Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Syria: The Geopolitical Constellation and the Move Towards Military Involvement in the Syrian civil War.

'While stressing that Washington's primary goal remained "limited and proportional" attacks, to degrade Syria's chemical weapons capabilities and deter their future use, the president hinted at a broader long-term mission that may ultimately bring about a change of regime.

"It also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region"' 
President Barack Obama, Tuesday Sepember 3 2013 ( The Guardian, Obama hints at larger strategy to topple Assad in effort to win over Republicans )
Washington has always wanted regime change from the outset of the Syrian Civil War in April 2011. That Obama is now indicating that a policy of siding with the Syrian 'rebels'  is back 'on the table' in addition to missile strikes. one advocated staunchly by the neoconservative John McCain, reflects a continuity in policy.

The rationale is clear: the US, France and UK will not tolerate any extension of Iranian influence in Syria through Assad and Hizbollah while they are tacitly backing the attempt by Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia to extend their influence by backing the armed Sunni Islamist opponents of the government.

The bottom line is that Qatar is an ally with a strategic partnership with Britain in a variety of military and economic bilateral ties which is completely opposed to Iran's rival geopolitical designs for Syria in the future-if it has one-including proposed pipelines to pump gas west towards Europe.

Turkey is already has sections of gas pipeline to hook up to Qatar and that requires the potential Shi'ite axis of influence from Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean be broken and Assad removed in Syria. That requires the playing the role of a revived Ottoman Empire and extending greater friendship ties to other Arab states.

Turkey wants to stand with Qatar not only due to the desire to increase its prominence as an energy hub between Europe and Asia. Gas rich Qatar now provides most of Turkey's tourist revenue. As Professor Norman Stone emphasised, after the protests in Turkey back in June 2013,
'Arab money is behind the shopping malls and is underpinning the Turkish current-account deficit. The Saudis and Qatar seem to be mainly involved, and now they buy up land in Yalova, over the water from Istanbul, as well. This has delighted the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu'.
The danger is that in pushing for the support for the Sunni insurgents aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran would step up its support for Kurdish militias who want autonomy in Syria and Turkey leading to the conflict spilling over into a NATO member. The al Nusra Front is already in conflict with the Kurds.

So Syria is the proxy war ground not only for external powers but also for ethnic and sectarian enmities that straddle borders and have created fault lines across the Middle East. It is a lethal theatre in the New Great Game being played by the world's largest powers for control over energy flows across the region and beyond.

The ultimate target is Iran. Hemmed in to the east by a government installed by the West through the Afghanistan war and occupation, Iran is also having its gas export routes west thwarted by the US and other allies who have opposed Iran as an independent geopolitical player since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

If the US embarks on military intervention through missile strikes, Assad could react in a dangerous way and Iran is not going to be prepared to see him removed or overthrown by pro-Washington opponents. Hizbollah will step up operations and Iraq under a Shia president leans towards Tehran as well.

That is why measures towards what  David Cameron  called the need to 'tilt the balance', in the rebel's favour is now back' on the table' in Washington. No doubt Britain will be a willing partner in funnelling aid to the Sunni militias in order to put Assad in the position of negotiating his exit at a second Geneva Conference.

Washington's foreign policy and the insistence that 'Assad must go' exacerbated the problems in Syria to the point where any political settlement looks unlikely and yet where military intervention could intensify the level of killing and instability as well as committing the West to the Sunni side in a complex conflict.