By Suleyman Ozeren
Flammable as it gets day by day, the Syria crisis is being left to deaf ears by the international community. Iran is the prime supporting side for the Assad regime. Iran considers the Assad regime a front line in its effort to create Shiite-based regions of influence. To Russia, Syria is important geographically since Russia has a military base there. Moreover, Russians see the Syria crisis as another opportunity to negotiate with the U.S. over matters that have nothing to do with Syria. In a way for Russia, the Syria crisis is another card on the table. The U.S., on the other hand, is busy with domestic issues, and the election for the presidency is the main issue.
Since it started, the Syrian crisis has been considered by many a conflict between the opposition groups and Assad regime. The conflict in Syria is continuing between the rebels and the loyalists of President Bashar al-Assad. Although from the very beginning the outside actors, including Iran, Turkey, Russia, the U.S., European countries, and other regional countries have been involved in the crisis, still it has been conceived as a conflict of groups within a single country.
Yes it is true that several groups from Iran and members of Hezbollah from Lebanon are present in Syria to support the current regime. On the other hand several other groups went to Syria to support the opposition, namely the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Also some of the fighters in Syria are from Libya, Pakistan, and other countries to fight against the Assad regime. But these groups are not representing the FSA composition. They are in a way free riders, who seek regions in conflict to gain acceptance, even legitimacy. But they do not represent the FSA.
The conflict will take more time than was expected. One of the reasons is that the FSA has not been a readily available force to confront the Assad regime. It is fair to say that the FSA is much weaker than for instance opposition groups in Libya at the time of conflict between these groups and Qaddafi. There are several reasons why the opposition groups in Syria are far weaker than opposition groups in Libya against the Qaddafi regime. First of all, the FSA had no previous experience whatsoever in military struggle. On the contrary, the regime in Syria had given no chance to any group to emerge as an opposition entity. Second, the Syria conflict involves several outside actors, including neighboring countries, as well as Russia, which has had a long-term relationship with the Assad regime, militarily, politically, and economically. Third, there is at least a lack of desire or will to intervene by most of the international community to throw out the current regime. And some of the factors are affecting such an indisposition. Unlike Libya, Syria is not a valuable asset in terms of natural resources. Also, for most of the countries of the West, geopolitically Syria is not as critical as Yemen or Libya. On the one hand the Libya crisis might have had a very big impact on some of the European countries, including Italy, and on others not just because of oil resources but due to human tragedy. On the other hand, some believe that the impact of the Syria crisis has its limits, meaning other than neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, European countries are for the time being out of touch.
In addition, for some it is risky to support the FSA, since there are elements of al-Qaeda in Syria that are fighting against the current regime. They believe that such groups are as dangerous as the Assad regime if not more dangerous. Therefore those who believe that al-Qaeda elements in Syria will be in power after the Assad regime falls do not want the U.S. or international bodies to militarily intervene in the Syria conflict. If such claim has a merit, it is fair to say that if this conflict lasts for a longer period then groups like al-Qaeda will be among the winners, since any kind of instability or conflict will become a breeding ground for such groups in terms of recruitment, propaganda, funding, and the like.
The longer this crisis lasts the higher the possibility that this conflict will have a deeper and larger impact in the region. The Syria conflict is not a contaminated crisis anymore. With the hundreds of thousands of human losses in the country, and hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, the Syria crisis has already become an international crisis.
The Syria crisis has not become an international issue to tackle with military intervention yet. At least neither the U.S. nor the European countries are anxious to initiate a military intervention by NATO or any other form.
But recent developments, including the death of Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, the intelligence chief of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces, by a car bomb showed once again that the Syria crisis is not just a crisis for Syrians.
Lebanon, which is a fragile country already, may be affected by the Syria crisis beyond just the refugees from Syria. In a way, the flammable political environment may be ignited by the killing of al-Hassan. Al-Assad or other parties, wishing for a longer conflict in the region, may push further by pressing nerves in different segments of the societies in the region.
In sum, for some experts the Syria crisis is a regional issue if not a local one. But potentially, it can become a source of instability in the region, and a big security problem for the Western countries for a longer period of time. The killings of civilians by the Assad regime are a crime against humanity. Thousands of innocent people have been murdered by the loyalists of al-Assad, for which the international community should have been involved more aggressively. If we remember the Afghanistan issue, it was a far-off distant problem at the beginning. But now, it is a very risky and dangerous problem for Pakistan and other regional countries. It is fair to claim that in the near future this crisis might become a global one.
Similarly, the Syria conflict is not a regional crisis any more. Its impact in the region and on a larger scale in the globe should be focused on more carefully. Sooner or later the crisis in Syria will become a source of security problems for the globe. The developments in the region call for a reconsideration of the crisis. The international community as a whole should tackle this crisis more seriously.
Otherwise countries like Iran and organizations affiliated with Iran, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, will become the prime determinants of the outcome of this crisis. And so far the perception of Iran or Russia does not seem to be that they are problem solvers. The U.S. positioned itself as a leading-from-behind actor with a predominantly wait-and-see policy.
Syria might not be an attractive country in terms of its natural resource potential. But the conflict, if not resolved soon, will definitely become a painful and dangerous source of security problems.