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December 1, 2021

Syrian puzzle

To any observer of the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East, the Syria dossier – with the state violence against its own revolted citizens, already with over 20,000 victims – has one solution: replacing the Assad regime with a leadership governed by the rule of law and state unity.  The solution is imposed both by the murderous behaviour of the Assad regime, who has denied all legitimacy claimed by massacring its own population and dragging it into a devastating civil war  and by the more and more insistent demands by the international community who consistently supports the domestic Syrian opposition.It is again clear that this obvious solution had been delayed for over a year now. Neither the sanctions against the regime and its leaders nor the attempted mediation by outstanding international empowered actors – one such mediation is currently in progress – have led to any result.

Syria’s failure should be interpreted in comparison with the positive action carried out by the international community in the context of the ‘Arab spring’ in Egypt and especially in Libya. Why such ‘impotence’ in imposing a clear solution, shared by the majority of the international community? Developments in this case together with analyses conducted have revealed among all blocking factors the opposition of Russia and of China in subsidiary on the UN Security Council as man things preventing a solution of the Libyan type – as well as the major risk represented by a possible such military intervention legitimised by the international community (the Syrian regular army still loyal to the Assad regime in its majority, based on the multilateral support of Iran, the possibility of Damascus using chemical weapons, the risk of a regional conflagration, the incapacity of the Syrian opposition to present a united format able to give certainty regarding a predictable and consistently democratic political succession etc). One of the explanations for delaying the settlement of the Syrian dossier is the lack of activism of the Obama American administration.  It is actually said – Turkey’s PM Erdogan actually did it a few weeks ago – that at least before the November presidential election, Washington refuses taking the risk of a dynamic action for replacing the Assad regime. Although the current administration makes notable efforts to build a unity of international political will in that respect, it is said that it is not enough, but represents more a motivation for dragging on a decisive action. In a recent interview for CNN, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said the U.S. ‘lacked initiative’ in Syria. “There are certain things being expected from the United States. The United States had not yet catered to those expectations…maybe it’s because of the pre-election situation.” Of course, the Russian and Chinese opposition at the UN to the legitimisation of a military action – with various variants: air security areas, safe heavens at the Turkish border able to coagulate the opposition forces and keep civilians safe, so on and so forth – is considered in the complex situation in which the Syrian dossier is developing. In the context it has to be added that the multilateral support given to the Assad regime by Iran, while Israel deems the existential danger represented by the nuclear weapon of Teheran is enough justification for a military action against Iranian atomic installations as soon as possible, is just another factor of amplification of the complexity and risk of a rushed move in Syria. More and more frequently lately, the existence of other factors has been brought into the debate of the possible reason behind of the lack of decisive action for removing the Assad regime. The first thing invoked is the fact that the unfolding civil war in Syria has turned into one between the (local, as well as from countries with a majority population on either side) Shiite and Sunnite forces. Assad’s regime, based on the Allawite minority, the follower of a Shiite sect, enjoys Iran’s help for which official Damascus is now a reliable landmark in its regional plans (including by hosting the Hezbollah organisation), keeping in mind the Syrian influence in Lebanon and also the important Kurdish minority (some 2 M inhabitants at the border between Syria and Turkey). On the other hand, the Sunnite majority in Syria engaged in the uprising has the support of the main Sunnite powers starting with Saudi Arabia and where Turkey holds a special position. All developments announce a big fault in the Islamic world of the Middle East, which will most likely define its future evolution. This recrudescence of a centuries old competition inside the Islam between the Shiite and the Sunnite has been now grafted to a large-scale geopolitical clash designed to generate the dominant Islamic force in this volatile region of the planet. Turkey’s case is quite a particular one in this true Syrian puzzle. A vector of major significance of the security policy of Turkey is the adjustment to the Kurd factor and avoidance of making it hostile. It is known that, after 2003, a Kurdish autonomy has developed in Northern Iraq, with attributes of statehood in a country – Iraq – with a Shiite preponderance and increasingly obvious orientations towards Teheran. The attitude of official Damascus on the Kurd minority since the beginning of the revolution IN March 2011 has naturally worried Turkey. Especially knowing that, as Turkish authorities know, the Assad regime ‘has allotted five provinces to the Kurds in the north, to the terrorist organization’. Any Turkish military intervention in Syria – as Ankara initially anticipated – can trigger a genuine regional conflict, where the Kurd factor could become a predominant stake. It is also the reason – we believe – for which Turkey, after Syria took down a Turkish fighter jet three months ago, requested security consultations with NATO and even the enforcement of the solidarity clause laid down by the Washington Treaty. Unquestionably, the Syrian dossier develops the unusual complexity of the current security circumstances in the Middle East. The creation of a Sunnite axis opposing a Shiite one is only one of the components of the new regional security landscape, as well as the emergence of a dynamic Kurd factor searching for an independent state identity, context where the Palestinian component is also evolving with its own avatars, but also the one of the Iranian nuclear arming.

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