Syria’s murky, multi-level conflict continues to grow worse. So does public confusion here in the west as the US, British and some European media keep depicting Syria’s civil war as a simple passion play pitting the evil Asad regime in Damascus against mostly unarmed democratic protestors.
We saw this same one-dimensional, deceptive reporting recently in Libya that was designed to support foreign intervention. It’s as incomplete today about Syria as it was in Libya which, by the way, is turning into a dangerous mess.
My assessment based on reliable primary sources in Washington, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon:
Support for the Asad family’s Ba’ath regime, now in power for 41 years, is clearly slipping. But important sections of the armed forces, the 17 intelligence and security agencies, the powerful Alawai minority, most Syrian Christians, tribal elements and much of the commercial middle and upper class still back the Asad’s. In spite of intense western efforts to overthrow him, Bashar Asad, a mild-mannered former eye specialist, is still hanging on.
The US, Britain, France, and some conservative Arab allies have funded and armed the Syrian rebellion from its start a year ago. In fact, the US has been funding anti-Asad groups since the mid 1990’s. Arms and munitions are said to be flowing to Syria’s rebels through Jordan and Lebanon. Extreme rightwing groups in Lebanon, funded by western and Arab powers and Israel, are playing a key role in infiltrating gunmen and arms into northern Syria.
The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood has once again risen against the Alawi-dominated regime in Damascus. In 1982, this writer was outside the Syrian city of Hama when government forces crushed a Brotherhood uprising, killing an estimated 10,000 people and razing part of the city with heavy artillery.
Enter the jihadis. Recently, small numbers of al- Qaida veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have entered Syria and are using car bombs to try to destabilize the government. Current al-Qaida leader, Dr Ayman al- Zawahiri, has called for all-out war against the Asad regime.
Interestingly, the US, France and Britain now find themselves in bed with the very jihadist forces they profess to abhor – but, of course, whom they used in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and, lately, in Libya.
Add to this dangerous mix growing numbers of local militias in Syria who are battling one another and committing many of the atrocities against civilians, recalling Iraq and Lebanon’s bloody civil wars.
Washington’s key objective in Syria is to overthrow the Asad regime in order to injure its closest ally, Iran. There is so much anti-Iranian hysteria now in the US, that any blow against the Islamic republic is seen as good. Former US fears of a chaotic, post-Asad Syria are now forgotten in the rush to undermine Iran, by destabilizing Syria. Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain, are baying for war against Syria as President Barak Obama tries to hold back the war hawks.
Israel, whose influence in Washington in this election year is unprecedented, is stoking war fever against Syria and Iran. Israel is delighted that the crises with both nations have eclipsed the issue of Palestine and of Syria’s Golan Heights, which were illegally annexed by Israel in 1981. Golan supplies on third of Israel’s total water. Israel’s objective is to see Syria splintered into feuding cantons like today’s Iraq.
France’s right wing, led by President Nicholas Sarkozy’s UMP party, has long desired to re-establish France’s former colonial influence in Lebanon and Syria. The Asad regime in Syria has been a thorn in France’ side for four decades, particularly so in Lebanon, which Syria still insists is a historical part of Syria. France hopes to duplicate in Syria its success in stirring up and profiting from the uprising in Libya.
Russia has been defending the Asad regime and is determined not to be outfoxed in Syria by a false “humanitarian” intervention as it was in Libya. China is similarly cautious. But both are slowly lessening their former staunch support of Damascus as seen by last week’s UN Security Council call for a new peace plan in Syria.
A cease fire is urgently needed. Syria must stop using heavy weapons in urban areas. But outside powers must also stop supporting violent armed groups that Damascus calls “terrorists.” There are no clean hands in Syria.