Russia-America tussle over Syria invokes Cold War (REUTERS) By Douglas Hamilton TEL AVIV, ISRAEL 06/13/12 12:04pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - The world could slip back into a Cold War over Syria and
the sprawling Arab country could break up into two or three warring
parts, with unforeseeable consequences for the Middle East, a senior
Israeli military commander said.
"Support for (Syrian President Bashar) Assad from Russia and China is
taking us back to the Cold War," he said this week, on condition of
anonymity. "The world is not a one-man show."
A regional proxy war is already under way in Syria, he said, with
direct, daily, on-the-ground support for Assad from his allies in
Iran and Lebanon´s heavily-armed Hezbollah movement.
"There can be real chaos. It can take years," he said.
The 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil
war, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of civilians, rebels and members of Assad´s army and
security forces have been killed since a ceasefire deal brokered two
months ago was meant to halt the bloodshed.
Russia and China backed the United Nations plan to send in military
observers to check on adherence to the truce, but have refused to
consider Western calls for a U.N. Security mandate that would
authorize force, including military intervention.
The West has repeatedly said it has no plan to intervene, but has not
ruled it out.
"In Syria, a proxy war is under way with Iran supplying arms to its
Alawite client and Turkey actively arming the opposition," says Can
Kasapoglu, a Turkish analyst who is currently a visiting fellow at
Israel´s Begin-Sadat think tank.
The rebel Free Syrian Army is getting support from Sunni states
Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all allies of Washington.
Recent video of spectacularly successful attacks destroying Syrian
tanks suggests the rebels may have obtained modern anti-tank weapons
more powerful than rocket-propelled grenades.
Washington says Russia may be sending attack helicopters to its ally
Syria. Claims by Moscow that its arms transfers to Syria are
unrelated to the conflict are "patently untrue," U.S. Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.
Russia´s foreign minister on Wednesday defended his country´s sale of
arms to Syria and accused the United States of supplying rebels with
weapons to fight against the government.
"We are not violating any international law in performing these
contracts," said Sergei Lavrov at a news conference in Tehran shown
on Iranian state television.
"They (the United States) are providing arms and weapons to the
Syrian opposition that can be used in fighting against the Damascus
government," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
The exchange was reminiscent of Cold War rhetoric when proxy wars
were frequent. The superpowers, who could not risk a direct nuclear-
armed confrontation between each other, battled for hegemony by
involvement on warring sides in third countries.
From 1945 to the collapse of Soviet communism in 1989 there were
proxy wars in Greece, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon Afghanistan, Angola,
Mozambique, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
In the post-Cold War world, America was the only superpower but
spheres of influence were heeded.
Moscow did not take on NATO when its former Yugoslav ally Serbia was
bombed by the Western alliance in 1999 over the civil war in Kosovo.
In the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Russia was able to
successfully back its secessionist allies militarily without
triggering a war with the United States.
In Libya last year, however, Moscow was stung by NATO´s military
intervention under a U.N. mandate it believed had been stretched
beyond the limits it had agreed to.
Israel sees the Syrian civil war becoming part of the struggle for
dominance in the Arab world between Sunni and Shi´ite Muslims. "Shia
are only 20 percent of Muslims in the world but have taken the lead
away from the Sunnis," he said.
"Assad has seen the death of Gaddafi in Libya and the fate of Mubarak
in Egypt and he understands he has no choice. He knows his Alawite
minority will be slaughtered," the officer said. "We all know the end
of the story. We just don´t know the chapters."
The question is who might grab the lead in "this Sykes-Picot
country", he said, referring to Syria´s creation by colonial powers
Britain and France after the First World War, on what look like
arbitrary geographical lines that disregard tribal and ethnic
"Who will replace Assad? Will it be all those doctors in Europe
(Syrian National Council in exile) or will it be al Qaeda?" said the
officer, adding U.S. ally Saudi Arabia was very concerned.
"It is not a nation state like Iran and Egypt are. It can become two
or three states."
The risks of a regional war were clear, he said, as key U.S. Middle
East ally Israel faces the possibility of its sworn enemy Iran
becoming a nuclear-armed state and contemplates whether military
action will be needed in the end to stop it.
Israel has to be prepared, he said.
"You don´t know what will trigger it, but everything is ready for a
big, big fire. You don´t know who will strike the match."
(Reporting By Douglas Hamilton; Editing by Sophie Hares) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 06/13/12)
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