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Why Syria is so Important ?

By Muhammed Ubaid   : – 

On the 3rd Decem­ber, the British par­lia­ment voted over­whelm­ingly to expand British airstrikes from Iraq into Syria.[1] The attacks in Paris and the poten­tial threat to the UK were used as the pri­mary jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Within hours, British Typhoons began attack­ing tar­gets and oil fields in Syria. Not to be left behind, the Ger­man par­lia­ment approved airstrikes against Syria on Fri­day 4th December.[2] With all the world pow­ers and regional pow­ers now involved in Syria, any­one would be for­given for believ­ing World War Three was in full swing. It begs the ques­tion what is the impor­tance of Syria that has attracted the world’s pow­ers to it.

Through­out his­tory, Syria was part of the Lev­ant and the Lev­ant has con­sis­tently played an impor­tant role from the medieval period to the cur­rent day.  For the Byzan­tines the Lev­ant formed the area sur­round­ing the polit­i­cal cap­i­tal, Con­stan­tino­ple and became the gate­way to other lands. The Lev­ant was also the area where the Mus­lim world met the Chris­t­ian world. Key encoun­ters with the Byzan­tine Empire took place in the Lev­ant. The Cru­sades, which came to define Muslim-Christian rela­tions for cen­turies, saw the Lev­ant as an impor­tant area and one that needed to be occu­pied due to it being the gate­way to the rest of the Caliphate.[3] For Mus­lims, the Lev­ant holds sig­nif­i­cant ven­er­a­tion as it was blessed in the Mus­lim scrip­ture – the Qur’an. There­fore events that take place in this region have a pro­found effect on Mus­lims across the world.

“We know that those who plan evil for Syria and those who demand the estab­lish­ment of the Islamic Khi­lafah state will not stop at the bor­ders of Syria. So what we are cur­rently doing is even defend­ing Jor­dan, Lebanon and Turkey.” Walid Al-Moallem, Syr­ian for­eign minister

It was France with Britain that con­structed the bor­ders of the Mid­dle East in the Sykes-Picot treaty dur­ing WW1. Syria was engi­neered by the French and organ­ised on a sec­tar­ian basis to keep the peo­ple divided, so the French could main­tain their grip on power. The French largely sup­ported the minor­ity pop­u­la­tions within Syria, over the over­whelm­ingly Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion that con­sti­tuted 78% of the total Syr­ian pop­u­la­tion. Most notably the Nusayris were brought to power as a minor­ity that lived for cen­turies in obscu­rity in the moun­tains of Latakia. The French even changed their name to the ‘Alawis’ to give them legit­i­macy (in line with Imam Ali (RA), who was the fourth Caliph, the Prophet’s cousin and one of the first con­verts to Islam). It was such poli­cies that allowed the Alawis to join the army, police and intel­li­gence ser­vices. This dom­i­na­tion set up the coup in 1963 when the Alawi dom­i­nated Baathists took power.  Despite Syria con­sist­ing of a pop­u­la­tion of 78% Mus­lims, the minor­ity Alawis made up the rul­ing elite. The Alawi’s the­o­ret­i­cal links with the Shi’ah led to Iran and Syria work­ing closely to extend their influ­ence within the region and ideas such as a Shi’ah cres­cent con­tinue in the lex­i­con of the region.

The impor­tance of Syria is not due to its resources, as is the case with much of the region, but due to its geopo­lit­i­cal impor­tance i.e. its loca­tion. Rel­a­tive to the region, Syria pos­sesses few gas and oil fields and even fewer reserves of energy. Syria, in the Sykes-Picot agree­ment dur­ing WW1, was given bor­ders much smaller than it pre­vi­ously had as Al-sham. How­ever its cen­tral loca­tion in the Mus­lim world makes it the heart of the Mid­dle East. This makes the Alawi minor­ity in con­trol of Syria even more sig­nif­i­cant. This is why the British and Amer­i­cans fought over con­trol of the coun­try with mul­ti­ple coups and counter coups. The Al-Sham region included Pales­tine and Lebanon and it was only after the end of the decline of the Caliphate that the French and British con­structed what we see today in the region. Syria bor­ders Israel, which is a key tool for the US in pro­tect­ing its inter­ests in the region. Syria being at war with Israel would expend con­sid­er­able Israeli resources so hav­ing a regime in Dam­as­cus which is friendly with Israel would secure and pro­tect the Zion­ist state.  The seizure of Lebanon in 1975 for 30 years by Syria shows it can influ­ence the pol­i­tics of another coun­try which also shares a bor­der with Israel. So due to being at the heart of the Mid­dle East and the Arab world, hav­ing influ­ence over Syria will help in secur­ing dom­i­nance of the region.

As the Arab spring closes in on its fifth anniver­sary, the impli­ca­tions of what hap­pens to Syria remains at the fore­front of the regional and global pow­ers. For the US, change means the over­throw of the Ba’athist regime and the emer­gence of an alter­na­tive gov­ern­ment from the major­ity pop­u­la­tion to some­thing in line with their val­ues.  One need only read US news­pa­pers, which con­sis­tently cite anony­mous White House offi­cials objec­tively sup­port­ing Assad’s longevity. Syria has been a lynch­pin of pro­tect­ing US inter­ests in the region and the US would want to main­tain the regime in order for it to carry on in this role. Bashar and his father acted as a pro­tec­tive agent for Israel as it has pro­tected the Syrian-Israeli bor­der so well that numer­ous Israeli gen­er­als launched oper­a­tion “save the Assad regime.” This prompted Israeli gen­eral Azer Tsfrir, to explain that allow­ing the Assad regime to fall would mean turn­ing Syria into a “black hole” in which the bor­der areas could become launch pads for oper­a­tions against Israel.”[4] Walid Al-Moallem, the al-Assad regime’s for­eign min­is­ter out­lined in 2013 what was at stake in the coun­try and the region, he said: “We know that those who plan evil for Syria and those who demand the estab­lish­ment of the Islamic Khi­lafah state will not stop at the bor­ders of Syria. So what we are cur­rently doing is even defend­ing Jor­dan, Lebanon and Turkey.”[5] Real change in Syria would mean a new inde­pen­dent state at the heart of the Mid­dle East, one that could reunify with the lands in all directions.

With many of the Arab spring nations going back to the pre-Arab spring sys­tems or marred in civil war, the Syr­ian rev­o­lu­tion is con­sid­ered by all to be very dif­fer­ent from all the other rev­o­lu­tions. Unlike coun­tries like Egypt and Tunisia, who iden­ti­fied their rulers as the main prob­lem, the peo­ple of Syria have iden­ti­fied the regime and the sys­tem in place as the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem. This is why any pro­posed solu­tion such as nego­ti­a­tions with the Syr­ian National Coali­tion and Bashar al Assad him­self has failed. The Syr­ian rebels instead con­tinue to fight and con­tinue to call for the col­lapse of the regime. This poses a num­ber of prob­lems for West­ern nations, as the regime in Dam­as­cus has been a lynch­pin for them. This explains why Rus­sia openly sup­ports the regime in Dam­as­cus and the US, whose lack of action demon­strates its implicit sup­port for the regime. The Russ­ian for­eign Min­is­ter, Sergei Lavrov con­firmed what was at stake in Syria: “It’s dan­ger­ous. They want to build a caliphate from Por­tu­gal to Pak­istan tak­ing every­thing in between.“[6] It is this fear that makes the out­come of Syria so important.

[1] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/12/uk-mps-approve-air-strikes-isil-syria-151202164614497.html[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/12032948/Germany-joins-fight-against-Isil-after-parliament-approves-military-action-in-Syria.html[3] http://www.ancient.eu/syria/[4] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/19688-israelis-call-for-arms-for-assad-to-save-regime[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldcDMF4T6g4[6] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ee82468ad3464b748d6502190b532fa4/russian-minister-moscow-not-attacking-syrian-opposition


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