Satya Pal Singh. Editorial.VI.X.XV
SYRIA: NEW BATTLEGROUND
By Satya Pal Singh
In the midst of the worsening Middle East crisis that has seen half of Syria lost to ISIS and al-Qaida's Nusra Front, no one knows whither the world goes from here. What is happening to Syria under dictatorial President Bashar Assad has thrown memories of the Iraq catastrophe to background. Syria is now well on the brink of unleashing a full-scale war that could drag into its whirl a majority of world powers. In a grim reminder of the past history of prolonged pains and sufferings on account of tragic wars, the world needs to be cautioned that Syria is fast becoming a flashpoint for another World War!
This bloody crisis emerging out of over three-year-old conflict that started in the background of the Arab Spring revolution in Northern Africa, has already claimed over 94,000 lives and made over 1.3 billion people homeless. The fighting has witnessed one of the most brutal instances of mass slaughter of humans in recent history that is enough to shake the conscience of the world. The revolution in the Arab world, since Baba Vanga's November 2010 prophecy about World War lll, has taken a violent turn, becoming one of the bloodiest crises in the region.
Despite stern warnings from the Western world, Russia forced itself into the Syrian conflict last week, launching heavy air strikes, insisting that “like the US coalition forces, they were targeting all terror forces, in particular those loyal to the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).” An angry US-led NATO, however, asked Russia to immediately stop its attacks on Syrian rebels and civilians and instead focus its strikes only on Islamic State positions. The Western alliance wants Russia to distinguish between the extremist ISIS and the domestic Syrian rebels who are fighting Assad’s dictatorial regime. Ironically, however, a day after America warned Russia to cease attacks on Syrian civilians, it’s forces dropped bombs on a hospital in the Afghan city of Kunduz, killing 22 people and injuring many more “while fighting the Taliban.” This shows in today’s awfully divided world, all moral pleadings are meant only to take on the rival forces.
Meanwhile, a terribly ruffled President Assad says, somewhat flaunting his confidence : "The alliance between Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran must succeed, else the whole region will be destroyed.” Assad looks confident of surviving the crisis, but feels that dialogue between "Syrian entities and political groups" must continue to reach consensus about the country’s future, even as the fight against terrorists goes on. He doesn’t, however, talks of allowing democratic rights to Syrian citizens. Had the US grabbed the opportunity of continuing its intervention in Syria against ISIS as firmly as it did last year in coordination with the Arab countries of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Jordan, much before Russia came as Assad’s savior, there was chance of this Islamic state emerging as a little open and freer society. Alas, America has flopped again !
Meanwhile, President Putin is ramping up his military mission in Syria. He is mounting an enormous military mission to take control of the terror group's stronghold in Idlib and Raqqa, the self-declared capital of ISIS in Syria, which is patrolled by as many as 5,000 jihadi members. Putin is mobilizing the 1,50,000 reservists who were conscripted into the military last week. Russian bombers have "taken out a terrorist training camp during 20 sorties to unspecified casualties."The ministry says, "as a result of our air strikes on Islamic State targets, we have managed to disrupt their control system, the terrorist organization's supply lines, and also caused significant damage to the infrastructure used to prepare acts of terror."
A top terror expert with inside information on the jihadi power in Syria, indicated that ISIS was now so fragile that its so-called Caliphate "could be wiped out in a matter of hours." However, Western sources doubt the Russian assertions that indicate "straight, quick success of air operations."They are keeping their fingers crossed on the possibilities of an early obliteration of ISIS from Syria. Putin, however, took such an incredibly bold stand to wipe out the terror outfits in Syria that Americans were left overawed. US first learned of Moscow's plan to begin bombing in Syria when a Russian general reached the US Embassy in Baghdad and asked the Americans to leave the airspace clear for Russia to launch massive air strikes in northern Syria that were "to begin in an hour's time." While seeking parliamentary approval for air strikes, Putin had said Russia was acting "preventatively, to fight and destroy militants and terrorists on the territories that they already occupy, not wait for them to come to our house."
Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama warned Russia that its bombing against Syrian rebels would "suck Moscow into a quagmire," after a third straight day of air raids in support of President Assad. Obama assailed Putin, accused him of "acting out of a position of weakness to defend a crumbling, authoritarian ally." US Defence Secretary Ash Carter also warned that Russia was “pouring gasoline on the fire.” He alleged that the "air strikes were in areas where there were no ISIS forces." Reflecting the US-led NATO stand, British PM David Cameron also said that Putin's military action on Syria to support Assad was a "terrible mistake." The entire West is not pleased; it believes Russia is 'doomed to fail'.
Officials from Russia and the US have been in discussion for more than a week about coordinating operations in Syria, even as Moscow continued its military build-up in support of Assad. Washington had raised an "alarm about Russian military escalation in Syria and how it might affect the fight against the Islamic State." NATO forces were alarmed when Turkish F-16 fighter jets were scrambled after a Russian plane entered Turkey's air space last Saturday. They termed Russia's actions as having "reached a more dangerous level."
Putin's decision to launch strikes on Syria marks a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in the prolonged war in which every major country in the region has a stake. It has also fuelled the anger of Obama's domestic critics who argue that his reluctance to act in Syria has allowed Russia to stage "almost a coup in the Middle East in decades." However, Putin's backing of Assad has stoked fears of a worsening situation in Syria. Westerners believe that the absence of a solid US foreign policy under President Obama has resulted in the lethal blend of multiple power vacuums across the Middle East, so much so that a future American military action challenging the war-crime may be a non-starter in the face of ongoing Russian strategic inroads. Western support and Gulf money, particularly from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, together with Turkish logistic support, have been of little effect. Turkey promises to act only if the US-led NATO allies also agreed to attack Assad, but there is no such visible move right now.
Most sides involved in Syria, especially the Western powers, are keen on defeating the terrorist forces. However, there has been no agreement on how best to "protect US-friendly assets” in the war-torn region. American allies, however, are reluctant to attack ISIS in an effective and conclusive way for the simple reason that crushing the terrorist force would strengthen Assad, who is solidly backed by the powerful Russia-led Federation. The problem for those who wish to fight and check the spread of ISIS is that this terror outfit has up to 42 million supporters in the Arab world.
Reports suggest that the "sound of regime warplanes attacking rural Damascus has become part of daily life and the new development just adds another layer, "but the common man in Syria feels,"who cares who is hitting where, almost all the world is involved in slaughtering Syria."Since the protests calling for freedom and democracy began in Syria some five years ago, people in areas under government control are still afraid of voicing dissent, fearing detention by security forces. A section of citizens feels Russia's intervention amounts almost to an “occupation of Syria”, while others see it as a natural corollary of ties that developed decades ago between Russia and Syria and deepened further after Assad's father Hafez cemented a strategic and military alliance with what was then the Soviet Union.
Now the big question remains : Even if the ISIS and Nusra Front terror ends and the domestic dissent is muzzled under Putin-Assad "occupation", what will happen to democracy and the civil liberties that the people of Syria are today craving for? Or, will it be a new battleground for big world powers to assess the strength of their military alliances? Or more, on a tragic note, will it be a veritable cause for touching off another World War? Either way, the Syrian citizenry will suffer, as will suffer the entire Middle East region!
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