Struggle for eastern Arab heartland

Struggle for eastern Arab heartland

The regime is wining the battle against insurgents and the political opposition is fragmented.

The stalemate in the power struggle in Syria has compelled the government to opt for a ‘security solution’ for 11 months of unrest and prompted the hostile Arab League and its western supporters to, formally, propose financial, diplomatic, and arms aid for insurgents. Such assistance is, in fact, already being extended to local militias and the ‘Free Syrian Army’ comprised of deserters. Insurgents are being provided with modern weapons and night vision and communications equipment.

The Syrian authorities argue that veterans of the Iraq and Libyan wars are already fighting with the insurgents, al-Qaeda elements have infiltrated the country and three Libyans have been killed. Forty-seven Turkish military men were arrested in Syria last September and have been swapped for Iranian pilgrims kidnapped by anti-regime elements.

By arming the insurgents, Arab and western powers committed to regime change in Syria will prolong the country’s agonising conflict and could transform the unrest into a full scale communal war that could engulf Syria’s Arab neighbours, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan, and destabilise non-Arab Turkey.

 Government supporters believe the rebellion will be defeated, but not before a great deal of blood is shed and the economic progress country made in recent years has been destroyed. One commentator observed, “The last time we fought the Muslim Brotherhood (1978-82), it took four years” to end the rebellion. “This time, the situation is much worse. It could take longer.”  By then, Syria could be, needlessly, transformed into a wasteland like Iraq, since the US invasion and occupation.

Expressing exasperation

During an interview, a source close to but critical of the regime, expressed exasperation with the Gulf and western countries that are intervening in Syria. He pointed out that the new constitution is due to be voted on in a referendum in coming weeks and multiparty parliamentary elections held at the beginning of June. “The government will go, peacefully.  Let them wait a few months.”  His comments were confirmed by deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad to foreign journalists at a press conference in Damascus.

This past week, Syrian regular troops have focused on rebel-held strongholds in the Bab Amr district of the central city of Homs and the resort town of Zabadani near the Lebanese border.  While clashes continue in Bab Amr, a source in Zabadani reports that insurgents have fled and the army has conducted house-to-house searches for arms.

Convoys mounted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have reached both Homs and Bludan, a town near Zabadani where the town’s residents have taken refuge. At present, the regime is wining the battle against insurgents; popular protests, which dominated the first months of unrest, have diminished; and the political opposition is fragmented.

The struggle in Syria is a struggle for the heartland of the eastern Arab world. In spite of its brutality, its mistakes and faults, the  regime remains the only proponent of the cause of ‘Arabism,’ secular, independent pan-Arab nationalism that rose in West Asia after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the last century.

Egypt was the exemplar of ‘Arabism’ until 1979 when president Anwar Sadat broke ranks with the Arabs to make peace with Israel and its western sponsors. Iraq brandished the banner of ‘Arabism’ until the Baathist regime was felled by the US in 2003, leaving Syria alone and exposed to the enemies of ‘Arabism,’ like Israel, the west, and the monarchies of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, the font of puritanical Sunni Muslim fundamentalism.

The uprisings of last year’s Arab Spring, mounted by adherents of ‘Arabism,’ have been hijacked through the ballot box by fundamentalists in Egypt and Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Today Syria has the uncertain backing of Russia, China and, to a lesser extent, India and Brazil. In the past decades, Russia, in particular, has seen it pushed out of West Asia, a traditional sphere of influence, by the US and Europe. Russia has lost both politically and economically, notably, oil concessions in Iraq and contracts for arms sales. Rising Asian power, China feels under challenge in West Asia, where it has also lost oil concessions. Furthermore, both Russia and China face dissident minorities and subject peoples at home and take a very strong line against UN or other international interference in internal affairs of countries facing unrest.

 The primary target of the US, the prime mover of the campaign against the Syrian government, is the Iran’s Shia fundamentalist regime which overthrew Washington’s ally the Shah in 1979 and has become a regional player with an anti-Israel, anti-US agenda. Twenty-three million Syrians could be sacrificed and the heartland of Arab civilisation devastated in the struggle to topple Iran’s Shia clerics who dare challenge the US and its Sunni allies in West Asia.