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Why Syria is not being bombed (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) By Haroon Siddiqui 02/22/12) Source: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1135371--why-syria-is-not-being-bombed
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The daily massacre of civilians in Syria continues. Seventy nations meet Friday in Tunis for the first “Friends of Syria” gathering, (as first reported here Feb. 12). Their issue: Why is there no international military intervention, as there was in Serbia in 1999 and, more pertinently, Libya last year?
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Unlike Moammar Gadhafi’s one-man show, the Bashar Assad regime is anchored in Baathist ideology and multiple centres of power — his minority Alawite community, the military forces and a dozen security services. Also, there’s no unified professional army with a central command, as in Tunisia and Egypt, which sacrificed presidents to preserve themselves. In Syria, the uniformed mostly owe their jobs to the Alawite cabal.
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Unlike Gadhafi, Assad has friends: Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah.
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Unlike Libya, Syria does not lend itself to air attacks — 1.76 million square kilometres vs. just 185,000; and six million people vs. 18 million.
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Far more than the Libyans ever were, Syrians are under constant surveillance by Stasi-like intelligence services that don’t let people linger in public places. There’s no Tahrir Square. When you are in Syria, it doesn’t take long to feel the fear that stops people from uttering a single anti-government word.
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Unlike isolated Libya, Syria borders Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq. It has a record of mischief-making in the combustible neighbourhood. Thus the Israeli nervousness about who might follow Assad. He, like his late father Hafez, has kept his border with Israel quiet.
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Beyond all of the above, there are constraints on those most likely to intervene.
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The U.S. — Besides being broke and spent after Iraq and Afghanistan, its stated strategy is to avoid a third war on Muslims. Barack Obama is even more reluctant on Syria than he was in Libya. There’s no France or Britain taking the lead. There’s the Israeli ambivalence.
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Even the American condemnation of the Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council has had to be muted. The U.S. routinely uses its veto on behalf of Israel. Russia is propping up its client regime in Syria just as the U.S. helps prop up the repressive monarchy in Bahrain, home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. The situations are not analogous but self-interest is.
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Turkey — The U.S. wants it to be the front-line state against Assad. A NATO member with a strong army, Turkey is capable of being tough.
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In the 1990s, Syria was harbouring Turkish Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, whom Ankara considered a terrorist. Turkey threatened war. Within a week, Syria expelled him and Turkey nabbed him in Kenya.
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In recent years, Turkey wooed Syria as part of pursuing peace with neighbours. But when Assad began his brutal crackdown, it called for his ouster. It compared him to Slobodan Milosevic.
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Turkey, which has an 850-kilometre border with Syria, is hosting the dissident Syrian National Council and the Free Syria Army, for which it may also be acting as a conduit for small arms. Ankara is also exploring a humanitarian corridor into Syria, with possible military cover.
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Yet Turkey does not want war with Syrian patrons Russia and Iran. It gets two-thirds of its gas from Russia and a third from neighbouring Iran. Ayatollah Syed Khamenei, supreme leader, has warned that should Turkey join a NATO attack on Syria, Iran would bomb American and NATO bases in Turkey.
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Oil-rich Arabs — Hillary Clinton said last summer: “It’s not going to be news if the U.S. says Assad needs to go. But if Turkey says it, if (Saudi) King Abdullah says it, there’s no way the regime can ignore it.”
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Well, Turkey and Abdullah have, to no effect. The emir of Qatar even called for Arab troops to intervene, without saying how.
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It’s not all altruistic. Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the U.A.E., Bahrain and Oman — fear Iran. They do not want Tehran’s support for Assad translated into extended Iranian influence in Syria, just as Tehran turned Iraq into a virtual satellite by backing anti-American forces there.
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Arab League — It used to be like the African Union: standing by every dictator. But post-Arab Spring it unanimously called for the no-fly zone in Libya. However, it is divided on Syria, which is backed by Iraq and Lebanon. More crucially, it cannot see, just like the rest of the world, a clear way forward.
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The meeting in Tunis on Friday should provide some guidance. (© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2012 02/22/12)
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