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The Syrian Shrapnel

Russia wanted to affirm that Russia today is different from that Russia which stood helpless when its Serbian ally was disciplined
The Syrian Shrapnel

By: Ghassan Charbel


Russia has disallowed the overthrow of the Syrian regime. Russia did not hold back on arms, ammunition, and before that, diplomatic protection, especially at the UN Security Council, for the Syrian regime. Russia dealt with the crisis in Syria as though it was an opportunity to settle the scores that had accumulated since the defeat and suicide of the Soviet Union.


Russia wanted to affirm that Russia today is different from that Russia which stood helpless when its Serbian ally was disciplined, when Iraq was invaded, and when the page was turned on Muammar Gaddafi. Some say that Russia went as far as supporting the regime of Bashar al-Assad financially, something that is a precedent for Russia.


Those who visited Moscow in recent months have come out with the impression that Russia’s position is firm and that Russia is not looking for a deal in return for abandoning the Syrian regime, and that Vladimir Putin is exploiting to the maximum extent possible the weakness of the US president, who sees his mandate as one of bringing back US troops from the battlefield rather than sending them to new wars.


The Russian position pushes one to believe that the conflict in Syria is likely to last a long time indeed.


Iran has disallowed the overthrow of the Syrian regime. In turn, Iran has held no form of support back, supplying the regime with weapons and ammunition, and training a proxy army after seeing the weak performance of the regular army in urban warfare. With Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s announcement of its overt involvement in the fighting in Syria, Tehran has affirmed that the conflict in Syria was for it a matter of life or death.


Those who met with Iranian officials in recent months have concluded that Iran is committed to its present stance on Syria, even if it exhausts its capabilities and even if it led to igniting an open-ended Shiite-Sunni conflict in the region, and that Iran is not looking for a deal and would not accept any price in return for abandoning the Syrian regime.


The Iranian stance pushes one to believe that Syria is likely to see a protracted and devastating conflict.


Only the United States is able to uproot the Syrian regime. But the US generals told the administration explicitly that they are not willing to fight ‘half a war’ there. They said that toppling the Assad regime would require a full scale war whose consequences and repercussions on neighboring countries cannot be predicted.


Those who visited the countries classed in the ‘friends of the Syrian people’ camp have come to understand that these countries, despite their fears of extremists taking hold on Syrian territory, intend to respond to the Russian and Iranian positions by preventing the Assad regime from settling the battle in its favor. This means curbing the progress made by the regular army in the past three months. But it also means that the conflict in Syria will be long and bitter.


In light of this, Syrian fragmentation is growing, and so is the reach of its shrapnel in the region. But three issues in particular are causing great concern for both nearby and faraway countries.


First, al-Qaeda and its ilk have carved out a part of Syrian territory for themselves, which can well become a training camp for jihadists flocking from the rest of the world, just like Afghanistan once was in a previous time. Al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria has inevitable repercussions in Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.


Second, there is the role of the conflict raging in Syria in stoking Sunni-Shiite strife in the region. One does not need to go through a great effort to discover that the resurgent climate of civil war in Iraq has everything to do with the Sunni-Shiite strife, caused mainly by the events in Syria. Lebanon too is likely to be affected by this firestorm and see some Iraqi-style incidents, especially since the collapse of its institutions denies it the ability to weather the Syrian shrapnel.


Third, there is the issue of the Kurds in Syria after their recent move to establish an interim administration for Western Kurdistan. While the injustice visited upon the Kurds in Syria, as a result of Arabization policies, deliberate displacement, and marginalization, is undeniable, it is risky to believe that the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s experience can be replicated in Syria. Clearly, this Kurdish shrapnel has raised alarm in Turkey, which was quick to declare that it would not allow a Kurdish autonomous region to emerge on its border with Syria.


Destruction, forcible displacement, and horrific massacres have torn the Syrian fabric apart, sending shrapnel beyond the borders and chipping at the fabric of more than one country. There are some who believe that the Syrian catastrophe carries the seeds of a major catastrophe in the region.


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