Why Syria is not being bombed (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) By Haroon Siddiqui 02/22/12)
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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?
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.
Unlike Gadhafi, Assad has friends: Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah.
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.
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.
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
Beyond all of the above, there are constraints on those most likely
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Well, Turkey and Abdullah have, to no effect. The emir of Qatar even
called for Arab troops to intervene, without saying how.
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.
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.
The meeting in Tunis on Friday should provide some guidance. (©
Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2012 02/22/12)
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