Syria: Game of nations

Nader Bakkar , Friday 21 Jun 2013

Washington's recent escalations against the Syrian regime represent little more than a tactical shift. The Egyptian regime, meanwhile, has followed suit for its own domestic political purposes

The US position on the Syrian revolution has changed from statements of condemnation to direct action to bring down Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. This may seem to be a drastic change in US policy, but in fact it's only a change of tactics.

It is just a move on the international chess board, as Washington is still hesitant and studying the possible reactions of the Russian-Iranian axis. Of course, the imposition of a no-fly zone is huge, but it is still too early to speak of a "drastic change" in the US position.

Maybe it represents an attempt to diminish Al-Assad's military progress after recent Russian-Iranian support. Or maybe it's a response Russian missile support to Al-Assad and the rise of Shia Hezbollah beyond its usual influence. Both scenarios are a threat to the balance of power, according to the vision of the United States.

Additionally, Iran is aggravating the sectarian aspect of the crisis by pushing Hezbollah into the conflict. At the same time, Hezbollah has held provocative celebrations in Lebanon in the wake of the battle of Al-Qusayr. Iran has also mobilised certain Iraqi Shia groups, as well as encouraging the Houthis in Yemen to join the battle in Syria.

According to the Western formula, this will broaden the conflict in a way that makes it harder to control it or its consequences. The Western formula aims at keeping the conflict going as long as possible without seeing a winner, until a post-Assad vision has been settled upon. This will preserve Western interests in the region and maintain Israeli hegemony.

What is even more critical for the US – and which encouraged it to change its position – is the escalating role of the radical Islamist groups, which include militants of various nationalities. This is a totally different trajectory for the Arab Spring than the Egyptian and Tunisian models that the Western powers had aspired to.

As a result, the situation in Syria has ended up being closer to the Islamic Jihad scenario seen during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

If the Islamists – who form the great majority of Syria's rebellion – win the battle militarily, bring down the regime or force it into a small, isolated Alawite state, it will be harder for the West to control this new state and preserve its historical interests. The West is now attempting to tame the horse instead of allowing it to run the race alone after all previous attempts to contain the situation have failed.

Cairo, ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, realises that it should play a significant role. Over the past year, the Egyptian president seemed to be making hesitant statements about the Syrian conflict. However, Cairo seems to prefer a political settlement to hitting a dead end with the Damascus regime.

There is a hidden message here, as Syria – in addition to Hamas – is one of the international pressure cards that help the Egyptian regime stabilise its rule. The Cairo Stadium speech was an attempt by the Egyptian regime to make use of the 'safe shade area' created by the recent shift in the US position. At the same time, it is maintaining the same level of settlement with Moscow and Tehran.

It was fine in the Cairo Stadium to voice Islamist and patriotic sentiments by condemning Hezbollah as a way to vent popular rage. It is even fine for the Iranians themselves if the Egyptian regime hosts such events with prominent Islamist figures to call for supporting the Syrian people.

This will offset some of the rage before 30 June and reduce Salafist criticism of the government. Still, the reality is that the Egyptian regime can't take a stand against Iran for the same reason of stabilising its rule, especially given that Tehran is one of its biggest supporters.     

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