Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Syria and the Middle East Today

written by Elizabeth Kendal, 29 Jan 2014
for the National Alliance of Christian Leaders (NACL) Australia

Syria and the Middle East Today
-- 2013 was a pivotal year 

The war in Syria is integral to the Sunni-Shi'ite struggle for regional and Islamic supremacy. The Sunnis may have reigned supreme for well over a millennium, but the US-led war in Iraq (commencing 2003) changed the balance of power, facilitating a Shi'ite ascendancy. 

See: Religious Liberty Trends: Shi'ite Ascendancy (5 February 2007)
and Religious Liberty Trends: 2007-2008 (15 February 2008), under the subheading A word on the Middle East

Iraq's move into the Iranian orbit completed the "Shi'ite Crescent": the Iran-Iraq-Syria-Hezballah strategic alliance that enables Iranian influence to stretch all the way from Tehran to Israel's northern border and the Mediterranean Sea.

Subsequently, US influence in the Middle East declined -- plummeting after the financial crisis of Aug-Sept 2008 -- leaving US-allied Sunni Arab dictators increasingly isolated and vulnerable. Initially a movement to protest corruption and poor living standards, the "Arab Spring" was quickly hijacked by the region's most politically organised group: the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).

The Obama administration's decision to ditch its allies in favour of the MB -- believing that support for Islamic "democracy" would put them "on the right side of history" -- brought angst to Riyadh, but joy to Tehran. For while Egypt's Mubarak had been aligned with the Sunni axis -- which consists of Sunni Arab US-backed monarchs and dictators that have signed peace treaties with Israel and host US military bases -- Iranian axis which comprises regimes that resist US hegemony and are belligerent towards Israel.[1]

While the Iranian regime was delighted by the rise of the MB, talk of a restoration of Ottoman and Saudi hegemony gave them pause for concern. Though Syria is a Sunni Arab-majority state, it has been ruled by a coalition of minorities since WWII.[2] In 1973 a Lebanese Shia cleric issued fatwa declaring the Alawi to be a sect of Shia Islam (rather than a heretical movement). Alliances with Iran and Hezballah provide the vulnerable Assad regime with protection from Sunni aggression. Conversely, Iran and Hezballah see Syria as their most strategic asset; they were never going to let Syria fall.[3]

On 5 June 2013, the situation in Syria pivoted dramatically when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) -- supported by fighters from Hezballah (Lebanon), Iraq and Iran -- liberated the strategic city of Al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon. Whoever controls Al-Qusayr controls supply lines into Homs and the centre. The SAA had effectively changed the balance of power on the ground.

On 21 August 2013, Sarin gas was released in Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, just as the SAA's Operation Shield of the Capital was making great and highly strategic gains against rebels and CIA-trained Arab units there. There is absolutely no doubt that the rebels released the Sarin gas with the aim of triggering a US-NATO intervention on their behalf.

See, SYRIA: Who is Deploying Chemical Weapons? (28 Aug 2013).

However, as the Obama administration realised, US air strikes on Syria would totally ruin President Obama much-heralded detente with new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. So the US backed off, abandoning the rebels to their fate. Rebel forces are now totally demoralised.

In early October, the SAA broke through the rebel encirclement of Aleppo, opening the road between Damascus and the northern city, enabling supply and liberating Christian and loyalist areas long-besieged by Islamist forces.

In November 2013, US-Iran rapprochement went ahead, horrifying Saudi Arabia. And so we enter 2014 with Iran ascendant once again. Without military support from the US, the rebels cannot achieve a military victory. Though fighting will subside, terrorism will continue for many years yet, especially if the rebels believe the West supports their cause.

As Assad consolidates his gains and secures his territory, al-Qaeda elements are changing tack and concentrating on carving out a base of operations in the Kurd and Christian dominated lands of north-eastern Syria and in the hot-bed of Sunni resistance that is Anbar Province, western Iraq.

Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and prayer advocate. She is the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra) and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths (CSIOF) at Melbourne School of Theology (MST). Her book -- Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today  (Deror Books, Dec 2012) -- applies a Biblical response to suffering and persecution to today's realities.

[1] Some analysts maintain that the Iranian regime is belligerent towards Israel primarily for political purposes. Historically, Iran has been allied to Israel against Sunni Arab aggression. And while the Saudis maintain peace with Israel and friendship with the West, that also is primarily for political purposes -- and all the while they are spreading their toxic Wahhabi ideology worldwide and funding international Islamic jihad. Morsi's pro-Iran leaning was one reason why the Saudi regime backed the 3 July 2013 military coup in Egypt that ousted him from the presidency and the MB from power. A rapprochement between Gaza's Hamas and Iran is underway as I write.
[2] The Sunnis allied with the Nazi during WWII. After the war, the French empowered the minorities so as to keep the Sunnis in check.
[3] Had the Assad regime fallen, the Iranians would have done all in their power to draw the Syrian MB and al-Qaeda elements into the Iranian axis; and it probably wouldn't have been too difficult at all.