Stand up on Syria / How to help without invading (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) AMIR TAHERI 06/12/12)
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With the Annan “peace plan” all but acknowledged to be a failure, a
new diplomatic game is shaping up around Syria: “waiting for Russia,”
as Western leaders hope Moscow will persuade Syrian despot Bashar al-
Assad to accept a peaceful transition.
The trouble is that the Western democracies’ perceived weakness is
producing the opposite effect, — encouraging Russia to intensify its
efforts to keep Assad in power.
Moscow started building a pro-Assad diplomatic bloc to counter the
anti-Assad nations known as “Friends of Syria.” Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov visits Tehran this week to unveil the group,
which also includes China.
The core idea of the new bloc, as explained by the Iranian official
news agency IRNA, is that the Syrian uprising is part of a Western
plot to topple despotic and authoritarian regimes through popular
uprisings and military interventions.
Russia has persuaded some members of the so-called Shanghai Group,
notably Uzbekistan, to join the new bloc, in which Hugo Chavez’s
Venezuela is active. Closer to Syria, the Hezbollah-dominated
government in Beirut is pushing Lebanon into the bloc.
The Russian strategy means that the struggle for Syria could take
longer than expected. Thus, the Friends of Syria should immediately
underscore that they’re in it for the long haul.
Diplomatic efforts to change Russia’s attitude should continue, but
the Friends of Syria must also pursue other answers.
In Syria, the choice isn’t limited to either surrender or military
First, Friends of Syria should recognize the Syrian National Council
as a full policy partner. The SNC has just chosen a new leader,
Abdelbaset Sayda, and is in the process of electing a national
parliament in exile.
A Kurdish human-rights campaigner, Sayda is in a strong position to
reassure the country’s ethnic and religious minorities (notably Kurds
and Christians) that the future democratic regime will belong to all
Next, Friends of Syria should push the sanctions on the Assad regime
into higher gear — cutting the regime’s access to international
capital markets and banking services.
The bulk of money that Iran pumps into the Assad regime is funneled
through European, Lebanese and Turkish banks. Some Syrian big
businesses, many regime-tied, also use banks in America, Panama,
Venezuela and Ecuador.
As a state sponsor of terrorism, the Assad regime has been under an
arms embargo for decades — in theory. NATO could enforce that embargo
more vigorously by stopping overland Iranian arms shipments to Assad
through Turkey. And the US Sixth Fleet could easily interrupt the
arms shipments (often disguised as cargo for Lebanon or Cyprus) that
flow via the Mediterranean.
Another target: Fuel for Assad’s forces is smuggled in by Venezuela
and Iran. While Venezuelan tankers fly their national flag, Iranian
tankers use flags of convenience, including those of Bolivia and
Preparing himself for a worst-case scenario, Assad is trying to carve
a mini-state for his Alawite community in a strip of territory
between Syria’s central mountains and the Mediterranean. The area
forms the hinterland of the ports of Latakia and Tartus, at which
Russian and Iranian navies have mooring facilities.
Assad’s plan would partition Syria in four, including a putative mini-
state for Alawites. Anti-Assad armed groups operating as the Syrian
National Army already control a second segment, encompassing the
central provinces of Homs, Hama and Idlib.
Aleppo, Deir-Ezzour and Haskeh, in the east, form a third segment
where ethnic Kurds and Arab Sunni tribes could seize control after
the central government falls. A fourth segment in the south would
comprise Damascus, Sweida, Deraa and Kuneitarah.
If supplied with command-and-control materiel and weapons that it
can’t procure in Syria, the Syrian National Army could rapidly
consolidate its position in the center and the east.
Assad is spreading rumors that he’d fight a last-ditch battle in the
west with support from Russia and Iran. But, while Moscow and Tehran
might well back Assad as long as they think he has an even chance of
survival, neither would want to get involved in an endless war so
that Assad can carve himself a mini-state on the Mediterranean.
(Copyright 2012 NYP Holdings, Inc. 06/12/12)
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