Policy Briefing : Syria and The Region

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Note d’introduction

L’institut de recherche Conflicts Forum, basé à Beyrouth et dirigé par Alastair Crooke produit chaque mois un Policy Briefing consacré à la région du Moyen-Orient, bien entendu principalement centré sur la crise syrienne.

Ci-dessous, nous mettons en ligne le Policy Briefing mensuel du mois d’octobre, produit le 19 octobre 2012, dans sa première partie qui donne une appréciation de la situation de la région. On trouvera ainsi une évaluation générale de la crise syrienne, considérée aussi bien du point de vue général de ses acteurs intérieurs et extérieurs.

Policy Briefing : Syria and The Region

A conviction has taken hold in Russia, Iran and China – those states closest to events in Syria – that the military balance has shifted strongly in President Assad’s favour, essentially since the bombing of a security establishment which killed a number of senior government members. Of course a shift in the military balance does not necessarily translate into a new political paradigm: that still is not within sight; but a military prevalence still does mark a significant psychological moment. President Assad, the government and the army have survived everything that the ‘international community’ has thrown at them over the last twenty months. The government has not fallen, and is regarded by those closest to events as secure. That in itself testifies to a resilience and a depth of internal support which most western observers had disdained to concede in any form to President Assad at the outset.

This perception of the military defeat of the armed opposition however (though hit-and-run attacks will continue, so long as there are external ‘benefactors’ ready to commission them), is already beginning to coagulate into a new grouping from out of the regional fluidity that preceded it. The $4.2 billion Iraqi arms purchase from Russia, is signal of at least a loosening up, if not a full re-alignment of regional politics. So too was President Mursi’s decision to visit to China and Iran, before going to the West. Whilst Syria’s erstwhile ‘apologists’ seem to be headed in the direction of a Syria, Lebanon, Iraqi, Iranian, Chinese and Russian grouping; the ineptly-called ‘Friends of Syria’, by contrast seem to be splintering. The prospective new regional set-up also has profound significance for the future positioning and control of gas pipelines (supplying Europe) - not just in the Middle East - but in the Caspian basin too.

We see that the Qatar-Saudi alliance originally forged by Prince Nayef has unravelled. It is noticeable that little has emerged from Saudi Arabia by way of statements on the subject of Syria for some two months now; whilst the Emir of Qatar remains as voluble as ever on Syria. But more significantly, the Qatari and Saudi representatives in the (Syrian) field not only now do not deign to talk with each other, they are deliberately funding quite different armed insurgents within Syria – groups that are not just rivals, but which increasingly are killing each other.

Qatar mainly prefers Muslim Brotherhood orientated groups, whereas Saudi mostly funds Salafist movements that it hopes will contain and circumscribe the power of the Brotherhood in the vacuum that would follow, were President Assad’s government ever to fall. In truth, there is a huge ambiguity about the real nature of most of these groups who have become chameleons adept at presenting the ideological ‘shape’ that respective donors are thought most likely to fund. The big difference between the two main funding states however, is that whereas Saudi can – and seemingly is - discretely ‘walking back’ the Syrian issue, the Emir is way out on a branch, with no way back: It is ‘all or nothing’ for him.

In short, the Gulf alliance has entered into internal strife – there are currents within Saudi Arabia who fear (with justification) that the Brotherhood are out of (Saudi or Qatari) control; and worse from the Saudi perspective, that the Brothers secretly are targeting Gulf states with substantive oil revenues for subsequent MB takeover (viz: Abu Dhabi’s recent allegations). More directly, some in Saudi Arabia believe that the kingdom, in any case, is next in line for ‘awakening’ (after King Abdallah of Jordan has been confronted). A sign of these anxieties was visible when Saudi Arabia complained to the Lebanese authorities that weapons supplied to insurgents in Syria were being re-cycled back to the opposition groups in Saudi Arabia.

Turkey too is undergoing a bout of deep psychic introspection and identity crisis following on from its Prime Ministers’ irretrievably absolutist position on President Assad. There is little popular support in the public (only 18% support the Turkish government’s policy toward Syria) and misgivings are being openly expressed that Turkey is being urged towards a war with Syria, against its own interests (e.g. at the risk of aggravating the Kurdish issue and creating resentment amongst the Alevi population), without firm backing from western or Arab states and for an agenda related to Western concerns centered on Israel.

The disarray amongst the ‘Friends of Syria’ clearly has been exacerbated by two related, but external factors: the ‘Ben Ghazi moment’ (the killing of the US Ambassador) has clearly spooked the US and its European allies, fearing that the takfiri jihadist genie is now out from its bottle, and spawning rapidly. Coincidentally, we see the beginning of the collapse of the western ‘narrative’ on Syria: in particular, the denial of any substantive jihadi component to the Syrian armed insurgency; and the suggestion that all those who claimed otherwise, were mere ‘apologists’ for the Syrian government. The evidence has become too overwhelming, and even pillars of the ‘humanitarian intervention’ media, are now changing their tune.

Looking to the future, CF believes that the region will experience a further breaking-up, and stirring of the political landscape, centred on the three events that are likely to dominate this coming period: Can the West think ‘out of its very reductive policy box’ on Iran; or will the very logic of this approach increasingly funnel it toward some sort of confrontation. Secondly, how will the West react to the possible political erosion in Saudi Arabia (there is ample evidence that erosion is under way); or even to an implosion? Thirdly, how will it react to the possibly violent internal struggles that may engulf Sunni Islamism in the coming period? What is significant to this recent period has been the politicisation of the traditional non-political orientation of Salafism, whilst at the same time Salafisation of the western lands of Islam (Greater Syria to the northern half of Africa), continues apace.

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