For the past four years an armed uprising has taken place in Syria, each year the violence has become worse, with greater instability and more casualties, this article will try to identity what has happened in Syria and why.
The Syrian conflict has been raging now for at least four years, and the vast majority of people look at the situation and feel sympathy to the civilians caught up in the violence, then most will try and attribute blame to one side or another. The start of the civil war is generally accepted as spring 2011, this article will describe the situation before, after and during the conflict to try and give an insight into why the conflict started, why Western nations have intervened and what the future may hold.
Syria is an ancient land that contains Damascus, the oldest continually inhabited city on Earth, its a place of rich history and a melting pot of ethnic groups and religions. There are Kurds in the north, Shia mainly in the west and Sunni in the east, the majority of the country is Arabs of the Sunni sect. Prior to 2011, the different groups lived together and their harmonious living was seen as one for the few success stories of the middle east’s chequered sectarian and ethnic history. The political class is dominated by the Assad family who are Alawite in origin, the leadership is technically from the Ba’ath party which is a pan Arab nationalist party. The Ba’ath party of Syria was established in 7 April 1947 by Michel Aflaq (a Christian), Salah al-Din al-Bitar (a Sunni) and Zaki al-Arsuzi(an Alawite). It was essentially a secular socialist movement which sought to better the lives of people in the Arab nations, thus the party was not just a Syrian phenomenon, but extended to Iraq, Libya and Jordan. Towards the later half of the 20th Century the Ba’ath party in most countries had been diverted from their initial goals and been taken over by regional players, such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Hafez al-Assad in Syria. The reality is that Syria was similar to most Arab countries in the region, the government was largely corrupt and did what it needed to maintain its power, no more so than other countries such as Jordan or Saudi Arabia.
The popular BBC show “Top Gear” visited Syria in 2010 and enjoyed their stay in Damascus, in which presenter Jeremy Clarkson said it was one of his all time favorite cities.
Saudi Arabia, a country like Syria which also contains different Islamic sects, has had a disturbing past. With the largest known number (around 30,000) of people arrested for political activity, democracy is not something acceptable to the Saudi regime, however most people are not aware of this due to the close ties between the Saudi regime and the West. One of the issues surrounding the Syria conflict is the dictatorial nature of the government, however compared to the region, there is actually more freedoms in Syria than most Arab countries, and nearly all Gulf States.
2011- The Start
No doubt Basher Al Assad is a ruthless dictator and when dictators are threatened, they will do whatever they need to in order to maintain their power. Thus, the demonstrations against him were crushed and the situation escalated from civil unrest to civil war. The protests spontaneously erupted in different cities across Syria, mainly organised by social media, spurred on by previous revolutions in the Arab world, Syrians thought this was the moment that they could improve the political situation in their country. Just as protests have been crushed in Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Initially the uprising were limited to certain areas, and were not generally supported by the population.
In 2012, the United States, United Kingdom and France provided opposition forces with non-lethal military aid, including communications equipment and medical supplies. The U.K. was also reported to have provided intelligence support from its Cyprus bases, revealing Syrian military movements to Turkish officials, who then pass on the information to the FSA.
A crucial line of support began in spring 2012 as Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced they would begin arming and bankrolling the opposition. Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre in Beirut, and Emile Hokayem of the International Institute of Strategic Studies argued such support would be unlikely to immediately make a decisive impact. A ship carrying weapons from Libya believed destined for Syria’s rebels has also been intercepted. Qatar is reported to be shipping arms to Sunni Islamists in Syria as a means of cementing alliances in the Middle East.
In June 2012, the Central Intelligence Agency was reported to be involved in covert operations along the Turkish-Syrian border, where agents investigated rebel groups, recommending arms providers which groups to give aid to. Agents also helped opposition forces develop supply routes, and provided them with communications training. CIA operatives distributed assault rifles, anti-tank rocket launchers and other ammunition to Syrian opposition. The State Department has reportedly allocated $15 million for civilian opposition groups in Syria.
In early March 2013, a Jordanian security source revealed that the United States, Britain, and France were training non-Islamist rebels in Jordan. In an effort to strengthen secular elements in the opposition as a bulwark against Islamic extremism, and to begin building security forces to maintain order in the event of Bashar al-Assad’s fall. In April 2013, also in Jordan, the United States had set up a $70 million program in the country “that is training the kingdom’s special forces to identify and secure chemical-weapons sites across Syria should the regime fall and the wrong rebels look like getting their hands on them.”
In April 2013, the Obama administration promised to double non-lethal aid to rebels, specifically to $250 million.
On 13 June, government officials state that the Obama administration, after days of high-level meetings, has approved providing lethal arms to the Supreme Military Council (SMC). The SMC is a rebel command structure that includes representatives from most major rebel groups, and excludes the Islamic extremist elements. The decision was made shortly after the administration has concluded that the Assad government has used chemical weapons on opposition forces, thus crossing the “red line” drawn by Obama earlier in 2012. The arms will include small arms and ammunition, and possibly anti-tank weapons. However, they will not include anti-aircraft weapons, something repeatedly requested by the armed opposition. Further such weapons would be supplied by the US “on our own timeline”. The United States is also considering a no-fly zone in southern Syria, which would allow a safe place to equip and train rebels.
During September 2013, it was reported by US officials that under “a covert CIA program,” small arms and anti tank weapons had begun reaching some moderate rebel groups.
The Financial Times reported that Qatar had funded the Syrian rebellion by “as much as $3 billion” over the first two years of the civil war. It reported that Qatar was offering refugee packages of about $50,000 a year to defectors and family.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated that Qatar had sent the most weapons to Syria, with over 70 weapons cargo flights into Turkey between April 2012 and March 2013.
The Financial Times reported in May 2013 that Saudi Arabia was becoming a larger provider of arms to the rebels. Since the summer of 2013, Saudi Arabia has emerged as the main group to finance and arm the rebels. Saudi Arabia has financed a large purchase of infantry weapons, such as Yugoslav-made recoilless guns and the M79 Osa, an anti-tank weapon, from Croatia via shipments shuttled through Jordan. The weapons began reaching rebels in December 2012 which allowed rebels’ small tactical gains this winter against the army and militias loyal to Assad. This was to counter shipments of weapons from Iran to Assad’s forces.
Bashar al-Assad pointed at Saudi Arabia as the major supporter of terrorists and “leading the most extensive operation of direct sabotage against all the Arab world”.
In August 2013 the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan had been appointed to lead Saudi Arabia’s efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that the US Central Intelligence Agency considered this a sign of how serious Saudi Arabia was about this aim. Bandar was described as “jetting from covert command centers near the Syrian front lines to the Élysée Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime.” After tensions with Qatar over supplying rebel groups, Saudi Arabia switched its efforts from Turkey to Jordan in 2012, using its financial leverage over Jordan to develop training facilities there, overseen by Bandar’s half-brother Salman bin Sultan. In late 2012 Saudi intelligence also began efforts to convince the US that the Assad government was using chemical weapons. The Saudi government also would be sending sentenced to death for Jihad in Syria.
As can be seen in the Youtube Video above, the ISIS rebel says he is fighting because of Basher Al Assad’s crimes, however Basher’s crimes of corruption and oppression are microscopic compared to the destruction that the rebels themselves have done.
Every country is ruled by imperfect leaders and imperfect systems, not one of the countries on Earth is perfect, Syria is no different. The question is this, does the imperfections of the Syrian government justify the levels of destruction that the civil war has brought about? Any reasonable person would say no. It would be like saying, there is significant corruption in Pakistan, the leaders are to blame, therefore they should be toppled, which would result in the destruction of half the country and millions of lives lost. No reasonable person would say that is a wise thing to do. The response must be proportional to the problem, Syria had democratic and political problems, which should be addressed, but not at the expense of the entire country. The real question is this, why is it that the Western nations and their Allies (Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar) are so keen to fan the flames of the Syrian civil war?
Those that seem hell bent on removing Assad, will they apply the same criteria to other countries? Will they support a destructive civil war in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar? More interestingly, prior to the Syrian conflict states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar were seen as pacifist in the face of Israeli aggression in the area, they did not get involved, either militarily or politically, and yet when it comes to Syria they seem to have discovered that they do in fact have a military which can be used. It seems this selective use of their military might is no accident, and if properly analysed, the reality of the situation becomes clear.
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