People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 27

July 07, 2013



Syria: Opposition Finds Itself in Disarray


Yohannan Chemarapally


EVEN as the Syrian government was preparing for the Geneva peace talks scheduled to be held in June, the opposition, encouraged by their patrons in the Gulf, announced their inability to participate. The Syrian government has already announced that it would send a high level delegation to the talks brokered by the US and Russia. Moscow and Washington, despite their sharply divergent views on Syria, had agreed that the way forward on Syria was by making all the parties involved in the conflict, now in its third year, enter into a dialogue. The announcement by the US that it would start openly arming the opposition also played a role in the indefinite postponement of the Geneva talks. There was a half-baked attempt in June last year to find a negotiated settlement to the conflict when Kofi Annan was in charge of the peace process. The opposition, with the backing of the West, had successfully scuttled the efforts of the former UN secretary general to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. This time, after John Kerry became the US secretary of state, the Obama administration in its second term, has slightly mellowed on its position on Syria.




The West seems to have finally come to the conclusion that regime change in Syria through the use of proxies is no longer a feasible proposition. Besides, the strong ripples from the Syrian conflicts are threatening to destabilise the pro-western regimes that border Syria. The recent riots that rocked Turkey were to an extent influenced by the government’s policies on Syria. The mollycoddling of fundamentalist groups like the Al Nusra by the A K Party led by the prime minister, Recep Erdogan, has not gone down well with the general populace. The demonstration in the major cities all over Turkey in early June was the biggest show of popular anger in the ten years Erdogan has been in power.


According to opinion polls, only one-fourth of the Turkish population supports Erdogan’s policies of supporting the Sunni extremists waging war against Syria. The recent car bomb explosions in Reyhanli, according to leaked Turkish intelligence documents, were the handiwork of the Al Nusra extremists. The explosions had killed more than 50 people. The Turkish government was, however, quick to blame the Syrian government for the terror attacks in the town, situated near the border with Syria.


The Turkish security forces had used extremely heavy-handed measures against the demonstrators in the landmark Taksim Square in Istanbul. This only angered those sections of the populace already disenchanted with the policies of the Erdogan government and the protests have now assumed a national character. Their demand now is for the resignation of the prime minister. The West had used the demonstrations against the Syrian government as an excuse to launch its “humanitarian” war against the country. The Syrian information minister Omran Zoabi, did not waste much time in calling for the resignation of the Turkish prime minister. “The demands of the Turkish people don’t deserve all this violence. If Erdogan is unwilling to pursue non-violent means, he should resign,” the minister said.


Turkish police raided Al Nusra safe houses in the last week of May. The Turkish media reported that around two kilograms of sarin, the deadly nerve gas, were seized during the raids. The widely read Turkish Zaman Daily said that the Al Nusra was planning an attack on the Alawite dominated city of Adana. According to the newspaper, along with the sarin gas, the police also seized a big cache of weaponry and documents. The Turkish government later denied that sarin was seized but admitted that chemicals were found and they were being analyzed. The sizeable population of Alawites is extremely unhappy with the Turkish government’s anti-secular stance and its support for the Sunni extremists inside Syria. After the latest incidents, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, once again called on the UN to expeditiously investigate the allegations that the rebels were responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo in March this year. Lavrov without naming the West said that UN is refusing to act because of the “political games” that were being played.




As the palpable evidence of the Syrian armed opposition was using chemical weapons mounted, the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, justified the EU’s decision to lift the arms embargo on the rebels “on the strong evidence of the localised use of chemical weapons.” The American president had said that the use of “chemical weapons” was a “red line” and a “game changer” that would trigger an immediate military response from the West. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, went to the ludicrous extent of saying that arming the rebels would help bring about a “political solution” to the Syrian conflict. A former British ambassador to Syria, Sir Andrew Green, writing in the Daily Telegraph, was of the view that arming Syrian rebel fighters was like “pouring fuel into the fire.” The collapse of Syria, he observed, “would be a disaster, not only for the country but also for Lebanon and perhaps Iraq and, indeed more widely.” The EU’s double standards were on display when it lifted the sanctions on the export of Syrian oil that was being exported from oil fields under the control of the rebels in late April.


The US and Russia have tentatively agreed on the goal of setting up a “transitional governing body” in Geneva talks do go ahead. Other militant groups, that have an influential role on the ground, are yet to reconcile with the idea of coming to a negotiated settlement with the secular government of Syria. Russia, in the fairness of things, wants Iran, Syria’s closest ally, to be invited to the proposed Geneva talks. Qatar, one of the main backers of the militant rebel groups fighting inside Syria, will be automatically invited as it holds the chairmanship of the Arab League. A report in the Financial Times quoted an unnamed Qatari official as saying that the kingdom had already funnelled in more than three billion dollars to the Syrian rebels.


The US and its allies, along with the motley rebel groups, are still demanding the resignation of the Syrian president before meaningful talks to begin. The Syrian government, on the other hand, is insisting that there is no way that President Bashar al Assad would resign. The Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, said that Assad will remain president until at least 2014 when presidential elections are scheduled to be held in the country. He also said any agreement arrived at Geneva would have to be subjected to a referendum. He went on to add that the Americans had no business to dictate terms to the Syrian people. He said that doing so “would set a precedent in international relations that we must not allow.”  


Russia has, meanwhile, warned that the recent decision of some European Union (EU) members to formally lift the arms embargo on the beleaguered rebel forces would adversely impact on the prospects of a peace conference on Syria. Immediately after the EU’s decision to lift the arms embargo, Moscow announced that it would be dispatching S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. Moscow’s action was also apparently influenced by the Obama administration’s threat to impose a “no fly zone on Syria” that seeks to replicate the Libyan scenario. The imposition of a “no fly zone” over Libya two years ago was followed by blatant US-NATO military intervention leading to the overthrow of the legitimate government.




Even as Moscow and Washington were announcing plans for peace talks, there was a highly provocative visit by the US senator and a warmonger of long standing, Senator John McCain, to a rebel held territory inside Syria. He is among the most vocal advocates of the so called “no fly zone” and armed intervention in Syria. Also around the same time, the Obama administration supported a draft resolution in the UN Human Rights Council condemning Syria for human rights violations. The other backers of the resolution, not surprisingly, were Turkey and Qatar.


Israel too is trying to up the ante in the region by declaring that the deployment of S-300s in Syria will be a “game changer” and that it would not allow this to happen. The Israeli government, after militarily intervening on behalf of the rebel forces, has again threatened to take pre-emptive action if the S-300s were deployed in Syria.


The Syrian president, Bashar al Assad, has reacted to the growing Israeli military threats by publicly saying that the Syrian army would react strongly if Israel again launched a military attack. Israel has already launched three attacks inside Syria. In a recent television interview, President Assad threatened to open a “new front” against Israel on the Golan Heights if Syria came under attack again. The area was seized by Israel from Syria during the 1971 war. The Syrian foreign minister has warned that Syria would “retaliate immediately” if attacked again by Israel.


Now with the Lebanese Hezbollah movement openly helping the Syrian government forces to retake control of cities like Qusayr from the Sunni militias along the border between the two countries, the danger of a regional conflagration cannot be discounted. Hezbollah leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has said that his forces have entered the fight to be on the victorious side.  There are many Lebanese living in Qusayr who have been victims of the militant groups like Al Nusra. The artificial border --- the Sykes-Picot line drawn by the French and Britsh colonial overlords --- did not bother to take into account the clans and families that lived in the area.  “You can take any side you want but Hezbollah cannot be on the side of America and Israel, or with those who dig up graves, open chests and behead other people,” the Hezbollah leader had said while announcing the participation of his forces in the battle for Qusayr.


The recapture of Qusayr, which was used by the armed groups as the principal staging post for attacks and an infiltration point for fighters from all over the region to enter Syria, could be a crucial turning point. The rebels are calling for an immediate western military intervention. One prominent rebel leader went to the extent of saying that if Qusayr falls it may signal the end of the Syrian uprising.