6 Aug 2012

International relations unravel beyond Syria

Things have been unravelling all around and inside the borders of Syria in a variety of bizarre and potentially internationally threatening ways. Of course the uprising in Syria has for many months been a lot more than just a means of overthrowing President Assad‘s revolting police state. It is the West’s way of fighting a proxy war against Iran. Thus, it is Russia’s way of fighting the same war in defence of Teheran. It is also a Sunni jihad sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar – Wahhabist regimes with zero interest in freedom and democracy.

So the complexity is already there. But there have been three more pointers in recent weeks to the conflict possibly spreading further beyond the borders of Syria.

Iran’s role in the conflict

Most recently the Curious Incident on the Road to Damascus. It was on Saturday. It was the road from Damascus International Airport to the capital, not normally a hotbed of rebellious activity, but along this road a busload of Iranians was seized that day.

Depending upon who you believe these were Iranian military personnel with ID cards to prove it, in some cases, infiltrated into the war by Iran to assist the Assad regime and duly arrested and displayed to the world (against the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of POWs) by the Free Syrian Army.

The Syrian government says they were Shia pilgrims en route to a site outside Damascus when they were kidnapped by what the regime routinely calls ‘terrorists’.

The apparent finding of ID cards and the odd timing for a bunch of young men from Iran to go on a pilgrimage in rural Syria – where the rebels generally have the upper hand – lends one to suppose the Free Syrian Army’s version of events may well be closer to the truth. If so, Iran is already further into the war than was even supposed.

Then there is Tripoli – not the Libyan version – but the northern Lebanese coastal city. Here, on and off for months, there have been fire-fights on the streets between pro and anti-Assad supporters in a country that is not at war ether with itself or with Syria. These flare-ups appear to get more serious at every turn.

Kurds granted autonomy

But of by far the most significance, the decision late last month by Syria to grant autonomy to its 2.5 million Kurds by pulling troops out of six mostly Kurdish towns in the north of the country and redeploy the soldiers to Aleppo.

Desperation by President Assad? Yes, it looks that way. But a hugely dangerous game.

Turkey responded immediately by moving missile batteries down to its border with the Syrian Kurdish region. Its Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has said attacking Kurdish rebel bases inside Syria “would be our most natural right”. Turkey regards Kurdish rebels as by far its greatest threat to national security.

And yes, Turkey is of course a member of NATO. And yes again, NATO is committed to collective action against any member state whose national security is threatened.

What would NATO do?

One action by Kurdish rebels from inside Syria now and what would NATO do in support of Turkey? And how would Russia react?

Do not think Turkey’s tough words are mere rhetoric. Unconsidered by the outside world, Turkey regularly bombs what it says are Kurdish rebel bases in northern Iraq, almost as a matter of routine.

The busload of ‘pilgrims’…the hot nights in Tripoli…and Syria’s Kurds suddenly enjoying freedom they’d hardly dared to dream of and creating a Turkish nightmare…

It’s important to look beyond the terrible events unfolding daily in Aleppo.

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