Is the end of secular Syria near?

This article is a translation of "Is het einde van seculier Syrië nabij?"

The struggle of Islamists against the Assad regime in Syria has entered a new phase. Several cities have been given up by the regular army, which is showing signs of fatigue. Apparently it can no longer afford to dig in and fight for other cities apart from the capital, Damascus. 
If the jihadists who have a formed a common front, would take that city the consequences would in all probability be horrific, both in terms of the bloodbath among Assad faithful, ‘infidels’ and ‘heretics’, and the mass exodus from the destroyed country (below, Aleppo) 

The advancing Islamist front, the Army of Conquest (Jaysh al Fateh) consists of al-Nusra (the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda), supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates; and Ahrar al Sham, which receives particular support from Qatar, and which is also linked to al-Qaeda besides having worked with ISIS. In addition a few smaller units, nominally part of the Free Syrian Army, have been incorporated in the front, such as the Coastal Division and the Sukur Al Ghab Brigades.

In an article for ConsortiumNews by Daniel Lazare we can read that it is mainly American arms that are given the rebels the edge in the battle. The optically guided TOW missiles used by the insurgents to destroy dozens of tanks and other vehicles of the regular army, are key among them. The TOWs have entered via Turkey, but have been purchased by Saudi Arabia. In 2013 it bought more than 15 000 of these anti-tank missiles, produced by Raytheon, for $ 1 billion, although Saudi Arabia itself has no enemies possessing tanks.

The US has regulations that prohibit the onward sale of American arms by the first buyer, but in this case it has looked the other way. An American official told the Washington Post that the White House no doubt wants the arms to end up with the ‘moderate opossition’ but that the realities on the ground may be different. Already US commentators are rejoicing about the imminent collapse of the secular regime in Syria. There is even talk that al-Nusra, so al-Qaeda, will be the best possible ally to take on ISIS. Another illusion to uphold a bankrupt policy that has only caused chaos.

The Assad regime has made huge mistakes: like all other regimes in the Middle East before their downfall, it attempted to introduce a privatisation and ‘free market’ policy for its own benefit, only to clamp down harshly on the ensuing popular discontent. But that does not mean that we therefore should hope for a jihadist victory.

A victory of the jihadists in Syria would be the crowning achievement of a project begun in the 1970s when the US and Saudi Arabia started their collaboration, with the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan the first target. Today it is again these two countries, assisted by Turkey and Israel, which directly support the campaign of the al-Nusra front and its allies. The rhetoric of the anti-ISIS coalition cannot dissimulate the fact that the aim is still to bring down Assad so that the link between Iran and the Shi’ite Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel’s arch-enemy, will be broken and Netanyahu can finish the job.

The new hard-line king of Saudi Arabia, Salman, a month after his accession to the throne held discussions with Turkish president Erdogan, at which the two agreed to step up support for the Sunni rebels in Syria. A few weeks ago the united front was made public and the first provincial towns, including Idlib, began to fall. And just as Washington does not have any objections against Saudi bombing in Yemen, which already caused 1000 dead, the jihadist operation in Syria is opposed in any way.

In the media in the US, or here for that matter, nobody will shed a tear about Assad, on the contrary. As Robert Parry has explained, there is already a story being assembled to make clear that it was Obama’s fault not to have intervened and that therefore, the elimination of Assad necessarily had to be delegated to the Islamists.

The chaos which will ensue in Syria (where the al-Nusra front and ISIS will begin to fight each other once all non-Sunni Muslims and Christians have been driven out or killed) can then once again be used to call for ‘us to do something’, so that a Western intervention will happen after all, possibly expanding to Iraq, where last April alone 4811 people were killed.

However, another war in the Middle East will entail the bankruptcy of the United States itself, Parry argues. Here we may recall that the American ability to undertake foreign adventures until 2008 rested on an economic basis made up of four pillars. The consumption of the export surpluses of Germany, Japan and China; foreign direct investment and indirect investment into the US; and purchases of American Treasury bills by China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, etc.. Of those four only the last has survived the crisis and that is not enough to save the dollar.

Yet the greatest drama will be the fate awaiting secular Syrian society once the Assad regime collapses.

Kees van der Pijl

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