Syria in the Middle of a Proxy War and other Implications

by DR. SAMI ALRABAA November 5, 2015

refugees syria europe train.jpg

For years I helped advise the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Syria.

The civil war in Syria started more than four years ago between the Assad regime and the opposition. Now in 2015 the bloody war involves different regional and international players:

Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states
Turkey
Iran
Hizbollah
ISIS
The USA and Western allies
Russia

Long before the civil war began, Saudi Arabia, an Islamic fundamentalist Sunni state, antagonized the Assad (Alawite) Shiite regime for the latter supported the Muslim Shiite Hizbollah in Lebanon and provided it with weapons of all kinds. Hizbollah in Lebanon developed into a state within a state. And Syria is the only slit through which Hezbollah is provided with arms and ammunition. The Mediterranean coasts before Lebanon are controlled by UN troops and consequently Hizbollah is not allowed to smuggle arms through the Lebanese coasts.

Turkey, coincidentally ruled by a Muslim fundamentalist Sunni AKP government, headed by Erdogan, sided with the Syrian opposition. After the breakout of the civil war in Syria, Erdogan called for the removal of the Alwaite (Shiite) regime in Damascus.

Erdogan's administration welcomed all kinds of Muslim fanatic extremist fighters; from Arab countries, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Russian Chechnya, Africa, from all over the world, also from Europe. The result was the formation of ISIS, Islamic Jihadist militias, in northern Syria and Iraq.

Erdogan also allowed smuggling all kinds of arms and weapons financed by Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states into the swaths controlled by ISIS.

"Erdogan who is leading Turkey in an authoritarian manner," says Henry Miller, a visiting professor at Bielefeld University, "is exploiting the chaotic situation in Syria. He has opened Turkey's borders to all kinds of refugees, most of them Muslims. They stream further to Europe, thousands of them every day."

Professor Miller also says, "Erdogan is using the refugee crisis as a blackmail strategy through which he has been successful. He has been promised seven billion Euros by the European Union to tackle the refugee crisis, and Chancellor Merkel of Germany promised Erdogan in her latest visit in Ankara to allow Turks travel to Europe without visa."

"The huge unprecedented influx of Muslim refugees into Europe," says Udo Opalka, a former Middle East professor at Bielefeld and Brisbane University, "would help Erdogan and his fellows to make the creation of a Muslim Othoman Empire in the middle of Europe sooner or later come true. More than 8 million Turks live already in Germany alone." 

The civil war in Syria has indirectly and negatively affected Europe. Members of the European Union (EU) have been discussing the refugee crisis for months now. The majority of them demand an end to this crisis, but so far nothing is in sight. Jean-Claude Juncker has lately in the European Parliament said sarcastically "The European Union has reached a point of no union."

Elmar Brok, a German member of the EU Parliament told BBC, "If a referendum was held in Europe, the majority of Europeans would vote against this Union."

After the refugee crisis and the Greek debt crisis, many observers predict that the Brits would vote against staying in the EU in their referendum which will be held in April or May 2016.

In Germany the refugee crisis is being controversially discussed, in Parliament and media. 62 members of the CDU (Christian Democratic Party), led by Chancellor (prime minister) Angela Merkel in the German Parliament (Bundestag) voted against the refugees-friendly politics proposed by Merkel.

The majority of the media outlets in Germany back Merkel's generous policy towards refugees. On the other hand, according to studies conducted by a Bertelsmann think tank and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at Bielefeld University, more than 60% of German adults reject Merkel's refugee policy.

Andreas Zick, head of the formerly mentioned Institute criticizes the German media for dubbing everyone who opposes Merkel's refugee policy as "right-winger or Nazi. The majority of protesters in the Pegida Movement, for example, are not all extremists as some media commentators claim. The Media should discuss the refugee issue in an objective and fair manner."

Many political and military observers believe that several factors have contributed to the creation of ISIS and prolongation of the devastating civil war in Syria:

1.     Lack of a strong army in Iraq.

2.     Lack of Erdogan's cooperation with the American military forces in the region. Until recently Erdogan denied the American military air forces to use Turkish air bases. Until recently American jets had to fly thousands of kilo meters to tank and load ammunition to strike the ISIS militias.

3.     Obama has been hesitant about supporting the armed Syrian opposition. In addition, secular Opposition fighters ended fighting not only the Syrian regimes' army but also several ISIS groups in the north and south of Syria.

4.     Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the other Arab Gulf States have carried on supporting ISIS forces directly or indirectly. A Saudi friend and former army General told me, "As usual the Saudi establishment tells the Western allies something and do something else on the ground.

Thomas Wagner, a former German Ambassador to Saudi Arabia told me, "It's not necessarily the Saudi regime that is financing ISIS and other Muslim extremists. Private rich Saudis finance also privately such extremists. I know some Saudis who give money to Boko Haram in Nigeria and Mali in Africa. Such Saudis believe in Shari'a and in the supremacy of Islam all over the world."

Recently Russia has also become a major player in the Middle East. Actually it has always been one, in particular during the Soviet Union era. Since the 1960s Syria has been a close ally of Russia.  The father of the current president of Syria, Hafez Al Assad maintained good ties with Russia.

When we discuss the present, we shouldn't forget the past. During the II World War the western allies had to cooperate with Stalin, a communist dictator, to defeat Nazi Germany led by Hitler. The same applies to the war against ISIS, a cancerous enemy of the whole world, in northern Syria and Iraq.

Now whether we like it or not, the West should cooperate with Putin-Russia to eliminate ISIS, with or without Bashar Al Assad. In politics there are usually priorities. Sticking to ideologies doesn't help getting out of a crisis, like the Syrian. Think of the daily devastating suffering of millions of Syria.

In coordination with Bielefeld and the American University in Lebanon I conducted a survey which lasted for four months. We asked more than five thousand Syrians in Syria and outside Syria about their views with regard to ending the civil war in Syria.

The majority of Syrians, almost 73% would love to have peace, with or without President Assad.

Many Syrians raise the following question:

What is the point in insisting on the departure of Assad at the beginning of a solution and peace?

Many Syrians believe that after eliminating ISIS and ending the civil war, we would sit down and think of a peaceful solution. Carrying on with bloodshed for ideological and self-interest reasons will not bring peace to the majority of Syrians who are severely suffering, day and night.

Some subjects of our survey claim that they were adamant opponents of the Assad regime. But now they would tolerate a temporary Assad rule as an alternative to bloodshed and daily horror.

Some Syrians told me, life is full of several alternatives and relatively interacted things, and we have to accept that. You cannot always think of and insist on "either or". This doesn't work as a human solution to the Syrian disaster.

Dr. Sami Alrabaa, an ex-Muslim, is a professor of Sociology and an Arab-Muslim culture specialist. He has taught at Kuwait University, King Saud University, and Michigan State University. He also writes for the Jerusalem Post and is the author of the book: “Veiled Atrocities”, published by Prometheus, New York 2010 .


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