Interview with young expert Richard Javad Heydarian

Javad Heydarian

Today young expert on Middle East region Richard Javad Heydarian became the guest of Mr.Yazar

1)      What you think about ongoing bloodshed in Syria ? (What we have to wait from Geneva meetings ?Has Bashar Asad keep chances to remain in the head of the power?The majority of opposition in Syria are sunnits and Shiites, but the current government are alavites. What will be,if the opposition comes to the power ? “Syrian friends” demand to resignation of legal government. Whether  Bashir Asad  will make of a concession of opposition? Today mass media informs that, defense minister killed and President’s brother-in-law wounded at suicide bombing in Damascus. Is it the work of opposition ?

Unlike the ‘lightning revolutions’ in Egypt and Tunisia, the Syrian uprising is somehow a slow-motion disintegration of a nation-state. With more than 20 thousand civilian casualty, and hundreds of thousands of people fleeing Syria, we are talking about a protracted humanitarian tragedy, emanating from a quasi-civil war: on one hand, you have a heavily-armed Baathist regime, dominated by the Alewite minority, and supported by varying minorities and sections of the elite commercial class, mostly concentrated in Damascus and Aleppo, while on the other hand you have an increasingly-armed opposition of a predominantly Sunni background. The Kurds (in general) have chosen to stay out of the revolution, so far.

It is also a ‘proxy war’ between supporters of the regime, mainly Iran, Russia, and China, on one hand, and the opponents of the regime, composed of the Western powers, Arab monarchies, and Turkey, on the other. The Anan Six-Point Plan (for peace) had no chance of succeeding, because neither the regime is willing to make major concessionsto the opposition (especially the Syrian National Council, SNC), nor is the opposition (especially the Free Syrian Army, FSA) willing to settle for anything less than the downfall of Assad. There is so much blood on the hands of both sides, and there is an already ongoing sectarian war between Alewites and Sunni groups.

Thanks to external assistance, from China and Russia’s diplomatic support within the UNSC to Russia’s provision of armaments and logistical support and Iran’s total support in all critical dimensions of finance, logistics, and politics, the heavily-armed Syrian regime has been able to withstand the tide of the uprising for more than a year now. But, thanks to growing inflow of arms and international support for the opposition – with sanctions undermining the economic pillars of the regime and isolating it internationally -, the opposition has begun to make major strides in recent months. In the last two months, not only has the opposition (whether FSA or Al-Qaeda groups with or without the cooperation of Western Intelligence agencies) succeeded to assassinate the regime’s top security men, within one of the most secured establishments of the regime, but the regime is also suffering from a flurry of increasingly high-profile defections: ranging from the MP of Aleppo to a former top military commander, all the way to top diplomats in Baghdad and London.

The opposition’s ability to claim strongholds within the country’s commercial center, Aleppo, (while clashes are intensifying in the very capital city of Damascus, and most of the South and Center is in a state of war) is a sign that perhaps it is just a matter of time before Assad faces his downfall. Either the regime itself (similar to how the SCAF in Egypt sacrificed Mubarak to save its own skin) will launch an internal coup, or the balance of forces will continue to move in favor of the opposition until the regime collapses. What is clear is that it is almost impossible to envision an international intervention unless the regime starts to use WMDs and/or engages in large-scale massacre, while losing significant parts of the country to the opposition.

2.) How you estimate a role of Russia in settlement of the Syrian conflict? How much basically the Russian positions in the Near East are strong? Whether there Russians now leading players on this arena on a level with the USA? What we have to expect from Vladimir Putin’s visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan ?

Probably aside Iran, Russia holds the greatest leverage over the Syrian regime. Sure, bilateral economic and political ties have been relatively minimal. Russia is hardly among top five trading partners of Syria, and Moscow wasn’t exactly Bashar’s first stop abroad upon his assumption of power. Syria is also hardly among Russia’s top arms importers. But, one can’t deny how Russia’s continuous export of weaponry and refurbishment of Syria’s existing hardware has been crucial to the regime’s survival. Russia’s diplomatic support on the UNSC level has also been key to the inability of the UN to impose strict sanctions.

For Russia, the Syrian issue is more than just saving its sole regional ally in the Middle East, also the site of Moscow’s only naval base in the Mediterranean. Russia is intent on making sure that the Libyan scenario of West-led ‘regime change’ will not re-occur. When the West reached out to Russia to support the UN resolution 1972 against Libya’s regime, it acquiesced and got its hands burned when NATO clearly superseded its mandate by initiating an all-out air-and-sea military campaign against the Ghadhaffi regime. Moreover, Russia is worried about a growing trend of Western intrusion into its traditional spheres of influence (i.e. from Georgia and Ukraine to Central Asian republics) as well as the broader neighborhood in the Middle East. Moscow is committed to stopping a pattern of West-led ‘regime change’ in the Middle East, beginning with Afghanistan and Iraq, then extending to Libya and now in the Levant.

 Lastly, the fall of the Syrian regime could further isolate Iran, giving the West more appetite to strike the regime in Tehran (Russia’s Southern neighbor). So, Russia is not only defending its own broader international interests, but it is also worried about a growing trend of Western expansionism within its traditional spheres of influence and wider Southern neighborhood in West Asia.  However, with the growing likelihood of the fall of Assad, and increasing Western and Arab pressure on Russia, one can expect

President Putin to strike a more moderate tone as he visits Arab countries as well as Israel by emphasizing the need for a ‘peaceful transition’ in Syria, especially if Assad falls. Of course, the main fear is the emergence of a hostile post-Assad revolutionary regime and/or a continuous civil war with regional implications. Therefore, it is in the interest of Russia to find a common understanding with its Western counter-parts on how to steer Syria out of its current downward spiral of civil and proxy war.

2)      How those issues will influence to Israel?

Israel is in a pretty awkward situation. The Assad regime was technically an enemy, but for decades Syria-Israeli relations have been governed by a modus vivendi that precluded a conventional military confrontation, especially over the disputed lands in the Golan Heights.

So Israel’s dilemma is this: its archenemy, Iran, heavily relies on Syria for its region influence, but if Assad falls, there is a probability that a more populist but confrontational post-revolutionary government emerges, led by Sunni groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who might re-ignite the Golan Heights issue; on the other hand, Assad could resort to a desperate act of diverting attention from the domestic front by taking on Israel and unifying a significant proportion of the country behind him. Moreover, Israel is concerned about the fate of WMDs and a whole host of ballistic and advanced-weaponries, currently in possession of the regime, but could eventually fall into the hands of rebels and opposition forces.

Lastly, there is an ominous trend of a growing presence of extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda, who have already been responsible for a number of high-profile bombings in the capital. For Israel, the number one priority is to secure the fate of lethal-tactical weaponries and make sure that the post-revolutionary regime will not re-ignite a territorial war.

3)      How these (other) actors could solve the problem around the Syria?

Honestly, it is very difficult to imagine a unified international community on the Syrian issue. The Russians and the Chinese will continue to block any resolution, which calls for Assad’s downfall or any form of regime change. The West will continue to blame the Russians and the Chinese, while ignoring Iran as a possible solution, because they refuse to grant Iran any additional diplomatic chip in the ongoing nuclear negotiations.

Meanwhile, the Arab monarchies and Libya and others will continue to fund and assist and flow in arms into Syria to assist the FSA and other groups, while Russia will add to the cycle of arms race by providing armaments to the regime. The only thing that can really bring the international community together is the concern about a massive sectarian civil war and the need for peacekeeping forces to avoid genocide and other forms of mass atrocities, once Assad or the regime falls. Ultimately, Iran should be brought to the table, because it has the greatest influence on the Syrian regime and it can play a decisive role in the future of the country.

-Thank you very much, for interesting answers !

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