Why don't the Syrian people overthrow Assad?


Kinan Jaeger

To person

Dr. phil., Dipl.-Geogr., born in 1966; Lecturer at the University of Bonn, Institute for Political Science and Sociology, Lennéstraße 27, 53113 Bonn. [email protected]

Rolf Tophoven

To person

Former director of studies; since 2003 director of the Institute for Terrorism Research and Security Policy (IFTUS), since 2012 expanded as Institute for Crisis Prevention, Girardetstrasse 1–5, 45131 Essen. [email protected]

After more than four decades of Assad's rule, an enormous potential for social and socio-economic tension has built up in Syria, which has been greatly underestimated. Similar to Yugoslavia and the Balkans in the past, the Syrian multi-ethnic state resembles a highly explosive powder keg. Due to the international entanglement of Syrian politics, the military conflicts between those involved could lead to considerable changes in the overall strategic situation in the Middle East. Neighboring countries, militias, resistance fighters, separatists and jihadists are now involved in the clashes. The outcome of the crisis is completely uncertain - it could drag on for years.

There is already speculation about future scenarios for the country. The collapse of the state and a lasting power vacuum (similar to Somalia) are to be feared; the split into militia territories ("Lebanonization") or new state units ("Balkanization"); the increasing regional influence of Islamists; an uncontrolled breakup of existing alliance systems with changes in the strategic equilibrium; a new proxy war in the spirit of the Cold War; the unrest spilling over to neighboring countries and the uncontrolled spread of chemical and chemical weapons.

Western perspective

The Western community of states has often accused the Syrian government of cooperating with terrorist organizations and states. The result was that the western world quickly distanced itself from the Assad regime when the first unrest broke out in the country in early 2011. Today the western camp is largely united in advocating the replacement of the Syrian head of state and has taken a clear position in favor of the opposition. The opposition was given a significant boost when France and Great Britain recognized it as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in late 2012. The process was risky, as the question of the legitimacy of the opposition has not yet been clarified. In any case, Assad has since been considered disqualified in the West and is rejected as a negotiating partner. The West blames him and his regime for a large part of the high loss of life recorded in the civil war. From a western perspective, there are some specific security risks with regard to the focus of conflict in Syria.

Syria's geographical proximity to the EU and the impairment of the EU-Mediterranean dialogue. A prolonged power struggle in Damascus could seriously disrupt the EU-Mediterranean dialogue. This forum forms a cornerstone for stabilizing security on the south-east flank of the EU. The integration process in the Mediterranean area as a whole should also be promoted. Involving Syria and its neighbor Lebanon are an important part of the program. Refugee movements, illegal immigration and people smuggling are already taking on unexpectedly high proportions - problems that Turkey and Greece are primarily struggling with. The security situation along the periphery of the EU area appears to be suffering sustained damage as the conflict in Syria increases. The construction of further border fences - as already between Greece and Turkey - should be the result.

Syria's common border with NATO partner Turkey. Turkey requested support from its NATO partners after the shell fire, which apparently came from Syrian territory. For NATO, this results in a new location in the Middle East without a UN mandate, and the risk of being drawn into a dispute with no foreseeable end. Germany also sees itself involved here, if only through the stationing of defensively oriented Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border. Critics in the German Bundestag complained that Turkey was threatened because Assad had never intended to attack his northern neighbor. The deployment is also not in the context of Germany's national interests. [1] The Bundeswehr is already present in the UN's blue helmet mandate through several frigates in the eastern Mediterranean region (UNIFIL), which are supposed to prevent possible weapons smuggling there. Syria-backed Hezbollah was suspected of sourcing weapons by sea from Iran that would later be used against Israel.

Syria as a neighboring and front-line state to Israel. The conflict in Syria is also likely to lead to massive setbacks in the Middle East peace process. Whether Israel will feel compelled to intervene in the current crisis over Syria depends on its real and perceived threat situation. The casus belli was announced by Jerusalem in the event that Syrian B or C weapons should fall into the hands of Israel's opponents. Open intervention by Iran could also call Israel onto the scene. After all, Tehran had announced that it would consider Turkish intervention in Syria - for example in the form of establishing a "humanitarian protection zone" - as an attack on its own territory. Direct Iranian intervention with possible support from Hezbollah would by no means be tolerable for Israel. Consequences in favor of Israel would then also have to be considered for Germany, as Chancellor Merkel had declared to the Knesset in 2008 that Israel's security was "part of Germany's reason of state". [2]

Syria's role in relation to "problem states" and outlawed organizations. The axis between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah is seen as particularly explosive in the West. [3] The cornerstone for this alliance was the beginning of the war between Iraq and Iran (1980 to 1988). For the first time, Syria took a clear position in favor of Iran, as the ruling Ba'ath party had to resolve political differences with Baghdad. Both sides have benefited greatly from this alliance since then. Syria obtains oil and arms supplies, cheap loans and know-how from Iran (such as monitoring the Internet). Iran, on the other hand, is receiving assistance from Syria in supporting the Shiite Hezbollah, which is fighting against Israel in southern Lebanon. Not only the West, but also the Arab world views this axis with great suspicion. The Jordanian king spoke several times of the danger of a "Shiite crescent", Saudi Arabia sees the power of its rival Iran growing disproportionately and Israel feels its security is endangered by the increasing influence of Iran in Lebanon and in the Middle East conflict. Should a change of power in Syria lead to the collapse of the axis, Iran and Hezbollah would have to reckon with enormous losses in their clout against Israel. The massive US effort against the regime of Bashar al-Assad could therefore actually aim to separate Syria, Iran's closest ally, from the alliance. The winner here would undoubtedly be the State of Israel, which failed to defeat Hezbollah in 2006.

Syria as an energy transit country. For years the EU has been trying to diversify its sources of energy supply in order to free itself from its heavy dependence on Russia. The eastern Mediterranean and the land bridge to the Persian Gulf could offer new perspectives here. The territory of Syria in particular could gain in importance in terms of energy logistics. This is all the more true as the gradual political calm in Iraq has also led to a boost in oil production. At the same time, the uncertainty about the transport of oil by sea around the Horn of Africa increased due to increasing piracy. Syrian territory would offer the possibility of the rapid transport of oil from the Gulf towards the EU through existing pipeline systems. The latter were used for Iraqi oil as early as the late 1970s. Such projects would by no means be in line with Russian interests, since Syrian pipelines would bypass Russian territory and increasingly disengage the EU from its logistical dependence on Russia.