Image 1 of 11: Unique strategic alliance: The enduring love affair between Iran & Syria has survived against the odds. The religious republic & secular state have made it work uniting against common enemies as Iraq in the past, Israel & the US until today. Shia state Iran will feel
isolated in a sea of hostile Arabs if the ruling off-shoot Shia family falls.
Image 1 of 11: Another unique relationship: The Syrian port of Tartus is Russia’s only external - to the old Soviet Union - military base. This month, a ship carrying munitions, including rumored Russian Iskander missiles, made it to its destination point, narrowly escaping an interception by Cyprus. Russia still blocks sanctions against Syria in the UN.
Image 1 of 11: Russia who has maintained a stable friendship with Syria, selling arms to this loyal oil-rich customer, doesn't want to incur the same fate as with Libya & Iraq who were big buyers of Russian munitions until regime change put paid to business. Kalashnikovs knocking about Iraq til recently are the trademark relic of this oil-weapons trade-off.
Image 1 of 11: Would a future Syria allow Russia to keep Tartus (already a nominal base, decrepit until recent re-vamp campaign)? Russia’s oil interests & arms sales depend on Assad's regime holding on. China's no different, still selling arms to Damascus, much to the chagrin of Europe & the U.S. China also used its veto power to act against sanctions on Syria.
Image 1 of 11: Syria is relatively rich in oil, like Libya, Iraq & other oil-rich states lesser known for this resource. Oil is for some a vested motive in keeping economically sound relations with Syria's current regime. Pipe-lines have been attacked since the conflict. Jan 28's bomb blast in Deir Al-Zour struck with the Arab League's halted Observer Mission.
Image 1 of 11: Lebanon: It's complicated. The curious union of Syria with Iran nurtured Hezbollah, who strategically form the Shia crescent (Syria, while majority Sunni, has a ruling Alawi family). Syria's relation with Lebanon has included intervention in the civil war, 'occupation' & a proxy war with Israel. Syria retains a veto power over Lebanese politics.
Image 1 of 11: Palestine's Hamas, Islamic Jihad and various other radical Palestinian groups are loosely grouped into this Syria-Iran-Hezbollah strategic alliance. All reject peace on Israeli or US terms. Together these regimes and groupings feel more confident to pursue their foreign policy, buoyed up by Syria and Iran than they would if one or other fell.
Image 1 of 11: Better the devil you know: From blatant enemies to contentious 'frenemies', Israel & Turkey do not back western, & now Arab, calls for Syria's regime to step down. Israel, dreading a more brazen government to follow, would prefer Assad stayed. Turkey fears Syria spilling into sectarian strife as Iraq, especially mindful of its own Kurdish issue.
Image 1 of 11: Hugo Chavez & the Syrian - Latin America alliance: Recently, Chavez reiterated his call for respect for independence and sovereignty of all countries, stressing the infringement of any country attacking another's territories. Venezuelan Chavez said in a joint statement with Ahmadinejad recently that he supported Syrian reforms.
Image 1 of 11: Arab League faces down Assad: The League suspended Syria, and imposed sanctions that failed to get through the security council. Its observer mission was accused of lending Assad diplomatic license to pursue brutality against the protesters. The flailing mission - finally pulled this weekend - was led by a Sudanese accused of Darfur war crimes.
Image 1 of 11: Saudi Arabia (SA), keen to keep its Shia-heavyweight rival Iran isolated, would gladly see the back of Bashar Al Assad.
In line with Western powers, SA calls for him to step down. It behoves SA to insist on his departure, since such a pro-democracy
stance could off-set its bad rap for, perceived repressive & anti-democratic, Bahrain intervention.
Syria's external relations
As the Syrian 'lion' rages and the regime's clampdown on opposition forces reaches alarming death-toll figures, the media is ridden with questions addressing the peculiar deadlock or impasse in this Arab Spring country. Since international players often seem to 'help' to determine the fate of Arab regimes, it may be prudent to examine who exactly is set to profit from this regime's seeming inevitable demise, or else retention of power should the Arab League's (already shaky) Peace Plan be implemented.
While a death toll that may have approached 100 just this weekend would beg a degree of humanitarian urgency, a glance at the strategy game being played out around the localised violence points to why this Arab Spring case may be dragging out, and may be different.
Why 'democracy' might get a chance in Syria
The playing field of trans-regional interests contains agents or actors set to gain, and others bound to lose from the overthrow of this Ba'athist regime. With a new world-split and the creation of two opposing trans-regional fronts over the Syrian crisis – the US and EU drivers of sanctions against the Ba’athist regime versus the BRICS group of emerging powers (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that are against a Libya-style campaign in the country - it is no surprise that the Syria question literally hangs in the (transregional) balance. Hence of all Arab Uprisings that might not attain the aim of booting out a dictator, this one would be the one forecast to result in a cessation of violence and reforms, rather than an ouster or regime change.
Here is a look at the international vested interests at play, and the strategy considerations and alliances that are prolonging the Syrian conflict. What is a Syrian conflict, in this case, has the potential to be a much wider affair and fallout.
What implications, then, does a destabilized or even a new Assad-free Syria have for its neighbors?
What is at stake, for, say, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, the principal regional big guns in the Middle East?
We take a glance at the (trans)national interests of some countries, at the expense of others, as things escalate or de-escalate in Syria into a 'democratic' resolution.
Bashar Al Assad's popularity at home and abroad must not be underestimated, as we note that not a single key regime figure has detracted to the rebel opposition side. The regime of Syria does have supporters (unlike Libya so much for example) and and there are legitimate concerns for Syria’s minorities, in the case of a regime overthrow.
Iran dreads a hostile isolation
The potential collapse of the Assad regime would disturb not only the regional but also the trans-regional balance of power at the expense of Iran, leaving it virtually alone among an array of bitter arch-rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
All these competing interests of regional and extra-regional actors are relevant to how the situation unfolds in Syria. All hangs in the balance, while a solution resulting in a more stable region just now looks unlikely.
That's why people think still that this dictator might just survive.
In spite of an Arab League mission sent to observe Syria's implementation of a League peace plan, the level of violence has remained high with no sign of a let-up in the crackdown by Assad's forces. The Arab-grown solution to this Arab conflict, sadly, might not be enough.