By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
The war in Syria against Assad’s Alawites and his post-Baathist State began with the people’s uprising of March-April 2011. Mass demonstrations in the traditional Sunni areas of Hama and Homs, to which the pro-government organizations responded with rallies supporting Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
It was the usual pattern of the Arab Springs: civil unrest, mass and non-violent uprising, to which the regime was bound to react violently, thus leading to radicalization in which the jihad “foreign legion” set in.
This should happen after the old Rais leaving and after the international organizations certifying it is a “democratic fight”.
Gaddafi’s fall was triggered off by a small revolt of some prisoners’ relatives in Benghazi.
Later the Libyan militants of the “League for Human Rights” came – of whom there was no trace before – and shortly after a submarine of the French Navy arrived, bringing weapons and trainers.
Again in 2011, in Tahrir Square, Cairo, also the sister of Al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda, participated in the demonstrations, while the team of stewards for controlling the crowd in those more or less spontaneous demonstrations was provided by the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.
At the time, one of the books recommended by the Ikhwan of the Muslim Brotherhood was exactly “The Politics of Nonviolent Action” by Gene Sharp, the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a real handbook for organising non-military and non-violent subversion.
That text and that technique had already been found in the techniques used by the OTPOR network in Serbia, a group opposing Milosevic’s regime.
OTPOR was a group of young people trained in the US Diplomatic Mission to Budapest, Hungary.
In fact, after the crisis of the Syrian regime following the 2011 events, the barbed wire was removed from the sensitive borders and Sunni jihadists began to arrive in Syria from Jordan and Turkey, who immediately settled on the border between Syria and the Lebanon – or better between Al Qusayr and the Ghouta region – to seal and hold Damascus as if in a vice.
It is also worth recalling that, even before rising to power, Bashar al-Assad was directly responsible for the Lebanese dossier and, hence, for the close and direct relations between the Syrian regime and Hezbollah.
The situation changed with the bombing of the Syrian intelligence headquarters in Rawda Square on July 18, 2012, in which the following people died: the Syrian Defence Minister; Bashar’s cousin and Defence Deputy-Minister, Asef Shawkat; the Deputy-President of the Republic, Hassan Turkmani, and finally the Head of the intelligence services, Hafez Makhlouf.
It has not been ascertained yet whether the attack was perpetrated by a suicide bomber or was carried out with explosives detonated remotely.
They were explicitly mentioned, as “brothers” and “martyrs”, by the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in his speech of May 25, 2013 expressing the Lebanese Shiite group’s full military and operational support to Assad.
Hezbollah had already intervened with its “shadow armies”, in the first phase of the clashes between the Alawite leader’ Syrian Arab Army and the Sunni and jihadist forces, but only on the narrow border line between Syria and the Lebanon.
Hence, the “resistance axis” between Iran, Hezbollah and Assads’ Syria was created by means of weapons – an “axis” that the Syrian and the Shiite Lebanese propaganda had been spreading for years.
The Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah policy line was opposed to a Sunni but, more explicitly Saudi, project to conquer Syria, marginalize the Alawites and confine them only on the Mediterranean coast and later come to a clash or to Iran’s regionalization.
The first slogans of the pro-Assad protesters, in 2011, were mainly against the Saudi king and sometimes against the Jordanian one.
Certainly, today the presence of Hezbollah in the Syrian conflict has proved to be decisive in the defeat of the various organization of the Sunni jihad and the Free Syrian Army – born from a split of Assad’s Armed Forces, again in 2011, and later turned into an instrument for projection of the Turkish force, especially in Northern Syria.
The losses of the Lebanese “Party of God” are supposed be at least 1,500 soldiers, while Israel has not yet decided how to move in Syria, except for the defence of the Golan Heights, thus waiting for its various enemies to destroy one another.
With one exception, made explicit precisely by Prime Minister Netanyahu in June 2013: we need to evaluate and respond to the new and disturbing presence of Hezbollah in Syria.
Moreover, in addition to the “resistance axis” between Iran, Syria and the Lebanese “Party of God”, we must also consider Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which resumed its official relations with Iran in July 2016, with Iran providing economic aid and military support while – as stated, at the time, by Hamas political bureau – “Saudi Arabia made our proposals fade away”.
It should be noted that, in the Yemenite war, Hamas – the political-military arm of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood – had defended President Mansour Hadi against the Houthis, namely the Shiite followers of the Seventh and Last Imam, supported by Iran.
Yemen is clearly the bridgehead for controlling Saudi Arabia and having access to the Persian Gulf but also, indirectly, to the Suez Canal.
It is also strange that the EU dependence on international trade has not led the European decision-makers to think that whoever controls that region holds in his hands the jugular vein of the whole Eurasian peninsula’s maritime trade.
Currently, however, the European decision-makers’ strategic culture and sensitivity is virtually zero.
Moreover, the presence of the “Party of God” in Syria allows a wide deployment and dislocation of forces, as well as a sort of Syria’s “colonization” by Iran in exchange for its strong support to Hezbollah just inside the Lebanon .
Hezbollah has become hegemonic in the Lebanon and hence can be turned into a kind of “Middle East army” for the entire Shiite world gravitating around Iran.
Between Iran and the Lebanon, thanks to the Shiite “Party of God”, a series of “demographic gaps” between Syria and Iraq towards the Lebanon can be created – and this is already happening today.
The poles of this new Iranian Shiite demographics are the areas of Kefraya and Fuah, from where the residents – mostly Shiites – have been directed to the West Damascus neighbourhood – characterized by a Sunni majority – while the latter will settle in Kefraya and Fuah, in the areas vacated by the Shiites, if the international agreements on the “Four cities” still apply.
Therefore Iran wants full continuity with the Lebanon and this is the reason why it is planning a real population exchange between Northern and Southern Syria.
This also implies Shiite control of the Turkish-Syrian border – and hence of NATO.
Furthermore Hezbollah will settle in Madaya and Zabadani, the cities it has contributed to defend from the “takfiri” (the Sunni apostates) and from “terrorists” – just to use the terminology of the Lebanese Shiite propaganda.
In Daraa, 300 Iraqi Shiite families have already settled in the areas vacated by the Sunni forces after the “ceasefire” of last September.
We can easily understand what this means for the Jewish State’ security.
A pincer-shaped movement between North and South, between the border with Southern Lebanon, dominated by the “Party of God”, and the South, with Hamas which is armed and trained by Iran, is one of the worst possible scenarios for Israel.
Only a new relationship with Egypt and Jordan could strategically counterbalance this threat.
As President Trump has already stated, currently the United States does not necessarily want a Syria without Assad, because “it is up to the Syrian people to choose” and, in any case, “Assad is better than the jihadists”.
Furthermore, the Syrian President responds to President Trump’s advances assuming that “Syria and the United States can be natural allies”.
In more explicit terms, Assad wants to be part of the new alliance “against terrorism” in the region, but the problem is that the United States will never accept strategic continuity from Tehran to the Roman temples of Baalbek on the Lebanese coast, nor strategic closure towards Israel.
A good possibility of solving the issue lies in the Russian presence in the region.
Russia has every interest in supporting the Jewish State and an equal need to stay and control Syria so as to prevent Iranian pressures on its military bases in Tartus and the control of its communication lines in the Syrian territory.
Obviously President Trump does not want Iran standing in his way in the future Middle East “anti-terror League” – and certainly he does not want to have to deal with Ansar Allah of the Houthi rebels in Yemen, with the Fatemyoun Division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, created in Afghanistan by Shiites who fought in Syria, and with the Zaynaboyoun Brigade of the over one thousand Pakistani Shiites, as well as – of course – with Hezbollah.
In the plans of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the “Shiite highway” goes from Iran to Iraq up inside Syria; it enters north of Aleppo up to the West-Mediterranean coast and then turns south into the Lebanon up to its border with Israel, in Naquora Maron el-Ras.
However, the tension between Russia and Iran, which could favour a new presence of the United States in the region, is already visible.
Vladimir Putin clearly wants Hezbollah to leave the Syrian territory soon.
Obviously Iran has no interest in pressing the “Party of God” to go back into the Lebanese ranks – Hezbollah is essential to control the above-mentioned “Shiite highway”.
Moreover, Bashar al-Assad is too experienced not to understand that delivering much of his country to the Iranians and to the Lebanese Shiite will push him politically into a corner and will deprive him of the essential Russian support for his freedom of manoeuvre with Iran.
The US Congress and the six countries of the Gulf Security Council also require the implementation of the above stated ”Agreement of the Four Cities”, namely Madaya, Al Fuah, Kafariya and Zabadani, the cities “punished” both by the Shiite and the Sunni jihadist forces.
The Agreement, reached at the same time as the Astana ceasefire, envisages that sick people and other people at risk be evacuated and medicines and food be delivered to the residents.
However, as you may expect, clearing out a city means to conquer it.
As stated before the US Congress, the best way to weaken Hezbollah is to block the Iranian arms shipments reaching the Lebanon through Syria.
A great Sunni bloc in Central Syria would avoid the strategic continuity between Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolution Guards, thus enabling Bashar al-Assad to rule a territory large enough to have credible power in the region.
About the author:
*Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy
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