[Once the Libyan disaster is revealed as the grand fiasco that it truly is, then the Syrian disaster should already be a fait accompli, dragging Lebanon along with it, ever closer to a critical mass. After merging these Sunni-based conflicts with the festering wound of Iraq, the CIA master manipulators should have the real regional conflict on their hands that they have been so diligently seeking. That will be the point where all military restraint will go out the window. NATO will be free to use all of their forces--that is, ALL OF THEIR FORCES--first the massive saturation bombing campaigns will get underway. By then, Iran will clearly be Public Enemy Number One. This is the perfect planner's moment for spooks like Mike Vickers, who is the "limited warfare" specialist who formulated the allegedly fictitious “take-over-the-world plan” that the Pentagon/CIA has been following for the past thirty years. Selective nuke strikes would then become an acceptable solution to a regional war in the Middle East, settling the Middle East down like nothing else that has ever been tried in the past. At that point everybody would be whipping-out their own nukes (including Saudi Arabia), to deny their own impotence and to deny Iran the right to have its own nuclear defense.
They have unleashed a real "shit storm" for the next round.]
|By Vali Nasr||
The Arab Spring is a hopeful chapter in Middle Eastern politics, but the region’s history points to darker outcomes. There are no recent examples of extended power-sharing or peaceful transitions to democracy in the Arab world. When dictatorships crack, budding democracies are more than likely to be greeted by violence and paralysis. Sectarian divisions – the bane of many Middle Eastern societies – will then emerge, as competing groups settle old scores and vie for power.
Syria today stands at the edge of such an upheaval. The brutality of Bashar Assad’s regime is opening a dangerous fissure between the Alawite minority, which rules the country, and the majority Sunni population. After Assad’s butchery in the largely Sunni city of Hama on July 31, on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni group, accused the regime of conducting “a war of sectarian cleansing.” It is now clear that Assad’s strategy is to divide the opposition by stoking sectarian conflict.
Sunni extremists have reacted by attacking Alawite families and businesses, especially in towns near the Iraqi border. The potential for a broader clash between Alawites and Sunnis is clear, and it would probably not be confined to Syria. Instead, it would carry a risk of setting off a regional dynamic that could overwhelm the hopeful narrative of the Arab Spring itself, replacing it with a much aggravated power struggle along sectarian lines.
That is because throughout the Middle East there is a strong undercurrent of simmering sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites, of whom the Alawites are a subset. Shiites and Sunnis live cheek by jowl in the long arc that stretches from Lebanon to Pakistan, and the region’s two main power brokers, Shiite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, are already jousting for power.
So far this year, Shiite-Sunni tensions have been evident in countries from Bahrain to Syria. But put together, they could force the United States to rethink its response to the Arab Spring itself.
Sectarianism is an old wound in the Middle East. But the recent popular urge for democracy, national unity and dignity has opened it and made it feel fresh. This is because many of the Arab governments that now face the wrath of protesters are guilty of both suppressing individual rights and concentrating power in the hands of minorities.
The problem goes back to the colonial period, when European administrators manipulated religious and ethnic diversity to their advantage by giving minorities greater representation in colonial security forces and governments.
Arab states that emerged from colonialism promised unity under the banner of Arab nationalism. But as they turned into cynical dictatorships, failing at war and governance, they, too, entrenched sectarian biases. This scarred Arab society so deeply that the impulse for unity was often no match for the deep divisions of tribe, sect and ethnicity.
The struggle that matters most is the one between Sunnis and Shiites. The war in Iraq first unleashed the destructive potential of their competition for power, but the issue was not settled there. The Arab Spring has allowed it to resurface by weakening states that have long kept sectarian divisions in place, and brutally suppressed popular grievances. Today, Shiites clamor for greater rights in Lebanon, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while Sunnis are restless in Iraq and Syria.
This time, each side will most likely be backed by a nervous regional power, eager to protect its interests. For the past three decades the Saudi monarchy, which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni Islam, has viewed Iran’s Shiite theocracy as its nemesis. Saudis have relied on the United States, Arab nationalism and Sunni identity to slow Iran’s rise, even to the point of supporting radical Sunni forces.
The Saudis suffered a major setback when control of Iraq passed from Sunnis to Shiites, but that made them more determined to reverse Shiite gains and rising Iranian influence. It was no surprise that Saudi Arabia was the first Arab state to withdraw its ambassador from Damascus this month.
The imprint of this rivalry was evident in regional conflicts before the Arab Spring. Saudis saw Iran’s hand behind a rebellion among Yemen’s Houthi tribe – who are Zaydis, an offshoot of Shiism – that started in 2004. Iran blamed Arab financing for its own decade-long revolt by Sunni Baluchis along its southeastern border with Pakistan. And since 2005, when Shiite Hezbollah was implicated in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a popular Sunni prime minister who was close to the Saudis, a wide rift has divided Lebanon’s Sunni and Shiite communities, and prompted Saudi fury against Hezbollah. The sectarian divide in Lebanon shows no sign of narrowing, and now the turmoil in Syria next door has brought Lebanon to a knife’s edge.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s audacious power grab has angered Saudi Arabia. Officials in Riyadh see the turn of events in Lebanon as yet another Iranian victory, and the realization of the dreaded “Shiite crescent” that King Abdullah of Jordan once warned against.
In March, fearing a snowball effect from the Arab Spring, Saudi Arabia drew a clear red line in Bahrain, where a Shiite majority would have been empowered had pro-democracy protests succeeded in ousting the Sunni monarchy. The Saudis rallied the Persian Gulf monarchies to support the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain in brutally suppressing the protests – and put Iran on notice that they were “ready to enter war with Iran and even with Iraq in defense of Bahrain.”
The Saudis are right to be worried about the outcome of sectarian fights in Lebanon and Bahrain, but in Syria it is Iran that stands to lose. Both sides understand that the final outcome will decide the pecking order in the region. Every struggle in this rivalry therefore matters, and every clash is pregnant with risk for regional stability.
The turn of events in Syria is particularly important, because Sunnis elsewhere see the Alawite government as the linchpin in the Shiite alliance of Iran and Hezbollah. The Alawite-Sunni clash there could quickly draw in both of the major players in the region and ignite a broader regional sectarian conflict among their local allies, from Lebanon to Iraq to the Persian Gulf and beyond.
The specter of protracted bloody clashes, assassinations and bombings, sectarian cleansing and refugee crises from Beirut to Manama, causing instability and feeding regional rivalry, could put an end to the hopeful Arab Spring. Radical voices on both sides would gain. In Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, it is already happening.
None of this will benefit democracy or American interests. But seeking to defuse sectarian tensions wherever they occur would help ensure regional stability. Even if Washington has little leverage and influence in Syria, we should nevertheless work closely with our allies who do. Turkey, which is a powerful neighbor, could still pressure the Assad government not to inflame sectarian tensions. And both Turkey and Saudi Arabia could use their influence to discourage the opposition from responding to President Assad’s provocations.
Beyond Syria, the two countries most at risk are Bahrain and Lebanon, and here we can have an impact. The United States should urge Bahrain’s monarchy to end its crackdown, start talking seriously with the opposition, and agree to meaningful power sharing. Washington has strong military ties with Bahrain and should use this leverage to argue for a peaceful resolution there.
In Lebanon, we should not encourage a sectarian showdown; instead we should support a solution to that country’s impasse that would include redistribution of power among Shiites, Sunnis and Christians. Lebanon last had a census in 1932, and its power structure has since favored Sunnis and Christians based on that count. Meaningful power-sharing in Beirut is as important to peace and stability in Lebanon as disarming Hezbollah.
The Middle East is in the midst of historic change. Washington can hope for a peaceful and democratic future, but we should guard against sectarian conflicts that, once in the open, would likely run their destructive course at great cost to the region and the world.
(Vali Nasr is a professor at Tufts University, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future.”)
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
After months of tacitly echoing Damascus' dismissal of the growing political opposition as armed gangs and foreign agents, Tehran has adjusted its policy by referring to the "legitimate demands" of protesters and the need for the embattled regime of Bashar al-Assad to respect "people's right to elect and achieve freedom", to quote Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad in a recent interview with an Arab network.
Simultaneously, in the wake of last week's European Union sanctions on the elite al-Qods branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, accusing it of providing material support to Damascus to suppress the ongoing revolt, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, has categorically denied the EU's accusation, branding it "unfounded
and aiming at blaming other countries".
At least 88 people, including 10 children, have died in detention in Syria since unrest broke out in March, according to Amnesty International. Majority of the victims were tortured or ill-treated, Amnesty said this week. At least 2,200 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, according to the United Nations.
"Iran's reading of the crisis situation in Syria has turned a leaf toward political realism, that is, the knowledge and realization that Assad's regime may crumble in the not too distant future and Iran should not be hooked to a sinking ship," said a Tehran University political science professor who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity.
He added, however, that Iran's ruling elite was still optimistic that with "due changes and reforms", the embattled Syrian government could survive and "in essence Iran has not advocated anything that President Assad himself has not already accepted in principle".
The million dollar question, though, is whether or not Assad's reform initiatives, such as adopting a more liberal press law, reflect a remedy too late, in light of the climbing death toll in the streets of various cities and the likely prospect of the capital city's imminent infection by the virus of popular protests.
Behind Tehran's decision to alter its approach to the Syrian political crisis are a number of important regional as well as internal considerations. As masters of survival who have successfully weathered the torrents of war, armed opposition and mass protests over the past 32 years, the leaders of the Islamic Republic are political pragmatists who rarely allow the rather thick lens of ideology or dogma to obliterate their grasp of political dynamics. They prefer to be ahead rather than behind political curves.
In essence, that means a dualistic approach toward Syria from now on, one track being in league with Turkey and other regional powers pushing for democratic reform, the other still in sync with alliance politics dictating discrete support for Assad's regime and opposing any Libyan-style foreign intervention.
According to various media reports in Iran, last week's Tehran visit by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, was an important catalyst in shifting Iran's policy away from a blind support for Assad and in favor of a more nuanced approach that emphasizes genuine political reforms.
There are those in Tehran who think that Iran has decided to move closer to its Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf by distancing itself from the moribund Assad regime, which may experience serious cracks in its political, administrative and military institutions in the immediate future as a result of the growing mass discontent.
In turn, this raises a fundamental question: how valuable is Syria's alliance to Iran today, and is it worth risking a major cognitive dissonance, in light of Iran's overt support for the Arab Spring?
Indeed, the instant result of Iran's new approach toward Syria is that it closes the previous gap, between Iran's support for political transformations in other parts of the Arab world and Iran's non-support for the similar process underway in Syria, thus allowing Tehran to declare that it pursues a consistent and logical policy with respect to the current Middle East upheavals.
Perhaps equally important, the new Tehran policy toward Syria is bound to reward the regime by also bringing Iran and Turkey closer together, in light of Ankara's recent announcement that it has "lost confidence" in the Assad regime. (See Iran draws the line with Turkey on Syria Asia Times Online, July 26, 2011.)
Iran's primary concern is the vital Persian Gulf, and despite all the talk of "strategic depth" as a result of the alliance with Syria, the principal concern of Iran is to improve its standing in the immediate region that has vast geo-economic value.
No longer menaced by Iraq, as it was during the bloody eight-year war during the 1980s, Iran is fundamentally less beholden to Syria acting as a "vital bridge to the Arab world", particularly since the gates of diplomacy with the Arab world's biggest power, Egypt, have begun to slowly open, given the prospect of normalization between Tehran and Cairo.
In addition, Tehran's leaders have not forgotten recent statements from Damascus of support for Saudi intervention in Bahrain, in the name of Arab nationalism, which truly surprised and even dismayed Tehran.
"There has always been a nagging concern that Assad's regime would sell out Iran in no time if the price was right, but that never happened and Assad we may recall solidly supported Iran during the upheaval of 2009 following the presidential elections," says the Tehran professor.
As a result, Tehran has nuanced itself rather than come out too strongly against Damascus, thus protecting itself from the charge of hypocrisy and double standards, this while harvesting the gained ability to push for reform in neighboring Bahrain, where the simmering protests have met the iron fist of Saudi-backed official repression. Said otherwise, Iran can now have a greater say in Bahraini affairs, by opting to recognize the legitimacy of the Syrian opposition.
But, as with any major policy shift, there are also unintended consequences, such as a cooling in relations with Damascus in the event that Assad survives. Damascus would then look at Iran as a half-loyal friend that cannot be fully trusted.
There is, in other words, an inevitable element of risk in Iran's new policy that could adversely affect its regional fortunes, depending on the dynamic of political change in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East....
Come now, there are snowflakes in hell with a better chance than that of the Sunnis accepting any Alawi as a head of State.
However, the Alawis are neither better nor worse than the Sunnis or the Shiites or the Wahhabis. for all Arab cultures and most Islamic ones (to exempt certain 'heretical' minorities) are mired, from the family to the clan to the tribe to the Ummah, in 'rule or be ruled'. Simple as that. Even a male child can boss his older sisters around -and to a lesser extent even his mother - for being none other than male.
As such, the real culprit is none other than the religion of peace; when your God is a capricious, wrathful slave-master bent on servitude, that's what you wind up emulating.