While the foreign supporters of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad know what they want, the objectives of the states, that want to help the regime’s opponents, remain unclear.
The two recent political victims of the “Arab Spring”, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, also have sure imagined this different some time ago.
Intoxicated by the seemingly inevitable breakthrough of the JDP (Justice and Development Party / AKP), which has led to a transformation of the old Kemalist Turkey, it has urged them into the Middle Eastern politics, in order to provide the new JDP-Turkey finally the proper role in world politics.
The following actions were always spectacular, but it was never quite clear, what was really the objective of them. There was the deliberately sought confrontation with Israel about the Gaza “flotilla”, the rumble in the direction of Europe, the self-presentation as a “modern” Islamic state model, the cozying up to Iran and Syria, and, last but not least, the dream of a “Neo-Ottoman” Turkey as the centre of power in the Middle East with global ambitions to even higher Orders.
Then, the Arab revolts have started and Erdogan and his foreign minister began to run after the events. Davutoglu`s once so huge conceived “zero-problems policy” with its neighbour is now ending with the situation that the Turkish artillery fires time by time over the Syrian border, without that anybody could believe that this is more than symbolic politics.
Davutoğlu may be insulted by the Turkish opposition as “idiot”, while Erdoğan condemns the UN for its inaction in Syria and calls for a fundamental reform of the UN Security Council (UNSC), which is paralyzed by the veto of Russia and China. But this request is also precisely the surest sign that he pragmatically (realistic political) has no idea anymore of what to do next.
The constantly political wandering of Turkey in the Middle East in recent years, which is always accompanied by great words, is a striking example of the huge lack of overall concepts, with whom the international and regional protagonists already act for a longer time. But with the war in Syria, the vibrations of the “Arab Spring” have reached the centre of the Middle Eastern conflict, or better said, they have reached the centre of all bundled Middle Eastern conflicts. Herein, the potential dramatics of the further events can be found.
The confrontation between the Turkish and Syrian army will once again demonstrate what can happen at the worst of a tight spot and not even by the full intent of the involved parties; not only a further escalation of the crisis, which will inevitably come, but a war in the Middle East. The disengagement has already started under George W. Bush, and since the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the U.S. has withdrawn from its role as hegemon over the largest part of the Middle East.
Thereof, a happy multilateralism was not established in any way, but the confusion of many of the involved parties has grown, which are all just following individual interests and are trying to fill the power vacuum, that was bequeathed by the U.S., without having the necessary resources.
Around Syria there are thus two conflicting blocks, which are also fractionated again. Most clearly discernible is still the block of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. China has more a theoretical interest in the Security Cooperation with Russia; the Chinese government does not really care about Assad’s regime.
Quite different is the case of Russia, and the Iran and Hezbollah are strongest bound to Assad. These are with their back to the wall. That is also how they do behave, and that is the dangerous aspect. The positions of power, which they have established for decades in the Middle East, are dependent on the regime of Assad. There is no basis for negotiation between them and the Syrian opposition.
The Syrian regime exists because of this unconditional support: Russia supplies the weapons; the Iranians practical help on the ground and Hezbollah is directly taking part in the fight. This is confirmed by the recent carried out attack on a senior leader of their organisation in northern Syria, which was confirmed by Hezbollah itself, as well as the funerals of “martyrs” in the Shiite areas of Lebanon. But it isn`t the situation that Hezbollah, which has a position of power and interests in Lebanon, is in the mood to be simply send to slaughter.
Since there will be a limit, at least as long as the Hezbollah-backed government in Lebanon is stable and a civil war can be avoided. The Iraq, or rather, the current government of Iraq, is also half in the camp of Assad’s supporters, it has just ostentatiously agreed on arms purchases with Russia in Baghdad. But the Iraqi government is in a precarious situation, if it goes too far, their country will go into pieces. And it is an open question in which direction the next Iraqi government will turn to.
The situation among the supporters of the insurgency is more complex. Over Turkey, a large part of the reinforcements comes to the Syrian rebels; de facto, Turkey is already operating a kind of war against the regime of al-Assad since a long time. But alone, Turkey is not even able to take care about the “security zones” in Syria, which are repeatedly demanded by them.
And there are further problems for Turkey: the rebirth of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) as a military force by the war in Syria as well as the Syrian refugees. Recently, the formerly known as maximum number of 100 000 refugees, determined by the Turkish side, was reached. Then there is the potential conflict between the Arabic-speaking Alawites – Assad is also Alawite – in the Turkish province of Hatay and the predominantly Sunni Syrian refugees and fighters of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA).
It is still an open question how the large group of the more secular Alevis – another denomination as the confession of the Alawites, but many Sunnis see them as equally heretical – will respond in Turkey, and how the Kemalists internal political react to the situation of the military support for the Syrian uprising, if it, as it is currently happening, adopts a more “Sunni” character. The conflict in Syria has the potential to become the undoing of the so successful Erdoğan.
The reports on the supply situation of the Syrian rebels agree on the point that they still get no heavy weapons. What they get – but this also not very excessive – is the kind of small weapons, by which one cannot win the war, but the military decision can be delayed for a very long time. Besides Turkey, mainly Qatar and Saudi Arabia are distributing money and weapons, while the United States is apparently trying to take an indirect influence. The main concern seems to be that no anti-aircraft missiles fall into the hands of Islamists – so apparently, none of the insurgents receives them currently.
The conflicts go even deeper, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have different interests: One side gives it to the Salafists, the other more into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. This conflict is also presented on the Arabian Peninsula itself, where the police chief of the United Arab Emirates has already warned about the Iranians and the “Islamists” – namely those, who are close to the Muslim Brotherhood and who also demand reforms in the Gulf monarchies. The situation is complex, as it is also shown by the debate about the expulsion of Syrian opposition members from the Emirates after a demonstration in front of the local Syrian embassy.
After the influential preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi (controversial Egyptian Islamic theologian, living in Qatar) has therefore fulminated against the Emirates, the police chief has threatened him via Twitter with an arrest.
In the Middle East, some things are a lot more multi-layered than it first seems. The same case is with the “Islamists” and “Salafis” (Salafists) which are now continuously discovered in Syria. Anything and everyone can hide behind them, from the Chechen jihadists to a defector from Assad’s army; who liked it more to drink arak than to read in the Koran, but now grows a beard in order to get ammunition.
There are “Islamists” of all stripes in Syria, for example, the Sheikh Adnan Aroor (Araour), who has just returned home from Saudi Arabia (Note: not officially confirmed).
There, he has started his career with a television program in support of the rebels, but gained real fame by his promise in the direction of all Alawites, who are still supporting Assad, that he will mince them through the meat grinder. After Aroor (Araour) has now ascended into the spiritual mentor of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), he is suddenly talking about, that he is no longer so sure to quickly introduce the Sharia, and he also has established a type of a “moderate frontline of jihadists”.
The in the tradition of the Arab nationalist “Free Officers” secular Riad al-Asaad, a founder of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA), however, has returned to the question in an interview about what he things of the support by Aroor (Araour), very honestly, that he unfortunately is not able to reply.
So goes the business. If one leaves the field to the Islamists, one should not be surprised if they occupy it. That the sympathy for “Western values” will grow in Syria, when “the West” withholds itself more and more worried and lets the supporters of Asaad operate uninhibited, then even Barack Obama is not going to claim it.
Just now, the Americans have brought about 1150 specialists to Jordan in order that they establish a command centre at the Syrian-Jordan border; therewith the country can be isolated against a possible spill over of the fighting in Syria. It cannot be demonstrated more clearly that all is just about something like containment.
And the Europeans? The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was briefly in Turkey with Davotuğlu and has warned – very original – not to throw more oil into the fire. The Europeans have also adopted some sanctions again. They play the supernumeraries (extras) with closed eyes. Up to the moment when actually something drastically will really happen at NATO’s external border of Turkey.