So finally there has been a breakthrough and a deal made between Syria, Russia and the USA with regard to Syrian CW. On the surface it looks like a good thing and if you take it at face value then for certain it can only be good that there is one less way for Assad/Russia/Iran to kill civilians in Syria.
On the other hand, you have to remember that all sides of this deal all have their own political strategy and these haven’t changed. The USA still wants to see Syria divided up into three parts. Russia and Iran are working as business partners and their objective is to increase their dominance in the middle east. Syria is being used like a pawn in a chess game. Assad himself is little more that a figurehead these days, a marionette with Iran and Russia working together to pull the strings.
If we look at the terms of the deal it raises lots of questions but also gives an insight into the objectives of all the parties involved. I give my opinions based on my own observations and analysis as well as my understanding of the psychology and political thinking of the various parties.
Under the terms of the deal brokered in Geneva, Assad has a week to account for his CW stockpile, type, location and quantity etc. This raises the first question, nobody knows exactly how much CW Assad holds, any declaration he makes is going to have to be accepted at face value as there is no way to prove otherwise. Can he be trusted to make a full declaration of his CW assets? Further to this, just how do UN inspectors expect to be able to carry out their work, to examine if Assad is telling the truth or not, this is after all a conflict zone? This last factor gives the possibility for so many delaying tactics, if security of the UN inspectors can’t be guaranteed then how are they supposed to carry out their work?
As for the Syrian rebels, they see the talks in Geneva and subsequent deal as simply buying more time for Assad and view with high suspicion the motivations of the deal that has been made. Therefore it is highly unlikely that they will agree to a temporary ceasefire in order for the UN to go into the country. The rebels view all the talk about CW as very hypocritical and political maneuvering, for the rebels there is no difference between Assad killing women and children with bombs and bullets rather than chemical weapons. If the west were serious about stopping the killing of innocents it would have stepped in a long time ago.
Russia is playing the better political game at the moment but it is early days and you can be sure that there will be a lot of pushing backwards and forwards between the USA and Russia over the next few month as they fight their proxy war in Syria. Russia certainly doesn’t have a problem with Assad using chemical weapons, when Chechen rebels took hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theatre a few years ago they used gas knowing that many innocent hostages would die. For the Russians, it was more important to kill Chechen separatists than save the lives of innocent theatre goers. So Assad has no pressure from the Russians about his use of gas. As long as you create the appearance of trying to do the right thing, this is all that matters.
The USA went with this deal because it gives them the perfect get out clause, they are no longer committed to air strikes on Syrian regime CW assets, not that they ever really wanted to in the first place. Syrian air defense systems are pretty strong and are getting stronger through the installation of Russian made S-300 system. Russia has its advisers on the ground training the Syrians on how to use the system, if the USA were to attack and destroy one of these installations and Russians were subsequently killed then the USA and Russia would be brought into direct conflict and that is a situation that neither side can afford. At the same time the USA wants the war in Syria to keep going for as long as possible as a way of getting Iran to commit more and more resources, human and weapon, thereby making Iran weaker as the financial costs of this conflict build up. What we are seeing is that the USA is getting more weapons than before to the FSA, which is forcing Iran to spend more money on helping Assad. Will this strategy work? Time will tell.
Then we come to Iran, so far they are the biggest winners in the Syrian conflict. The world’s eyes are toward Syria as they continue a pace and much closer to completion the development of their nuclear capability. They have two objectives that I know of with regard to Syria. The first is colonial, Iran has always had a desire to dominate the middle east, they desire to have once again a Persian empire. Assad miscalculated when he became President and allowed the Iranians deep inside the workings of the country, politically, militarily and economically. Now Assad is little more than a puppet on a string. Of course he would like to think that he is in control but he lost that a while ago. The second of Iran’s objectives is to keep the world occupied with Syria while it works on completing its nuclear development program. The new Iranian President Rouhani portrays the face of moderation and is warmer to the west but this is all part of the Iranian game of smoke and mirrors. Rouhani doesn’t have the real power, that belongs to the Ayatollahs and the Republican guard and their objectives have not changed. Rouhani is simply a delaying tactic. The USA thinks helping the FSA will force Iran to spend more money than it can afford on supporting Assad with weapons and fighters and Iran is pouring more resources into Syria to keep the USA busy as it hurries to get nuclear capability. Iran and Russia have a business partnership based on economics, oil, gas and weapons and geo-strategy, political influence and weakening the influence of the USA in the middle east.
Ok, time for a scenario, time will tell if I am right or wrong but based on my understanding of the different actors involved, I think there is a real possibility that something along these lines will happen. As nobody knows exactly how much CW Assad has or where he has it, we can make a safe assumption that the UN will not be able to take control of all the chemical weapons. What I believe will happen is that some time after the UN has taken control of the declared CW assets one of two things will happen, maybe even both. Assad will use chemical weapons against an Alawite town or village. These weapons will be from part of the hidden stockpile that he didn’t declare or he will use his own people to make a raid on a UN guarded CW facility to steal them and at the same time make it look like it was the rebels who made this attack. Why would he do this? Assad has in the past killed those on his side that were no longer useful if he thought it could give him a propaganda advantage. He would be able to say, tongue in cheek, that all CW are under control of the UN so it isn’t possible that he launched the attack, much less so on people from his own tribe. It would be a huge propaganda coup for him on a global scale. You must also remember that the majority of the Alawites are also treated badly by the Syrian regime, it is only a small minority that have the wealth and power. Most Alawites are poor just like the majority of the Syrian population. The regime made the Alawites fear the Sunni majority in order to create a sectarian division, the fear that the Sunni would slaughter them if they ever came to power, this guaranteed that these poorly educated people have followed Assad not out of love and loyalty to a family member but out of fear that the treatment from the Sunni would be worse than that they already receive. Assad despises the majority of Alawites only slightly less than he despises the Sunni. Killing a few thousand Alawite and making it look as if the rebels did it would be like a wet dream come true for Assad.
If Assad can pull this off then it would be a huge political and propaganda win for him. World opinion would shift and the rebels would lose a lot of good will but more importantly the USA would have serious egg on its face as it gets accused of supporting rebels who have finally been ‘proven’ to have used chemical weapons. This would put America in a very difficult and much weakened position on the international stage, Russia and Iran would wet their pants laughing at the USA as they build up their own global influence.
As I have said in a previous post, what is happening in Syria is no longer about revolution but rather a battlefield that is being used by two superpowers to try and outsmart and out maneuver each other in their battle to increase their global power and influence.
If you have any questions then please leave a comment or send me a private message.