Sunday, 21 July 2013

Playing with Fire : The Syrian Crisis and " The Options on the Table"

The response to the Syrian Civil War in Washington and London seems to vacillate from the tough talk about 'all options being on the table' and claims that neither power will send arms to the Syrian opposition. Cameron indicated on the BBC that Britain would not now supply the "rebels" with weapons.

As with anything Cameron says, it is 'Public Diplomacy' ( i.e. propaganda ) designed to try to reassure the pubic that Britain is not doing anything as irresponsible as arming the 'wrong' elements in the Syrian opposition. Nor has Cameron actually denied that the opposition will, in fact, be armed.

What Cameron said was this,
“What we should be doing is working with international partners to help the millions of Syrians who want to have a free democratic Syria, who want to see that country have some chance of success.”
“We’re not intervening by supplying weapons, but I think we can with partners to strengthen those parts of the Syrian opposition that really do represent the Syrian people.”
The strategic partners that Britain has with regards Syria are Turkey and Qatar, which have been funding and aiding Syrian Muslim Brotherhood insurgents, and Saudi Arabia which has been backing Wahhabi jihadists as a proxy against Assad, the Lebanese Hizbollah and, by extension, its main Gulf rival in Iran.

Cameron only states that Britain is not supplying the opposition with weapons and not that it is not working with its strategic partners in the Middle East to funnel weapons into the favoured opposition militias. The claim of "stalemate" means essentially that there will be no diplomatic attempt to get a ceasefire.

This explains why in Washington military experts such as General Martin Dempsey are being called in to discuss the military options which involve continuing to work covertly with insurgent groups via the CIA or to establish no fly zones or, ominously, even to use kinetic strikes.

So despite all the reassurances that the US and UK will not supply weapons, the possibility of a disastrous attempt at intervening militarily is actually being pondered as under no circumstances would they allow Iran to win in Syria. This is why they are still worried about Assad becoming stronger.

Fears in the US about Iran's regional power have only grown with a Shia government under Maliki in Iraq allowing its airspace to be used by Iran to shuttle weapons to Damascus as well as the paramilitary Quds Force. Iraqi volunteers have also been joining Hizbollah to fight the Sunni militias.

So the potential for war exists no less than it did a moth ago when Hague got the EU to lift the embargo on supplying weapons to Syrian opposition groups that are still absurdly termed 'rebels' .The attempt to talk tough cannot alter the outcome of either the civil war on the ground nor persuade Russia to stop favouring Assad.

What this sabre ratting in Washington can do is to ramp up the pressure to act in order to defend the US and UK's global 'credibility'' .Clinton and Hague's bad diplomacy prepared the way in insisting 'Assad Must Go' from the outset. Hague remains determined to remove Assad as his prestige depends on it.

For the fear of not 'losing face' in the Middle East and thus emboldening Iran is bound to become a recurring one. John McCain obviously wants to portray Obama as weak and dithering. Hague is itching to exploit his supposed diplomatic victory with the EU over the embargo to prove himself 'right'.

The geopolitical situation is too volatile for this sort of posturing. With Israel having been claimed to used Turkish airbases for a strike to knock out Syrian anti-ship cruise missiles, on July 5, the danger is that Iran will see Turkey as a greater threat to its security.

As historian Mark Almond put it,
“It [Turkey] could be a conduit for a potential air strike into Iran through its own aspects. It would be much more difficult for the Iranians to detect something coming from Israel..Even if the Israelis have plans to strike at Iran from a completely different direction the risk is that the Turks will be held responsible and Turkey could be drawn into a conflict.”
The terrifying part of any potential conflict between Turkey and Iran is that Turkey is a NATO member and Article 5 is clear that any attack on a member state is construed as an attack on all. The failure of the US and UK to try to involve Iran in diplomacy over Syria could mean the potential collision of these powers over it is growing.

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