Source: Drawing by Alexey Iorsh
The position taken by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the Syrian resolution in the UN Security Council is well-grounded. Russia and China, while not in principle objecting to the passage of the resolution, have proposed that it be brought as close as possible to the realities on the ground, on which its effectiveness would depend. This means dropping the demand that the legitimately elected president, Bashar al-Assad, be removed from power; not putting all the blame for the bloodshed on one the Syrian leadership, while making the other party to the conflict immune to political attacks; and not imposing sanctions on Syria.
Some other provisions of the draft resolution proposed by some Western and Arab countries also give cause for concern. These provisions, as events in Libya have shown, might have been used to justify armed intervention in Syria. As I see it, Russia and China did not want to be deceived yet again. Only recently, the United States asked them not to veto the UN resolution on Libya, claiming that it was nothing more than a demand for a no-fly zone over the country to prevent the air force of General Muammar Gaddafi from inflicting damage on the civilian population. At that time, the “amorphous” part of the resolution was used expressly to overthrow the Gaddafi regime.
What is behind the current anti-Syrian position? Syria has been targeted mainly because it is close to Iran. Toppling the present regime is part of the plan to isolate Iran. But Damascus and Tehran have drawn closer together because the Arab-Israeli conflict has not been resolved. I remember that, during a conversation with Hafez Assad, the father of the current president, he said he would seek not to remain alone “face-to-face” with Israel. It is the unresolved dangerous Middle East conflict, which ever and again tends to erupt into crises, that has prompted Damascus to keep Iran as its back up “just in case.”
Why have most Arab countries taken a stand against Bashar Assad? I think it is mainly because of the growing contradictions between the two main religious branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shiites. These contradictions became particularly sharp after the American military operation in Iraq. The Syrian authorities are mainly Alawites, a sect close to the Shiites. The Arab League, the majority of whose members are Sunni states, fears that a Shiite belt would be created from Iraq across Iran and Syria to Lebanon.
What might happen if the current Syrian regime is overthrown? One would like the authors of the rejected draft Security Council resolution to think about this. There exists eloquent proof of what an irresponsible policy in the Middle East and North Africa might lead to. It should be countered by collective efforts, which, at the end of the day, are needed in order to prevent the situation sliding into chaos, civil war and, finally, disruption of the badly needed settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Yevgeny Primakov is a former director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (1991-1996) and prime minister of Russia (1998-1999).
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