahrain – the US had confirmed that they had intelligence to confirm this view. Several Iranian spy cells have been dismantled in the last few months in Kuwait and Bahrain.

All these moves by Iran, have made the GCC feel surrounded and feel threatened. As a result, the GCC and its allies have decided the time has come to aggressively remove Iranian influence in the region. As part of this process, the GCC has decided to turn up the rhetoric and coordinate with Sunni Turkey against Syrian President Assad.

The removal of President Assad will deliver the first defeat to Iranian influence in the region. It will cause the supply lines to Lebanese Hezbollah to be damaged and thereby weaken Hezbollah. The Iranian regime has been utilizing Hezbollah for its nefarious activities in the Gulf, a swift military force that can be used to defend Iranian interests in the region and fight the GCC in a war (if it comes to that).

What will we see now? 

The Leader of the Free Syrian Army

President Assad has now crossed the point of no return. Intelligence sources have pointed out that defections have taken place in the Syrian conscript army. Slowly but surely if the killings of the Syrian people continue, the Syrian army begin to defect with the protesters – as soldiers question the orders provided by the Syrian military high command.

The UAE is said to have already offered Assad asylum. However, the GCC as well as the Turkish intelligence have concluded that Assad’s fall will come quickly. Hence, now you are seeing a tightening of the noose around Assad’s kneck. Turkey has today announced sanctions. It is highly possible that Turkey will create a “buffer zone” where Syrian refugees will receive military training and help continue the fight.  Turkey will be forced to take the action as it cannot see Syria’s Kurds assert their independence which will automatically instigate Kurds in Turkey.

Erdogan’s rhetoric against Israel was nothing but a cover for his inaction in Syria and to win over the Arab street. Erdogan’s Turkey has initiated intelligence cooperation with Israel since 6th June due to the prevailing situation in Syria.

Iran hasn’t sat quietly watching the developments, it has issued strong warnings to Turkey. It conducted a major missile exercise in the North west which was sent as a message to Ankara that any military intervention in Syria will be met with war against Turkey. As a result Turkey has beefed up its anti missile batteries being deployed, western ships have also amassed off the Turkish coast including some with AEGIS class anti missile systems to protect Europe from Iranian missiles.

The view is that Assad has crossed the point of no return – even if multi party reforms are initiated, the people will demand an answer to the killings and for the President to be held responsible.

Lebanese army officers have suggested that the prices for weapons in black markets within Lebanon have spiked due to demand from Syria. Some sources have said that the Assad’s close circle has tightened to around 3 or 4 people.

India’s position

In light of the mounting evidence in support of Assad’s downfall and his continuing massacres. It is time for India to work together with the UN Security council to prevent further massacres from taking place.

However, India as well as China are indeed wary of the fact that the UN Security council vote against Syria could be used as a historical precedent to interfere in their respective countries. Therefore, it might be prudent for India to remain neutral in this crisis but ensure that its interests in Syria are protected.

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