Page 1 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY How Syrian jihad spawned Islamic State
By Nauman Sadiq
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
Let me admit at the outset that Bashar al-Assad is an illegitimate tyrant who must abdicate his hereditary throne to the will of the people when the opportune moment arrives. But right now our primary concern shouldn't be bringing democracy to Syria; our first and foremost priority should be reducing violence in Syria.
There are two parties to this conflict: the regime and the rebels (the majority of whom are takfiri jihadis). It is not possible for the regime to de-escalate the conflict because it is holding a tiger by the tail. The regime is fighting a war of defense; and what is at
stake is survival; not only its own but the survival of its clan: the Alawite minority of 2.6 million people who comprise 12% population of Syria's 22 million people.
The second party to the conflict is the rebels who are generously supported by the Gulf monarchies, Turkey (Sunni Muslims), Western powers and Israel. Don't get alarmed and be dismissive of the possibility of an alliance  between the Sunni Muslims of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and the Zionists of Israel. It is realpolitik: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In fact the Western interest in this war is partly about Israel's regional security  because the Shia axis comprising Iran-Syria-Hezbollah is an existential threat to Israel; and with each passing year the nature of this threat will enhance proportionally with the increased sophistication of Iranian missile program.
During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, most of the rockets fired by Hezbollah into the Israeli territory missed their target; but according to some reports Iran and Hezbollah have already developed smarter missiles and with every passing year the threat of Hezbollah's guided missiles so close to Israeli borders will keep on haunting the Israeli strategists' dreams.
Another reason for the unnatural Western, especially US, Britain and France's interest in the happenings in Syria is about making 'friendly' autocratic Arab regimes friendlier and about neutralizing the enemy's capabilities by taking advantage of the opportunity provided to them in the form of a just war based on moral reasons. Let me elaborate this complexity. First of all we must admit that the political movement in Syria for enfranchisement is real; and even the militant elements find some support in the Sunni majority areas of Syria. An insurgency cannot survive without some level of support from the local population. And especially in the context of Syria which has ill-guarded borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Iraq; the cross-border movement of militants, arms and munitions cannot be tightly controlled.
When I say that the war in Syria is as much about Israel's regional security as it is about the 'friendly' autocratic Arab regimes; I mean to say that the Arab regimes, just like the Syrian regime, are illegitimate and lack the support of their people. They rule by force and force alone. Today a political-turned-militant movement is knocking on Syria's doors; tomorrow the same set of circumstances will visit Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); but mindful of the threat why then are they adding fuel to the fire? To understand this we need to understand the nature of the militancy.
The militants who are fighting this war are ideological people; they are like a deluge which cannot be restrained; the best policy to avoid damage to one's own home is to divert these floodwaters to somebody else's home; and especially if that somebody else is also an enemy; it will buy them time and also reduce the severity of the flood. The Arab autocrats only have two choices to control extremism and militancy: one, to carry out internal political reforms, to enfranchise the people and to let them have a say in their domestic and foreign policy; two, to divert their attention away from the home front to an engineered external threat.
Machiavelli advised his patron that invent enemies and then slay them in order to control your subjects. The Arab autocrats are paying heed to this Machiavellian advice; they have invented a Shia enemy to control their Sunni subjects. But why did the West chose to become a part of this evil scheme? Last year the chiefs of staff of the US, Britain, France, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey met in Jordan; and a report by UAE's newspaper  also mentions the existence of a secret command center in Jordan which is staffed by military officials from 14 Western and Arab countries including Israel. This command center coordinates the operations of the rebels (jihadis) in southern Syria; while the operations of the jihadis in northern Syria are coordinated by similar command centers and bases in Turkey.
Aside from Israel's regional security another factor that always plays in the Western strategists' mind is their "vital interests" in the Middle Eastern region which is a euphemism for oil. Here let me warn the reader to avoid taking a linear approach: the Syrian war isn't directly about oil or the gas pipelines; Syria only produces moderate quantities of oil; about 400,000 barrels per day from the north-east. Directly it isn't about oil but indirectly it is. By joining hands with the friendly Arab autocrats and by keeping the Middle East region in turmoil especially by creating a specter of a Shia threat, it suits the interests of both: the Arab autocrats and the Big Oil. It also creates a raison d'etre for the existence of the NATO military bases in Qatar, UAE, Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain.
The Syrian war isn't directly about oil, but the Iraq and Libyan wars were. Libya produces 1.6 million barrels per day (mbpd) of oil - 2% of global output, a very significant figure keeping in mind that the post-war Iraq also produces about 3 mbpd and has a potential of reaching 5 mbpd in a few years; and Saudi Arabia produces about 10 mbpd, 15% of the global oil output. They also held elections in Libya in 2012 to legitimize their "humanitarian intervention." But two-thirds of the seats were reserved for the independent (non-party) candidates and only one-third were allocated to the political parties because they were afraid that some Ikhwan or al-Nahda (Ennahda) like anti-American Islamist-dominated party might also emerge in Libya. By having two-third parliamentarians as independents, Big Oil made it sure that they get a friendly government by wheeling-dealing and horse-trading such "independents." It's ironic that despite this clever manipulation of elections the anti-American Islamists still managed to form the largest bloc in the parliament in the previous Libyan elections. The June 2014 elections don't count because the turnout was only 18% while in the 2012 elections it was 60%.
Some journalists are wary about the role of Islamists in the post-war Syria; there are many possible scenarios keeping in mind the Libya precedent. From an Israeli strategists' point of view, in any case a weakened Syria, which might also include some Islamist elements in the future Syrian government, will be less of a threat compared to the powerful anti-Zionist Shia axis of Iran-Syria-Hezbollah. So far the NATO-GCC-Israel alliance has refrained from attacking Syria because of the repercussions (Israel has carried out a few air-force strikes inside Syria): how will Hezbollah respond in the event of a strike and how will Iran respond? Iran-Syria-Hezbollah are no match for the military might of NATO; but Hezbollah can launch rocket strikes from very close to the borders of Israel and it has the capability to hit all the Israeli cities.
The escalation of the conflict beyond all control is also keeping a check on the NATO's ambitions; what if Iran launches missiles on the Achilles heel of Big Oil: the Abqaiq oil facility in Saudi Arabia and other oil installations in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia or the Persian Gulf; what if it tries to block the strait of Hormuz through which a large quantity of oil passes every day? It's the Iran's missile program with conventional warheads which is a bigger threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries than its nuclear program.
The killing must stop
The political movement for enfranchisement in Syria is legitimate, indigenous and widespread; the Syrian regime is illegitimate, tyrannical and despotic; but we are in the midst of a war here; at the moment our first and foremost concern should be reducing the level of violence and the resultant human suffering. Assad cannot deescalate because he is fighting a war of survival; not only for himself but also for his community. The only way to deescalate the conflict is: if NATO, GCC, Turkey and Israel withdraw their support from the rebels. When I say that the political aspect of the Syrian revolution is legitimate and democratic; but the militant aspect of the conflict is illegitimate and undemocratic; I draw an artificial but necessary distinction. We must support the political aspirations of the Syrian people but at the same time we should be mindful of the boundaries which should not be crossed: the militarization of the protests must be avoided, no matter what.
The killings must stop in Syria because human suffering must be avoided. A political movement for enfranchisement in Syria is real and legitimate; the Assad regime should have heeded to the changed dynamics of the Arab Spring in 2011; now he is willing to negotiate and to carry out political reforms, but it seems too little too late. Unfortunately the political movement turned militant in Syria after a violent crackdown by the regime on the protestors. Some regional interests took advantage of the opportunity provided to them; and they further militarized the conflict, not in the interest of democracy or peace but in their own long term security interests. But it is my firm opinion that any further militarization of the conflict or another "humanitarian intervention" will only make matters worse; it will open the floodgates of militancy, violence and carnage.
Syria with a population of 22 million is unlike the Libyan desert, which is only sparsely populated (6 million.) The regime is far more entrenched and militarily capable; it is supported not only by the Alawite minority but also by the Sunni majority of the urban Syria. The rebels who are mostly comprised of al-Nusra Front, Tawheed and Farouq brigades, Saudi-backed Islamic Front (50 to 60,000) which includes members from al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, mostly derive their strength from the backward rural areas of Syria. This unholy alliance between the Takfiri terrorists and the NATO-GCC-Israel nexus must be dismantled, if we want peace and stability to prevail in Syria. More than 190,000 Syrians have already died, and millions became homeless; an ill-conceived military intervention or training more jihadis will only make matters worse; it will turn a man-made disaster into an unimaginable catastrophe. There is only one way to avert this catastrophe: Instead of training and arming more jihadis, NATO, GCC and Israel must withdraw their support from the so-called moderate 'rebels' aka the green and yellow jihadis  as opposed to the 'red jihadis' of ISIS which are a tad too autonomous for the taste of Western powers.
The Syrian conflict is a blackhole which has already sucked in the whole of Middle East region; especially Lebanon and Iraq, who have significant Shia-Sunni faultlines. It is time for adopting a prudent policy; a policy of de-weaponization and de-escalation; not a policy of another "humanitarian" intervention or further escalation and militarization of the conflict by training and arming more jihadis, which will lead to a conflagration in the whole region.